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1. Now, for an encore...
The Big 12 is a strange entity. For each set of conference previews, I determine the order of teams, bottom to top, based on five-year history. It's generally a decent way of determining overall program health, and it gives a more general view than simply using last year's rankings or coming up with a hierarchy for 2014 (when I haven't usually figured out the hierarchy until I'm done with all of the conference's previews). For most conferences, this makes sense. The last (top) four previews in the ACC series were Miami, Clemson, Virginia Tech and Florida State. The last four for the Big Ten were Nebraska, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State.
The last four for the Big 12? Texas, TCU, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma. The four most "healthy" programs have combined for one Big 12 title in the last three years. Texas and TCU combined to go 12-13 last year. The conference's top dog, Oklahoma, hasn't won the conference since 2010.
Meanwhile, last year's conference champion, Baylor, is fourth from the bottom. In terms of five-year history, Baylor ranks 38th, just behind a West Virginia team (35th) that went 4-8 in 2013.
College football from year to year is not a quickly evolving ecosystem. Fortunes can change, but it tends to take a while; and if they change too quickly, regression-to-the-mean tends to strike thereafter. But apparently those rules don't apply in the Big 12.
Perhaps because of this environment, we're not making enough of what happened in 2013. Baylor won the Big 12. Baylor won the Big 12! As it happened, it seemed so logical that we probably didn't take enough of a step back at the time to realize what it might mean.
Basically, it means that anything is possible with great hires and commitment. It takes both, but Baylor has completely changed every possible perception of itself, and it's only taken six years. Head coach Art Briles has given Baylor a personality. Briles' spectacular offense has given Baylor a calling card. Robert Griffin III gave Baylor a Heisman. And Briles' success has given Baylor a new stadium.
Baylor was legitimately excellent in 2013; the Bears were as devastating as ever on offense, and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett's vision of an equally fast, aggressive Baylor defense actually came to fruition to a certain degree. Baylor went 11-2 and had semi-legitimate reasons to believe that injuries prevented them from something even better. And the recipe the Bears followed was one they could follow again.
Now, that's not to say everything is perfect in Waco. For reasons fair or unfair, some Baylor alumni (including one to whom I am related) were rubbed the wrong way by how Briles' name remained in the pool for the Texas job in the run-up to the Fiesta Bowl. (Granted, that feeling will go away the next time BU beats Texas, if it hasn't already.) Plus, while Briles is figuring out ways to bring high-end talent to Waco, a small handful of injuries last fall showed that depth is still, and will perhaps always remain, precarious. And while Bennett's defense improved dramatically — to 25th in Def. F/+ — in 2013, 25th might be the peak.
There's also the Texas issue. The Big 12 is a conference anybody can win as along as both Oklahoma and Texas aren't clicking on all cylinders. If the Sooners and Longhorns both have their affairs in order, it's hard for others to compete. (See: most of 2000-10, in which these two teams won all 11 South division titles and nine Big 12 titles.) What happens in the coming years if Charlie Strong makes UT a top-10 program again?
Baylor isn't the New Texas, in other words. But that's nitpicking. Baylor just won the Big 12. Anything is possible in a world in which Baylor can win the Big 12.
Heading into 2014, there is but one question: now what? Briles just pulled off an amazing feat of strength; what can he do as a follow-up?
