Baylor might have moved on from the Bryce Petty era. But the culture installed within the Bears football program that lies behind head coach Art Briles remain constant.
Briles, who is now entering his 8th season at the helm of Baylor’s program has been able to withstand numerous hardships throughout his tenure. By overcoming the loss of Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III back in 2012 and now having to fill-in the void of two-time Big 12 Champion and 2013 Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Bryce Petty, this time around the job seems effortless.
After coming off of a share of their second consecutive Big 12 Crown, it is hard to discount the Bears again in 2015. Although, the top of Big 12 standings should be the most competitive it has been in years, with TCU returning nearly all of their offensive weapons a season ago, including this year’s Heisman favorite QB Trevone Boykin. While Baylor may experience some growing pains early on, there are a multitude of reasons why Art Briles and the Bears won’t miss a beat in 2015.
Briles’ system is geared toward incoming QB Seth Russell to flourish
Incoming Junior QB Seth Russell isn’t Bryce Petty, but he doesn’t need to be. Most incumbent and inexperienced quarterbacks are forced to learn on the fly during the transition to the college game. However, in Russell’s case, he won’t have to stress as much given that he spent two years behind Petty as a backup.
This is the best news that Art Briles can receive heading into this season. Because with an assortment of key returnees on offense that led the nation in points per game last season (48.2), Russell’s move to starter will be reassuring. Petty no doubt was the focal point of the Bears “high-intensified” offense last year, but Russell spent a large majority garnering playing time last season. In total, Russell was under center during 8 games of Baylor’s season last year, as he completed 48 passes on 85 attempts for 804 yards and 8 TD’s. Never mind the small sample size represented, Russell has experience that he can learn from once he makes the start in the last week of August.
What also appears to be more of blessing than a detriment for Russell is that Art Briles over the years has perfected his craft of molding fresh-faced quarterbacks behind destructive offensive systems, whether it was off the back of RG3 or recently Petty. His way always seems to be the right way in an offensive dominate Big 12 conference.
Baylor’s defense is vaunted
Labeling Baylor as a “shut down” defensive team in a porous defensive conference that is the Big 12, is a strong misnomer to make. Baylor fell victim of being the 105th ranked pass defense in the NCAA last year, surrendering 265 yards per game through the air. The good thing is Baylor carries experience in their secondary and Terrell Burt and Orian Stewart are capable of holding down the fort temporarily in the backend, as long as they forced turnovers that is.
While Baylor’s pass defense will need refinement this year. Their run defense countered by RE Shawn Oakman, DT Beau Blackshear, and NT Andrew Billings are the best players geared to fit into Briles’ 4-2-5 defensive scheme.
Most importantly, the Bears run defense was ranked 14th in the nation last year, surrendering on average 114 yards on the ground. In this day in age amid the up-surging offenses in college football that is mainly featured in the Big 12. It is apparent to be at least above average in some sort of defensive category to help off-set an explosive offense. The three-headed monster that Baylor supplies up front is one of the best in conference.
The three combined for 17.5 sacks a season ago, and all are sure to improve again in 2015. Oakman was a monster amid run gaps and penetrated into the teeth of opposing offensive lines often with an intensified force last year, which was why he racked up 19.5 tackles for losses.
If Blackshear stays healthy and gets help from middle linebacker Grant Campbell up the middle. Baylor can force havoc to nearly all of the dual threat QBs in the Big 12.
Bears contain a filthy set of offensive firepower
This was mentioned earlier in this article and needs to be explained further.
*BAYLOR’S RECEIVERS ARE CRITICAL FOR SETH RUSSELL TO SUCCEED!!!!*
All of this is true. Baylor represents a solid set of receivers who are the best in the business. Corey Coleman and KD Cannon were the only two receivers to catch over 1,000 yards for Baylor last season, and in doing so developed into Bryce Petty’s favorite targets.
Coleman led the team in receptions and receiving yards as he was responsible for catching 64 passes for well over 1,200 yards in 2014. His breakaway speed down field and canny ability to extend defenses by racking up yards after catch resulted in Baylor accounting for the 4th most passing yards last season (roughly 366 per game).
Cannon’s production was nearly identical to Coleman’s minus the TDs, (Coleman’s 11 to Cannon’s 8). Both of these receivers are the nation’s best and need to be there for Russell early when he needs it. Not only will the assistance of Coleman and Cannon be essential for Russell’s development, but if you add in the rise of Lynx Hawthorne and Jay Lee into the mix. There should be no problems at all for Russell to find open receivers.
Lastly, the biggest catalyst that makes Baylor’s offense so smooth isn’t a gun-slinging quarterback or a swift receiver, but a downhill running back that can carve up defenses directly. Junior Shock Linwood emerges as one of the Big 12’s most dependable and experienced backs. Linwood has silenced the preconception of Art Briles’ offensive system not supplying a “physical brand of football” and has counteracted with a brute, demoralizing back that has gifted agility along with strength.
Linwood has evolved into one of Baylor’s more durable running backs in their program. Linwood was handed the ball off a torturous 251 times and delivered 1,252 yards on the ground. A key component to Linwood’s endurance is more of a testament to his size than within the set up of Baylor’s offense. For the most part, college football has innovated into the spread offenses that lacks the prime “bruising” runner that used to be the focal point of yesteryear offenses. Instead it has transitioned over to more slimmed down, toned backs who make their presence in space. While Linwood fits both of these notions, the results he has produced makes him more of rare breed.
Linwood thrives in the shot-gun formation, which is reason why he does most of his damage in the open field. But when placed as a slot receiver, his role changes immediately and this will yet again add another insurance for Seth Russell to utilize. As Linwood stepped away from the backfield and caught 7 receptions for 90 yards.
Baylor is too good right now to take a drop off, even while breaking in a new quarterback. Art Briles has changed the program’s mantra into a “win now’ environment and that isn’t at all in mark of changing. As long as Baylor makes the right moves on defense and Seth Russell uses his gifted receivers to his advantage and is willing to take risks, Baylor will be in every way a contender for this year’s College Football Playoff.