Five pressing questions at Baylor

August, 21, 2008
8/21/08
6:02
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Baylor is facing the Big 12's most enduring drought period as the Bears have failed to make a bowl trip since 1994. Only Vanderbilt and Duke have longer bowl droughts among teams from Bowl Championship Series-affiliated conferences.

New coach Art Briles arrives from Houston intent on changing that trend. He led the Cougars to four bowl appearances in his last five seasons, but will be facing the challenge of his coaching career as he tries to resuscitate the Baylor program.

As he heads into his team's Aug. 28 opener against No. 23 Wake Forest, Briles has some obvious questions to consider. Here are five of the most pressing ones.

1. Who will emerge at quarterback -- Briles said on Wednesday that he's no closer to picking a starter for his opener than he was in spring training. Blake Szymanski, Kirby Freeman and heralded freshman Robert Griffin all can do different things well. Look for him to use all of them at some point of the season, with Griffin getting more playing time late in the season if he can stay healthy.

2. Can new players provide backfield depth -- Brandon Whitaker's departure leaves the Bears scrambling for answers at running back. The most interesting decision has been moving converted safety Ray Sims and converted quarterback Jeremy Sanders as potential challengers for playing time. Along with Jacoby Jones and Jay Finley, the Bears have more options than last season. But will it be enough to hold up against punishing Big 12 defenses?

3. How will the Bears respond to Briles -- His upbeat enthusiasm has been contagious -- so far. But the Bears have never played a game under their new coach. He's been a winner at every level in his coaching history, but this will be the biggest challenge of his career.

4. Will offensive line improve with experience -- The Bears have averaged no more than 110 yards per game in any of the last six seasons and their yard-per-carry average has been no higher than 3.1 yards in any of those years. But with four starters back, the line should be improved this season.

5. Can they stop anybody -- The Bears regressed badly last season, ranking last nationally in turnover margin and among the bottom 10 nationally in pass defense, scoring defense and total defense. New coordinator Brian Norwood will bring some new ideas, but defense will be breaking in two new linebackers around Joe Pawelek and two new corners. Not a good sign in a conference that should be as potent offensively as the Big 12 will be this season.

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