Baylor is a program on the rise under coach Art Briles. The Bears have won at least 10 games in three out of the last four years and just missed out on a playoff appearance last season. There’s no doubt Briles has raised the expectation level in Waco, and this program has staying power as an annual contender to win the Big 12 and compete for playoff appearances.
As the 2015 season approaches, Baylor should be considered one of the favorites to claim a spot among the four playoff teams. The offense will be explosive once again, and the defense should improve with nine starters returning.
The first season of the college football playoff was a huge success. With less than 50 days until kickoff, it’s time to evaluate some of the top contenders for the 2015 playoffs.
Here’s a look at three reasons why Baylor will make the playoff, followed by its schedule and three reasons the Bears won’t finish in the top four.
Three Reasons Why Baylor Will Make the CFB Playoff in 2015
1. New Quarterback, No Problem
TCU has been picked by most as the preseason favorite in the Big 12, and it’s no secret the Horned Frogs have the league’s best quarterback in senior Trevone Boykin. While quarterback play is always a critical component to winning a conference championship, the turnover under center isn’t cause for concern at Baylor. Coach Art Briles is one of the top offensive minds in the nation, and the Bears have reloaded with ease at quarterback in recent years, as Nick Florence and Bryce Petty kept the offense firing on all cylinders after Robert Griffin III left for the NFL. Has Baylor developed into a program that can easily transition between starters and suffer little or no drop in production for the passing attack? It certainly seems that way. Expect Seth Russell to thrive in his first year under center for the Bears.
2. Abundance of Playmakers
It’s not unrealistic to think Baylor might have the nation’s top collection of skill talent. Running back Shock Linwood returns after rushing for 1,252 yards and 16 scores last season, and there’s plenty of depth in the form of Devin Chafin, Johnny Jefferson and Terence Williams. At receiver, the Bears boast the nation’s No. 1 receiving corps. Corey Coleman and KD Cannon are All-America candidates after combining for 19 touchdown scores last season. Antwan Goodley will be missed, but Jay Lee (15.4 ypc in 2014), Davion Hall, Ishmael Zamora and Chris Platt are more big-play threats ready to emerge in 2015.
3. Best Line of Scrimmage in the Nation?
It’s an overused cliché at times, but teams have to be strong in the trenches to compete for a national title. Baylor’s lines of scrimmage are the best in the Big 12 and among the top teams nationally. The Bears return five starters on an offensive line that allowed 19 sacks in nine Big 12 contests, with senior All-American Spencer Drango anchoring the line from the left tackle position. Briles and coordinator Phil Bennett have significantly upgraded the talent on defense in recent years, starting with a line that is tough against the run and also capable of getting to the quarterback. This unit is headlined by end Shawn Oakman, while tackle Andrew Billings might be one of the nation’s most underrated players.
Baylor's 2015 Schedule
Athlon Projected Rank for 2015
Texas Tech (Arlington)
at Kansas State
at Oklahoma State
Three Reasons Why Baylor Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2015
1. November Road Schedule
The biggest obstacle to Baylor’s college football playoff hopes has little to do with its personnel. Instead, the Bears playoff bid could be derailed by a brutal November road slate. Baylor plays at Kansas State on Nov. 5, followed by a home date against Oklahoma, then back-to-back road games against Oklahoma State and TCU. While non-conference scheduling has been a source of criticism for Baylor, the Bears will have one of the nation’s toughest November stretches in the nation.
2. Quarterback Play Isn’t an Easy Transition
All signs point to Seth Russell having an easy transition into the starting role for Baylor. After all, Robert Griffin III to Nick Florence was easy, followed by a seamless transition from Florence to Bryce Petty. But what if it doesn’t go well? Russell should cruise through the first three games against non-conference opponents. How will he perform in his first Big 12 start against Texas Tech? Will he be completely settled into the starting job against Kansas State on Nov. 5?
3. Defense Doesn’t Improve
Baylor’s defense certainly wasn’t bad last year. The Bears held opponents to 25.5 points per game, ranked 16th nationally in rush defense and gave up 5.3 yards per play in 2014. However, there’s certainly room to improve. Baylor allowed at least 40 points in two out of its last three games and surrendered 34 passing plays of 30 yards or more. With nine starters back, improvement should be noticeable on the stat sheet for coordinator Phil Bennett. However, if this unit doesn’t improve, stopping TCU’s high-powered offense in a game that could decide the Big 12 title will be a huge challenge.
Don’t expect a repeat of 2014. The Big 12 will get one team into the college football playoff. TCU is getting most of the preseason attention as the favorite in the Big 12, but Baylor has all of the necessary pieces to win the conference crown. Sure, replacing quarterback Bryce Petty is going to be a challenge. However, Seth Russell looks to be a capable option, and the Bears have a loaded receiving corps and supporting cast to ease the transition. And of course, Baylor hasn’t had much trouble replacing starting quarterbacks recently. The defense has to improve, but Briles has reason to be optimistic with nine returning starters. The road trip to TCU will be a huge challenge and could decide which team wins the Big 12. If the transition to Russell is seamless, and the defense continues to improve, Baylor will repeat as Big 12 champions and earn a spot in the playoff.
Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 3
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 11-1 (8-1 Big 12)
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 10
CG Technology Over/Under Odds: 10.5
5 Dimes Over/Under Odds: 10