|Baylor's 2013 schedule|
Can Alabama make a run at a third straight national title? Can Ohio State replicate last year's 12-0 campaign? Can Oregon maintain its standard of success under new leadership? With the college football season approaching, Sports Illustrated unveils its preseason Top 25.
The case for
After Robert Griffin III took the Bears to their first and second bowl games since 1994, Nick Florence surprised fans by getting the team to a third straight bowl and setting a school single-season passing record (4,309 yards). Now the job of keeping that bowl streak alive belongs to a junior who has thrown just 14 passes. Fortunately for Bryce Petty, Baylor's offense is loaded. Senior guard Cyril Richardson, a second-team All-America, will help protect his blind side, while junior Lache Seastrunk -- who rushed for 1,012 yards last year after transferring from Oregon -- and senior Glasco Martin (889) form one of the most productive backfields in the country. Seastrunk said in December that he'll be gunning for the 2013 Heisman Trophy, and coach Art Briles calls him "an RGIII-caliber, game-changing type of player."
Defensively, Baylor averaged 2.6 takeaways over the last five Big 12 games, held UCLA to 33 rushing yards in a 49-26 Holiday Bowl victory and has seven players with at least 13 games of starting experience, plus junior linebacker Bryce Hager, who led the conference with 124 tackles.
The case against
Even in an offensive league like the Big 12, a team can't dominate if it surrenders 37.2 points per game, as Baylor did last season -- especially with an unproven quarterback.
Baylor should be halfway to bowl eligibility for the fourth straight season by the end of September and will ease into October with a visit from West Virginia. The Bears will pay for that soft start with a daunting November, when they host Oklahoma and Texas Tech and visit Oklahoma State and at TCU before a Dec. 7 showdown with Texas.
0: The number of home losses Baylor sustained in four games against Top 25 foes over the past two seasons. The Bears have knocked off ranked Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Oklahoma and TCU squads in Waco.
WR Antwan Goodley: A 5-foot-10, 220-pound junior, Goodley reeled in 17 catches for 171 yards in 2012. He has the speed (he runs a 4.41 40) and playmaking ability to become a difference-maker for the Bears.
Freshman to watch
DT Andrew Billings: A four-star recruit, Billings earned all-state honors after starring on both sides of the line at nearby Waco (Texas) High. Though he amassed 132 pancake blocks as a senior, he'll serve as a defensive tackle for the Bears. "He could have gone anywhere and chose to stay here," said Briles of the 6-foot, 305-pounder. "That was an exciting moment when he declared that he was going to play at Baylor. This office that I'm quietly sitting in right now was total chaos."
The defense: It's been four years since the Bears cracked the national top 100 in total defense, but as coordinator Phil Bennett points out, "In this league, total yardage is a joke. You go by scoring, red zone, third downs." To improve in 2013, he plans to augment Baylor's base 4-2-5 with more nickel and dime packages. Injuries plagued the secondary last year, but additional depth could finally give the offense a break.
2013 stat projections (By RotoWire.com)
QB Bryce Petty: 3,825 passing yards, 27 TDs; 337 rushing yards, 6 TDs
RB Lache Seastrunk: 1,413 rushing yards, 13 TDs; 175 receiving yards, 1 TD
WR Tevin Reese: 1,204 receiving yards, 12 TDs; 25 rushing yards
Coach speak: Art Briles
SI: What improvements do you need to see from Bryce Petty?
AB: What I'm working with him on is making sure all of his actions are tight and [made] in a real quick, structured fashion.
SI: You said, "This should be the highest-rated class we've ever had." What made it so strong?
AB: We signed -- and this is not fiction, it's fact -- the fastest guy in America who plays football, [defensive back] Kyle Fulks. He [ran] a 10.2 [100 meters] this year, and he'll run close to a 20-flat 200. We also signed the best receiver in America in Robbie Rhodes, a five-star recruit, a fast guy who can track the football. And then [6-foot, 305-pound defensive tackle] Andrew Billings is the strongest guy in America -- he just broke a 22-year-old [Texas high school] powerlifting mark.
SI: You won four straight to end last season. How important was that to gaining momentum in 2013?
AB: It was critical. Our guys are walking around here with a lot of belief in the process. There's not a lot of doubts about whether we belong or whether we can contend.