RED FLAG, YELLOW FLAGS
The Bears bring back plenty of playmakers from the No. 1 offense in the nation last season: sophomore receiver KD Cannon (58 catches for 1,030 yards and eight TDs), senior wideout Jay Lee (15.4 yards per reception) and junior running back Shock Linwood (1,252 yards and 16 TDs on 251 carries). They're also introducing a whole new dimension in 6'7", 392-pound tight end LaQuan McGowan (page 48), who coach Art Briles points out has "slimmed down." The unknown is at quarterback, where junior Seth Russell takes over for two-year starter Bryce Petty. The Baylor staff is still "trying to figure out how to coach, how to motivate Russell," Briles says, but he's got a big arm, and his speed will add another layer to the Bears' high-speed, spread-the-field attack.
With the departure of leading tackler Bryce Hager, sophomore linebacker Taylor Young (92 tackles) will have to take on a bigger role. Briles loves his defensive line, led by 6'9", 280-pound senior end Shawn Oakman, a 2014 All-America who has 13 career sacks. One clear target for improvement? While the Bears led the country with 581.5 yards per game on offense, they also set the pace with 127 total penalties for 1,149 yards.
West Virginia, the only Big 12 school to beat Baylor last year, hits Waco on Oct. 17, but the real action starts in November: at Kansas State, Oklahoma at home, at Oklahoma State and at TCU in a Black Friday rematch of last year's 61--58 thriller. The nonconference slate (SMU, Lamar and Rice) is toothless, but the Bears believe that by going 12--0, they'll get into the playoff.
Junior defensive tackle Andrew Billings (6'2", 300 pounds) is one of the most disruptive interior linemen in the Big 12: Last year he had 11½ tackles for a loss and nine quarterback hurries. By drawing double teams and flushing the pocket, Billings makes the other Bears up front—especially Shawn Oakman—more dangerous.
OPPOSING COACHES TAKE
Most teams don't have the secondary to keep up with them, so the key is to not give them a lot of space. Teams that have had success against them have been able to disrupt their receivers' timing at the line of scrimmage and pressure the quarterback.... They do a lot of passing off a run game that is very difficult to defend, especially when you're trying to slow it down with a minimum number of people in the box.... When you attack their defense with the run, they're going to man you up on the corners and dare you to win one-on-one battles over the top, so you better have guys who can do that. It helps to have a running back with some wiggle who can make them miss, too.... If you get into a shootout with them, you better force some turnovers.
TIM HEITMAN/USA TODAY SPORTS (OAKMAN)
JEROME MIRON/USA TODAY SPORTS (BILLINGS)