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 11-2 | Adj. Record: 11-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 7|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|31-Aug||Wofford||N/A||69-3||W||49.2 - 10.3||W|
|7-Sep||Buffalo||80||70-13||W||63.1 - 18.4||W|
|21-Sep||UL-Monroe||109||70-7||W||51.3 - 15.0||W|
|5-Oct||West Virginia||76||73-42||W||54.8 - 27.0||W|
|12-Oct||at Kansas State||24||35-25||W||39.1 - 24.6||W||32.4|
|19-Oct||Iowa State||78||71-7||W||41.2 - 14.1||W||30.1|
|26-Oct||at Kansas||101||59-14||W||48.4 - 24.6||W||25.9|
|7-Nov||Oklahoma||20||41-12||W||33.8 - 9.6||W||23.5|
|16-Nov||vs. Texas Tech||43||63-34||W||48.9 - 21.8||W||23.3|
|23-Nov||at Oklahoma State||8||17-49||L||34.5 - 40.3||L||19.3|
|30-Nov||at TCU||44||41-38||W||26.8 - 29.5||L||13.3|
|7-Dec||Texas||35||30-10||W||31.8 - 11.8||W||12.5|
|1-Jan||vs. Central Florida||21||42-52||L||38.5 - 33.0||W||8.8|
|Points Per Game||52.4||1||23.5||36|
|Adj. Points Per Game||43.2||3||21.5||16|
2. ...and then everything changed
In the first nine games of 2013, Baylor took Briles Ball to its logical extreme. The offense averaged at least 7.7 yards per play eight times and averaged 684 yards and 61.2 points per game. The Bears gained exactly 781 yards and scored exactly 70 points in back-to-back games (Buffalo, UL-Monroe), then improved to 872 yards and 73 points against West Virginia. Meanwhile, the defense was holding up its end of the bargain. Baylor allowed 3.7 or fewer yards per play in five of those nine contests and never allowed greater than 5.6 (national average: 5.8), and despite the offense's heavy pace (and the resulting heavy defensive workload), Baylor allowed greater than 400 yards or 30 points just twice.
A 41-12 romp over Oklahoma on Nov. 7 sent out the message: Baylor was ready to compete for the national title. But three injuries changed everything. Inside receiver Tevin Reese got hurt against Oklahoma, and left tackle Spencer Drango and linebacker Bryce Hager got hurt against Texas Tech. Combined with some general injury issues at running back, this dramatically altered Baylor's upside.
- Adj. Points Per Game (first 9 games): Baylor 47.8, Opponent 18.4 (plus-29.4)
- Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): Baylor 32.9, Opponent 28.7 (plus-4.2)
Now, the way Oklahoma State played against Baylor in Stillwater on Nov. 23, it's quite possible that Baylor wouldn't have beaten the Cowboys with a full-strength squad. Hell, they might not have beaten Oklahoma State with RG3 and Mike Singletary. But a 25-point drop-off in adjusted scoring margins shows us that Baylor was a shadow of its former self without Reese, Drango and Hager. A rusty Reese returned for the bowl game, but this still wasn't the same team down the stretch. But they still managed to whip Texas and secure the Big 12 title in the final game at Floyd Casey Stadium.
That we didn't get to see Peak Baylor peaking at the end of the season was disappointing, but even with the drop-off, Baylor still ranked seventh in F/+ and won 11 games. Hard to be too disappointed.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||47.1%||21||Succ. Rt. +||119.4||9|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||29.5||57||Def. FP+||102.4||30|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.9||14||Redzone S&P+||127.6||5|
|Q1 Rk||5||1st Down Rk||1|
|Q2 Rk||6||2nd Down Rk||8|
|Q3 Rk||3||3rd Down Rk||15|
3. That pace
Adjusting for run-pass ratio (since runs are less likely to result in clock stoppages), here are the 10 fastest offenses in the country in 2013 according to Adjusted Pace:
- BYU (14.3 plays greater than expected)
- California (plus-12.8)
- Texas Tech (plus-12.5)
- Baylor (plus-11.7)
- Virginia (plus-9.9)
- Nevada (plus-9.9)
- Fresno State (plus-9.4)
- Arizona (plus-8.9)
- Washington (plus-7.8)
- Clemson (plus-7.5)
Here's the thing about this list: only one of these offenses ranked better than 19th in Off. F/+. Four ranked 48th or worse.
Pace is a loaded weapon. It can do serious damage to your opponent, but if you're not prepared for the recoil, you might just do damage to yourself.
There were plenty of good offenses on this list, but only one not only took pace to its logical extreme, but did so consistently. That, of course, would be Baylor's, which finished fourth in Off. F/+.
Granted, the late-season injuries turned Baylor's offense into only an above-average unit and showed us just how quickly the balancing act of pace and precision can topple. But Baylor had that balance for much of 2013, and with the return of quarterback Bryce Petty and an offseason to account for the losses of Reese, running back Lache Seastrunk, and All-American guard Cyril Richardson, the Bears could have it again.
