Start with a non-player question here. What's it like right now in Waco? Is the team, community enjoying the run? Or is being in the top 10 a lot for everybody to handle and the pressure might be getting there? One thing to be the hunter, quite another to be the hunted.
Excitement is at an all-time high. The Oklahoma and Texas games will be sold out and not because the opposing team is bringing all the fans. Baylor expects to sell out of season tickets next year for the new stadium as well, so you've really seen a change in atmosphere from 10 years ago.
I think the team and fanbase learned a little two years ago when Baylor won 10 games, the Alamo Bowl, and Heisman trophy. With that run, Baylor has proved it can compete and win in the conference, and at this point fans are just excited about the run. As far as the team, it's always hard to tell. They are certainly saying the right things. They were able to maintain composure in a tense environment in Manhattan, outscoring Kansas State 14-0 in the 4th quarter at a critical moment. The last 5 games will amp up that intensity even more.
Every week we see the Baylor offensive numbers. The 60 points per game, the balance in the offense, but what about the defense? What is it about this defense that makes Baylor a legit BCS championship contender?
The defensive line has been the turning point this year. I think you can look at certain players in the secondary and the linebackers and certainly realize that they are important to knowing Phil Bennett's system, but until the defensive line was able to hold their own, the defense was not going to sustain any sort of improvement. This year, with an influx of 2 true freshman defensive tackles, Penn State transfer Shawn Oakman at the defensive end spot, and other developing talent all along the line, Baylor has 8 legitimate D-linemen that they can play at any time and feel comfortable with. Certainly that unit will have more to prove in the upcoming schedule, but they started to gel at the end of last year culminating with a dominating performance against a top 20 UCLA team in the Holiday bowl, and the same guys are back (mostly) plus the newcomers to form a good group.
Who is poised for a breakout game? Whether it's on offense or defense, is there somebody who is steadily improving that is ready to go off or somebody who is due to make an impact?
Glasco Martin. Martin rushed for nearly 900 yards last season, but only has 300 through 7 games. He was hampered early by an off-season ankle injury, and is just now getting fully healthy. Coach Briles expected both Martin and Lache Seastrunk to be 1,000 yard rushers this year - and that likely won't happen at this point. Glasco has not had a 100 yard game yet this season, but the Bears will rely heavily on him to complement Seastrunk in this back part of their schedule.
Who would be a bigger loss to the team, Bryce Petty or Lache Seastrunk? Basically, does the passing game get rolling because of Seastrunk's presence? Does Seastrunk put up the numbers because Petty spreads the field and forces safeties to stay honest and not load the box?
From a personnel standpoint, Petty is extremely important to the team because his backups are a redshirt freshman and a true freshman. Seth Russell has put up some good numbers in games, but has also shown that he needs more time to develop to be able to run Coach Briles's offense efficiently and without turnovers.
But as far as setting up the offensive game plan, I think you saw a difference in this team once Seastrunk took over the starting role mid-way through last season. The 11 game winning streak Baylor is on started shortly after Lache became the primary guy, and the running numbers really went through the roof. Baylor has a good line and all of its running backs have been productive in spurts, but Lache brings something to the table that you can't simply coach up. His speed and athleticism really set up the offense and force defenses to respect the run, which in turn opens up the lanes for Petty to throw in.
Now, that's my answer. Coach Briles would probably tell you that Baylor does not do one to set up the other, but simply takes what the defense is giving them. With much of their offense based upon simply reading the guy standing directly in front of you, Coach runs a pick your poison system.
One of OU's strengths is the secondary. Baylor has the top two receivers in the conference. How important of a matchup is that and what makes that WR group so good?
I think it's an important matchup, but not the most important (more on that below). The first thing that makes the group standout is simply their speed. I won't quote you a bunch of 40 times, but all you have to do is watch film to see how quickly the Baylor WR's can get behind defenses. Even against Kansas State who supposedly slowed the Baylor attack, Baylor had long touchdown receptions of 93 yards, 72 yards, and 54 yards. Reese and Goodley get the majority of the targets, but the 2nd thing that makes the WR position good is the depth of talent there. You have a 5 star top 2 WR nationally in true freshman Robbie Rhodes who only gets a couple of targets a game because there is simply a lot of talent and experience in front of him.
The matchup I'm watching the closest is Baylor's defense against the Oklahoma run. I think that could decide the game. If Oklahoma is able to move the ball consistently on the ground against Baylor, then I think that's the advantage they need to get it done in Waco. If Baylor can slow the run, you still have the possibility of a shootout - but I think Baylor likes its chances in that type of game.