2011 Record: (10-3, 6-3 in Big 12)
Head Coach: Art Briles (25-25 at Baylor, 59-53 All-Time)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 Alamo Bowl: beat Washington 67-56
Revenge: 11/17 vs Kansas St, 12/1 vs Oklahoma St
Swing Games: 9/29 at WVU, 10/13 vs TCU, 10/27 at Iowa St, 11/24 vs Texas Tech
Stat to Cheer: had 30 plays of 40 or more yards in 2011 (1st in Big 12, 2nd in Nation)
Stat to Fear: gave up 17 plays of 50 or more yards in 2011 (last in Big 12, last in Nation)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 6; Defense: 8; Specialists: 2)
Key Defensive Returnees: S Ahmad Dixon (89 tackles), S Sam Holl (113 tackles, 3 INT), S Mike Hicks (105 tackles, 3 INT), K.J. Morton (75 tackles, 4 INT)
Key Offensive Returnees: WR Terrance Williams (59 rec, 957 yds rec, 11 TD), WR Tevin Reese (51 rec, 877 yds rec, 7 TD), WR Lanear Sampson (42 rec, 3 TD), OL Cyril Richardson
CFBZ: Baylor replaces Heisman winner RG3 with Nick Florence. What does he bring to the table?
Turfburner: The biggest asset he brings is experience running Art Briles' offense. He doesn't have as much game experience as you might like to see, but he's been learning and running Briles offense since he set foot on campus and knows where to go with the football.
He played in only one game last year coming in for Baylor when RGIII went down in their 10th game (and burned a potential redshirt in the process) and looked impressive completing 9-12 passes for 151 yards against Texas Tech. He also started and played well at times as a true freshman when Griffin tore his ACL and missed the final nine games of the 2009 season.
The biggest obstacle he'll face in 2012 is now teams will be able to game plan against him specifically. While Florence does have some mobility, he's nowhere near where Griffin was in that category (really, who is though) and teams will game plan accordingly.
Given his experience in the offense coupled with some great wide receivers and an above average offense line, it wouldn't be shocking to seem him to put up some impressive numbers in the passing game this season.
CFBZ: Baylor also losses a couple of offensive weapons in RB Terrance Ganaway and WR Kendall Wright. Who replaces those key players?
Turfburner: Junior Tevin Reese will step into Wright's shoes in at the inside receiver slot. He might not have the same explosion that Wright possessed, but he's more than capable of making big plays. He was Baylor's third leading receiver last season with 51 catches for 800 yards and I wouldn't be surprised to see him near 100 catches in 2012.
Terrance Williams also figures to be in for a big season on the outside. He has plenty of experience having already caught 105 balls during his career. Tight end Jordan Najvar was named to the preseason All-Big 12 team and should be a bigger factor in the passing game, as well.
In the backfield, Baylor should be in great shape at the position even with Ganaway's graduation. Senior Jared Salubi will most likely step into the starting role after gaining 331 yards last season. Junior Glasco Martin will also see plenty of playing time, as well.
The wildcard is Oregon transfer, Lache Seastrunk. One way or another, Baylor is going to get him on the field to complement Salubi and Martin and maybe even more than that as the season wears on. He gave Baylor fans a glimpse of what he's capable of in the spring game rushing for 138 on yards on just seven carries which included a 75 TD run.
CFBZ: Phil Bennett took over the Baylor defense last year and the Bears actually regressed in both yards allowed and points allowed. What should we expect from the Baylor defense this season?
Turfburner: That's the key question in 2012. If they don't get significantly better on D, it could be a long season. The defense didn't look great in the spring game although they did come up with five turnovers which was a good sign. Then again, it's tough to put much stock into what happens during a spring scrimmage.
On the positive side, Baylor is as athletic as they've ever been on defense and playing in Bennett's system for a second straight season should mean major improvements are on the horizon. They return eight starters from last year including the entire secondary. There's more than enough talent there with Ahmad Dixon and Sam Holl leading the way, but one of the biggest issues on defense is the lack of a pass rush meaning these guys are asked to cover way too long.
Baylor finished last year with just 19 sacks. The situation didn't get any better when arguably their best pass rusher, Tevin Elliott, was suspended from the team during the offseason. He's no longer on the roster and from everything I can gather, won't be part of the team this fall.
If they're going to be better this season, it has to start with the front seven. They should be helped by the addition of junior college linebacker, Eddie Lackey, who arrived on campus in January and went through spring drills with the Bears emerging as the starter at the Will linebacker position.
They have some size on the line with starters Nick Johnson and Kaeron Johnson hovering around 300 pounds, but I suspect depth is going to an issue in the middle of the line throughout the year.
I suspect we'll see some significant improvements this year, but then again, their schedule is loaded with big-time offenses so it'll likely continue to be an uphill battle for the defense this season.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2012 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Turfburner: I have them pegged for seven wins but it largely depends on how much improvement they show on defense. They simply won't be able to outscore teams on a consistent basis the way they did last year.
The Bears should finish 3-0 in nonconference play but have to play West Virginia, Texas, and Oklahoma on the road in Big 12 play. A win in any of those three games would have to be considered a size-able upset.
That leaves six Big 12 games that will decide what type of season is in store. Games with Iowa State, Kansas, and Texas Tech should be winnable. That leaves what I'll call "swing" games with TCU, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State, two of the three which will be played in Waco.
In my mind, a successful season is Baylor getting to a third straight bowl game and finishing in the top half of the Big 12 with seven or eight wins.
Wherever they finish, this isn't the Baylor team we all grew to know in the early days of the Big 12. There was a time when every school in the league chalked up Baylor as a win on the schedule and that's nowhere near the case any longer which is a tribute to the job Art Briles had done in Waco.
They have enough talent to beat any team they play, but until their defense proves it can stop people, they'll have a tough time consistently cracking the top three or four spots in the Big 12.
Robert Griffin III completed 72.4% of his passes last year and threw for 4,293 yards with 37 TD and 6 INTs. In addition to that, RG3 ran for 699 yards and 10 TDs. Nick Florence is the lucky player who gets to step into those large superman socks. Florence has some game experience with most coming in 2009 when he completed 62% of his passes for 1786 yards and threw 6 TD with 9 INTs. Not only will this offense lose RG3 but it also loses Kendall Wright (108 rec, 14 TD) and Terrance Ganaway (1547 yds rush, 21 TD). That's a lot of offense to lose. Baylor should be ok at receiver as they still have three returning players that combined for 152 receptions. Florence should be set up for success with those targets but what will be missing is that dynamic playmaking ability of RG3 and the workhorse running back in Terrance Ganaway. Replacing Ganaway's production will be a big key to how effective this offense can be.
On defense, Baylor needs to improve immensley. Last year, four of Baylor's top six tacklers were DBs. That's not a good thing and it shows when you look at how many big plays Baylor gave up last year. They were 106th in the Nation in giving up plays of 10 yards or more and 116th in giving up plays of 20 yards or more. The front seven has to come together and come together quickly as they won't have RG3 to hide their ugly warts if they continue down the path they did last year. In defense of the Baylor defense, it was Phil Bennett's first season and he has largly been successful as a DC in the past.
Last year, Baylor gave up 33.4 points per game in their ten wins. In three of those wins they gave up over 40 points. From 2010 to 2011, Baylor increased their offensive scoring by 14 points per game. This year, I would expect Baylor to come back down to somewhere around 30 points per game which means that their season will be decided based on how much improvement is seen on the defensive side of the football. Look for Baylor to be a very competitive football team this year but they will struggle to win those close games that they won last year (they won four games by one score or less).
2012 Prediction: 6-6
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