Head Coach: Art Briles
2014 Record: 11-2 overall, 8-1 Big 12
2014 Bowl Result: Lost to Michigan State 42-41 in the Cotton Bowl
2015 Returning Starters: 8 offense, 9 defense
Odds to win 2016 College Football Championship Game: 25/1
Odds to win 2015 Big 12 Championship: 5/2
Regular Season Wins: over 10 -130 / under 10 +100
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Last year, the Baylor Bears and the TCU Horned Frogs each had 11 wins including 8 in the Big 12. Baylor beat TCU but both teams were snubbed for the inaugural College Football playoff. Baylor would lose to Michigan State 42-41 in the Cotton Bowl despite leading by 20 going into the fourth quarter.
Baylor returns 17 starters but must replace offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery who left to become the head coach at Tulsa. Kendal Briles, son of coach Art, was promoted to offensive coordinator after running the passing game last season.
Both Baylor and TCU are favored again to contend for the Big 12 title in 2015. Baylor is looking for their third straight Big 12 title. Let’s take a look at the Bears on offense, defense and special teams as well as the outlook and schedule.
Eight starters return on offense for the Bears including the entire offensive line. The notable exception is quarterback Bryce Petty who was a fourth round pick for the New York Jets. Petty threw for 3,855 yards with 29 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, and also added 6 rushing touchdowns. His replacement is fourth year junior Seth Russell who started a couple of games in place of an injured Petty and got more play in mop-up duty of blowouts. Russell completed 56.5% of his passed for 804 yards with 8 touchdowns and an interception. He is also a much bigger rushing threat than Petty. Russell rushed for 185 yards on 32 carries with 3 touchdowns. The Bears will still be explosive after leading the nation in total offense for the last two seasons.
This is mainly because the running backs and wide receivers return after putting up terrific numbers last season. Running back Shock Linwood rushed for 1,252 yards on 251 carries with 16 touchdowns, along with 7 catches. Johnny Jefferson also returns after rushing for 524 yards on 100 carries with 6 touchdowns. Jefferson will also take over as the primary kick returner in place of Levi Norwood, now with the Chicago Bears. Devin Chafin is also back after rushing for 383 yards on 80 carries with 8 touchdowns, despite playing in only 9 games.
Three of the top four receivers return for the Bears. Corey Coleman is officially listed as a running back but lines up as a slot receiver. He had 64 catches for 1,119 yards with 11 touchdowns, along with 53 rushing yards and a touchdown. K.D. Cannon had 58 catches last year for 1,030 yards and 8 touchdowns. Jay Lee had 41 catches for 633 yards and 6 touchdowns. Antwan Goodley is now with the Dallas Cowboys after making 60 catches for 830 yards and 6 touchdowns last year. Davion Hall and Lynx Hawthorne will both get more targets after combining for 29 catches and 3 touchdowns. Hawthorne will also take over as the punt returner for Norwood.
Baylor doesn’t use their tight end much in the passing game but both Gus Penning and Tre’Von Armstead return after combining for only six catches and a touchdown last season. Interestingly Baylor tried out former offensive lineman LaQuan McGowan, who weighs 410 pounds, at tight end during spring practice.
The offensive line is anchored by All-American left tackle Spencer Drango. But as mentioned the other four starters return from a unit that allowed only 24 sacks all season and opened up holes for the running backs.
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Nine starters return on defense for coordinator Phil Bennett. Star defensive end Shawn Oakman returned to school instead of going to the NFL after recording 11 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. K.J. Smith and Jamal Palmer will platoon at the other end. Andrew Billings and Beau Blackshear will start at the tackles. Billings and Oakman were both All-Big 12 last season.
The linebackers are the only unit that saw any turnover as they must replace two of the three starters. Sophomore Taylor Young was a Freshman All-American last year as the weakside linebacker. He is joined by JUCO transfer Grant Campbell in the middle and Trevon Blanchard at the “Bear” position.
All four starters return in the secondary but the Bears struggled badly to stop the pass. Safeties Terrell Burt and Orion Stewart, along with corners Xavien Howard and Ryan Reid must play a lot better this season. Baylor did add some depth behind them so we will see what happens.
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Sophomore kicker Chris Callahan missed 5 of his first 6 kicks but made 17 of his last 20. He should be more consistent with another year under his belt. Freshman punter Drew Galitz takes over for four year starter Spencer Roth. Norwood averaged 19.7 yards per kick return and 5.8 yard per punt return, so we will see what Jefferson and Hawthorne do.
Nine of the twelve games are in the state of Texas. Actually all of those games are either in Waco or the nearby Dallas Metroplex. Only road games at Kansas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State involve leaving the Lone Star State. The non-conference schedule isn’t very challenging with a road game at SMU and home games against Lamar and Rice. The Bears open conference play against Texas Tech in Arlington, before traveling to Kansas. Baylor closes out October with home games against West Virginia and Iowa State. November is brutal with road games at Kansas State, Oklahoma State and TCU sandwiched around a home game against Oklahoma. The game at TCU Thanksgiving weekend will likely decide the Big 12 title. Baylor closes out the season with a home game against Texas December 5.
If the Bears can stay healthy and survive the November gauntlet, then this team can contend for one of the four playoff spots. As always, the secondary will be the biggest question mark. If the secondary improves, then Baylor will likely be favored in every game except for TCU. Still eleven wins seems likely along with a third straight major bowl appearance.
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