NCF Nation: Antwan Goodley

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
10/19/14
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Here's what we learned about the Big 12 in a wild Week 8:

1. The league race is wide open: By taking down preseason favorites Oklahoma and Baylor, Kansas State and West Virginia completely transformed the Big 12 title race Saturday. With only one loss, the defending champion Bears could still win the Big 12. But they now have plenty of company. TCU (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) bounced back from its heartbreaking loss to Baylor last week to obliterate Oklahoma State 42-9. The Wildcats (5-1, 3-0) have also hopped firmly into the conference championship conversation after an impressive 31-30 victory in Norman. But West Virginia shouldn't be discounted, either, following its 41-27 win over Baylor. The Mountaineers have Oklahoma and Baylor behind them on the schedule, and they get TCU (Nov. 1) and Kansas State (Nov. 20) in Morgantown. The only certainty at this point is the Big 12 race down the backstretch is going to be a fun one to watch.

[+] EnlargeKevin White
AP Photo/Chris JacksonKevin White, who has eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving with five games left, and West Virginia are still very much in the Big 12 title race.
2. Oklahoma is not elite -- again: The most recent time the Sooners seriously contended for a national title past October was 2008, when Oklahoma won a loaded Big 12 and played Florida in the national championship game. After returning the bulk of a team that downed Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, the Sooners believed they had a squad that could break the dry spell and break into the inaugural College Football Playoff. They played up to that hype through the first month of the season. But yet again, Oklahoma was proven to not be elite. The past three weeks, the Sooners lost at TCU, barely escaped Texas, then fell at home to the Wildcats to get all but eliminated from the playoff picture. Quarterback Trevor Knight has been too up and down, while the defense has failed to dominate. Even the kicking game crumbled Saturday when the Sooners needed it most. Oklahoma still has a good team. But for this program, having a good team isn't good enough, especially when this was supposed to be Oklahoma's year to return to national prominence. Bob Stoops and his coaching staff have soul-searching to do. Once again, the team they fielded won't be a contender past October.

3. Oklahoma State is rebuilding after all: After graduating more starters than any other Power 5 program, the Cowboys faced the prospect of having to rebuild this year. But after they took defending national champ Florida State to the wire in the opener, then won five straight games, expectations were raised. Turns out, they shouldn't have been. Oklahoma State's 3-0 Big 12 start turned out to be fool's gold, as the Cowboys were exposed in a game they were never in against TCU. Quarterback Daxx Garman failed to complete a single pass in the second half, while Oklahoma State's beleaguered offensive line was manhandled in the trenches. Defensively, the inexperienced Cowboys surrendered 676 yards of offense, the most TCU had racked up in a game since 2007. Oklahoma State has some good young players, but facing a back-loaded schedule, the Cowboys figure to endure more growing pains -- and losses -- the second half of the season.

4. The Big 12 has some monster WRs: Good luck finding four receivers in college football better than West Virginia's Kevin White, Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard, Kansas State's Tyler Lockett or Baylor's Antwan Goodley. That Big 12 foursome combined for 547 receiving yards Saturday. They were -- as they have been all year -- basically unstoppable. After breaking the 1,000-receiving-yard barrier with five regular-season games to go, White could begin to warrant Heisman consideration. Shepard, who tied a school record with 15 catches against K-State, should be a Biletnikoff finalist. Goodley and Lockett are All-American-caliber players, too. The Big 12 might be as deep as it's been since 2008, and the depth of its blue-chip wide receivers is a big reason for that.

5. Texas QB Tyrone Swoopes is turning the corner: Swoopes followed his breakout performance against Oklahoma last week by engineering a drive in the final seconds to set up a game-winning field goal and give Texas a dramatic 48-45 win over Iowa State. Swoopes got the ball back with 28 seconds to go on the Texas 28 and the game seemingly headed for overtime. Instead, Swoopes floated a bomb into the arms of Jaxon Shipley for 39 yards down the sideline. On the next play, Swoopes hit John Harris along the same sideline for a 29-yard gain to the Iowa State 4. Nick Rose nailed the field goal on the next play with 3 seconds left. All told, Swoopes threw for 322 yards and ran for another 95, and he gave more reason to believe he could be Texas' long-sought answer at quarterback.

