Following an extremely successful 11-2 season, the Baylor Bears haven’t looked this scary since Heisman winner Robert Griffin III was behind center. Head coach Art Briles is turning this program into one of the best in the nation and the Bears have very high expectations for the 2014 campaign.
On the other side of things, however, the SMU Mustangs didn’t have the most successful run in 2013, finishing the season just 5-7 and missing out on a bowl game in the first season as members of the AAC. Expectations aren’t exactly the highest after losing five starters on offense as well as five on defense.
Baylor had one of the most electric offenses in the nation in 2013 which was led by quarterback Bryce Petty who could have easily gone pro after the season, but decided to come back for one more go around. Petty finished the 2013 campaign with 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns while earning Big 12 Player of the Year honors. Losing Lache Seastrunk will hurt the running game a bit, but his backup, Shock Linwood, returns with his 881 yards and eight touchdowns. The receiving corps will be no issue as top wide out and senior Antwan Goodley leads the way, accounting for 71 catches, 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Losing one of the top quarterbacks in the entire nation will be a tough blow for the Mustangs, but without Garrett Gilbert, SMU might have to become a more well-rounded offensive unit. Gilbert led the Mustangs to a top-10 ranking in passing yards per game last season but he will be replaced by sophomore Neal Burcham who started the final two games of 2013 in place of the injured Gilbert. The Stangs also lost 1,000-yard receivers Jeremy Johnson and Keenan Holman, so it looks like Der’rikk Thompson and Darius Joseph will need to step up to make up for the losses. The run game will be an issue as well seeing as there is no clear leader returning from the 120th-ranked unit.
Defensively, the Mustangs had a nightmare year in 2013 and could have an even worse year in 2014 with only six returning starters. The Mustangs ranked 99th in the nation in points allowed and 72nd in yards allowed per game last season — including a terrible 113th ranking in pass yards allowed per game. Baylor was ranked in the top half of the nation when it came to defense last season. The Bears finished 36th in points allowed and 28th in total yards allowed per contest.
The SMU Mustangs will travel to Baylor to take on the Bears at 7:30 p.m. EST on Sunday, Aug. 31. The game will be broadcasted on FOX Sports 1.
PREDICTION: SMU 13, Baylor 49
Connor Muldowney is a columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Connormuldowney, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google. You can also reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.