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College Football Preview 2014-2015: 11. Baylor Bears

Bryce Petty
11. Baylor Bears 

Coach: Art Briles (7th year)
2013-2014 Record: 11-2 (8-1 Big 12)

August 31st vs. SMU
September 6th vs. Northwestern State
September 12th @ Buffalo
September 27th @ Iowa State
October 4th @ Texas
October 11th vs. TCU
October 18th @ West Virginia
November 1st vs. Kansas
November 8th @ Oklahoma
November 22nd vs. Oklahoma State
November 29th vs. Texas Tech (in Arlington)
December 6th vs. Kansas State

Despite not having RG3 or Nick Florence, Baylor had their most successful year in school history, winning the Big 12, going 11-2 and making their way into the Fiesta Bowl. They had the nation's most explosive offense, averaging 52.4 points per game (1st in the nation) and 618.8 yards per game (also top in the nation). Heisman candidate Bryce Petty returns at the quarterback position and a number of offensive weapons also return to surround him. The defense may have some losses but Art Briles has developed a winning formula in Waco and this year's Baylor team has legitimate talent to win the conference once again.

Backfield: Petty threw for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns as a junior last season, spreading the ball around to a plethora of offensive playmakers. To make things even more amazing, Petty threw for just three interceptions, even throwing the ball 403 times in 2013. His huge arm is extremely scary for opposing coaches and defenses and he has spectacular deep accuracy. He can make all the throws the Bears will need and if he keeps his numbers similar to the way they were last season, he could have a real shot at the Heisman. Gone is Lache Seastrunk, a running back who left early to the NFL, leaving the running back duties to super sophomore Shock Linwood. Linwood, who ran for 881 yards and eight touchdowns last season as a reserve, has the talent to have a huge year. Linwood has excellent hands and can become a real threat out of the backfield. Joining Linwood will be four-star back Terence Williams, a Texas prospect who has the talent to do big things for Baylor. He has the talent to get carries right away for the Bears.
Antwan Goodley

Receivers: The Bears are slowly becoming "Wide Receiver U" as they have produced a ton of talent at wide receiver the past couple seasons. From Kendall Wright and Terrence Williams to Tevin Reese, Art Briles continues to land marquee receiving talents and develop them into stars. The next great receiver in Waco is senior Antwan Goodley, who had 71 catches in 2013. Goodley also had 13 touchdowns and averaged nearly 19 yards per catch. He is a dynamic receiver who can beat you deep often do damage in so many different ways. Goodley is surrounded by a number of other dangerous receivers including senior Levi Norwood, who will definitely benefit from Goodley. With Goodley stretching the defense and forcing defensive backs to worry about him, Norwood gets plenty of opportunities in the middle of the field. He had 47 receptions, along with 733 yards and eight touchdowns. Sophomore Corey Coleman also returns, giving Baylor a talented, experienced receiving corps to work with. No surprise, considering Briles always brings in the best receivers available in the Southwest. This year's additions include four-star K.D. Cannon, a superb athlete who can make some amazing catches. Cannon, who is from Mount Pleasant, Texas could get a lot of snaps and put together a big freshman campaign. Also joining Cannon in these receiving corps will be Houston find Ishmael Zamora and another Texas guy, Chris Platt. Both of these are four-star talents who will add important depth to this unit as a whole. The loss of former big-time recrut Robbie Rhodes, who transferred to Bowling Green, stings. Sophomore Tre'Von Armstead will likely be the starter at tight end and should be a nice option in the intermediate passing game, with receivers stretching the defense vertically.

Offensive Line: While few teams have the offensive weapons Baylor has, a big reason for the Bears success the past couple seasons has been the ability to build a strong, effective offensive line with good depth. Three starters are gone on this unit, but the most important piece to it returns in junior tackle Spencer Drango. The left tackle received All-Big 12 honors last year and proved to be among the nation's most effective blockers. Drango has the size of an NFL left tackle and moves very well, enabling him to pick up rushing defenders and stop them from getting into the backfield. On the other side of the line, junior Desmine Hilliard returns, who will start at right guard. Hilliard is a pretty good athlete who has the athleticism and stamina to keep up in this fast-paced, up-tempo offense. Junior LaQuan McGowan is a massive tower of a linemen who should be the starting guard on the left side of this unit. McGowan has proved to be very raw and he is prone to mistakes at times and read defenses wrong. He still has a long way to go, but he is slowly getting there. Junior college commit Jarell Broxton is the No. 2 offensive guard coming out of this year's JUCO ranks. Broxton is a talent who could possibly push McGowan for a starting role. At right tackle, senior Troy Baker returns, a smart, steady vet who has been a backup his whole career and should impress now, getting an opportunity to start.