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Bryce Petty||6'3, 230||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||250||403||4200||32||3||62.0%||17||4.0%||10.42|
|Seth Russell||6'3, 205||So.||3 stars (5.5)||26||43||427||3||3||60.5%||5||10.4%||9.93|
|Chris Johnson||6'4, 220||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
As strange as it sounds, it's kind of hard to stand out as Baylor's quarterback at the moment. Griffin set the bar almost unattainably high in terms of stats and name recognition. But beyond that, the pure volume of exciting skill position talent means that a given Baylor quarterback has become more distributor than star. It's easy to post pretty good stats while handing to Lache Seastrunk and Shock Linwood and throwing to wide-open Tevin Reese, Antwan Goodley, etc.
Still ... Bryce Petty threw 32 touchdown passes to three interceptions in 403 throws. He was sacked just once for every 25 pass attempts, and he was a tremendous short-yardage bulldozer, rushing for 14 touchdowns in just 77 non-sack carries. That's pretty special. Granted, when injuries set in, Petty didn't exactly raise his game; in his final four games, he completed just 58 percent of his passes and threw two of his three picks. But he still managed a passer rating of at least 134.9 in three of those four games, and Baylor still averaged 32.5 points per game without his left tackle (Drango), without one of the nation's best receivers (Reese) and with one of the nation's best running backs (Seastrunk) at less than 100 percent. That's a pretty high floor.
Petty's supporting cast will be younger in 2014. Seastrunk and Reese are gone for good, as is four-year veteran Glasco Martin. The line must replace three of its eight players with starting experience (68 career starts), including Richardson. The two leading running backs are sophomores, as is wideout Corey Coleman, who will likely be a major contributor.
Still, it's hard to be too worried, isn't it? As an out-of-nowhere freshman contributor, Linwood did quite a Seastrunk impersonation for much of the season, nearly matching Seastrunk's efficiency and explosiveness. Plus, big back Devin Chafin showed some serious jets in limited opportunities as well. And even without Reese, Baylor boasts the return of five players who were a) targeted at least 37 times and b) averaged at least 8.4 yards per target.
Of the 67 FBS players who were targeted at least 100 times, Antwan Goodley was the only one with at least a 66 percent catch rate and at least 18 yards per catch. He's back, as is Levi Norwood, who averaged more than 15 yards per catch with nearly an 80-percent catch rate. Plus, KD Cannon and Davion Hall were among the best high school receivers in the country last year and probably won't need to wait long to become valuable contributors.
So yeah, don't cry too much for Petty. He'll be just fine in 2014.
|Shock Linwood||RB||5'8, 200||So.||3 stars (5.5)||128||881||8||6.9||6.2||47.7%|
|Bryce Petty||QB||6'3, 230||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||94||209||14||2.2||3.4||37.7%|
|Devin Chafin||RB||6'0, 220||So.||3 stars (5.5)||51||295||4||5.8||8.8||29.4%|
|Anthony Webb||RB||6'0, 190||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||27||150||0||5.6||7.2||37.0%|
|Seth Russell||QB||6'3, 205||So.||3 stars (5.5)||24||147||3||6.1||6.0||78.9%|
|Antwan Goodley||WR||5'10, 225||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||6||33||0||5.5||5.5||50.0%|
|Johnny Jefferson||RB||5'11, 200||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Terence Williams||RB||6'2, 225||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Antwan Goodley||WR||5'10, 225||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||109||71||1339||66.1%||25.1%||47.6%||12.4||488||11.4||223.1|
|Corey Coleman||WR||5'10, 185||So.||4 stars (5.8)||61||35||527||57.4%||14.0%||61.1%||8.6||77||6.3||87.2|
|Levi Norwood||IR||6'1, 195||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||60||47||733||78.3%||13.8%||58.1%||12.2||215||11.9||121.2|
|Clay Fuller||IR||6'1, 210||Sr.||NR||55||32||512||58.2%||12.6%||46.2%||9.3||104||8.8||84.7|
