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Baylor Preview: Bears Ready To Prove It Again
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By Wendell Barnhouse | wendell@big12sports.com
Big12Sports.com Correspondent

Timelines often cover progress or events over decades or even centuries. That is definitely not the case when detailing the rocketing success of Baylor's football program.

From Art Briles being hired in 2008 to RGIII's Heisman Trophy in 2011 to breaking ground for a new on-campus stadium in 2012 to a Big 12 Conference championship in 2013, the ascension has been as remarkable as it has been rapid.

Now, with McLane Stadium, the Jewel On The Brazos, slated to open for this season, the next step for the burgeoning program is as clear as the view of the new facility from I-35. And while the stadium has been built, the Bears are growling and prowling.

"We have a lot of unfinished business," Briles said as Baylor started camp last week. "And there are a lot of people that we feel like we need to prove ourselves to, ourselves first of all, then our opponents.

"There are a lot of things out there that we haven't done."

While capturing the Big 12 title – the school's first undisputed conference title since 1980 – was an accomplishment, Baylor split its last four games. That included a BCS Fiesta Bowl loss to UCF. Plus, the Bears were picked to finish second behind Oklahoma in the preseason poll by the media.

"After winning a championship, your goals get bigger,"said linebacker Bryce Hager, who missed the last four games of the season with a groin injury. "You want to win a national championship. It's definitely more real now than when I got here five years ago."

Senior quarterback Bryce Petty returns to run an offense that led the nation in scoring at 52.4 points per game and total offense (618.8 yards per game). In his first season as a starter, he threw for 4,200 yards, 32 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Briles remains mystified that those numbers didn't earn Petty an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

Petty, receiver Antwan Goodley and sophomore running back Shock Linwood were selected by USA Today as the nation's top QB-WR-RB trio. While the top two rushers and road-grading offensive lineman Cyril Richardson must be replaced, most believe the Bears' offense will again post PlayStation numbers.

"Our offense is going to be unbelievable - faster, stronger and more physical," Petty said. "We have more athletes than we've had in a long time.

As it did last season, Baylor's defense will again determine the team's ultimate success. The Bears finished 28th in total defense and that was certainly adequate in tandem with the offense. In the two losses – to Oklahoma State and UCF – Baylor allowed 49 and 52 points.

A deep and talented defensive line led by defensive end Shawn Oakman, a massive 6-9, 280-pound junior, could be one of the best in the Big 12. Overall, the defense must replace seven starters, including linebacker Eddie Lackey plus defensive backs Ahmad Dixon and Sam Holl.

"We learned we're the hunted now, and we have to prepare and practice that way," Petty said. We've always got something to prove. Even if we were picked No. 1 in the nation, we've always got something to prove. We're here to stay."

Fundamentals
Coach: Art Briles, six seasons at Baylor, 11 seasons overall.
2013: 11-2 overall, 8-1 in Big 12, first place.
Bowl: Lost to UCF, 52-42, in Fiesta Bowl.
Returning starters: 5 on offense, 4 on defense.
Key players: Senior QB Bryce Petty, senior WR Antwan Goodley, soph. RB Shock Linwood, junior OT Spencer Drango, senior WR Levi Norwood, senior LB Bryce Hager, junior DE Shawn Oakman, junior DL Beau Blackshear, junior S Terrell Burt, sophomore S Orion Stewart.

Three Points To Ponder
1. Baylor has received some unfair national attention because its nonconference schedule is supposedly softer than Charmin. But if the Bears run the table in the Big 12, it should be good enough to earn a spot in the four-team college football playoff. Baylor starts with road games at Iowa State and at Texas plus has to visit Oklahoma, the preseason favorite. The Bears close the season with a home game against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech in Arlington and Kansas State in Waco.

2. Can the offense be any more productive? The Bears on that side of the ball seem to think so. If last year's group had stayed healthy, it might have been able to maintain its 61 points per game average. The key to lighting up scoreboards will be a young group of wide receivers. Veterans Antwan Goodley and Levi Norwood are outstanding but freshmen will need to provide depth plus there's a need to find receivers you can stretch the field deep.

3. In the third season under coordinator Phil Bennett, Baylor's defense went from awful to good enough to win a Big 12 title. With an offense capable of hanging half a hundred, finishing 28th in total defense was more than adequate. Replacing several key play makers in the back seven will be a challenge but the defensive front could be nasty and senior linebacker Bryce Hager is a tackling machine.

Quote, Unquote
Bryce Petty on left tackle Spencer Drango, who missed the last four games of the season with a back injury but is a key player for this season's offensive line:
"Spencer is one of those guys who is a big teddy bear off the field, but when you get him between those white lines he knows when it's time to roll. Your blind side is your main guy. He's a tremendous talent and it's great to have him back, not only from a physical standpoint, but from a leadership standpoint because guys really look up to him."

Numbers To Note
Baylor has won 22 Big 12 games over last four seasons. In its previous 13 conference seasons, it won a total of 13 games. … Last season the Bears the nation in total offense and scoring offense, was 5th in passing offense and 13th in rushing offense. Baylor scored 82 touchdowns, averaged 82 plays per game, 7.5 yards per play and had 29 scoring drives that took one minute or less. … From 2012 to 2013, Baylor jumped from 19 sacks to 32, from 58 tackles for loss to 99 and from 25 takeaways to 29. The total defense improved to 28th nationally from 119th.In 2011 the Bears were last in the nation in total defense. … In the first nine games, before injuries knocked out several key players on offense, Baylor averaged 61 points and 684 yards in total offense. The Bears went 2-2 in their last four, averaging 32 points and 470 yards in total offense.

2014 Schedule

Aug. 31 SMU
Sept. 6 Northwestern State
Sept. 12 at Buffalo
Sept. 27 at Iowa State*
Oct. 4 at Texas*
Oct. 11 TCU*
Oct. 18 at West Virginia*
Nov. 1 Kansas*
Nov. 8 at Oklahoma*
Nov. 22 Oklahoma State*
Nov. 29 vs. Texas Tech (AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas)
Dec. 6 Kansas State*

* - Big 12 Conference game.

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