There are heightened expectations in Waco after Baylor won its first Big 12 title last year, especially because senior quarterback Bryce Petty returns. Petty threw for 4,200 yards and 32 TDs in 2013 while leading Baylor to 52.4 points per game. He also racked up a team-high 14 touchdowns on the ground. Petty will have help from returning redshirt sophomore back Shock Linwood, who gained 6.9 yards per carry last fall, second in the conference. The Bears also bring back five of Petty's top six targets, a group that accounted for 75% of the team's '13 receptions. Baylor's concern lies on the offensive line, which must replace All-America guard Cyril Richardson and showed limited depth when left tackle Spencer Drango went down with a back injury last year.
But the Bears' ability to retain their Big 12 title depends on the defense. The much-maligned unit leaped from 95th to 15th in yards allowed per play, improving from 6.0 in 2012 to 4.8 last year. Senior middle linebacker Bryce Hager is back to anchor the unit, but he is one of only four returning starters. Junior defensive ends Shawn Oakman and Jamal Palmer, who combined for seven sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss last season, should provide pressure, but Baylor's secondary will be made up almost entirely of new faces. Baylor will score points, but how many will they give up?
With Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin gone, running back Devin Chafin slides up to partner with Shock Linwood as the costarter on Baylor's postspring depth chart. A redshirt sophomore, Chafin gained 5.8 yards per carry last season and will likely more than double his 51 carries. Chafin did his best with more work, rushing for 100 yards and two touchdowns on a season-high 11 attempts against Texas Tech. Coach Art Briles expects Chafin to top 1,000 yards this fall.
A weak nonconference slate—SMU, Northwestern State and Buffalo—gives the Bears a chance to break in new starters but leaves no room for error. A playoff berth will likely require perfection, so Baylor will have to avoid slipups at Texas and at home against Oklahoma State and Kansas State. The Nov. 8 matchup with Oklahoma looms as a de facto Big 12 championship game. After benefiting from a home date against the Sooners in 2013, a 41--12 win, Baylor must travel to Norman this year.
SI POWER RANKINGS / By Rotowire.com
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SPECIAL TEAMS 81%
OPPOSING COACH'S TAKE
They've got a plan for every defensive look—two high safeties, one high safety, etc. They're a nightmare to deal with: This is a big-play offense. They pick you and pick you and then they go deep—Baylor's not shy at all about going deep on you. I guarantee that if they've got nine [wide receivers] dressed for a game, seven of them can go all the way anytime they get the ball in their hands.
You hear coaches talk about managing the offense. [Bryce Petty] runs their offense. You can tell the coaches have done a great job preparing him. He understands their offense. There's a great deal of difference between somebody who knows the offense [and somebody who] really understands what the coaches are trying to do. I don't see them changing a whole lot. I think everyone else in the league probably wishes they would change something. They're a headache. There's no doubt about it.
SUE OGROCKI/AP (PETTY)
MO KHURSHEED/CSM/LANDOV (CHAFIN)