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 RG3-caliber, game-changing type of player."
Defensively, Baylor averaged 2.6 takeaways over the last five Big 12 games, held UCLA to 33 yards rushing 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.
What improvements do you need to see from Bryce Petty?
What I'm working with him on is making sure all of his actions are tight and [made] in a real quick, structured fashion.
You said, "This should be the highest-rated class we've ever had." What made it so strong?
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.
You won four straight to end last season. How important was that to gaining momentum in 2013?
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.
Player to Watch
Antwan Goodley,a 5'10", 220-pound junior wideout, had 17 catches for 171 yards in 2012. He has speed (he runs the 40 in 4.41) and playmaking ability (2 TDs and 23.1-yard average on kick returns) and will get plenty of chances to touch the ball.
MOHAMMAD KHURSHEED/ZUMAPRESS.COM (SEASTRUNK)
COOPER NEILL/GETTY IMAGES (BRILES)
Projected 2013 Stats
QB Bryce Petty
Pass: 3,825 yards, 27 TDs
Run: 337 yards, 6 TDs
RB Lache Seastrunk
Run: 1,413 yards, 13 TDs
Rec.: 175 yards, 1 TD
WR Tevin Reese
Rec.: 1,204 yards, 12 TDs
Run: 25 yards, 0 TDs
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 hard November, when they play Oklahoma, Texas Tech, at Oklahoma State and at TCU before a Dec. 7 showdown with Texas.
SI Power Ratings
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