Baylor just finds a way -- again

October, 11, 2014
10/11/14
11:24
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WACO, Texas -- While some Baylor fans were filing out of McLane Stadium, full of doubts and disappointment, quarterback Bryce Petty was looking into his teammates eyes and reaffirming his belief that his team would find a way to win on Saturday.

“I told our guys we weren’t going to lose that game,” Petty said of the sequence early in the fourth quarter. “I don’t know what it is, I don’t know why I felt that. I just knew, looking in guys' faces, we were going to come back in that game.”

Twelve minutes later, Petty and his teammates were surrounded by rowdy fans clad in green and gold celebrating a game-winning 28-yard field goal from Chris Callahan as Baylor defeated TCU 61-58. Petty and the Bears scored 24 unanswered points in the final quarter to improve to 6-0 overall, 3-0 in the Big 12 and cement their status as the favorite to win the Big 12.

The battle between No. 5 Baylor and No. 9 TCU (4-1, 1-1) -- the first-ever meeting between the two teams when both were ranked -- exceeded expectations. Petty put up prolific numbers with 510 passing yards and six touchdowns, along with a pair of interceptions, but was matched by the playmaking of TCU running back B.J. Catalon, who had 213 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns. Big plays, trick plays, big hits and 38 combined points in the final 15 minutes left the Bears’ newly-minted stadium buzzing.

[+] EnlargeChris Callahan
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsChris Callahan's field goal as time expired gave Baylor and its fans reason to go bonkers on Saturday.
“I think there were 40 plays in this game that determined the football game,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “We made 21 and they made 19.”

After TCU linebacker Marcus Mallet intercepted a Petty pass and returned it 49 yards for a score, BU trailed the Horned Frogs 58-37 with 11:38 left in the game, prompting a small number of Bears fans to head for the exits.

Petty was unfazed.

“With our offense and the way we play defensively, 21 points isn’t that big a deal for us,” he said. “We just know that we’re never out of it, we really never are.”

It was an interesting reaction from a team that had never trailed at any point of the 2014 season heading into Saturday’s action. BU was chasing the game throughout -- trailing by 14 in the first quarter and 21 in the fourth quarter -- and never took the lead until Callahan’s game winner.

“This was the first game this year that we were behind,” defensive tackle Andrew Billings said. “It showed that wasn’t going to effect how we played even though we were down 21 at one point.”

For the second straight week, Baylor found a way. Against Texas, BU turned to its running game and special teams to lead the way in a 28-7 road win in Austin, Texas. This week it was the entire team that stepped up with its backs against the wall and College Football Playoff hopes in jeopardy in the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter.

“We have a saying -- ‘clear it’ -- if something bad happens, something good happens, clear it and move on to the next play,” linebacker Bryce Hager said. “It was just one of those games we kind of knew, we had a feeling. When we needed to step up, we stepped up and when the offense needed to step up, they did the same.”

Buoyed by a pair of questionable pass interference calls, one questionable non-call on BU’s Ryan Reid on a critical fourth-down attempt by TCU and one pass interference penalty against TCU’s Corry O’Meally, the Bears completed their comeback with a nine-play, 44-yard drive to set up Callahan’s field goal.

“Everyone played really, really well at the end of the game,” tackle Spencer Drango said.

And in doing so the Bears showed the type of resilience generally equated with championship-level teams. Trevone Boykin and TCU came with punch after punch to the jaw of the reigning Big 12 champions, but the Bears' belief in their ability to win didn’t waver.

“Every champion has his back against the wall at some point in time and either cowers down or comes out swinging," Drango said. "We came out swinging.”

It’s a relatively new trait of the program that Briles has built alongside the banks of the Brazos River.

“I think that’s the difference now,” receiver Antwan Goodley said. “A couple years ago we didn’t have that mentality that, ‘Hey, we’re the best team and we’re going to go out there and play like it.’ This year, all of us guys are hungry, we want the same thing and we can get it done.”

