The Baylor Bears were one of the hottest teams in college football as the 2012 season wrapped up, which they proved beyond a shadow of a doubt with their 49-26 dismantling of the UCLA Bruins in the Holiday Bowl. The Bears will be looking to keep their hot play going in 2013 and could be set up to make some noise in the Big 12 title race. Is this the year Baylor finally wins their first conference championship?
They have plenty of talent on offense to get it done. While they have to find their third quarterback in three years, the quarterback position is very healthy in Waco, by all accounts with Bryce Petty. And the running game should remain explosive next season with Lache Seastrunk stepping into the No. 1 running back role from day one. Last season, he ran for 1,012 yards and seven touchdowns and didn’t really become a part of the offense until the eighth game of the season against the Kansas Jayhawks. The Bears finished the year 5-0 when Seastrunk broke the 100-yard mark in a game.
Of course, the defense will need to improve from their porous performance from last season when they ranked as one of the worst scoring defenses in the country. Their 37.2 points per game against average ranked No. 113 in the nation and they gave up more than 21 points in 12 of their 13 games. They were saved many times by the Baylor offense, which ranked No. 4 in the country averaging 44.5 points per game, simply outscoring opponents. If the defense continues to play as poorly as they did over the course of 2012, they will undoubtedly get tripped up on their way to a conference title.
Their case is bolstered by a very favorable schedule in 2013. They open the season against FCS foe Wofford before welcoming the Buffalo Bulls (4-8 in 2012) from the MAC before getting a rematch with the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks in Waco. Last season, the Bears traveled to the Bayou and were pushed to the brink before rallying for a 47-42 shootout win. Outside of ULM, however, the Bears should walk through their non-conference schedule.
When they hit the conference slate, they will have an opportunity to east into that as well. They open the conference season against the West Virginia Mountaineers who gave up 63 points to Baylor last season in a win and figures to be in rebuilding mode this year. Similarly, the Bears first road game comes against the Kansas State Wildcats who will basically be fielding a completely new team this year. After that, they avoid the always-dangerous road trip to Ames with a home date against the Iowa State Cyclones and then head to Lawrence to take on Kansas, who went winless against the FBS last year.
The back end of their schedule is loaded, however, with the Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns coming to Waco which sandwich road games against the Oklahoma State Cowboys and TCU Horned Frogs to go with a neutral site game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders. They will have to run the gauntlet, to be sure, but they could potentially be 7-0 when they hit this stretch and be playing with the most dangerous weapon in their arsenal: confidence.
So while it will take some major wins for a program that has never won a Big 12 title, Baylor appears set up to make a run at history this season. Will they be able to capitalize?