Ahhh, football. Welcome back. It is game week for the Baylor Bears, as they look to start the 2015 season on the road against former conference rival SMU. The Bears travel to Dallas on Friday, September 4th to start one of the most anticipated seasons in Baylor history. Coming off of back-to-back Big 12 Championships, and consecutive 11-win seasons, the Bears return a talented and experienced roster, looking to take the next step towards the College Football Playoffs. After finishing 1-spot out of the playoffs in 2014, Baylor currently occupies the 4th spot in the rankings in the AP and Coaches Poll.
SMU is looking to bounce back after a disastorous 2014 season that saw them fall to just 1-11 on the season, causing the firing of Head Coach June Jones. Through his 7-year tenure, Jones turned SMU into a solid program, winning at least 7 games four season in a row and advancing to 4 consecutive bowl games, before sliding to 5-7 in 2013. The Mustangs looked lost from the start of the 2014 season, a 45-0 loss to the Baylor Bears in the inagurual game of McLane Stadium. It did not get much better after that, with SMU scoring just 12 points total in their first four games of the season. They lost the first 11 games of the season before a 27-20 win in the final game of the year on the road at Connectiut.
However, the feeling around the SMU football program now is one of hope and promise. They brought in former Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, a rising star in college football. Morris, a 16 year Texas High School football coach, was the playcaller for the Clemson Tigers for four seasons, and helped the Tigers to one of the best 4-year stretches in their recent history. A 41-11 record, the 2011 ACC Championship, and four bowl berths were the results of one of the best offenses in the college game.
Like Baylor head coach Art Briles, Morris is well respected across the state due to his time at Lake Travis and Stephenville (replacing Baylor Coach Art Briles), winning 3 state titles in those 16 years. The Dallas native, Morris is back home in Texas, and looks to bring new passion and energy to the Mustangs program.
One thing that he will bring is a more wide-open offensive attack, one that focuses on the benefits of the wide open space that a spread provides for the running game. Morris' attack is a new version of the modern wishbone, one that puts pressure on mismatches and open space, and gets the offensive best player the ball in a variety of ways. They will run inside, outside, with power and then get those safeties to come down and help, while a speedy receiver darts past them for a long touchdown. In fact, the philosophies mimic quite a bit of what the Bears want to do, especially when they have a more mobile quarterback.
Leading the Mustang attack will be former Texas A&M Quarterback, Matt Davis. A former 4-star recruit, and one of the highest profile recruits in the 2012 recruiting class, Davis left A&M after his redshirt freshman campaign to Tyler Junior college. He came to SMU in 2014, and started the year as a backup. He appeared in 10 games in 2014, starting 4. SMU's leading rusher with 613 yards and 4 touchdowns, Davis is an excellent athlete who is still learning how to be a quarterback at the college level. He does look like a great fit, on paper at least, for what Morris wants from his quarterback. Davis is a very good running threat, who is natural with the ball. His 191 yards rushing in their lone victory over UConn is testament to that. The big question will be if Davis can take care of the ball, and make the rigth decisions in the zone/read and option game.
The Mustangs bring back their top wide receiver in Darius Joseph, and returning ace Deion Sanders, Jr. Redshirt freshman Courtland Sutton has impressed in practice, but outside of those names, the Mustangs have a lot of question marks on the outside. They also return their top two rnning backs in Prescott Line and K.C. Nlemchi, but both were very innefective in 2014.
The biggest question for SMU, and possibly the best cause for hope, is an offensive line that performed well in comparision to the dumpster fire known as their 2014 offense. They return every player from their 2-deep in 2014, led by three-year starting center Taylor Lasecki. This is an experienced offensive line, that the Mustangs will lean on to protect Davis, and open up holes for the runners.
While the offense has some signs of hope, especially with Morris calling the shots, the defense was awful at times, especially when injuries forced the Mustangs to play quite a few young players. Three freshman and three sophomores played extensively on the defensive line. They were bad awful against the rush, and even worse against the pass.
They do have some experience at the linebacker position, led by Jonathan Yenga and Robert Seals. They return three starters in the defensive backfield and most of the reserves from last year. This is a defense that is returning most of the top talent from 2014, but a defense that was one of the worst in the nation. It should get better, but how much is the question.
Keys to the Game
1. Pressure with Four - The Bears defensive line is one of their strenghts, with two all-american candidates leading the way. At times, the pass rush was dominant, especially when they brought a delayed linebacker blitz, usually in the form of freshman Taylor Young. This year though, the hope is that the defensive line will be able to generate more pressure, and hopefully sacks, by themselves.Baylor had 8 sacks in the home opener last year against SMU, so getting that type of production once more might be asking too much. This should be a better offensive line that the Bears are seeing, and a MUCH better offense overall.
2. Get Russell Going Early - With a new quarterback for the Bears, getting off to a quick start is key. Russell brings more of a dual threat presence to the Bears attack, so getting his confidence up early, and hopefully a comfortable lead, will allow him to relax and play football. Look for early run options and some simple passes to get him and the offense into a rhythym.
3. Play Baylor Football - Simply put, the Bears are the much better team. They are one of the top-4 teams in the nation, while SMU is much closer to the bottom-4. The Mustangs should be better this year, but not much. They have a long way to go to get back to respectable after the last 2 years. Baylor needs to play its game, and they should be fine. If players try to do too much, or are pressing early, the Mustangs could hang around for a while. Just play Baylor football, and this will be a comfortable victory.
Massey Ratings – Bears win 48-14
RealTime RPI – Bears win 45-10
TeamRankings.com – Bears win 55-21
Vegas Line - Baylor - 35.5
Staff Predictions COMING SOON!