Confused? Check out the glossary here.
1. A sea change
Generally speaking, college football is cold and slow to handle change. You are what you are, and while your short-term fortunes can change, well, the term regression toward the mean was meant for college football. But sometimes the ground changes beneath your feet, and you don't even realize it until it's already happened.
4, 2, 2, 1, 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 5, 4, 3, 4, 4. That's the number of games Baylor won in each of its first 14 seasons in the Big 12. Dave Roberts won four games in two years as head coach. Kevin Steele won nine in four. That Guy Morriss actually managed a 5-6 season at one point was a pretty big deal.
Baylor's fortunes were so bad that they changed history; one of the most common Big 12 narratives was how Baylor used political string-pulling to get into the Big 12 instead of an obviously more deserving TCU program. (Winning seasons in the 17 years before Big 12 formation: Baylor 12, TCU 4.) We just accepted that narrative as truth because Baylor just seemed to have no hope, no history, and no future.
As Art Briles begins his sixth year in charge in Waco, however, things have not only changed, but changed dramatically. Now we're talking about Baylor as a Big 12 dark horse. We're writing series of posts (part one, part two) about how to try and stop the Baylor offense. We're talking about the possibility of the program winning its second Heisman in three years. We're talking about strength records and new stadiums. We're talking about Texas (Texas!) being unable to compete with Baylor (Baylor!) on the recruiting trail (well, at one position, anyway). This is up-is-down, left-is-right territory. Briles, full of piss, vinegar, offensive prowess and an accent so thick that it invades the written word, has not only made us forget what Baylor used to symbolize, but he has also made this program the hip new college football school.
College football doesn't change much, but when it does, it evidently doesn't go halfway. Granted, the Bears' turnaround has only stretched about three years so far, but the foundation for a long-term run of success is in place. Now we just have to find out whether change reaches the defensive side of the ball in Waco. It did at the end of last season, but that's not exactly a huge sample size.
2. Holding steady without the Heisman
As ridiculously impressive as it was for Briles to craft a 10-win season in his fourth year in Waco, his accomplishments in Year 5 might have been even more staggering: he held steady. Without quarterback Robert Griffin III, star receiver Kendall Wright, running back Terrance Ganaway, and two all-conference offensive linemen, the Baylor offense fell all the way from second in Off. F/+ to third. The defense improved from 87th in Def. F/+ to 79th, and at the end of the day Baylor ranked just four spots lower overall (30th) than it had in its transcendent, supposedly once-in-a-generation season (26th).
The close-game record changed the win total -- Baylor went 4-1 in one-possession games in 2011 and 3-3 in 2012 -- but maintaining your status after you lose breakthrough talent is really, really impressive. And perhaps more than anything else, that type of system maintenance, the proof that your program is more than just one person, is what gives recruiting a boost.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 11-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 30|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|2-Sep||SMU||59-24||W||56.5 - 31.8||W|
|15-Sep||Sam Houston State||48-23||W||32.3 - 30.7||W|
|21-Sep||at UL-Monroe||47-42||W||34.5 - 36.7||L|
|29-Sep||at West Virginia||63-70||L||39.0 - 43.1||L|
|13-Oct||TCU||21-49||L||51.3 - 34.3||W|
|20-Oct||at Texas||50-56||L||39.9 - 35.6||W|
|27-Oct||at Iowa State||21-35||L||35.5 - 32.0||W|
|3-Nov||Kansas||41-14||W||28.6 - 27.5||W|
|10-Nov||at Oklahoma||34-42||L||30.4 - 27.7||W|
|17-Nov||Kansas State||52-24||W||41.8 - 19.3||W|
|24-Nov||vs. Texas Tech||52-45||W||41.3 - 37.6||W|
|1-Dec||Oklahoma State||41-34||W||41.2 - 24.9||W|
|27-Dec||vs. UCLA||49-26||W||37.7 - 16.2||W|
|Points Per Game||44.5||5||37.2||113|
|Adj. Points Per Game||39.2||5||30.6||88|
3. Are three games enough?
If not for Louisville, I think Baylor might have been a prime candidate for the West Virginia Effect™, due to which we severely overreact to a great bowl performance and give a team far more of a boost in the preseason polls than it deserves. Baylor laid an outright whipping on UCLA, the Pac-12 runner-up, in the Holiday Bowl in December, sprinting out to a 35-7 lead and coasting to an easy 49-26 win. The offense was great, of course, but what got people's attention was the defense. Baylor sacked UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley six times and held the Bruins to 13 points in their first 12 drives. (The only touchdown came from a 21-yard drive following a Baylor fumble.) We got to see a vision of the aggressive 4-2-5 defense Phil Bennett has spent a couple of years devising, and it was beyond intriguing.
