NCAA Football Preview - Baylor Bears

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Updated: 8/20/2013 10:46 am

Head coach Art Briles would rally his troops down the stretch, leading to wins in five of the last six games, including decisions over Kansas State (52-24), Texas Tech (52-45) and Oklahoma State (41-34).

Sporting a regular-season record of 7-5, the Bears were rewarded with an invite to the Holiday Bowl where they dismissed UCLA in a 49-26 final. Still, while ending the season on a positive note was great, a 4-5 showing in conference wasn't what Briles had envisioned. To that point, there is much work to be done as the Bears look ahead to the challenges that loom on the horizon.

2013 ANALYSIS:

OFFENSE: The big question for Baylor in 2013 is who is going to be the team's quarterback following the record-setting years turned in by both Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence?

Next in line appears to be junior Bryce Petty, a 6-foot-3, 230-pounder who has seen only limited playing time the last two years, but who appears to have the skills and confidence to be BU's next great signal-caller.

Briles believes that Petty has all the tools needed to run his offense efficiently.

"A reasonable expectation is for him to break every Baylor record there is offensively, which is what we expect him to do and what he plans to do," Briles said at the Big 12 Media Event late last month.

"I don't know what expectation anyone would have other than doing that, which equates to winning every football game we step on the field with, which needs to be his expectation along with ours."

Helping to get Petty acclimated to regular playing time will be running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin, a highly-productive tandem (combined 1,901 yards, 22 TDs) capable of creating big plays every time they touch the ball. Seastrunk, a former Oregon Duck, really came into his own late last season, rushing for more than 800 yards and scoring six touchdowns over the final six games.

As for the receiving corps, the loss of All-American Terrance Williams (97 receptions, 1,832 yards, 12 TDs) will surely hurt, but senior Tevin Reese is expected to step up and be the man opposing defenses will key on after he caught 53 balls for 957 yards and nine TDs in 2012. Others to keep an eye on include Levi Norwood (40 rec., 487 yards, one TD) and Antwan Goodley (17 rec., 171 yards, two TDs).

The offensive line returns a pair of starters on the left side in tackle Spencer Drango and guard Cyril Richardson, the latter of whom earned All- America accolades last season.

DEFENSE: The Baylor defense allowed 488.5 yards and 37.2 points per game in 2011, and the hope was last year's unit would perform significantly better. Unfortunately, the Bears surrendered the same number of points, and actually saw foes muster an average of 502.2 ypg, the 6,529 total yards allowed setting a new school record for the second year in a row.

With seven starters back in the fold, five of which are seniors, Briles hopes his defense is better prepared for the rigors of facing some of the most prolific offenses in the country.

Bookends Chris McAllister and Terrance Lloyd combined for 95 tackles and 10 of the team's 19 sacks last season, but they'll need to up the ante this fall as the interior line is expected to feature a couple of newcomers, the most talented of which being former prep All-American Javonte McGee.

Linebacker is where the Bears should excel, as Bryce Hager, Eddie Lackey and Sam Holl are all back after ranking atop the team's tackles list last season. Hager led the way with 124 stops, while Lackey also went over the century mark and logged a team-high 10.5 TFL and four interceptions.

The secondary boasts a pair of returning starters in safety Ahmad Dixon and corner Joe Williams. Dixon finished third on the team in total tackles (102) and combined with Williams to pick off five passes, the Bears coming up with 18 interceptions all told.

While admitting there were plenty of missed opportunities last season, Briles liked the way his team, particularly his defense, played down the stretch.

"The defense certainly came on late and did some things that really helped propel us as a football team by getting great turnovers," Briles said.

"Coach [Phil] Bennett and that staff did a great job over there. If we start like we finished last year defensively, which I expect to, then we're going to be a very formidable opponent, I can guarantee you that."

SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Aaron Jones and punter Spencer Roth are as steady as they come, the former laying claim to the school record for points (327), and the latter upping his per kick average to more than 43 ypp last season.

As for the return game, there is no shortage of speedy guys chomping at the bit for their chance to help the Bears attain favorable field position, or hit a home run with a huge return.

OUTLOOK: The Bears get three softballs out of the gate, as Wofford, Buffalo and ULM will serve as little more than speed bumps on the road to the conference opener versus West Virginia on Oct. 5. Baylor won't play its first road game until heading to Kansas State on Oct. 12, and getting both Oklahoma and Texas at home certainly helps their chances in those bouts.

The month of November in particular will be tough for BU, but getting the required number of wins to earn a fourth straight bowl bid shouldn't be a problem. Winning the Big 12 on the other hand, will take some inspired play along with a whole lot of luck.

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