COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
Big 12 PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Art Briles, 33-30 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Philip Montgomery | DEF. COORDINATOR: Phil Bennett
Baylor’s a long way from being Quarterback U., but few coaches in the country have a better track record at that position than Art Briles. The sixth-year Baylor head coach’s body of work goes back to state champion Branndon Stewart at Stephenville (Texas) High School (1993-94) and includes Kevin Kolb and Case Keenum at the University of Houston and 2011 Heisman winner Robert Griffin III and record-setter Nick Florence at Baylor.
“That’s just coach Briles and his staff,” says 6'3", 230-pound junior Bryce Petty, who’s poised to be the next in that line. “They do a great job of putting us in positions to succeed. There are expectations, always, but there’s no pressure. You just have to get our team in position to win and get us to a bowl game.”
Petty, who has thrown only 14 passes in limited mop-up duty the last two seasons, follows the school’s only two 4,000-yard passers (RG3 and Florence). But he seems to have all the tools and confidence it takes.
The line is probably a bigger concern, especially with starting right tackle Troy Baker going down in the spring with a torn ACL. That leaves left tackle Spencer Drango and All-America guard Cyril Richardson as the only experienced hands on deck.
Running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin combined for 1,901 yards last season and form one of the best 1-2 punches in the country. Even after losing All-American Terrance Williams, the Bears are still loaded at receiver with Tevin Reese, Levi Norwood, Antwan Goodley, Jay Lee and high school All-American Robbie Rhodes.
“The potential is unlimited,” Martin says. “We’ve got a great quarterback in Bryce, and we’ve got two good running backs that run downhill and can make the big play. We’re really going to keep defenses on their heels.”
As bad as the defense looked in giving up a school-record 807 yards in a 70–63 loss to West Virginia in last year’s Big 12 opener, third-year coordinator Phil Bennett saw the team’s potential in a late-season win over then-No. 1 Kansas State and a 49–26 Holiday Bowl win over UCLA.
Linebackers Bryce Hager and Eddie Lackey, a pair of second-team All-Big 12 picks, were key pieces in the defense’s second-half resurgence. Hager had a Big 12-best 124 tackles, while Lackey made 104 tackles, 13 stops behind the line and a team-high four interceptions.
Sam Holl, a two-year starter at safety, makes the move to complete a salty linebacking corps, while fellow senior Ahmad Dixon is a natural at safety. The Bears are also solid at corner with an experienced rotation of Joe Williams, K.J. Morton and former Gonzaga point guard Demetri Goodson.
Up front, returning ends Terrance Lloyd and Chris McAllister are joined by Beau Blackshear and former prep All-American Javonte Magee, a converted end.
Including long snapper Zach Northern and holder Brody Trahan, the Bears return all their specialists. Senior kicker Aaron Jones has shattered the school record with 327 points, while punter Spencer Roth had a 43.8-yard average with 13 of his 36 kicks downed inside the 20.
Admittedly, Briles is biased, but he likes his team — a lot: “I feel like we’re going to win (the league title) every year,” he says. Petty seems more than capable of taking the Bears to their fourth straight bowl game. But the offensive line will have to hold up, and the defense has to be much better if the Bears plan on being a factor in the Big 12 title chase.