TCU will stun the Big 12, and soon 

October, 1, 2014
10/01/14
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Trevone BoykinAP Photo/LM OteroTrevone Boykin has exceeded expectations under center for the TCU Frogs.
Mark it down. One of the next two weekends, TCU is going to wreck the marquee November game that everyone believes will decide the Big 12.

The Frogs are going to beat either Oklahoma this weekend or Baylor next weekend, giving one of those conference favorites an early-season L. (Personally, I believe it’ll be Baylor.)

Here’s why.

They’ve been close

The Frogs lost eight games in 2013 by an average of 8.5 points per loss, including four in conference by two or three points in each game. Think about that. A field goal, #collegekickers and all, decided half their losses.

Two of those games were, you guessed it, Baylor and Oklahoma.

And here’s the takeaway: If you’re continually in games, you’re bound to win games.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
9/28/14
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Here’s what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 5:

[+] EnlargeAntwan Goodley
David Purdy/Getty ImagesAntwan Goodley made a triumphant return for Baylor after missing the previous two games due to injury.
1. Petty's toys are back in business: No video-game-crazy numbers for Baylor's offense in a 49-28 victory at Iowa State, just the usual display that makes it tough for Big 12 defensive coordinators to sleep at night. Bryce Petty sure had some catching up to do with his favorite injured wideouts, and Corey Coleman (12 catches, 154 yards, 1 TD) and Antwan Goodley (6 catches, 114 yards) both made it count. The Bears weren't up to their optimal speed -- there were five three-and-outs, a Petty interception and a failed fourth-down conversion -- but Shock Linwood (three TDs) makes them so difficult to stop when they hit the red zone, and the starters got to sit out the final quarter. Business as usual for Baylor.

2. Pokes can beat you deep: Oklahoma State won the Big 12's first primetime fight because it wasn't afraid to take big shots. Daxx Garman connected on eight passes of 20-plus yards, and even better, they were hauled in by six different receivers over the course of the 45-35 victory on Thursday. It's time to stop underestimating Marcell Ateman and James Washington after the underclassmen combined for 217 yards and two TDs, and OSU put something plenty scary on tape when Tyreek Hill beat his defender by a good 7 yards for a 50-yard scoring bomb. It wasn't easy, and it sure wasn't pretty -- 287 combined penalty yards on 26 flags -- but OSU found out Garman can handle the bright lights just fine.

3. K-State defense rallies in big way: Kansas State was missing two starters on defense but had no trouble taking out its Auburn-inspired anger on UTEP, a team that proved against Texas Tech it's no pushover. In the 58-28 win, KSU held the nation's No. 2 rusher, Aaron Jones, to nine yards in the first half and 47 on the day. The Miners couldn't get anything going for the three quarters KSU's starters played -- it was 52-7 when Bill Snyder sent in the backups -- and UTEP ended the first half down 31 points with just 23 total yards and one first down. KSU got right back on track and still looks like a legit contender for the Big 12 crown.

4. TCU's Air Raid keeps making it look ... too easy? The Horned Frogs are 3-0 with wins over Samford, Minnesota and now SMU, a team that’s been outscored 202-12 through four games. If there's an FBS team playing worse football than the Mustangs, I would not like to see it. So it’s tough to confidently make conclusions about TCU after this 56-0 victory. But Trevone Boykin (six total TDs) still looks incalculably more polished than a year ago. He has a diverse array of receivers and backs at his disposal, and the Frogs' 614 total yards were their most since 2011. To TCU's credit, Minnesota was solid in a 30-14 win against the dumpster fire in Ann Arbor. The Horned Frogs' offense couldn't have asked for a better start to 2014. It's time to find out what they're made of against the Sooners.

5. Texas still has issues: If Texas plays against Baylor next Saturday the way it did in Lawrence, Kansas, it probably doesn't stand much of a chance. Charlie Strong won't get too mad about a 23-0 victory that snaps a two-game slide, but he won't spend much time celebrating it, either. Texas never had to sweat too much, thanks to Montell Cozart's four interceptions, but its patchwork offensive line remains a work in progress (Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray combined for 73 rushing yards), and scoring points is still a struggle. Still, Texas did at least do what it needed to and gave Strong his first Big 12 win. KU showed some nice things in the run game and has a better defense than you think, but its offensive execution in many trips into Texas territory was fruitless.

