SMU and Baylor open the season this weekend in Waco on Sunday evening. To get ready for this reunion of former conference rivals, we sat down with BearsIllustrated.com's Tim Watkins and asked him five questions about the Bears and what the Mustangs can expect.
1. What are your expectations for Nick Florence? Will he be able to produce numbers anywhere near Robert Griffin III's? What are his strengths and weaknesses?
Being asked to replace arguably the best player in Baylor history and its first Heisman winner is tough enough without having to repeat his year. Florence is going to be a solid and steady guy, but I think the Bears offense will look more like it did in 2010, when the Bears averaged 31 points per game and were much more methodical. In 2010, Griffin threw for 3,500 yards and 22 touchdowns. Those are very good numbers but pale in comparison to the almost 4300 yards and 37 touchdowns. So I would expect Florence to do about 3500 yards and 25 touchdowns.
In terms of strengths, he is a smart, accurate quarterback who has been in the system for 4 years now, and has some experience under his belt. He will make the right read and run the offense efficiently. In terms or weaknesses, he is not the threat out of the back-field that Griffin was, but can be a sneaky runner. He also has a pretty average arm, and won't be able to stretch the field vertically or horizontally as well as Griffin did.
2. Baylor has two play-making receiving receivers in Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese. What kind of mismatches can they create for SMU's secondary?
Baylor has as talented a wide receiver group as any team in the country, featuring two Biletnikoff Award watch list members in Williams and Reese. However, the Bears also return Lanear Sampson who caught 42 balls last year as the other starter on the outside, and two solid tight ends in Jordan Najvar and Jerod Monk. Nick Florence will have plenty of weapons to choose from that will try to isolate either a safety or a linebacker on a wide receiver.
The Bears also have quite a bit of talent on the bench, featuring four-star freshman Corey Coleman, red-shirt freshman Jay Lee and Michigan transfer Darryl Stonum. The Bears are deep and talented at wide receiver and should be able to take advantage of that this year.
3. Baylor lost running back Terrance Ganaway to graduation so who should SMU fans expect to be toting the rock for the Bears?
Jarred Salubi will get first crack at the starting job, and has been a backup in his first three years. He is more of an all-around back, and not the bruiser Ganaway was. However, I do think that Baylor will use more of a committee approach this year with Glasco Martin taking on the big back role that Ganaway played two years ago behind Jay Finley. The wild-card is Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk who has as much talent as anyone in the country. He is a game-breaker with amazing speed. He sat out all of last season as a transfer, so he has some time in the offense.
Seastrunk showed the best big-play ability during the Spring game and in the fall practices, but I would expect Salubi to get the most carries, but it he won't be a work-horse for Baylor like Ganaway was last year. Salubi showed to be the steadiest in practice so far, with Martin working as the short-yardage back.
4. SMU is still in the process of shuffling its offensive line. How strong is Baylor's front seven and can they give the Mustangs problems?
The front seven on defense is by far the weakest part of the team and with the question marks on the offensive line for SMU, something Baylor might not be able to take advantage of. The Bears lost both of their starting defensive tackles from last year's defense and also lost their best pass-rushing end due to suspension. The Bears have some good size at the tackle positions in Nick Johnson (295 lbs), Trevor Clemons-Valdez (285 lbs).
The ends are a little bit smaller and have not had a great impact in the pass-rush in previous season. Gary Mason Jr. and Terrance Lloyd both have experience as starters, but neither have been consistently able to make plays in either the passing or running game. The hope though is that four-star freshman Javonte Magee can come in and become a play-maker from day one. He is listed as the backup, but could get quite a bit of playing time.
I feel better about the linebacker position, which if you include the Bears nickleback as a member of the front 7, includes Baylor's best defensive player, Ahmad Dixon. With their 4-2-5 defense, the Bears will bring Dixon up quite a bit to the slot and play him as a third linebacker. At the two more traditional linebacker spots will be two new starters. Eddie Lackey, a Juco transfer takes over at the weak-side position. He is undersized but fast and plays heard. Starting in the middle will be Bryce Hager, a guy I am a big fan of. He is bigger than the past few linebackers Baylor has had, and played well in spurts last year.
5. Phil Bennett was the head coach at SMU prior to June Jones. Has he made comments regarding any special meaning this game may hold for him?
I have not seen any mention of it, but you have to think he wants to win this game badly. Bennett has been a successful coordinator every where he has been, so the one spot that he failed at when finally give the opportunity to be a head coach has to be a game he has circled on his calendar. I was surprised when I looked it up that Bennett was in Dallas for five seasons, and through the first four had the Mustangs improving each year. That last year killed him though, but it opened the door to get a great coach in June Jones to Dallas.
Baylor Breakdown: 5 Key Questions
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