The rapidly improving Baylor Bears enter in on the Rant Sports College Football Top 100 countdown at No. 32. Art Briles’ squad had added depth at important positions and has one of the nation’s best running backs returning in the highly vocal and self-confident Lache Seastrunk, who, with a few big performances could become a part of the Heisman Trophy conversation.
Like other programs in the Big 12 this fall, the Bears will be operating with a new quarterback under center and have some concerns defensively where they struggled mightily in 2012. While it won’t be an easy task for the Bears to rise into the upper echelon of the Big 12 Conference in 2013, if there ever was a year where they could surprise, 2013 is it.
Fans in Waco the past half-decade have been spoiled when it comes to quarterback play. After all, two guys like Heisman Trophy winner and NFL rising star Robert Griffin and Nick Florence don’t come along all that often, much less back-to-back. Junior Bryce Petty takes over under center in 2013, and in spite of not seeing much action in his first two seasons on campus, has the full confidence of offensive coordinator Phillip Montgomery and the Baylor coaching staff.
At 6’3″, 230, Petty is the prototypical quarterback for the Baylor system– good size with adequate enough athletic ability to make plays with his feet when necessary. Luckily for Petty, he has a first-tier running back behind him carrying the ball in Seastrunk, who could be a dynamic impact player for Art Briles this fall. Originally an Oregon commit, Seastrunk will be the featured back for the first time in 2013 and by all accounts is itching for the opportunity to prove what he can do in a full role. Senior Glasco Martin is no slouch himself and will see plenty of carries as a complement throughout the season.
Seastrunk may need to be more prepared to make something out of nothing, however, as the Baylor offensive line is lacking depth overall, leaving some concerned about their ability to run block and protect Petty as he acclimates. Only senior Cyril Richardson and sophomore Spencer Drango return from 2012 and depth was damaged by the spring practice loss of starting right tackle Troy Baker to a torn ACL during spring practice.
The Baylor wide receiving corps is as talented as ever, and will be led by senior Tevin Reese who tallied 53 catches for 957 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Reese will undoubtedly be Petty’s primary option, in the vein of Terrance Williams for Florence last season. Antwan Goodley and Jay Lee promise to be productive as well, and the Baylor staff is salivating to see what All-American and massive five-star get Robbie Rhodes can do.
To put it bluntly, the 2012 Baylor defense was poor. The Bears gave up an average of 37.2 points per game and 502.2 yards per game in 2012 Big 12 play, both at the bottom of the conference. As a silver lining, there’s nowhere to go but up, and with seven returning starters there’s promise for massive improvement.
Linebacker Bryce Hager is the spiritual leader of the unit and will set the tone this fall. A 2nd team All-Big 12 selection last season, Hager led the team in tackles with 124 (9.5 TFL). Hager’s nose for the ball is outstanding, and his linebacking mate Eddie Lackey (104 tackles, 13 TFL in 2012) can also play with anyone in the conference straight up. Senior Sam Holl has made the switch over from the secondary as a safety, to complete a starting linebacking corps that should be much improved and difficult to gameplan for given their variety of abilities.
The Bears have a mixture of returners and newcomers along the defensive line, led by junior Terrence Lloyd who totaled 50 tackles in 2012, with 8.5 of those coming for a loss. Senior Chris McAllister is the other end that returns. The pair of ends are joined by two newcomers who will be thrown directly into the fire and must produce from Week 1.
Baylor’s weakest unit in 2012, arguably, was a secondary that didn’t do much to slow down explosive passing offenses. While more experienced this season, the secondary will be under a microscope and their collective ability to play at a higher level could tell a great deal in the closer games the Bears encounter.
Baylor’s first two games are cupcake-city. You can go ahead and put wins down for the Bears against Wofford and Buffalo at home. Things are a little more interesting in Week Three as the Bears welcome the RS No. 72 Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks who gave them all they could handle in a 47-42 win last season.
The Big 12 schedule kicks off on Saturday October 5th as the Bears welcome the RS No. 42West Virginia Mountaineers to Waco for the first time. November has the potential to be brutal for Baylor, and will likely tell the tale of how 2013 shakes out, with four games in succession against the Oklahoma Sooners at home, RS No. 65 Texas Tech Red Raiders in Lubbock, the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Stillwater and on the road against the TCU Horned Frogs. A 3-1 split here could position Baylor for a first-tier bowl game, anything less could mean a repeat of 2012′s Holiday Bowl visit, at best.
Baylor will win at least seven games again in 2013 with more wins, and a better finish not being out of the realm of possibility.