When Art Briles arrived at Baylor after the 2007 season, he inherited a team that won just seven games in the two years prior to his arrival. Even though Briles recorded back-to-back 4-8 marks in his first two seasons, there was no doubt he would eventually get the program on the right track. Mission accomplished. Baylor has won 29 games over the last three years and claimed the Big 12 title in 2013.
Even with personnel losses hitting the roster, Baylor has reached a point where it can simply reload, rather than face a significant rebuilding effort. Briles has upgraded the recruiting, and the Bears have inked back-to-back top-30 classes. Combine the improving talent with one of the best coaching staffs in the country, and it’s easy to see why Baylor has emerged as one of the new powers in college football.
As Baylor turns the page from a successful 2013 season to 2014 spring practice, the Bears have a few holes to fill. However, as we mentioned above, this program is in great shape to repeat as the Big 12 champion.
Baylor Bears 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 11-2 (8-1 Big 12)
Spring Practice Opens: February 28
Spring Game: April 5
Three Things to Watch in Baylor’s 2014 Spring Practice
1. Solidifying the supporting cast around Bryce Petty: Art Briles and coordinator Philip Montgomery usually have no trouble finding talent at the skill positions. And despite losing running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin and receiver Tevin Reese, Baylor shouldn’t miss a beat on offense. The next wave of standout skill players in Waco is ready to emerge, and the receiving corps can lean on Antwan Goodley (71 receptions in 2013), along with Levi Norwood, Clay Fuller and Corey Coleman. Reese’s ability to stretch the field was a huge asset and one of the returning players needs to fill that void. Incoming freshmen K.D. Cannon and Davion Hall (enrolled early to compete this spring) will have a chance to compete for time. Another name to watch is Robbie Rhodes. He was the No. 2 recruit in the Big 12 by Athlon Sports last season and caught 10 passes for 157 yards in 10 games. Rhodes could be an even bigger factor in the offense in 2014. At running back, Briles and Montgomery already have a potential star in Shock Linwood. But who will share carries with Linwood? Will it be sophomore Devin Chafin? Redshirt freshmen Johnny Jefferson and early enrollee Terence Williams will push Chafin for the No. 2 role.
2. New faces on the offensive line: Although skill players like running back Lache Seastrunk and receiver Tevin Reese will be missed, the losses on the offensive line are more of a concern for Briles. Guard Cyril Richardson was one of the nation’s top linemen and was the Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year last season. Center Stefan Huber and tackle Kelvin Palmer also depart. The good news is there are pieces to work with, and Baylor will welcome left tackle Spencer Drango back in the lineup after he missed the final four games due to back surgery. Drango earned first-team All-Big 12 honors in 2013 and could be in the mix for All-America honors in 2014. Since he is still rehabbing from the surgery, Drango won’t participate in spring practice, but all signs point to a return to full strength by the fall. Center will be a contested spot this spring, and Kyle Fuller (listed as the backup last season) will get first shot at replacing Huber. Junior Pat Colbert played in all 13 games in 2013 and is expected to factor into the mix, while tackle Troy Baker should be healthy being a full year removed from a torn ACL. Desmine Hilliard is back after starting all 13 games at right guard last year and will have to help fill the void left behind by Richardson. Hawaii transfer Blake Muir and junior college recruit Jarell Broxton are two other names to keep an eye on this spring. The pieces seem to be there for Briles, and this group can develop depth with Drango out. However, Richardson is a huge loss, and players like LaQuan McGowan, Hilliard and Broxton have big shoes to fill at guard in 2014.
3. Breaking in seven new starters on defense: As long as Briles roams the sidelines in Waco, offense isn’t going to be an issue. However, that hasn’t necessarily been the case on defense in recent years. Baylor finished ninth or worse in the Big 12 in yards allowed from 2009-12. Last year, this unit emerged as a strength, holding opponents to just 4.8 yards per play. The Bears also limited Big 12 opponents to 25.7 points per game and forced 29 turnovers. This spring is crucial to building off that momentum, especially with seven new starters stepping into the lineup. There are significant losses at each level, starting up front with the departure of end Chris McAllister, at linebacker with Eddie Lackey, and in the secondary with safety Ahmad Dixon and cornerbacks Demetri Goodson and K.J. Morton. While there will be some new faces dotting the depth chart, improved recruiting has bolstered the talent available to coordinator Phil Bennett. Penn State transfer Shawn Oakman was an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection last year and could be in for a breakout performance in 2014. Boise State transfer Sam Ukwuachu is a name to watch at end this spring. The interior is also set with the return of defensive tackles Beau Blackshear, Andrew Billings and Byron Bonds. The back seven needs to be retooled, but the good news is linebacker Bryce Hager returns, and there’s some experience returning at safety. The biggest concern for Bennett has to be at cornerback, and junior college recruits Chris Sanders (out this spring with shoulder surgery) and Tion Wright will be expected to contribute immediately. There are a lot of question marks on this side of the ball. How many answers can the Bears find this spring?
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 9-11
With Texas in transition and Oklahoma State losing a chunk of talent, the Big 12 appears to be a two-team race between Oklahoma and Baylor. The Bears defeated the Sooners last season, but this year’s matchup is in Norman. Briles has this program trending in the right direction, and even if this team falls short of winning the conference title, an appearance in one of college football’s premier bowl games is a strong possibility. The offense has some concerns to address on the line, but expect Briles and Montgomery to find the right answers this spring. The defense is the bigger issue with seven new starters. The development of the defense is the key to winning the Big 12 or finishing second behind Oklahoma.