Big 12 viewer's guide: Week 5

September, 27, 2014
9/27/14
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In Week 5 of Big 12 action, TCU will try to hand SMU another heavy defeat; Kansas State will attempt to bounce back from a disappointing loss; Texas and Kansas will meet in their conference opener; and Baylor will look to avoid getting upset by Iowa State in Ames.

Those, among others, will be the storylines to follow Saturday in the Big 12:

TCU at SMU, noon ET (CBS Sports Network): TCU coach Gary Patterson said he expects to get SMU’s best shot. That still might not amount to much. The Mustangs are a complete mess, having been outscored 146-12 in their first three games. SMU is expected to start its third different quarterback already this season, walk-on Garrett Krstich, who opened the year fourth on the depth chart. The Horned Frogs ought to be able to keep the Iron Skillet trophy in Fort Worth while keeping the game plan relatively vanilla as they gear up for next weekend’s crucial home showdown against fourth-ranked Oklahoma.

UTEP at No. 25 Kansas State, noon ET (Fox Sports Regional): It will be interesting to see how the Wildcats bounce back after their gut-wrenching loss to Auburn last week. This, however, figures to be a good matchup for K-State. UTEP running back Aaron Jones ranks second in the country with 182 rushing yards per game, but the Wildcats appear to have a formidable run defense, which snapped Auburn’s 13-game streak of producing at least 200 rushing yards. Meanwhile, K-State coach Bill Snyder has indicated that Jack Cantele will remain the Wildcats' place-kicker despite missing all three field goals against the Tigers. Getting Cantele back on track will be paramount for the Wildcats on Saturday before they resume conference play next week.

[+] EnlargeBen Heeney
John Albright/Icon SMIBen Heeney and the Kansas defense get another crack at Texas this weekend.
Texas at Kansas, 4 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1): Texas hasn’t loss to Kansas since 1938, but there have been some close calls over the years. In their last trip to Lawrence, the Longhorns need a game-winning touchdown drive from backup quarterback Case McCoy to escape in the final seconds with a 21-17 win. There’s reason to believe this game could be tight, too. The Longhorns have completed only five passes of at least 20 yards this season, while the running game has been among the least effective in the conference. On the other side of the ball, the Jayhawks feature a veteran defense, led by linebackers Ben Heeney and Jake Love, that is coming off a solid performance in a 24-10 win over Central Michigan.

No. 7 Baylor at Iowa State, 8 p.m. ET (Fox): Baylor handed the Cyclones a 71-7 whupping last season, the worst margin of defeat in Iowa State history. The Cyclones, however, have been a much tougher team at home under Paul Rhoads. Iowa State, in fact, defeated the Bears 35-21 in their last visit to Ames two years ago. Since falling to North Dakota State in the opener, the Cyclones have played much better, but Baylor will be getting a couple of key offensive weapons back in its lineup. Starting receivers Antwan Goodley and Corey Coleman are expected to return from injuries on an offense that has led the country in every major statistical category without them.
Who will have the best offense in college football this season?

The Bears essentially won that argument last year after leading the nation in points (52.4), yards (618.8), 20-yard plays (112) and yards per pass attempt (10.4).

ESPN Stats & Info has put together a case why the Bears might have the country’s best offense again. And why they might not.

[+] EnlargeShock Linwood
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesShock Linwood should get more work this season in the Baylor backfield.
The case for:

Quarterback Bryce Petty was responsible for 46 touchdowns last season, the most of any returning quarterback. He had only six turnovers, too.

The Bears bring back five of their top six receivers, including Antwan Goodley, who led the Big 12 with 1,339 receiving yards and 13 receiving touchdowns.

Baylor did lose running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin, but projected starter Shock Linwood averaged 3.5 yards after contact per carry last season, which was tops among all BCS-AQ conference running backs with at least 100 carries.

Baylor scored 60 touchdowns in 2 minutes or less last season, the most of any team in at least the last decade. The Bears’ average touchdown drive lasted only 1 minute, 32 seconds. With Petty back to run the show, there’s no reason to believe Baylor will operate any slower this season.

