We dive into a preview of the Baylor Bears, the three players to watch and five thoughts about Baylor, including the idea if Baylor has earned the benefit of the doubt.
Quick Facts on Baylor
Last Year’s Record: 11-2
Location: Waco, TX
Coach: Art Briles
Returning Offensive Starters: 8 (RB Shock Linwood; WR Corey Coleman; WR KD Cannon; TE Tre’Von Armstead; OL Spencer Drango; OL Blake Muir; OL Kyle Fuller; OL Jarrell Broxton)
Returning Defensive Starters: 9 (DE Shawn Oakman; DT Beau Blackshear; DE K.J. Smith; LB Taylor Young; CB ryan Reid; CB Xavien Howard; S Terrell Burt; S Orion Stewart)
* I couldn’t find anything on Baylor’s site with a list of who is returning and who isn’t, but I think this is it.
- WR Corey Coleman (5-11/190): Newsflash. Corey Coleman didn’t even play the first three games, the non-conference slate, and I can’t remember why, but Coleman did finish with nearly 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns and the other crazy thing is that Coleman only had 1 game where he caught 1 pass for 30 yards, a touchdown, against Texas. Coleman had five huge games, Iowa State (12 for 154); Kansas (3 for 167); Oklahoma (15 for 224) and Michigan State (7 for 150) and a lot of the other games were pretty pedestrian. That’s not a knock, it takes time to be a dominating player and Coleman obviously shows flashes of that. Big flashes.
- DT Andrew Billings (6-2/300): So I think I’v made it pretty clear that I love Andrew Billings and I think he’s pretty terrific. My hope is that Texas Tech’s Breiden Fehoko follows Billings on a career trajectory. As a true freshman in 2013, Billings played in all 12 games, made 30 tackles, had 4 tackles for a loss, half a sack and a few quarterback hurries. In 2014, Billings had 37 total tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 2 sacks and 9 quarterback hurries. Billings is a load up the middle and he’s the anchor for the defense. He’s ridiculously strong and a terrific athlete. The only time he gets pushed around is when he’s double-teamed.
- DE Shawn Oakman (6-9/275): Oakman gets the press. Without a doubt Oakman can be a dominating presence, with 19.5 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks. A couple of interesting things here, which is that Oakman only had 3 games where he didn’t register a sack, and he only had 2 games where he didn’t register a tackle behind the line of scrimmage, a meaningless game against Northwestern State and Oklahoma, which Baylor won easily. Believe it or not, Oakman’s high game of tackles for a loss was Texas Tech, but only resulted in 8 yards for a loss. See the item below, which pretty much roasts Oakman as a player with potential, but a player that lacks consistency.
- Slight Change on Offense: Philip Montgomery leaves Baylor to be the head coach at Tulsa and Kendal Briles, the son of Art Briles, is your new offensive coordinator. You never really know how this will affect a team, much like TCU losing Dick Bumpas, in terms of play calling until the lights come on and it’s really tough for a guy like me, that doesn’t have a more intimate knowledge of what Kendal does on offense and how involved he was. What we do know is that Kendal did call at least one game last year, the Michigan State game and if there was one glaring stat from that game, it’s that Baylor’s vaunted rushing offense (I don’t write that sarcastically) rushed for -20 yards on 22 carries, while throwing for over 600 yards. A couple of things stood out to me watching that game, which was that this was Baylor’s lowest, by 15 carries, times to attempt to rush the ball. Montgomery called at least 40 rushing plays for all but one game, Kansas State, where he only called 37 rushing plays. Now, Michigan State has a pretty good defense and of those 22 rushes, 7 of them were from Bryce Petty who lost 36 yards, presumably on sacks, so I definitely get that, but this may have been one of those situations where Kendal let the game get away from him and the best way to feel like you’re pouring on the offense is to throw the ball more and then things spiral out of control. And even when Baylor struggled to run, like against West Virginia where they only ran for 95 yards, they still ran the ball over 40 times. It’s hard to be that patient. I don’t know if this is a harbinger of things to come, I’d imagine that Art won’t let that happen, but it certainly stood out to me when looking at the season stats for the Baylor offense.
