The sun rises on August 31. It is a bright, sunny Sunday morning. Normally, this would be just another post-Saturday in the college football world, fans still either celebrating a great season opening victory or distraught over a crushing loss. But for Baylor fans, this day dawns the beginning of a new era of Baylor football.
That’s right, the reigning Big 12 champs are beginning a new era of football. We all know what the Bears have done the past few years; Robert Griffin III bringing the school it’s first ever Heisman in 2011, Nick Florence and company beating top-ranked Kansas State in 2012, and, of course, quarterback Bryce Petty leading the Bears to an 11-2 season and a Big 12 championship in 2013.
For college football fans everywhere, Baylor’s offense has been a thrill to watch the past few years. The school has used its strength offensively to pile up some big wins lately, and the defense absolutely stepped up in 2013. And as head coach Art Briles has made very clear, multiple times, the old Baylor is gone. This is the Baylor he wants fans to get used to.
So, what do the Bears have to offer in 2014? Baylor loses eight defensive starters from this past season, including respected players like Eddie Lackey and Ahmad Dixon, along with offensive stars such as Tevin Reese, Lache Seastrunk, and Cyril Richardson.
Standout quarterback and potential Heisman candidate Bryce Petty, opting not to declare for the NFL draft, wants a national championship, but it will be no easy road. The 2014 squad opens its brand new home, McLane Stadium, on August 31 against the SMU Mustangs, followed by another home match-up versus Northwestern State and then a road trip to Buffalo to face the Bulls, whom Baylor routed 70-13 in 2013 at Floyd Casey Stadium. All should be winnable games for the Bears, but the Big 12 throws quite a few road blocks to stop Baylor.
If Baylor wants to win the Big 12, they’ll have to play defense even better than this past season. Baylor, generally criticized for its lack of defensive strength, shocked a lot of people this year on the defensive side. Quarterbacks only completed 47% of passes versus the Bears all season, and they improved in almost every defensive stat possible from 2012. Oklahoma boasts a strong defense, most of which is returning this season, and the Sooners are Baylor’s biggest obstacle for that Big 12 trophy. Baylor has to face Oklahoma in Norman, and that showdown may decide the 2014 conference champion.
Baylor will also have to face Texas, Iowa State, and West Virginia on the road this year, but get Kansas, Kansas State, TCU, and Oklahoma State at home (where Baylor doesn’t lose all that often; only one loss in Waco since 2011. Texas might be a threat under new head coach Charlie Strong, but I believe Oklahoma still poses the biggest threat to Baylor this season. Expect another double digit win season from the Bears, if all goes according to plan for them.