And really, the improvement didn't just take place in the bowl game. It began a couple of months earlier.
Adj. Points per Game (first 9 games): Baylor 38.7, Opponent 33.3 (plus-5.4)
Adj. Points per Game (last 4 games): Baylor 40.5, Opponent 24.5 (plus-16.0)
Baylor lost four games in a row in late-September and October, allowing 52.5 points per game and losing two tight contests at West Virginia and Texas. But the defense improved to an average level against Kansas and Oklahoma, then surged. Baylor was somewhere between above average and great against Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and UCLA.
So ... are three games enough, then? Late-season improvement can be sustainable if you return enough of your core, and between safety Ahmad Dixon, corner Joe Williams, and linebackers Bryce Hager and Eddie Lackey, Baylor does seem to have an impressive number of play-makers returning. The Football Outsiders projections are going to be conservative toward Baylor because of past defensive history, but how much of this tiny glimpse of quality can we expect to see in 2013?
The answer to that question will dictate whether we're talking about another eight-to-10-win season or a second major breakthrough in three years. The offense will almost certainly be excellent; that much, we know. But the defense is the reason why Baylor still has yet to rank in the F/+ top 25.
|Q1 Rk||7||1st Down Rk||9|
|Q2 Rk||10||2nd Down Rk||8|
|Q3 Rk||9||3rd Down Rk||12|
4. The ultimate spread
Teams that want to bring outside defensive backs on blitzes or disguise which players will be covering the slot receivers have tremendous difficulty doing so when the receivers are so far away from the offensive line.
If you want the Baylor QB to wonder whether you are blitzing off the edge or covering the slot receiver, you'll have to really book it right before or after the snap in order to reach your assignment, or the QB will have a pretty open pitch-and-catch for easy yardage.
That's from a great Football Study Hall piece on Baylor's offense. There are spread offenses, and there are spread offenses. Baylor stretches you from sideline to sideline, forces you to make decisions and sacrifices, then punishes you for whatever you decided. If you pay too much attention to the track stars on the perimeter, Baylor destroys you with the run up the middle. If you mind the middle, you get destroyed either on the perimeter or over the top.
The Bears are going to threaten to set records on you one way or another; you get to decide whether they do it via ground or air.
The Baylor spread offense is, conceptually, what the spread offense was designed to be. Baylor combines ridiculously fast skill position players with mean, burly linemen and smart, interesting quarterbacks. Briles and coordinator Philip Montgomery give the quarterback a lot of rope and a lot of options, and it has paid off handsomely. And because of both brains and improved recruiting, Baylor's offense rivals Oklahoma State's for the best plug-and-play offense in the country. It speaks volumes that the Bears are on their third quarterback in three years, a mid-three-star recruit who has thrown just 14 passes in his career, and we are simply assuming that he is going to throw for 3,500 to 4,000 yards and rush for 500-plus.
Bryce Petty and Glasco Martin. Jerome Miron, US Presswire.
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Bryce Petty||6'3, 230||Jr.||*** (5.6)||7||10||97||70.0%||1||0||1||9.1%||8.5|
|Seth Russell||6'3, 200||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Glasco Martin||RB||6'1, 220||Sr.||**** (5.8)||179||893||5.0||5.5||15||+4.0|
|Lache Seastrunk||RB||5'10, 210||Jr.||***** (6.1)||131||1,012||7.7||8.4||7||+29.8|
|Bryce Petty||QB||6'3, 230||Jr.||*** (5.6)||9||17||1.9||2.6||1||-1.3|
|Johnny Jefferson||RB||5'10, 195||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
5. If you're looking for a red flag…
...you might want to pay attention to the depth at running back and offensive line. You can only hope to slow this offense down by dominating in the trenches and forcing it to become one-dimensional, and Baylor is just a couple of injuries from making that possible.