The case against:

The Baylor offense fell back to Earth down the stretch while facing tougher opponents. The Bears faced only two defenses that ranked in the top 40 nationally in efficiency their first nine games. In those nine games, Baylor averaged 61.2 points, 8.5 yards per play and 684.8 yards per game,and was on pace to break several FBS records. But in their final four games, the Bears faced three defenses that ranked in the top 40 in efficiency. In those games, Baylor averaged just 32.5 points, 5.4 yards per play and 470.2 yards per game.

While Petty and Goodley are back, the Bears lost three starting linemen, including Outland finalist Cyril Richardson. Petty struggled at times under pressure last season, completing only 8 of 27 passes for 113 yards and no touchdowns while under pressure.

Seastrunk was the team’s leading rusher with a Big 12-best 1,117 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Martin added 514 yards and seven scores.

ESPN Stats & Info also surmises that Florida State and Oregon could have stronger offenses than Baylor in 2014.

Florida State led the country last year in yards per play (7.7) and points per drive (3.7). Those, in fact, were the best totals since Hawaii in 2006. The Seminoles return several key players offensively, including reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston.

The Ducks' offense again will feature quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is one of only two quarterbacks to post two seasons of a QBR score of 86 or better since 2004 (Boise State’s Kellen Moore was the other). Oregon also brings back its top two running backs from last season in Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner. And the Ducks were second nationally in 2013 in yards per game (565) and yards per play (7.6).

ESPN Stats & Info conclusion:

According to ESPN’s Football Power Index’s predictive offensive metric, Florida State and Oregon have college football’s top offenses heading into 2014. Despite Baylor’s gaudy output last season, FPI projects Auburn to have a better offense than the Bears, too.

Here are FPI’s top five projected best offenses, according to predicted offensive efficiency:

1. Florida State: +17.0

2. Oregon: +16.8

3. Auburn: +13.9

4. Baylor: +13.6

5. UCLA: +13.2

Preseason All-Big 12 team

August, 21, 2014
8/21/14
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Today, ESPN.com released its preseason All-American team. Before Big 12 media days, we released our individual preseason All-Big 12 ballots. But to pair with the All-American team, we debated, argued and eventually settled on one Big 12 blog, consensus preseason All-Big 12 team.

Here we go:

Offense

QB: Bryce Petty, Baylor
Easy choice. Petty is the reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year after he threw for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns with just three picks. He should be even better in Year 2 as a starter.

RB: Johnathan Gray, Texas
Malcolm Brown finished strong in place of Gray the past season, but there’s a reason Gray was Texas’ No. 1 back before he suffered an Achilles injury. Gray is healthy again, which gives Texas the best one-two punch at running back in the league.

RB: Shock Linwood, Baylor
Despite being Baylor’s third-string running back the past season, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing. He’s the featured back now and could wind up the league’s top rusher.

WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
Lockett was literally uncoverable at times last year. Just ask Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan, which surrendered a combined 631 receiving yards and six touchdowns to Lockett. With Jake Waters settled in at quarterback, Lockett could put up even bigger numbers in 2014.

WR: Antwan Goodley, Baylor
Goodley might have been the most improved player in the league the past season. He was also one of the most dominant, with 1,339 receiving yards and a national-best five catches of 60 yards or more.

TE: E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
With Jace Amaro gone, Bibbs takes over as the top receiving tight end threat in the league. Only Amaro had more catches and yards than Bibbs among Big 12 tight ends the past season.

OT: Spencer Drango, Baylor
With Drango in the lineup, Petty was sacked only eight times through the Bears’ first nine games last year. After Drango was sidelined with a back injury, Petty was sacked nine times in Baylor’s last four games. Suffice it to say, Petty is glad to have Drango back protecting his blindside.

OG: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
The Red Raiders previously had plans to move Clark inside to guard, but they still have him manning left tackle this season. Whether he stays at the bookend or slides to guard, Clark is one of the most dominating offensive linemen in the league.

