Briles and the Art of Baylor Football
Art Briles could perhaps be forgiven for his disappointment at his team not being picked to win the Big 12 conference in 2015 (Lindyssports.com). After all, once-moribund Baylor is now the winner of the last two conference titles and was still in the college football playoff hunt late into the season. But for a shock loss at West Virginia, the Bears would have absolutely made it to the final four. Instead, Baylor failed to close out Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, and the luster was off the golden Bears.
But Briles is not one to look back. Indeed, his success at Baylor is built on forward momentum, and with 19 starters returning from last year's 11-2 campaign, the Bears may well be set for another title run. Indeed, if anything, last year's snub has given the team a Texas-sized chip on its shoulders, and Briles is actively cultivating that frustration into a "mission to create an atmosphere of excellence" and prove the naysayers wrong (Big XII Sports). He openly admits that a return trip to the Cotton Bowl--this time as part of the playoffs--would go a long way in "burying the ghost" of 2014.
Kansas State hosts Baylor in early November, with both teams coming off a bye week. What can the Wildcats expect on November 6th?
Petty is gone, but so what?
Last year, Baylor's score-a-minute offense did not disappoint, ranking first in yards per game (581.5) and fourth in passing yardage. Baylor was also a model of balance in 2014, strong through the air and on the ground, even if the number of big plays--both passing and rushing--were slightly off the huge numbers from 2013. The running game was also slightly off in 2014, but Shock Linwood is back this year, and even if he is no better than he was last year (251 rushes, 1252 yards, 16 TD), that's still plenty good enough, especially as his backfield brethren Devin Chafin and Johnny Jefferson combined for over 900 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The running game may not even matter, considering the explosive receiving corps Baylor brings back this year. Leading wideout Antwan Goodley is gone, but KD Cannon and Corey Coleman could inflict devastating damage on Big 12 defenses this season.
If there's a question mark on the offense, it is at quarterback. Bryce Petty has moved on to the NFL, and those are some big shoes to fill. But his replacement on the depth chart, Seth Russell, is probably up to the task. Playing mostly mop-up last year, Russell showed decent big play ability (16.6 yards/completion) and mobility (5.8 yards/carry). He should do just fine.
In other words, a win over Baylor is not likely on November 6th.
In search of a fourth quarter defense
Baylor was leading by three touchdowns when Michigan State crept back into the game and ultimately won (Jake Trotter, ESPN). Briles admitted to being embarrassed by the late game fade. This was a bit of a theme for the defense towards the end of the season, as Baylor was outscored 19-3, 7-0, and 21-0 in the fourth quarter by Texas Tech, Kansas State and Michigan State respectively.
Linebacker Bryce Hager, the anchor of the defense, is gone. But the rest of the defensive front returns, including all-everything defensive lineman Shawn Oakman. That should help maintain a much-improved run defense, even with the loss of Hager.
Inexperience in the secondary may have been a problem last year, and the upset loss to West Virginia was at least partially the result of several defensive penalties from a young unit playing a bit too aggressively (as might be expected for a Phil Bennett-coached defense). In fact, Baylor led all of college football in penalties last season, at a clip of almost 10 penalties a game. But this year, that secondary returns almost intact with a full year of experience and plenty of depth. Whether that means Baylor can avoid the inconsistency and late game drop-off that led to two losses remains to be seen.
A fanpost at Our Daily Bears has picked Kansas State to finish ninth in the conference. After you've picked yourself off the floor and yelled DISRESPECT! a few times, read the position grades for the Wildcats in that post and you'll see why Baylor fans are so pessimistic, the purple wizardry of Bill Snyder notwithstanding. Indeed, the only reason they did not pick Kansas State last is because Kansas football is still a thing.
Baylor's defensive front should be effective against the Kansas State rushing attack, especially if the Wildcats' passing game is really as vanilla and anemic as currently predicted. Then again, Baylor is somewhat inexperienced at quarterback this year, and I expect the Kansas State defense, and especially the secondary, to exploit that inexperience in the same way as in 2013.
However, the outcome probably will be the same as in 2013, with Baylor just having a bit too much offense for Kansas State to handle over four quarters. Baylor 35 Kansas State 21.