- Love that Defensive Line: Earlier this year, there was this somewhat scathing B/R post about how Oakman was the most over-rated player in the 2016 NFL Draft. It’s a good read and the idea here is that Oakman is not consistent, he doesn’t get low (that’s tough for being 6-9) among other things, but physically, he’s imposing and an incredibly tough block. Aside from Billings and Oakman, Beau Blackshear is very solid and opposite of Oakman, Baylor employs a smaller defensive end. There’s a lot to like about the defensive line and Oakman probably gets more credit than he deserves. I wrote the other day that I think that a large part of Oakman’s success is having two guys inside that can and do eat up double-teams. Billings does that for sure.
- Cannon’s Freshman Campaign and Other Receivers: Freshman K.D. Cannon’s freshman year was really good. Cannon had huge games against Northwestern State (223 yards on 6 catches), Buffalo (6 for 189) and Michigan State (8 for 197). Again, for a true freshman, those are terrific numbers and adding another big-bodied receiver in Jay Lee (41 catches for 633 yards) and it’s a very formidable receiving corps. And I think a little much has been written about LaQuan McGowan, the 6-7/410 tight end. I’m sure he’s fine, but he caught 1 pass for 13 yards last year, and yes, he’s an imposing figure, no doubt about that, but this seemingly is putting McGowan in a bad spot in the sense that he’s going to spend his senior year playing a spot that he most likely will not play in the NF>. I probably don’t need to feel sorry for anyone, but this sorta screams that he wasn’t good enough to break the offensive or defensive lines. I am sure that after writing this, McGowan will catch 50 passes for 750 yards and 15 touchdowns. You should also know that the only receiver under six foot in the two-deep is Coleman and inside receiver Chris Platt, so out of nine receivers, two are 5’11” and the rest are 6’0″ or taller.
- The Key Will Be Another Good Offensive Line: I think that four of five offensive starters start along the line and a huge part of it is the play of Spencer Drango. I suppose the battle is between Drango and Le’Raven Clark as the two best offensive linemen in the Big 12. We haven’t even talked all that much about the running backs, Shock Linwood and Johnny Jefferson as your smaller backs with Devin Chaffin being the bigger running backs. For the past four years, Baylor has rushed for over 200 yards and as mentioned above, it will be interesting if Kendal will continue that trend or if he’ll fall back into a more aggressive passing game. I’m guessing the former, but this will be the most fascinating aspect of Baylor this year.
- The Benefit of the Doubt: I know that the thing that you want to say is that Baylor is going to fall. Maybe a new quarterback that doesn’t have any experience or maybe that they’re losing losing some pretty important players like Bryce Hager and Antwan Goodley or and Bryce Petty. But there’s a lot returning for Baylor and I’m amazed that Texas Tech put up 700 yards against the Bears. Deep passes and big plays, both good and bad, ended up resulting in a win for Baylor, but it was by the skin of their teeth. The funny thing here is that Baylor, like it or not, is receiving some credit, just based on presumption. For example, QB Seth Russell is a 33-1 favorite to win the Heisman despite the fact that he only threw 85 passes last year and of those 85 passes, 48 of them happened against SMU and Northwestern State where Russell only completed 56% of his passes against SMU with a touchdown and an interception, while Russell had his big day against Northwestern State, completing 65% for 438 yards and 5 touchdowns. In other words, Russell put up good numbers against Northwestern, but was below average against SMU and Texas Tech (5.4 yards per attempt against SMU and 4.8 yards per attempt against Texas Tech). So, like it or not, Baylor is receiving the benefit of the doubt and they should. They’ve had two terrific years and a ton of momentum and high expectations.