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Picked 2nd in the 2014 preseason Big 12 Media Poll, Baylor's Art Briles and Bryce Petty are ready for the 2014 season. WIRE POST - http://www.hornsports.com/forums/blog/1/entry-22-media-days-briles-petty-ready-for-2014/
Under Head Coach Art Briles, the Baylor Bears steadily improved in his first five seasons. Then, in 2013, the Bears finished the job by going 8-1 in conference play and winning the Big 12 title. The task is different in 2014 â€“ the Bears have everyoneâ€™s attention and will not be taken lightly. One of the most difficult things in sport is to win consecutive championshipsâ€¦and now Waco, the national media and the boosters that financed Baylorâ€™s new stadium are all expecting the Bears to do just that. And Briles isnâ€™t flinching at that challenge of staying on top, â€œâ€œWhat weâ€™re trying to do is establish a program that is a dominant football team, where every year weâ€™re a team that must be reckoned with if youâ€™re going to win the Big 12 title.â€ The Bears have reason to believe that Briles is up to the task of repeating as conference champs. The team returns some key players, has a solid mix of veterans throughout the depth chart, and, better still, has the same coaching staff in place that theyâ€™ve had for the prior three seasons. Many pundits will point to the return of Bryce Petty at quarterback (and rightfully so, itâ€™s the first time BU has a returning quarterback in three years) but that kind of continuity in a coaching staff is a major advantage. Baylorâ€™s quest to repeat as conference champions will take place in a new stadium. On August 31, the Bears will open their season against SMU in McLane Stadium â€“ their new, on-campus home that is on the Brazos River. On the new stadium, Briles said, â€œItâ€™s going to be as great a gameday atmosphere, I think, as youâ€™ll find in the United States of America. Itâ€™s going to be a very unique experience. Itâ€™d be tough to mimic what weâ€™re going to be able to do with the boats and the water and the sailgating.â€ Offense In 2013 the Baylor offense set an all-time NCAA record by scoring 52.4 points per game. The quarterback that orchestrated that mind boggling level of production, Bryce Petty, is returning. Most expect Petty to improve this Fall, but considering he is the second place Heisman vote getter (of returning players), that is a tall order.While the Bears sort out running backs look for Petty to carry more of the rushing load than he did last year. In fact, Pettyâ€™s rushing (he led the Big 12 with 14 TDâ€™s on the ground) is an area that Briles has said he plans to expand in 2014. While the Baylor passing attack gets most of the media and fan attention, the Bearsâ€™ ground game has led the conference for three straight years. Gone to the Washington Redskins is Lache Seastrunk, but sophomore Shock Linwood looked ready for primetime as a freshman averaging almost 7 yards/carry. Two more underclassmen, Devin Chafin and Johnny Jefferson are expected to see plenty of carries, especially early in the season. Briles and his offense owe much of their success to an offensive line that quietly has been one of the best groups in the Big 12. Unfortunately for the rest of the conference, the Bearsâ€™ starting five in 2014 will challenge to be the best unit in the league. Replacing All-American Cyril Richardson will be super-sized LaQuan McGowan (6â€™7â€, 385). Keep an eye on Spencer Drango at left tackle â€“ he missed the final games in 2013 with a back injury. Although heâ€™s expected back at 100%, Drango is tasked with protecting Pettyâ€™s blind side â€“ if heâ€™s not fully recovered (or able to remain healthy), Baylorâ€™s offense could look significantly different. Similar to the story at OL, the Baylor receiving corps is replacing a huge talent, but has plenty of options. Replacing Tevin Reeseâ€™s production will be a multi-player job, but Antwan Goodley (1st team preseason All-Big 12) is ready for the spotlight. Reese is the only player among Baylorâ€™s seven top pass catchers that does not return this Fall. Among the mix of veterans and talented underclassmen, true freshman KD Cannon is good enough to see the field. Briles gushes about the talent on the roster, â€œThis is unquestionably one of the top receiving crews in America.â€ Key losses: Lache Seastrunk (RB); Cyril Richardson (G); Tevin Reese (WR) Newcomers: KD Cannon (WR); Johnny Jefferson (RB) Defense While the Baylor offense gets most of the credit for the Bearsâ€™ conference title, the defense was an overlooked component of the title. Defensive Coordinator Phil Bennett has built a speedy and opportunistic unit and in 2013â€™s title run, the defense ranked in the Top 10 nationally in yards per play allowed and was No. 1 in the country in three-and-outs. It all starts up-front for Baylorâ€™s defense. Briles, Bennett and the local media have not been shy about heaping expectation on the D-Line. Briles even went so far as saying, â€œI think our D-line up front will be as stout as any D-line in America with the talent and depth that we possess there.â€ At defensive end Shawn Oakman is the top player in a solid four-man rotation. The highly touted offensive line had trouble with Oakman throughout Spring practices. At tackle, Javonte Magee returns from a year away (personal reasons) and will form a three-man rotation with Beau Blackshear and Andrew Billings. Bennett employs a 4-2-5 look most of the time and Bryce Hager should serve as the defenseâ€™s leader from his middle linebacker position. Hager missed time at the end of 2013 and Spring practice (groin), but heâ€™s been an All-Conference caliber player when healthy. Aiavion Edward played in the middle this Spring in Hagerâ€™s absence, but heâ€™s expected to get the nod at outside â€˜backer. The biggest question marks on defense come in the backfield. In addition to a rash of injuries that kept multiple players out of Spring practices, Bennett has to replace All-American Ahmad Dixon. Because of all the injuries, Bennett will likely be moving players around throughout Fall camp as he tries to find the best five players. Orion Stewart and Terrell Burt are the seemingly obvious choices at safety. Burt is the only returning starter in the backfield and Stewart, who inherits Dixonâ€™s spot, saw plenty of time last year. The real questions are at corner and nickelback, where the top five players have no starting experience. Terrance Singleton and Xavien Howard will probably start the season opener, but keep an eye on JUCO transfer Chris Sanders as the season progresses. At nickel, walk-on Collin Brence was a major surprise throughout Spring practice and is in position to earn a starting job. Key losses: Ahmad Dixon (S), Eddie Lackey (LB) Newcomers: Chris Sanders (CB), Javonte Magee (DT) Team will have a successful season ifâ€¦ The bar has been set, the new stadium is built, offensive records are waiting to be brokeâ€¦expectations are high in Waco. In the 12 seasons before Briles was hired, Baylor won a combined total of 11 conference games. Using that for perspective makes it difficult to say that winning anything less than the Big 12 title is a failure. Regardless, Briles and the Bears are embracing the lofty expectations and were the only team other than Oklahoma to receive first place votes in the conference preseason media poll (9). The key to the Texas game will beâ€¦ The Horns play Baylor, in Austin, the weekend before the OU game. Not only does that make for a rough two-game stretch on the schedule, it also means that Texas only has four games before facing the Bears â€“ that is not a lot of time to work out the kinks associated with having an entirely new coaching staff. The Bears and Horns match up very well against each otherâ€™s strengths. Going in to OU week, the Baylor game will give fans a good look at Charlie Strongâ€™s purported ability to maximize talent on a roster. This game will be a major opportunity for Malcom Brown and Dez Jackson to wreak enough havoc in Baylorâ€™s run game to give Cedric Reed a chance to pressure Petty in obvious passing situations.