It sure seemed like they came out of nowhere.
Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty and wide receiver Antwan Goodley patiently waited for their time until they were ready to burst onto the college landscape. At this time a year ago both players knew it was finally their time to shine even though few people knew who they were. Petty learned while sitting behind fellow signal-callers Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence, while Goodley watched from the sidelines as big-play pass catchers Terrance Williams and Kendall Wright made names for themselves.
Now, after leading the Bears to their first Big 12 title in 2013, the duo opened spring football as the Big 12’s best quarterback-receiver combination after putting fear in the hearts of defensive backs across the conference.
“We were sitting for a long time,” Goodley said. “We got out there and we had a lot to prove, show what we can do.”
The pair connected 71 times for 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 18.86 yards per completion, with 71.8 percent of their connections resulting in a first down or touchdown during a breakout junior season for both players.
“We’ve grown up in the system together,” Petty said. “We had to wait and we had to be patient, we grew hungry together and it exploded this year for us.”
What could they possibly do for an encore?
“We have to prove last year wasn’t a fluke,” Petty said. “For us it’s ‘Ok, we were the best in the Big 12, why not the best in the nation?’ The encore is to be the best quarterback-receiver duo in the nation and lead Baylor to a Big 12 championship for a second time and get into the playoff and win a national championship.”
All three goals are setting up to be tough tasks. Kansas State’s Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett could insert themselves into the conversation as one of the Big 12’s (and nation’s) top quarterback-receiver duos, Oklahoma will be looking for revenge as a roadblock Baylor defending its conference title, and winning a national championship is never easy for any program, no matter how high it's ascended.
But Goodley and Petty each entered spring drills with an eye on ways to improve. Petty wants to increase his pocket awareness, while Goodley wants to become a more consistent pass catcher. Most importantly, both players mentioned the lack of a national title as confirmation their breakout seasons weren't good enough.
“There are always things we can do to get better,” Goodley said. “We didn’t get where we wanted to, we didn’t get that national championship.”
Petty and Goodley went from unknowns to household names in the span of a year, so they understand that defensive coordinators around the league are preparing to slow them down in 2014 now that they know some of the strengths and weaknesses of the Bears’ big-play duo. Thus, they know they’ll have to be even better if they hope to match their production from 2013.
“It’s all about taking it to the next level, it’s not a learning year anymore,” Petty said. “It’s all about what I can do to improve. I need to make sure I prepare, I work and I progress in such a way that next year they’re going to have to prepare for a different Bryce Petty than they saw before.”
Expect Goodley to remain a big part of Petty’s plans one way or another. The Bears quarterback targeted Goodley 108 times last season, an average of 8.31 times per game and 50 more times than any other receiver. His description of Goodley’s talent gives a glimpse at the reason why No. 5 seemed like his best option more often than not.
“He is not your normal receiver,” Petty said. “He’s about as strong and stout as you can possibly be with the ability to run and play fast. When you couple those things together it is hard to stop a guy that is that strong, that powerful but can still blow by you. For me it’s about getting the ball out there and letting him make a play.”
Consistency and less drops could be Goodley’s road to another stellar season. While Petty targeted Goodley more than any other receiver, Levi Norwood (77.6 percent) and Jay Lee (72.7 percent) had better reception percentages when Petty looked their way.
“I’m working on being more consistent with my hands,” Goodley said. “I know I’m going to have to up my game a bit because teams will be gunning for us, not just me. The guys around me, I’m hoping they’ll produce and make plays, which opens up things for me.”
With both players focusing on a clear area of their game they’d like to improve during the offseason, the Big 12 could be looking a different versions of Goodley and Petty in 2014.
“I feel like next year is going to bring a lot more chemistry between us,” Goodley said. “We’re going to try to put up better numbers than we did this year.”
That's a scary thought for any Big 12 defender.