Can Baylor win the Big 12 title once again?
Baylor is coming off its first outright conference title since 1980. The Bears finished 11-2 last year, which included victories over Oklahoma and Texas, along with a 35-25 win over Kansas State in early October.
The expectations at Baylor are on the rise. Under coach Art Briles, the Bears have played in four consecutive bowls, upgraded their recruiting, and there’s a new stadium on the way for 2014.
Baylor is considered by most to be a frontrunner for the Big 12 title, but there are holes to fill. The offensive line lost standout guard Cyril Richardson, and the defense returns only four starters.
With a trip to Oklahoma in late November on tap, Baylor should have plenty of time to fill the voids on both sides of the ball.
Related: Baylor 2014 Preview | Big 12 Predictions | Big 12 All-Conference Team
The Expert Panel:
Steven Lassan, (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports
Allen Kenney, (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
David Fox (@DavidFox615), Athlon Sports
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), EerSports.com
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Athlon Sports
Aaron Dickens (@AaronDickens), RedRaiderSports.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), Athlon Sports
Early Game-by-Game Predictions for Baylor in 2014
|at Iowa State|
|at West Virginia|
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
It’s a close call for the No. 1 spot in the Big 12 this season, but I think Baylor is just a small step behind Oklahoma. Offense and scoring points won’t be a problem in Waco in 2014, as Bryce Petty is considered the No. 1 quarterback in the Big 12, Shock Linwood is set to breakout at running back, and the receiving corps is among the best in the nation. The offensive line should be fine (eventually this year), but there’s definitely concern anytime you have to replace a guard of Cyril Richardson’s caliber, and left tackle Spencer Drango is coming off season-ending back surgery. And it’s a good thing Baylor’s offense is among the nation’s best, as the defense is a work in progress. In conference games last year, the Bears held opponents to only 4.8 yards per play. With just four starters back, the defense has significant holes to fill and leadership voids to replace. The defensive line could be the best in the Big 12, which should help ease the losses in the secondary. I think the road trip to Oklahoma will decide who wins the conference, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Baylor stumbles at Texas or even to TCU in early October. This program is in good shape overall, as improved recruiting has upgraded the depth on the roster. The defense has its share of concerns, and the offensive line has a few question marks. However, Baylor should be a top-10 team in 2014 and could push for the Big 12 title if coordinator Phil Bennett quickly finds the right answers.
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), Eersports.com
Bryce Petty and Company will still be scoring points with the best of them, but a lack of depth on defense will result in a couple late season losses - and a couple close wins that should have been blowouts.
Aaron Dickens, (@AaronDickens), RedRaiderSports.com
No team looked better through the first two months of last season than Baylor. The Bears' assault on stats and records tailed off once the scheduled toughened in November but, outside of a 49-17 drubbing in Stillwater and the Fiesta Bowl meltdown to UCF, the wins kept coming.
Baylor has had a better four-year run than any other team in the Big 12 and there are plenty of reasons to expect that trend to continue for Art Briles' program.
I'll be interested to see how the Bears' defense fares this season. The team's defensive front should be among the league's best but the secondary was decimated by graduation and, obviously, that's always a concern in the Big 12. BU will also be facing a much-improved crop of quarterbacks in the Big 12 -- Bryce Petty and Kansas State's Jake Waters were the only quarterbacks in the league to start every game last season -- so it wouldn't surprise me much to see Phil Bennett's defense be a bit less aggressive than it was in 2013.
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
After years of building a program that could challenge for the top of the Big 12, everything came together for Art Briles and his Bears in 2013. The Baylor offense scorched the earth en route to the league title, but it was the defense's emergence that really put the Bears over the top. BU still has the conference's reigning offensive player of the year, quarterback Bryce Petty, and plenty of weapons. The D, on the other hand, lost a host of standout veterans.
Petty and Co. have more than enough firepower to stay in the upper echelon of the Big 12. However, Briles and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett probably haven't stocked the other side of the ball well enough to repeat as champs. Catching Oklahoma and Texas on the road this year hurts the Bears' chances, too.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Baylor's entire schedule really comes down to two massive road games at Oklahoma and at Texas. The trip to Austin won't be nearly as challenging but the trip to Norman will likely end up exactly how the first 11 have gone — with Oklahoma wins. Still, if Baylor wins every other game, not only could it share a Big 12 title but could possibly sneak into the playoff. Can you imagine the backlash if two Big 12 teams landed in the playoff?
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Baylor should cruise through the non-conference again. Buffalo is a strange road trip, but no Khalil Mack means no problem for Baylor. I like the way the conference schedule sets up. Matchups against TCU and Kansas State could give Baylor trouble, but both are in Waco. And that TCU matchup is early enough in the year where the Horned Frogs’ offense may be taking shape. That’s why I picked Texas Tech in Arlington as the upset. Teams have to be able to score 35 points or more to beat Baylor. The Red Raiders can do that.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
There's little doubt in my mind that Baylor will score a bunch of points again. Bryce Petty could very well earn an invite to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York in December even though he will be throwing to a relatively inexperienced group of pass-catchers. My concerns with Baylor, however, come on the other side of the ball. Losing eight starters from a defense that more than held its own last season will be tough to replace, especially in a offensive-minded conference like the Big 12. Still, the Bears should score enough to get to double-digit wins, provided they take care of business in their new home, McLane Stadium. The Nov. 8 visit to Norman will be tough and could be what ends up deciding the Big 12 title, but Art Briles' team can't overlook a tricky back-to-back in October with Texas and TCU either.