Art Briles and Baylor are about to find out what it’s like to be the hunted rather than the hunter. After winning their first-ever Big 12 championship and landing in their first BCS Bowl, the Bears in Waco now have a massive bull's-eye on their backs.
Bryce Petty is back after a remarkable first season under center, so the offense (as usual) should be in great shape. But the defense must replace a host of veteran starters who are responsible for the greatest three-year run in school history.
The overall talent on this roster has been elevated but replacing leadership and toughness along the line of scrimmage will be a tall order while facing an improved Big 12 conference.
2014 Baylor Schedule Analysis
Baylor scored 69 points in a win over Wofford, 70 points in a win over Buffalo and 70 more against UL Monroe in three non-conference games last year. While the Bears aren’t likely to score 209 points against SMU, Northwestern State and Buffalo, the odds any of Baylor’s non-conference games are close in 2014 are slim and none. Bryce Petty may not even have to play in the second half of a game until a road trip to Iowa State in Week 5 — against whom Baylor put up 71 points last season.
Big 12 outposts
Ames, Iowa, isn’t the only obscure Big 12 outpost Baylor must visit in 2014. The Bears must make the long and circuitous trek to Morgantown as well. Both places shouldn’t be that scary after Iowa State and West Virginia combined for 17 losses a year ago, but strange things happen to good teams in both Jack Trice and Milan Puskar Stadiums. With two other road showdowns dotting the schedule (more on that in a second), Baylor must hold serve in both Ames and Morgantown.
Austin and Norman
The Big 12 championship will likely be decided on Oct. 4 in Austin and Nov. 8 in Norman. Baylor has to face both Big 12 powers on the road this fall and a loss in either trip could cost the Bears any chance of defending their league championship. Baylor has never won in Norman in 11 tries dating back to 1974 and is just 2-21 all-time against Oklahoma. The Bears are 9-48-2 all-time in Austin and lost 56-50 in the last trip to the 40 Acres. That said, Baylor is the defending champ and has won three of four against Texas overall and two of the last three against the Sooners. In those seven games (5-2), Baylor has scored 39.7 points per game.
Down the stretch they come
The final four games of the season are going to be brutal for the Bears. The home-and-home with the state of Oklahoma — at Oklahoma in Week 11 and hosting Oklahoma State in Week 13 — at least comes with an off weekend between the two showdowns. The season then ends with a neutral site battle with high-powered Texas Tech and a home visit from Bill Snyder and Kansas State. Baylor will face the 2010, '11 and '12 Big 12 champs during the final four games of the season.
Related: 2014 Baylor Bears Team Preview
The Bears will get three bye weekends this year but the schedule looks to be much more difficult in 2014. Repeating as Big 12 champs will likely mean Baylor will have to accomplish things it has never done before — namely, win in Norman, Okla. The non-conference slate is extremely easy and is a nice tune-up for a team breaking in a lot of new faces, but the road schedule in the league is very difficult and the final month of the season looks to be as dangerous as any team in the nation. The Bears should be competitive in every game and could push for a playoff spot but repeating as Big 12 champs looks like a very tall order.