|Jay Lee||WR||6'2, 215||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||37||22||309||59.5%||8.5%||66.7%||8.4||31||13.5||51.1|
|Shock Linwood||RB||5'8, 200||So.||3 stars (5.5)||5||4||19||80.0%||1.1%||75.0%||3.8||-25||3.0||3.1|
|Lynx Hawthorne||WR||5'11, 205||So.||3 stars (5.5)||3||2||14||66.7%||0.7%||N/A||4.7||-10||0.0||2.3|
|Cal Spangler||IR||5'10, 185||Jr.||NR|
|Quan Jones||WR||6'5, 210||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|KD Cannon||WR||5'11, 160||Fr.||4 stars (6.0)|
|Davion Hall||WR||6'2, 200||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Cyril Richardson||LG||42||Consensus All-American, Jim Parker Trophy,
1st All-Big 12
|Spencer Drango||LT||6'5, 315||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||22||1st All-Big 12|
|Troy Baker||RT||6'6, 310||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||15|
|Desmine Hilliard||RG||6'4, 330||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||13|
|Pat Colbert||LT||6'5, 305||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||2|
|Tyler Edwards||RT||6'6, 295||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0|
|LaQuan McGowan||LG||6'6, 385||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0|
|Blake Muir||LG||6'6, 300||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0|
|Kyle Fuller||C||6'4, 305||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0|
|Jarell Broxton||RG||6'5, 330||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Josh Pelzel||OL||6'6, 335||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
5. The depth isn't spectacular
Even with Richardson still manning the left guard position, it only took the loss of Drango to create a bit of a sieve up front for Baylor. The line was still decent, but the line stats decreased dramatically, raising pretty serious questions about depth.
Granted, it's hard to worry too much about Baylor's skill positions; if the Bears lose Goodley for a significant amount of time, that could hurt, but there's plenty of firepower on the second string. But if there's an injury at quarterback or on the offensive line, the second-stringer might be a pretty big step behind the starter.
Now, depth is a pretty good Biggest Problem to have — it only might hurt you. But it still could. It did in 2013.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||37.5%||17||Succ. Rt. +||112.4||23|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||30.9||50||Off. FP+||101.5||44|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.0||55||Redzone S&P+||109.5||26|
|Q1 Rk||62||1st Down Rk||47|
|Q2 Rk||5||2nd Down Rk||10|
|Q3 Rk||31||3rd Down Rk||24|
6. We caught glimpses
Phil Bennett isn't exactly the most beloved defensive coordinator in the country. The 58-year-old former SMU head coach and nearly 25-year coordinator (Iowa State for four years, Purdue for five, LSU for three, Texas A&M for two, TCU for one, Kansas State for three, Pittsburgh for three, Baylor for three and counting) has done two things that don't tend to reflect well on you in this role: allow lots of points and allow lots of yards.
Bennett inherited a unit that had ranked 97th in Def. F/+ in 2010, and in his first two years, the Bears technically improved, but only to 87th and 79th. They allowed 37 points and 488 yards per game in 2011, then allowed 37 and 502, respectively, in 2012. Improvement is improvement, but the defense was still a major liability.
In 2013, however, we caught glimpses of Bennett's vision. The Baylor defense is going to face far too many plays to post what we might deem high-quality traditional stats; its job is to simply break serve, to make as many big quick stops and force as many costly mistakes as possible. You can move the ball on Baylor, and in 2013, you could pull off quite a few big plays. But the Bears became quite proficient at forcing three-and-outs and turnovers, and that's all this offense needs. They'll give you a few big plays, knowing that their offense can create even more. But if they flip the field on you a few times, you're probably toast.