Defensive Line: An explosive offense can only take you so far. A big reason for Baylor's breakthrough 2013 was an improved defense, which was a Top-30 unit last year. A big reason for the improvement was the defense's ability to get to the quarterback and force him into mistakes. This defensive line loses some talent but it should still provide opponents with a scary pass rush. Defensive tackle is in good hands, as junior Beau Blackshear returns, giving the Bears a veteran presence in their front seven. Blackshear has impressive size and is very helpful in run defense, he had 33 tackles and six TFL last year. Joining him in the interior of this unit is a player ready to step up and play important snaps in sophomore Andrew Billings. Another humungous, 300-pounder in the middle, Billings should clog running lanes and occupy blockers. At defensive end, two juniors will likely step into bigger roles in junior Shawn Oakman (a former transfer from Penn State) and Jamal Palmer. There are huge football players in the trenches in major college football, but few are bigger than Oakman. He is 6'9", 275 pounds and he can easily push his way into the backfield and disrupt opponents. Palmer was very effective last season even though he didn't really start. He recorded 11 tackles for loss and five sacks and with a bigger role, he could be even more productive. Sophomore Byron Bonds will compete for major snaps at defensive tackle after a solid 2013. Three-star prospect Xavier Jones will find ways to make an impact off the bench.

Linebackers: Gone is Eddie Lackey, a smart, efficient leader for Baylor, who leaves a major hole. Lackey did everything last season for Baylor, he had 108 tackles, 3 interceptions along with 13 tackles for loss. The good news is that senior Bryce Hager returns in this 4-2-5 look. Hager had 71 tackles and 2.5 TFL in 2013 despite missing the last couple games due to a groin injury. The big question is who will replace Lackey at the other linebacker position? Redshirt freshman Taylor Young is young but he has the potential to fill in nicely. Young could be a help in coverage who also is a sure tackler though pushing in a redshirt freshman for a player who had 108 tackles is always risky business. Sophomore Kendall Ehrlich will also compete for snaps along with another sophomore, Aiavion Edwards. Both also have talent and a little bit more experience than Young but this linebacker position is still going to be a question entering fall practice. A pair of incoming outside linebackers, James Jacobs III and Cordell Dorsey are two great athletes who should be very productive in their careers in Waco.

Secondary: There are a ton of questions in this secondary as just one starter returns to a unit that was pretty decent last season (allowed 214.9 yards per game, 34th in the nation). Included in the departures is playmaking safety Sam Holl, who had 66 tackles and 10 tackles for loss. The lone returner in this unit is junior Terrell Burt, a defensive stalwart who should start at free safety. Burt had 61 tackles last year and proved to have incredible range and the ability to do a number of different things for Baylor. A number of inexperienced sophomores will be counted on to contribute in big ways for the Bears. Orion Stewart is one of the many candidates hoping to take over at strong safety. Stewart is a great athlete who could help in coverage but he is also prone to making mistakes. Cornerback Terrence Singleton will be counted on to shut down some of the Big 12's top receivers. Singleton is tough and quick and won't back down to the challenge. Yet another sophomore, Xavien Howard, will also hope to find a starting role at cornerback. Help does arrive in four-star safety T'Kevian Rockwell.

Special Teams: The return of punter Spencer Roth certainly helps for Baylor, as the senior led the Big 12 in yards per punt, with an average of 45.8. Although they didn't punt or kick much because of how explosive their offense is, having Roth is a major plus. The loss of Rhodes really hurts the special teams, as he could return kicks.

Once more, Baylor should be among the most exciting teams in the nation with all the talent returning offensively. If Petty, Linwood and Goodley all stay healthy and play to their potential, this team could legitimately put up 60 points per game. The defense must find leadership and another impact player in their secondary. The schedule ends with a rough stretch that includes both Oklahoma schools, Texas Tech and Kansas State, but this Baylor team is definitely prepared to continue their hot streak. A Big 12 title is a real possibility and if that happens don't count out the Bears out of a spot in the College Football Playoff.

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