BAYLOR WEEK: an in-depth preview

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What will Baylor, TCU's sixth opponent, look like in its first season post-Heisman?

Senior Nick Florence has played a lot, and taken significant snaps in each of the last three seasons, including starting seven of 2009’s final eight games. In six of those starts he threw for at least 200 yards. Is Baylor going to forget about RGIII? Not a chance. But is Baylor’s offense going to flatline in the absence of its Heisman winner? Not a chance there, either. He’ll be working in a target-rich environment. Baylor returns six of last season’s top seven widouts, including seniors Terrance Williams (59 receptions for 977 yards) and Lanear Sampson (42 for 572), and junior Tevin Reese (51 for 877). The folks at smartfootball.com project Baylor's offense to fall from second best (measured uniquely, true) only to eleventh.

It’s not clear the Bears have a feature back to replace Terrance Ganaway. A trio of backs are in competition to start, probably led by senior Jarred Salubi (331 yards). He’s proven, and a steady, but not eye-popping, performer. Glasco Martin (268 yards) is the big back. All eyes will be on the new guy, Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk, who has yet to run to his talent.

Baylor offensive line looks a little like TCU’s—it will have proven interior players with the talent to garner some post-season awards, and talented by unproven tackles. Two of the inside guys were tackle last season—center Ivory Wade and left guard Cyril Richardson. Cameron Kaufhold moves from left to right guard. Salubi, Martin, and Seastrunk will be running behind these three. The new tackles will be Spencer Drango, one of Art Briles’ most hailed recruits in Waco, and Troy Baker.

Frog fans hoping to see the purple and white manhandle Baylor’s line will be disappointed; the battle in the trenches will be heated, and pretty well balanced when Baylor’s offense is on the field.

It’s unclear whether or not that will be true when Baylor’s defense takes the field. Baylor’s defense was bad last season. After giving up 48 to TCU’s very young offense, Baylor went on to rank 118th nationally against the pass, 102nd against the run, 116th in total defense and 113th in scoring. Paul Myerburg noted that,

"if you remove from the equation Baylor’s one game against an F.C.S. opponent, a 48-0 win against Sam Houston State, the Bears would have ranked last in the F.B.S. against the pass (305.2 yards per game), 107th against the run (206.8 yards), 119th in total defense (511.9 yards) and 117th in scoring (40.3 points per game)."

Baylor's defensive F/+ and FEI rankings last season were 92nd and 86th, respectively; (the 2012 projection is even worse!) It was, to be sure, a trainwreck. (The statistical profile will be available here soon; it's available in print now.)

It also was a new system, and so returning eight starters probably means improvement. Maybe the defensive line will be stout, with seniors Kaeron Johnson and Nick Johnson stepping into the starting spots in the middle; if they can be playmakers, Baylor’s situation improves dramatically. Gary Mason Jr. (26 tackles, 8.0 for loss) and Terrance Lloyd (36 tackles, 7.0 for loss) return at the ends. This group didn’t register last year, but again, experience can only help.

Both linebackers spots seemed snatched by newcomers in the spring: JUCO transfer Eddie Lackey at weakside linebacker, and sophomore Bryce Hager (13 tackles) in the middle. Lackey is another feel-good story, like his backup Brody Trahan. He early enrolled out of junior college and seized the starting spot (so far, at least) in the spring.

The secondary has five returning starters, three of whom earned all-conference accolades, despite anemic performance as a unit. The five starters made over 400 tackles last season—as good as sign as any that Baylor was bad against the pass. Senior Mike Hicks (105 tackles, 3 interceptions), junior Sam Holl (113 tackles, 3 interceptions), two all-Big 12 picks, and junior Ahmad Dixon (89 tackles, 5.5 for loss) are the safeties. The corners are all-Big12 K.J. Morton (75 tackles, 4 picks) and Joe Williams (43 tackles). K.J. Morton had a better second half of the season than first half, and if he gets better line play this season than last, may be the key player in the secondary.

Baylor is going to have solid punting and kicking.

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