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2009 Jul 23

Big 12 Breakdown: No. 9 Baylor

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By HuskerLocker

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In preparation for Big 12 Media Days, Husker Locker will be counting down and breaking down each of the teams in the conference. We hope you view this series as more interesting, comprehensive and definitive than what you may find elsewhere. Where we can make strong takes – we will.

We rank the teams 12 to 1 in overall strength. Then we’ll provide for you the North/South breakdown – and the preseason All Big 12 team, as well.

Enjoy!

Today: No. 9 Baylor

Coach:Art Briles
2008 Record: 5-7

What’s Changed Since 2008: Expectations! All of the sudden, the national media knows where Waco is. Thank Briles and QB Robert Griffin, who wowed a lot of folks in a lot of losing causes. There’s now talk of the first Baylor bowl since 1994. The Bears have been the doormat of the Big 12 since its inception. Now, for once, there’s tangible hope.

2009 Non-Conference Schedule: It seems harder than it is, and is the key to BU’s bowl hopes. A game at Wake Forest isn’t only winnable – Baylor should win it; Wake’s due for a hard fall in 2009. Similarly, Connecticut lost a ton of talent to the NFL Draft and is starting at a five-win season. Northwestern State and Kent State are pushover wins. But take note: Pundits will be fooled if Baylor starts 4-0.

2009 Conference Schedule: And here’s why: BU still plays in the Big 12 South, and we don’t honestly see Baylor winning more than three league games. The schedule isn’t in the Bears’ favor. Home games vs. Oklahoma State and Texas don’t do Briles much good; Baylor won’t win them. Games at Missouri and Oklahoma don’t look promising either. That boils it down to winning three of these four: vs. Nebraska and Texas Tech (in Dallas) and at Iowa State and Texas A&M.

Offense: Spread/Mulitple
Coordinator:Briles, for intents and purposes. He’s smart, creative and a gambler. He incorporates elements of the old veer offense, Texas Tech’s “Air Raid,” I-formation, option football, and good, old-fashioned single-wing. Unlike some spread offenses, Briles has a package for short yardage situations. His offense is hard to stop, period. An NFL team should hire him.

Strength: Sophomore Griffin, the heir apparent to the Vince Young throne. In fact, Griffin (2,091 passing yards, 843 rushing yards) has more raw tools, if not the surrounding cast and offensive line. Griffin is faster and a smarter passer. But he doesn’t have Young/Tommie Frazier’s “literally impossible to sack” quality, though. Griffin tends to run around – a lot – East-West, and he got sacked 26 times last year. And now he won’t have that the franchise left tackle around to protect him. At running back, Jay Finley is a decent, bruising compliment.
Weakness:The offensive line needs to replace the two best tackles in recent school history, most notable Jason Smith, the first-round NFL Draft Pick who covered Griffin’s backside. The other tackle, Dan Gay, was a three-year starter.
Defense: 4-3
Coordinator: Brian Norwood, a Penn State guy who returned the Bears to some sanity in 2008, with a base scheme that takes advantage of the Bears’ talented safety Jordan Lake and a solid linebacker corps.

Strength: It’s really individual players, but expect Baylor to be pretty tough against the run. It has the 360-pound defensive lineman (Phil Taylor, a transfer from Penn State) to gum up the trenches, the tough-as-nails middle linebacker (Joe Pawelek) headed who reminds so much of Nebraska’s Barrett Ruud, and a free safety (Lake) who plays more like a strong safety against the run. The Bears will stack the box and force teams to beat them over the top

Weakness:Which teams will do. Baylor showed little ability to get to the QB in 2008, and teams completed 67.4 percent of their passes against the Bears. BU got a lot of turnovers, but 10 of them came in two games vs. Washington State (the worst major conference team we’ve ever seen) and Texas A&M. Always beware of the small sample size.

Special TeamsThe league’s best punter in Derek Epperson (38.8 yard average), and an up-and-coming kicker in Ben Parks, who made 6-of-9 tries last year. As a kick returner last year Mikail Baker average 25.3 yards per return and scored a touchdown. We expect receiver Kendall Wright to take over as the punt returner.

Intangibles: Casey Stadium is a morgue to play in, often half full of dispassionate, reasonably wealthy fans looking for a suntan. It’s simply no kind of home field advantage. It might be in 2009. But we’ll see. Usually, it’s home for the opposing team’s getaway day.

But BU has some intangibles in its favor. One of them is Briles, who is, right now, a smarter football coach than a lot of the guys in the Big 12. And he had the guts to put Griffin out there right away. Against all logical odds, Griffin rarely turned the ball over. And that’s because Briles put him in plays to succeed. It helped Baylor stay in a lot of games last year. A lot of coaches are just too stubborn to limit their playbook.

Best-Case Scenario: Baylor goes 4-0 in the non-conference and wins all four of those swing games, including beating Nebraska. We see at least four losses on Baylor’s slate no matter what.

Worst-Case Scenario: Griffin falls into a sophomore slump, and that defense is forced to bear too much of the burden of winning. Trust us: The defense can’t do it. The line isn’t good enough yet.

Our Take: It’ll come down to the last two games – A&M and Tech – as to whether Baylor makes a bowl. We think they do – at 6-6.

See other Big 12 Breakdowns: No. 12 ISU, No. 11 A&M, No. 10 CU, No. 9 BU, No. 8 KU, No. 7 KSU, No. 6 Texas Tech

Agree? Disagree?Tell us about it.

Tags: baylor, big 12 breakdown, big 12, big 12 media days, robert griffin, art briles

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