C: BJ Finney, Kansas State
Finney owns a Big 12-best 39 starts over the past three years. The former walk-on is also a two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection and will be the favorite to garner such recognition again as the linchpin of the K-State offensive line.

OG: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
Whitehair is capable of manning either guard or tackle, but the Wildcats will be showing their trust in him by asking him to protect Waters’ blindside this season.

OT: Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
Williams is the best piece on the league’s best offensive line, which returns four starters and plenty of capable backups.

AP: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
Grant finished sixth in the league in receiving yards per game, despite being the third option in Tech’s passing attack the past season. Grant is now the first option in the passing game, as well as an electric playmaker on special teams.

K: Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma
The Sooners have never had an All-American kicker before, but they have a strong candidate in Hunnicutt, who converted 24 of 27 field goals the past season.

Defense

DE: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
In 2013, Mueller finished with 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss, which were second in the league only to Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat. Mueller, who also forced four fumbles, has one of the conference’s best noses for finding the ball.

DT: Chucky Hunter, TCU
The Horned Frogs still had a formidable front the past season, even without Devonte Fields, due in large part to Hunter. TCU won’t have Fields again. But Hunter is back to anchor a defensive line loaded with quality players.

DT: Malcom Brown, Texas
This former blue-chipper broke out the past season with 68 tackles, including 12 for loss. He and Cedric Reed team up to form the best inside-outside defensive line combination in the league.

DE: Cedric Reed, Texas
Reed was third in the Big 12 in 2013 with 10 sacks, fourth with 19 tackles for loss and tied for first with five forced fumbles. He gives the Longhorns a chance to feature the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.

LB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma
When it comes to rushing the passer, there’s no one better in the league. Striker has spent this offseason refining other parts of his game to become a more complete player. But his pass rushing alone makes him one of the top players in the league.

LB: Ben Heeney, Kansas
Heeney was a tackling machine last year for a defense that performed valiantly despite getting little help from its offense. Heeney will get plenty of help from his defense, though, which returns eight other starters.

LB: Bryce Hager, Baylor
Hager has notched 195 tackles over the past two seasons, while twice earning second-team All-Big 12 honors. With Ahmad Dixon and Eddie Lackey gone, he takes over as the leader of a defense angling to prove it can be as good as the past year’s.

CB: Quandre Diggs, Texas
Diggs, who has never been afraid to speak his mind, is the heart and soul of the Longhorns. If the rest of the team takes on his mentality, Texas could have one feisty team in Charlie Strong’s first season.

CB: Daryl Worley, West Virginia
Despite being just a second-year player, Worley has already taken over as one of the vocal leaders of the West Virginia defense. He’s also already one of the best cover corners in the league.

SS: Sam Carter, TCU
Carter has nine interceptions the past two years, the most of any returning Big 12 player. He leads arguably the best secondary in the league, too.

FS: Karl Joseph, West Virginia
Joseph has started all 25 games for the Mountaineers since he stepped foot in Morgantown. No other returning Big 12 defensive back has more career tackles than Joseph’s 170.

P: Nick O'Toole, West Virginia
The “Boomstache” ranked 15th nationally last year, with an average of 44.1 yards per punt. He also has the best mustache in the league, which has to count for something.
Baylor has arrived.

Or have they?

The Bears will kick off the 2014 season as the reigning Big 12 champions with their success under Art Briles impossible to ignore. Yet there remains an undercurrent in Big 12 country that leaves the impression that Baylor still has plenty to prove.

The comments earlier this year from Texas linebacker Steve Edmond, who said Baylor was “still trash,” then apologized for his statement, is a glimpse into the minds of those who aren’t believers in Briles’ Bears quite yet. Even with the success, Baylor players and their families still hear the noise coming from the naysayers who think they could be short-term placeholders at the top of the conference standings.

“They don’t matter and they never did,” Baylor receiver Antwan Goodley said of detractors. “We know what we’re capable of; we know what we’re capable of doing. We’re just trying bring a trophy to Waco, Texas.”