Baylor managed to combine an active secondary with a monstrous, strong front line in 2013. Things ran off the rails when the defense's quarterback and mess-cleaner, Bryce Hager, went down, but he's back (or at least, he should be), as are most of the weapons up front. If the front six can improve further, it might take pressure off of a rebuilt secondary.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jamal Palmer||DE||6'3, 245||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||13||32.5||4.3%||11.0||5.0||0||1||5||0|
|Shawn Oakman||DE||6'9, 280||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||13||27.0||3.5%||12.5||2.0||0||0||2||0|
|Andrew Billings||NT||6'0, 310||So.||4 stars (5.8)||11||23.5||3.1%||4.0||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Beau Blackshear||DT||6'4, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||13||23.0||3.0%||6.0||2.5||0||0||0||0|
|Byron Bonds||DT||6'0, 275||So.||3 stars (5.5)||11||16.5||2.2%||3.5||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Suleiman Masumbuko||NT||6'2, 290||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||11||11.5||1.5%||2.5||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Trevor Clemons-Valdez||DT||6'3, 290||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||10||3.5||0.5%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Peni Tagive||DE||6'3, 225||So.||NR||5||2.5||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Terrell Brooks||DT||6'4, 305||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||5||2.0||0.3%||1.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
(Boise State 2012)
|DE||6'5, 245||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||13||25.5||3.4%||7.0||4.5||0||1||0||2|
|Javonte Magee||DT||6'5, 280||So.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Brian Nance||DE||6'2, 250||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|K.J. Smith||DE||6'2, 255||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
7. A fearsome front
Baylor brings in linemen of all shapes and sizes. You've got mountainous Shawn Oakman. You've got squatty (literally squatty) Andrew Billings. You've got linebacker-sized end Jamal Palmer. You've also got a lot of quality. Oakman, a Penn State transfer, became eligible in 2013; combined with the emergence of Palmer and the immediate contribution of Billings, Baylor suddenly had a young (mostly freshmen and sophomores), viable defensive front.
While the loss of Chris McAllister and Terrance Lloyd could hurt (the two combined for 8.5 sacks on a defense that needed a few more sacks), it might only hurt so much. Six players with at least 2.5 tackles for loss return, and Baylor welcomes Boise State transfer Sam Ukwuachu to the rotation, along with four-star sophomore Javonte Magee (injured in 2013) and four-star redshirt freshman Brian Nance. Baylor's line, so bad for so long, is easily now one of the best in the conference.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Bryce Hager||MLB||6'2, 235||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||9||58.5||7.7%||2.5||1.0||0||3||0||1|
|Aiavion Edwards||WLB||6'1, 225||So.||3 stars (5.7)||12||18.0||2.4%||3.5||1.5||0||1||0||0|
|Kendall Ehrlich||MLB||6'1, 225||So.||3 stars (5.6)||13||13.0||1.7%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Raaquan Davis||WLB||6'2, 220||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Xavier Phillips||LB||6'0, 230||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Taylor Young||WLB||5'10, 225||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Grant Campbell||MLB||6'1, 225||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Terrell Burt||CS||5'10, 185||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||13||48.5||6.4%||1.5||0||2||4||0||0|
|Orion Stewart||DS||6'2, 185||So.||2 stars (5.3)||13||32.0||4.2%||0||0||1||4||0||0|
|Patrick Levels||NB||5'8, 190||So.||3 stars (5.5)||13||12.0||1.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ryan Reid||CB||5'11, 175||So.||3 stars (5.7)||7||7.0||0.9%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Kiante' Griffin||DB||6'0, 215||So.||3 stars (5.7)||11||5.5||0.7%||1.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Taion Sells||CS||5'10, 185||So.||3 stars (5.5)||9||5.5||0.7%||0||0||1||1||0||0|
|Xavien Howard||CB||6'2, 200||So.||2 stars (5.2)||13||5.0||0.7%||0||0||1||0||1||0|
|Anthony Webb||S||6'0, 190||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||13||5.0||0.7%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Terrence Singleton||CB||5'11, 195||So.||3 stars (5.6)||13||4.0||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Collin Brence||NB||5'11, 205||Sr.||NR||11||3.5||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Alfred Pullom||DS||6'2, 185||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Travon Blanchard||S||6'2, 190||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Chris Sanders||CB||6'1, 185||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Tion Wright||DB||5'8, 170||So.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Jourdan Blake||DB||5'11, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
8. A barren backfield
Baylor was in a lot of ways Michigan State Lite on defense in 2013. (That's pretty much where the State comparisons stop, of course.) The Bears played as physically as possible, sacrificing a few big plays for a series of three-and-outs, and their primary goal in the secondary was to dare officials to call penalties, banking on the fact that they won't get called for pass interference or holding or unnecessary roughness on every play. As with State, the gambit failed once — State was called for numerous costly pass interference penalties against Notre Dame, and Baylor DBs were constantly getting flagged in the Fiesta Bowl — but it worked more often than not.
