They may no longer be the Bad News Bears, if coach Guy Morriss and his staff continue the improvement with Baylor football, but the Big 12's perennial doormat will still have to look up at a lot of teams in the South Division.
Morriss, who was named one of the country's most underrated coaches by Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel, has his team believing they can compete with everyone on their schedule – no small feat for a program that has finished in the basement every season in the Big 12.
"The main thing they have brought to the Baylor program is stability", said Baylor broadcaster John Morris. "Only one change in the staff in three years, same systems, same terminology. For the players, that translates into more efficient practices and meetings. These coaches have experience at other schools and know what it takes to win here at Baylor."
Junior Sean Bell, who led Baylor to their lone conference win at Texas A&M last season, will be the starter for an offense that has had little success against OU since joining the Big 12 conference. Running backs Paul Mosely and Brandon Whittaker give the Bears a solid inside-outside combination and they will run behind an improved offensive line. Two key additions up front are OT Nick Pace (6-3, 295) who missed last season due to injury and C Will Blaylock (6-2, 302 JR), who sat out last season after transferring from Tulane.
Defensively, Baylor has a Jim Thorpe Award watch list player in FS Maurice Lane (5-11, 187), and an All-Big 12 pre-season selection in cornerback Willie Andrews (5-10, 190), who is know primarily for his return abilities. Another senior, LB Colin Allred (6-2, 231) is expected to be the leader of the veteran defensive squad that has improved every year under Morriss.
The best player on the Baylor team, punter Daniel Sepulveda, figures to get a lot of work again this year. The returning Ray Guy Award winner as the nation's top punter has his sights set on becoming the first two-time honoree.
09/03 at SMU
09/17 At Army
10/01 At Texas A&M
10/08 At Iowa State
10/22 At Oklahoma
10/29 Texas Tech
11/12 At Missouri
11/19 Oklahoma State
OFFENSE - Quarterback play will be the key for the Bears chances this season. Bell and backup Terrence Parks have shown leadership ability at times, but need to provide consistency. The running game is solid, but the big play has been missing from the Baylor attack in recent years. If they can keep their defense off the field and sustain some drives, the Bears could be very pesky. GRADE: C-
DEFENSE - Stability has been the key to improving the defense and the senior-laden squad knows how to play together. Not as big as most Big12 teams up front, the Bears need help from the offense to stay competitive this year. GRADE: C
SPECIAL TEAMS – May be near the top in the conference, with Big 12 kickoff return leader Andrews and the nations top punter in Sepulveda. The Bears will be happier if both get less work this season, though. And no kicker on the Baylor roster has ever attempted a field goal in college, although Ryan Havens has handled kickoff chores the past two seasons. GRADE: B
OUTLOOK - Optimism is relative and this is Baylor. But the Bears did beat Texas A&M last year, showing the rest of the league that they aren't an automatic W each week. The league schedule is not kind, with road games the first two weeks. Baylor could go 3-0 in non-conference and a realistic goal would be to double their conference win total this year. PREDICTION: 4-7
Big XII Preview: Baylor
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