It’s nothing new for Goodley, who heard the questions when he initially picked the Bears out of Midland (Texas) High School.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty and Antwan Goodley
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsAnywan Goodley and Bryce Petty plan to give Baylor staying power atop the Big 12.
“Before I even came here it was, 'You’re going to Baylor? Why Baylor?' ” Goodley said. “A couple of years ago, hearing Baylor won the Big 12 wouldn’t even sound right. We’ve changed it around a lot, we’ve got a lot of people ridin’ with us and a lot of people against us. That’s just how it goes.”

Baylor rose to the forefront of college football in 2013 with its high-scoring offense earning nationwide attention as it averaged 64.7 points per game during the first six games of the season. But none of that matters now as their 2013 conference title run is in the rearview mirror.

“2013 is gone forever; that title is ours,” Briles said. “We're attacking 2014 just like everybody else. That's our mindset with our players, and that's the way they've been approaching everything. We see ourselves as the guy fighting hard, scratching hard to try to get some recognition and some respect.”

The perception has changed, however. Baylor’s No. 2 ranking in the Big 12 preseason poll shows just how far Briles’ program has progressed.

“We have to learn how to prepare as the hunted as opposed to the hunter,” Briles said. “We've always been the hunter. And I don't want to lose that edge and that attitude and that's something that we're working hard to maintain.”

But does Baylor have the staying power to cement themselves at the top of the Big 12?

“That’s the next step for us,” quarterback Bryce Petty said. “We have to become relevant and we have to stay relevant. That’s the goal for anyone coming in and myself, leave it better than I found it.”

Petty and company insist that’s the goal and point to the new home of the Bears as one of the reasons everyone should get used to seeing Baylor among the Big 12’s best for years to come.

“Having them build that stadium is a huge sign that Baylor is here to stay,” linebacker Bryce Hager said. “They wouldn’t have spent that type of money if it was a one or two-year thing.”

McLane Stadium, Baylor’s brand-new $266 million, 45,140-seat stadium, is set to open on Aug. 31 when the Bears host SMU. Much like the Bears’ football program, McLane Stadium is striving to be ahead of the curve with “state-of-the-art” technology and exceptional amenities for fans and players.

“We have the toys, no doubt,” quarterback Bryce Petty said. “It’s huge for Baylor to be relevant to have everything everyone else has and also set the standard of having things other people don’t. We want to be that school that when you come in you say, ‘Man, this is different.’”

Sitting alongside Interstate 35, the on-campus stadium is impossible to miss. Briles hopes it can plant a seed in the mind of every youngster who lays eyes on it for years to come when they’re told McLane Stadium is a centerpiece of Baylor University and the Bears’ football program.

“Then, for the rest of their lives they're going to associate Baylor with excellence,” Briles said. “And that's hard to come by.”

Baylor Bears season preview

August, 4, 2014
8/04/14
10:30
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» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Baylor Bears:

Key returners: QB Bryce Petty, WR Antwan Goodley, LB Bryce Hager, DE Shawn Oakman.

Key losses: RB Lache Seastrunk, OG Cyril Richardson, S Ahmad Dixon, LB Eddie Lackey, WR Tevin Reese.

Most important 2014 games: Oct. 4 at Texas; Nov. 8 at Oklahoma; Dec. 6 Kansas State.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsBryce Petty passed for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns last season.
Projected win percentage: 80.1 percent.

Over/under Vegas odds: 9½ wins.

Instant impact newcomers: CB Chris Sanders, LB Grant Campbell. Baylor sought immediate help to replace some big-time talent on defense and found Sanders and Campbell in the junior college ranks. Both cracked the two-deep this spring and could see the field plenty. Sanders was limited with an injury during spring practices but will compete for a starting job, and Campbell is the top backup to Hager at middle linebacker.

High point from 2013: Defeating Texas 30-10 to clinch a Big 12 championship. In the final home game at Floyd Casey Stadium, Petty & Co. pulled away in the second half to give Baylor its first outright conference title since 1980, an 11-win season, a trip to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and its third win in the past four years over the Longhorns.