Make no mistake: The starters are good to great. Lache Seastrunk clicked midway through last season, becoming the primary running back over the last six games and gaining 831 yards (a ridiculous 8.1 per carry) in that span. Almost overnight, the Oregon transfer transformed into the five-star prospect he was supposed to become. His emergence, meanwhile, made Glasco Martin one of the best backup running backs and short-yardage specialists in the country. Meanwhile, up front Baylor has an all-conference guard in Cyril Richardson and a couple of experienced, mean SOBs in tackles Spencer Drango and Troy Baker.
But the two-deep on the line is filled with sophomores and redshirt freshmen, and there is virtually no experience at running back after Martin and Seastrunk. If two of the five players above go down, then there are some very young, untested players getting major minutes.
Now, if the biggest red flag you can find starts with "If somebody gets hurt...", then you're probably talking about a tremendous offense. And we are.
|Tevin Reese||IR||5'10, 170||Sr.||** (5.4)||85||53||957||62.4%||11.3||19.0%||74.1%||11.5||128.0|
|Levi Norwood||IR||6'1, 185||Jr.||*** (5.5)||53||40||487||75.5%||9.2||11.8%||56.6%||9.0||65.2|
|Antwan Goodley||WR||5'10, 220||Jr.||*** (5.6)||25||17||171||68.0%||6.8||5.6%||52.0%||6.7||22.9|
|Lache Seastrunk||RB||5'10, 210||Jr.||***** (6.1)||14||9||107||64.3%||7.6||3.1%||78.6%||6.7||14.3|
|Jordan Najvar||TE||6'6, 260||Sr.||NR||12||10||80||83.3%||6.7||2.7%||66.7%||6.9||10.7|
|Clay Fuller||WR||6'1, 205||Jr.||NR||5||3||39||60.0%||7.8||1.1%||40.0%||8.0||5.2|
|Jay Lee||WR||6'3, 210||So.||*** (5.7)|
|Corey Coleman||IR||5'10, 190||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|Lynx Hawthorne||IR||5'11, 200||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Shock Linwood||IR||5'8, 200||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Kaleb Moore||WR||5'11, 190||RSFr.||** (5.2)|
|Robbie Rhodes||WR||6'1, 186||Fr.||**** (6.0)|
|Vequan Jones||WR||6'4, 201||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
6. The receiving corps: probably not a red flag
Baylor was strangely thin at receiver last year, with four receivers accounting for 83 percent of all targets. Now two of those four are now gone. Terrance Williams eased into the No. 1 role with no problem following the departure of Kendall Wright, and there's no guarantee that Tevin Reese's transition will be as smooth. Plus, there is almost no proven wide receiver (as opposed to inside receiver) on the roster, and there is almost no way to avoid relying on true and redshirt freshmen to some extent. This has all the makings of another red flag...
...but I just can't get myself to worry about it. Can you? Reese and Levi Norwood are tremendous inside receivers, redshirt freshman Corey Coleman should ease into the rotation with relative ease, and one of those true freshmen is Robbie Rhodes, the No. 8 receiver in the country (No. 69 overall, No. 8 in the state of Texas) according to Rivals.com. With Lache Seastrunk commanding quite a bit of attention, new starting quarterback Bryce Petty (who has earned Phil Steele's preseason all-conference nod before his first start) should still find plenty of easy throws to make.
|Cyril Richardson||LG||6'5, 335||Sr.||*** (5.5)||29 career starts; 2012 2nd All-Big 12|
|Ivory Wade||C||46 career starts|
|Cameron Kaufhold||RG||38 career starts|
|Spencer Drango||LT||6'6, 315||So.||**** (5.8)||13 career starts|
|Troy Baker||RT||6'6, 315||Jr.||*** (5.7)||13 career starts|
|Jake Jackson||RG||3 career starts|
|Kelvin Palmer||RT||6'4, 290||Sr.||*** (5.5)|
|Stephan Huber||C||6'4, 290||Sr.||*** (5.5)|
|Desmine Hilliard||RG||6'4, 330||So.||** (5.4)|
|Pat Colbert||LT||6'5, 295||So.||*** (5.5)|
|LaQuan McGowan||LG||6'7, 375||So.||*** (5.6)|
|Kyle Fuller||C||6'4, 295||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Tre'Von Armstead||RT||6'6, 280||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Jason Osei||RG||6'4, 315||RSFr.||NR|
|Maurice Porter||OL||6'5, 285||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Q1 Rk||71||1st Down Rk||62|
|Q2 Rk||85||2nd Down Rk||51|
|Q3 Rk||30||3rd Down Rk||112|
7. Get the ball back, one way or another
I wrote a book this offseason, one I will be pounding you over the head about soon enough. One of my favorite quotes in it comes from Bob Stitt, head coach of the Colorado School of Mines.
