2015 Baylor Bears Football Preview
Head Coach: Art Briles – (8th at Baylor – 55-34 overall, 33-27 Big 12; 13th overall – 89-62)
2014 Record: 11-2 overall, 8-1 Big 12
Bowl Result: Cotton Bowl: 1/1/15 – Michigan State 42 Baylor 41
While the 2014 season ended in heartbreaking fashion with the Bears blowing a 41-21 fourth quarter lead to Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, it was another memorable season for Baylor.
The Bears, who captured their second straight Big 12 title and were a road loss at West Virginia from being in the inaugural College Football Playoff, finished in the Top 15 and won ten-plus games for the third time in the last four seasons.
Baylor will be without star quarterback Bryce Petty, but the Bears—who have 17 starters returning—have reached the point under eighth-year head coach Art Briles that they still have a legit chance of collecting a third consecutive conference crown.
Briles’ teams are known for their offensive potency and the Bears—who led the nation in points per game (48.2) and yards per game (581.5) a season ago—have plenty of pieces to help them remain among the nation’s best despite breaking in a new signal-caller.
Redshirt junior Seth Russell, who threw for a little over 800 yards and 8 touchdowns (1 INT) as a back-up last season, brings a nice skill set to the table that features a nice combination of arm strength, football IQ and mobility. The first-year starter possesses more ability to hurt you with his legs than his predecessor Petty.
There will be no shortage of quality targets for Russell, as four of the team’s top six receivers from 2014 are back. Corey Coleman, who had a breakout sophomore season, led BU in catches (64), yards (1,119) and touchdowns (11). KD Cannon, who also topped the 1,000 yard-mark last year, and senior Jay Lee (41-633-6) should also be top options. The three-headed monster combined for more than 160 catches totaling over 2,700 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2014. Each member of the trio averaged over 15 yards per reception.
Shock Linwood, who tallied 1,252 yards (5.0 ypc) and 16 touchdowns on the ground as a sophomore, is back to anchor the rushing attack.
Pass protection and running lanes shouldn’t be an issue as all five starters—four of which are seniors—return on the offensive line. The unit is led by All-American left tackle Spencer Drango.
Defensively, Baylor—which allowed 25.5 points and 381.8 yards per game—was middle of the road last season, but the Bears—who have nine starters returning—should be able to make strides in 2015 if the inexperienced linebacker corps can deliver and a veteran secondary can come improve versus the pass.
Third-team All-American Shawn Oakman, who set a school-record with 11 sacks a season ago and had a team-best 19.5 tackles for loss, decided to return for his senior year and will anchor a front that will look to once again succeed at stopping the run after allowing just 117.7 per game on the ground (16th nationally) in ’14.
End K.J. Smith and weakside linebacker Taylor Young, both of whom were Freshman All-American selections last year, should be key contributors.
Senior Grant Campbell, a JUCO transfer who had just 11 tackles in ’14, and sophomore Travon Blanchard will need to step up to help replace the loss of top tackler Bryce Hager—who had 112 stops last season.
The secondary—which returns all four starters—will need to improve against the pass, as it was easily the unit’s weakest link a year ago when it allowed over 260 yards per game through the air. Corner Xavien Howard and safety Orion Stewart—both of whom are juniors—were tied for the team lead with four interceptions during their sophomore campaigns.
There are some questions marks in the kicking game, as freshman Drew Galitz will replace four-year starter Spencer Roth at punter. Meanwhile, sophomore place kicker Chris Callahan will look to pick up where he left off last season while improving on longer attempts as he was just 2-for-6 from 40 yards and beyond. He made 17 of his last 20 kicks after converting just one of his first six.
The schedule is back loaded and the Bears have an excellent shot at being 7-0 when they begin a very challenging November that features games against Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU—with the lone game at McLane Stadium during the stretch being the date with the Sooners. The regular season will conclude with a visit from Texas on the first weekend in December.
Last year, the Big 12 race wound up being decided by the Bears’ 61-58 heart-stopping, last-second victory over visiting TCU. This season, Baylor must travel to Fort Worth on the final weekend in November and the title could be on the line again.
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