Bennett presumably wants to play the same style in 2014, but he'll have to do so without a successful set of senior defensive backs. Safeties Ahmad Dixon and Sam Holl combined for 12 tackles for loss and 14 passes defensed, while corners K.J. Morton, Demetri Goodson, and Joe Williams combined for 6.5 tackles for loss (all from Morton) and a devastating 39 passes defensed. Junior safety Terrell Burt does return, as do sophomores Orion Stewart and Patrick Levels.
But the cornerback position is going to be all sorts of green this fall, and physical corners like Morton and Goodson don't grow on trees. There will almost certainly be a step backwards in terms of pass defense. Again, if the front six can counteract that regression, then this could again be a top-30 defense. But the odds of an overall drop-off are decent.
|Spencer Roth||6'4, 225||Sr.||52||45.8||7||20||17||71.2%|
|Kyle Peterson||5'11, 205||Jr.||18||57.2||3||0||16.7%|
|Kyle Peterson||5'11, 205||Jr.||6-7||0-0||1-1||100.0%|
|Corey Coleman||KR||5'10, 185||So.||17||28.4||1|
|Clay Fuller||KR||6'1, 210||Sr.||12||16.8||0|
|Levi Norwood||PR||6'1, 195||Sr.||25||9.6||2|
|Cal Spangler||PR||5'10, 185||Jr.||2||5.0||0|
|Special Teams F/+||88|
|Field Goal Efficiency||93|
|Punt Return Efficiency||89|
|Kick Return Efficiency||42|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||27|
9. Not quite enough from special teams
Quite a few good teams had extreme special teams liabilities in 2013. South Carolina ranked 10th in overall F/+ but 113th in Special Teams F/+, Arizona ranked 25th and 106th, and Ole Miss ranked 28th and 92nd. In comparison, Baylor's No. 88 unit certainly could have been worse, but the place kicking was quite shaky, kick and punt coverage were full of glitches (it takes some serious breakdowns to average 45.8 yards per punt and still rank only 91st in Punt Efficiency), and while the return game produced three touchdowns, it also produced quite a few paltry returns.
This was a feast-or-famine unit on a feast-or-famine team, but with the return of all the return men and a strong-legged punter in Spencer Roth, there should probably be some improvement this year.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|27-Sep||at Iowa State||80|
|18-Oct||at West Virginia||71|
|29-Nov||vs. Texas Tech||46|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||8.0% (38)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||29|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||13 / 7.0|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||12 (6, 6)|
10. Beware Oct. 4
Thanks to the losses in the skill positions and the secondary, expectations are not extraordinarily high for Baylor in 2013. This is a good thing — new powers sometimes wilt under the weight of extra expectations. But there's still a lot of upside here, especially on offense and on the defensive line, and the schedule is conducive to another fast start.
If you're a Baylor fan, you're looking at the above schedule and thinking, "Cool! 8-0 start!" Baylor faces only two projected top-30 teams, and both come after Nov. 1. And the four road games that come before the trip to Norman are against teams that combined to go just 23-27 last year. For a defending conference champion, that slate should be quite manageable.
But you just know that Texas is going to be swinging hard in Austin on Oct. 4. The first big home game of the Charlie Strong-era comes against the team whose rise (in both quality and general offensive excitement) coincided almost perfectly with the fall in Austin. That Texas maybe beating Baylor in Austin is a legitimate Upset Watch candidate tells you so many funny things about the Big 12's balance of power, but that will be a tough game for Baylor to survive. Do so, then handle TCU the next week, and the Bears will enter November as serious contenders for a second straight conference title.
"Survive an upset bid in Austin, and Baylor could be positioned well for another conference title run." Go back to 2008 and run that sentence by a Baylor fan or general college football fan. See what their reaction is.