The 2015 Baylor Bears had high expecations. Picked as the co-favorite, along with TCU, to win the Big 12, the Bears had their sites set on a 3rd consecutive Big 12 title. Baylor started the year ranked 4th in both the AP and Coaches polls, rising as high as second and receiving as many as 13 first place votes. The Bears were a legitimate national title contender, featuring an explosive offense that was on pace to set new records.
Alas, it was not meant to be, as injuries, bad weather, and some poor play doomed the Bears. They lost three of their last four regular season games, including a stunning home loss to 5-win Texas in the finale. Click here for our "Best Of 2015" and read below for the flip side to that.
4th down in Overtime against TCU
Thanks to a torrential rainstorm, the high-powered matchup with Baylor facing off against TCU took a dramatic turn. The two teams combined for zero points in the second half, despite coming in as two of the top scoring teams in the nation. Both offenses got going in overtime, as TCU took a 28-21 lead in the second. Baylor took the ball from the 25-yard line and struggled to move the ball. It all came down to a fourth down play on 4th-and-2 at the 17-yard line.
Baylor had two opportunities, and failed miserably on both of them. The first was a simple quarterback sneak, where Chris Johnson appeared to be tripped up behind the line of scrimmage. Luckily, Art Briles had taken a timeout after seeing the blocking alignments. However, Devin Chafin took the ball on the next play and was also tripped up in the backfield to end the game. Especially after seeing the creativity that emerged the next two games, it was frustrating to see the lack of effectiveness to close out TCU.
Regular Season Finale - Lost to Texas 23-17
Obviously, there were many factors that went into the Bears' loss to Texas on Dec. 5. Most notably, But the fact is, unfortunately, Baylor did lose to a team that finished 5-7 and missed a bowl game. And it's not like the Bears had nothing to play for -- the loss pushed them from the Sugar Bowl down to No. 4 in the Big 12.
Baylor was absolutely brutal in the first quarter, as it gave up a 17-0 lead to a team that just recently had gotten shut out by Iowa State. The Bears gave up a 57-yard touchdown to tight end Caleb Bleuiett less than four minutes in. Soon afterwards, Chris Johnson got hurt and the game got out of control. Baylor made a valiant comeback, but simply ran out of time in this one.
Seth Russell's injury
Baylor took a quick 35-0 lead against Iowa State in its Homecoming matchup, but the game went downhill from there. Seth Russell was not his usual self, completing only 43 percent of his passes for 197 yards against ISU. However, things were about to get worse.
With just over six minutes left to go in the fourth quarter, Russell tried to break through for a first down on a scramble. He was met head-on by ISU DB Jomal Wiltz and mysteriously taken out of the game. At first look, it appeared Russell might have suffered a concussion. Of course, it turned into a season-ending neck fracture that effectively ended the Bears' national championship hopes.
Worst Coaching Decision
Gameplan against TCU
Look, no team should ever expect to go into a game and have a downpour significant enough to incapacitate an offense. That said, Baylor's insistence to try and play its base offense against TCU was troublesome at times. Chris Johnson threw the ball 24 times, which was about 15 times too many. There would be several stretches where Baylor would try to hit a home-run play, getting Johnson to throw the ball down the field.
What makes this so baffling is the creativity Baylor showed the next two games. The Bears' ability to spread teams out and win with the run against Texas and North Carolina was phenomenal. Baylor might not have practiced it in the lead-up to the TCU game, but at some point you have to recognize when what you are doing is not working.
Most inconsistent position group
In 2014, Baylor was seemingly set at linebacker. Bryce Hager was a future NFL player, Aiavion Edwards was the linebacker of the future and Collin Brence was extremely solid, even if unspectacular. As the season went on, and Taylor Young took over at weakside, the linebacker rotation became a strength on the roster.
That did not transfer well over to this season. Young was fine in his second year as a starter (13.5 TFLs, 80 tackles), but did not necessarily take the step forward many expected. Travon Blanchard was an upgrade at nickeback, but showed some expected growing pains. Grant Campbell was a significant downgrade over Hager and played a big part in Baylor's struggles against the run at times this season. The good news is that Young and Blanchard both return. Finding a replacement at MLB will be essential.