Playing bend-don’t-break defense doesn’t work. You want to keep the opponent’s defense on the field; you want fast drives, for better or worse.
I don't know how much Stitt and Briles have ever associated with each other, but they are kindred spirits. In 2012 especially, Baylor's defense was fast, aggressive, disruptive, and all sorts of leaky. Baylor recorded a decent 66 tackles for loss, an above average 71 passes defensed, and a strong 13 forced fumbles. And they also allowed 6,529 yards.
Phil Bennett, of course, knew what he was getting into when he took the defensive coordinator job under Briles.
It's almost 100 percent we're gonna have to play more snaps. We're gonna have to play more guys. If Art can score 49 points, we can hold 'em to 39. That's the thing you look at. On defense you've gotta play good red zone, get some big takeaways, and do what we do. I might not have the numbers I had earlier in my career, but I'll win more games than I ever did before.
The Bears were more successfully aggressive late in the season, and we can take guesses as to whether that is maintainable, but here's what we know: in the six-game, season-ending stretch that saw Baylor playing much better defense, there wasn't one specific aspect of the game that consistently improved. Kansas averaged 6.7 yards per rush (a huge number), but Kansas State and UCLA each averaged 3.1. Texas Tech averaged 8.8 yards per pass, but UCLA and KSU averaged 5.1 and Kansas averaged 2.9.
- Baylor opponents, first 7 games: 4.8 yards per rush, 8.3 yards per pass
- Baylor opponents, last 6 games: 5.3 yards per rush, 6.2 yards per pass
Baylor's run defense was great against good running teams and suspect against others, and the overall pass defense improved by quite a bit. Sustained improvement in pass defense could happen with the players Baylor returns, but only if it gets a lot more help from the pass rush than it did in 2012.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Terrance Lloyd||DE||6'3, 245||Jr.||*** (5.6)||13||41.5||5.1%||9||4||0||0||2||1|
|Chris McAllister||DE||6'3, 255||Sr.||*** (5.5)||13||35.0||4.3%||8||6||0||6||2||1|
|Gary Mason, Jr.||DT||13||22.5||2.8%||6||2||0||5||0||0|
|Beau Blackshear||NT||6'4, 300||So.||*** (5.6)||13||11.5||1.4%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Javonte Magee||DT||6'5, 275||So.||**** (5.9)||9||8.0||1.0%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Cordarius Golston||DE||6'0, 225||Sr.||*** (5.6)||12||4.0||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Trevor Clemons-Valdez||DT||6'3, 290||So.||*** (5.6)||10||4.0||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|Jamal Palmer||DE||6'3, 245||So.||*** (5.5)||8||3.0||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Suleiman Masumbuko||DT||6'2, 290||So.||*** (5.6)||13||0.5||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Shawn Oakman||DE||6'9, 270||So.||**** (5.8)|
|Brian Nance||DE||6'3, 250||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
|Andrew Billings||DT||6'1, 305||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
8. Rushing the passer in the Big 12: kind of a necessity
Baylor recorded six sacks against UCLA. That's awesome and leaves us with quite the West Virginia Effect. But the Bears only logged 13 sacks in the first 12 games, an absolutely awful total considering how many pass attempts you face in the Big 12. Only three Bears had more than two sacks last year, and while all three return, they need more.
Chris McAllister is a particularly disruptive end, and Bryce Hager is a strong blitzer, but Baylor still had almost the nation's worst standard downs pass rush in the country. No matter how active the secondary is, it can only guard Big 12 receivers for so long.
