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5-Things: Can 2015 Just End?

The year of our lord, 2015, will not be remembered as the "Year of the Bear". That is for sure now. With upset losses in basketball, blown leads and no quarterbacks in football, and just a few things to celebrate athletically, this has not been a year to remember.

1. The year 2015 will not be remembered fondly by Baylor fans. It was a year of high expectations, set up by a wonderful 2014.  This year was shaping up to be a contender for best ever, up there with 2011.  In the end, it started with a a New Years Day Bowl game and is going to end with a second tier bowl at the end of December.  But this isn't just about football, as other programs failed to live up to the hype, for one reason or another.  The football team is a big reason for this post though, coming off of back-to-back Big 12 Championship season, and with a team as talented as any under Briles.  This was a season that was destined bo be special.  Four losses in the calendar year, with back-to-back losses at home, and a fourth place finish in the Big 12 was the result. 

It all started on January 1st, 2015.  The 5th ranked Baylor Bears were looking to win the Cotton Bowl to start the year off in grand fashion.  For three brilliant quarters, the Bears were dominating the Michigan State Spartans with a supreme performance by Bryce Petty.  However, football is a game of four quarters, the fourth was a complete collapse. A 20-point lead evaporated and the Bears fell in stunning fashion.  \

This was the Bears second loss in a row in a New Years Bowl game, both to teams ranked below them. They were the heavy favorite against Central Florida, and a slight one against Michigan State.  Two losses, and more murmurs that Baylor is just a great offense, with no chance of winning the big game.  

2. The 2015 season got off to a great start, with blowout wins over non-conference opponents SMU, Lamar, and Rice before the Bears really started cooking against Texas Texh, Kansas, and West Virginia.  Baylowas 6-0, had scored 60 points in 5 games, and no fewer than 56 so far.  They were led by an emerging star at quarterback in Seth Russell. WIth homecoming coming up against Iowa State, the bears were feeling very good.  

Then the rain hit.  The Bears slugged to a tougher than expected win over Iowa State, 45-27, after starting out up 35-0.  Seth Russell, late in the fourth quarter, took a tough hit to the head and neck and missed the rest of the game. Later, it was revealed that Russell had suffered a fractured bone in his neck and would be shut down for the rest of the 2015 season. It was a stunning development for a once promising season.  True Freshman Jarrett Stidham would step into the starting position, first defeating Kansas State 3124 before a Saturday night slugest with Oklahoma. 

With College GameDay front and center, the Bears would fight hard but fall late at home against the Sooners.  Stidham would suffer his own back injury, before breaking a bone in his heel the next week against Oklahoma State.  3rd stringer Chris Johnson, converted to wide receiver/tight end in the fall and then back to quarterback after Russell's injury, would step in and lead the Bears to a big second half and a win over Oklahoma State. 

There would be one more return of the rain though, as Baylor would play in some of the worst conditions you can imagine in a 2-overtime loss to rival TCU.  It was an ugly game, and an ugly loss that took away the Bears chances for a Big 12 championship.  With one more game against Texas to close out the 2015 schedule, the Bears had a shot at the Sugar Bowl, a third straight New Years Day Bowl game.  With Chris Johnson, the third and final scholarship quarterback, suffering a concussion in the 1st quarter though, it was not meant to be. 

Even the invention and installation of a new offense at halftime could not do enough to get the Bears a miracle comeback win over Texas, as they fell for the third time in four games, including back to back at home, to close out the year 9-3.  With a spot in the Russell Athletic Bowl against North Carolina.  With Stidham, star receiver Corey Coleman and starting running back Shock Linwood already declared out for the game, the Bears will have an uphill battle to get their 10th win of the season and to find some momentum going into 2016.  

3. Baylor basketball turned in a much better than expected season in 2014-15.   A 23-8 regular season ended with a 3-seed in the NCAA tournament.  It was a just reward for a fourth place finish in the Big 12.  Baylor had everything they would need for a long run into March.  Experienced point guard, wing scoring, great defense, and some dominant play throughout the season.  They looked like a Sweet-16 favorite, and maybe more.  With Kenny Chery and Royce O'Neale providing senior leadership, Rico Gathers dominating the paint, and Taurean Prince being one of the most electric 6th men in the nation, this was a tremendous team. 

All was lost on the first weekend, as Georgia State made a miraculous comeback, and hit the last shot of the game to steal a 57-56 upset win over the Bears. Replays of the last shot, a deep 3-pointer from R.J Hunter, and the reaction from his coach, and father, falling off of a stool will be a favorite replay for many years.  It was a magical March Madness moment, that was anything but happy for the Bears.  

4. The Lady Bears season came to an end in a familar way as well, at the hands of Notre Dame.  For the second year in a row, the Lady Irish were celebrating the end of Kim Mulkey's season.  With a spot in the Final Four on the line, the Lady Bears hung around for most of the game, even leading by 1 point with about 11 minutes left in the 2nd half.  However, the tough defensive battle proved to be too much, as the Irish starting hitting shots and the Lady Bears could not respond in a 77-68 loss that prevented another trip to the national semifinals.  

It was a tough way for the year to end, but losing to a #1 seed is never a shame.  With all but one rotation player returning, plus another Top-5 recruiting class, the Lady Bears are poised to have a tremendous 2015-16 season. They are 13-0 to start the season, and are up to 4th in the polls. With four wins over ranked teams, the Lady Bears are a proven bunch and in the national elite once again.  They have been a bright spot for Baylor so far in 2015, but there is a lot of season left as conference play starts on December 30th with a trip to Oklahoma 

The Baylor baseball team also had a struggling year, and a massive change in their leadership with long-time coach Steve Smith no longer in charge. After an exhaustive search, Baylor tabbed Steve Rodriguez, formerly of Pepperdine, to be the new manager.  In 12 sesaons as manager, Rodriguez's squads advanced to the NCAA tournament 8 times, including a trip to the super regionals in 2014.  

5. In the end, 2015 has been a season to forget. There have been some bright spots, such as the women's golf team making a surprise run to the NCAA finals, before losing late to Stanford.  The football team has a chance to change some of that perception with a win in the Russell Athletic Bowl.  That would be their 4th 10-win season in 5 years, continuing by far the most successful stretch in Baylor football history.  From the Cotton Bowl, to this Saturday's ugly loss to Texas A&M in basketball, this has been a year to forget.  Hopefully, 2016 is one to remember for good reasons. 


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