Until proven otherwise, UCLA was the outlier here, not the new rule. Exciting, enormous Penn State transfer Shawn Oakman and four-star freshman Brian Nance are exciting additions, but there's potentially a long way to go here.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Bryce Hager||MLB||6'2, 235||Jr.||** (5.3)||13||98.0||12.0%||11||4||0||1||2||0|
|Eddie Lackey||WLB||6'0, 225||Sr.||*** (5.6)||13||87.5||10.7%||13||2||4||1||1||1|
|Brody Trahan||WLB||5'11, 245||Sr.||** (5.3)||13||21.0||2.6%||2||0||0||0||0||0|
|Aiavion Edwards||MLB||6'1, 225||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Kendall Ehrlich||WLB||6'1, 225||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Raaquan Davis||LB||6'2, 208||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Ahmad Dixon||S||6'0, 205||Sr.||**** (5.9)||13||84.0||10.3%||6||1||2||3||0||0|
|Sam Holl||NB||6'2, 210||Sr.||*** (5.5)||13||73.5||9.0%||1||0||3||7||2||2|
|Joe Williams||CB||5'11, 190||Sr.||**** (5.8)||13||46.5||5.7%||1||0||3||12||0||0|
|K.J. Morton||CB||5'10, 190||Sr.||** (5.4)||7||30.5||3.7%||1||0||1||1||2||0|
|Demetri Goodson||CB||6'0, 200||Sr.||NR||4||15.5||1.9%||2||0||1||2||0||0|
|Darius Jones||CB||5'11, 190||Sr.||*** (5.7)||13||12.0||1.5%||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Prince Kent||NB||6'3, 220||Sr.||**** (5.8)||13||5.5||0.7%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Terrell Burt||S||5'10, 185||So.||*** (5.5)||13||3.5||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|JeMarcus Johnson||S||6'1, 175||So.||*** (5.5)||9||3.0||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Anthony Webb||S||6'0, 190||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Ryan Reed||CB||5'9, 195||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Orion Stewart||S||6'2, 185||RSFr.||** (5.3)|
|Xavien Howard||CB||6'2, 200||RSFr.||** (5.2)|
|Kiante' Griffin||NB||6'0, 215||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Alfred Pullom||DB||6'1, 187||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
9. The back seven is active
With any sort of pass rush at all, the strength of the Baylor defense -- an active back seven -- could wreak havoc. Hager and Eddie Lackey combined for 24 tackles for loss last year (and yes, facing a ton of plays does pad your defensive stats in some ways), safeties Ahmad Dixon and Sam Holl combined for seven tackles for loss and 15 passes defensed, and Joe Williams had 15 passes defensed on his own. You can tell what Bennett is trying to do here, but while the Bears are guaranteed to allow points and yards, they still need to cut down on the errors and increase the disruption up front to threaten for the Big 12 title.
|Spencer Roth||6'4, 225||Jr.||36||43.8||4||8||13||58.3%|
|Aaron Jones||6'3, 190||Sr.||95||58.7||39||41.1%|
|Aaron Jones||6'3, 190||Sr.||71-71||11-16||68.8%||5-11||45.5%|
|Antwan Goodley||KR||5'10, 220||Jr.||24||22.6||0|
|Darius Jones||KR||5'11, 190||Sr.||11||23.1||0|
|Levi Norwood||PR||6'1, 185||Jr.||14||10.4||0|
|Special Teams F/+||102|
|Field Goal Pct||104|
|Kick Returns Avg||70|
|Punt Returns Avg||52|
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|12-Oct||at Kansas State||40|
|16-Nov||vs. Texas Tech||42|
|23-Nov||at Oklahoma State||6|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||53|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||34|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||+2 / +0.1|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||13 (6, 7)|
10. All I ask, Sports God…
…is to see Alabama and Baylor play against each other at some point while Nick Saban and Art Briles are still in charge. These two teams very nearly play different sports, and I really want to see what Saban would try to do to stop the Briles attack.
I also want to see what Baylor is capable of this season. The future is bright and seemingly getting brighter, but the Big 12 is in flux, and it is certainly conceivable, even likely, that a version of Baylor with even just a top-50 defense could threaten to reach its first BCS-grade bowl since the 1957 Sugar Bowl.
I can't predict that, though. The schedule is conducive for a lofty win total, with three rather easy non-conference home games (I'm not sleeping on ULM, but it's still a game Baylor should win) and Oklahoma and Texas at home. But to win the conference, the Bears will probably have to win at either Oklahoma State or TCU, and I just can't pick that right now.
Still ... that I had to slowly talk myself out of Baylor winning the Big 12 is staggering. After winning 26 games in seven years (and 17 the seven years before that), Baylor has won 25 in three and should rather easily nab at least another eight, minimum, this year. Art Briles is an unbelievable coach, and the moment he figures out the right chemistry on defense, things get even scarier for the rest of the Big 12.