Low point from 2013: Losing to Oklahoma State 49-17. The Bears were 9-0, had climbed to No. 4 in BCS standings and had their sights sets on a national title run. They went to up to Stillwater and got dismantled, giving up nearly 600 total yards against a potent Pokes team. Baylor's first loss put OSU in the driver's seat to win the Big 12.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Petty and his impressive array of skill-position weapons power an offense that puts up ever better numbers than last year's unit, allowing Baylor to breeze through its first eight games before the big showdown against OU. The defense steps up big to shut down the Sooners and Baylor rides the momentum of that "W" to 12-0. If this team is still hot on both sides of the ball entering the College Football Playoff, everyone else might be playing for second place.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: The offense is as dangerous as expected, but Baylor learns the hard way that its defense has too many holes and too much inexperience to match the production of last year's senior-loaded unit. The Bears engage in too many shootouts and can't hang on in the big one at Oklahoma. An 8-0 start ends with Baylor losing three of its last four. It's still a nine-win team and a dang good one, but not the Big 12 champions.

They said it: "We have to learn how to prepare as the hunted as opposed to the hunter. We've always been the hunter. And I don't want to lose that edge and that attitude, and that's something that we're working hard to maintain." -- Baylor coach Art Briles.

Top Big 12 players: Nos. 5-1

August, 1, 2014
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With the season just a month away, we’ve used this week to rank the top 25 players in the Big 12.

You can click here to see the previous four installments.

Today, we wrap up the series with who we think the top five players in the league will be in 2014:

5. Cedric Reed, DE, Texas: Overshadowed by his Big 12 defensive player of the year teammate in 2013, Reed had almost as productive a season as Jackson Jeffcoat. Reed was third in the Big 12 with 10 sacks, fourth with 19 tackles for loss and tied for first with five forced fumbles. With Jeffcoat gone, Reed takes over as the centerpiece of coach Charlie Strong’s defense. He bring as much speed off the corner as any defensive end in the league and could play himself into the first round of the NFL draft with another big season.

4. Eric Striker, LB, Oklahoma: He’s the Lawrence Taylor of the Big 12. Striker still needs to refine other parts of his game, but when it comes to rushing the passer off the blitz, there’s no one better in the country. Everyone remembers his three sacks in the Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, including the game-clinching forced fumble that led to an exclamation-point touchdown. But Striker had a penchant for creating big plays all season. On the first possession at Notre Dame, Striker slammed into quarterback Tommy Rees, knocking the ball into the air and into the arms of linebacker Corey Nelson, who gave the Sooners a quick 7-0 lead on the way to a 35-21 victory. Reed, Shawn Oakman and Ryan Mueller are all double-digit sack contenders, but Striker could be the odds-on favorite to win the Big 12’s sack crown in 2014.

3. Antwan Goodley, WR, Baylor: Goodley was arguably the league’s most improved player in 2013. He exploded right along with the Baylor offense, hauling in 1,339 receiving yards and a Big 12-best 13 touchdown catches. The big-play deep threat also led the nation with five receptions of 60 yards or more. Goodley won’t sneak up on anyone this season, but that doesn’t mean anyone will be able to contain him. The Bears have plenty of other weapons in the passing game and one of the nation’s top quarterbacks to get him the ball in Bryce Petty. Goodley has a legitimate chance to join Justin Blackmon and Michael Crabtree as the third Big 12 wideout to win Biletnikoff Award.

2. Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas State: One of Goodley’s prime competitors for the Biletnikoff Award figures to be Lockett. Prone to utterly unconscious performances in big games, Lockett combined for 35 receptions, 631 yards and six touchdowns in the three games against Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan last season. He’ll have a prime opportunity to show the nation what he can do in September, when defending SEC champion Auburn visits Manhattan, Kansas, for a Thursday night clash. Lockett is on pace to break every school career receiving record held by his father, Kevin Lockett. Tyler Lockett will square off against Goodley in the final week of the regular season in a showdown featuring two of the best wideouts to come through the Big 12.

1. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor: The Dairy Queens in Salem, Oregon, might not appreciate Petty, but we do here, as slotting Petty No. 1 was the easiest decision we made while putting together this top-25 player ranking. In his first season as a starting quarterback, Petty totaled 46 touchdowns and threw just three interceptions while earning Big 12 offensive player of the year honors. It will be difficult for Petty to replicate such gaudy numbers, but with a year of experience behind him operating Art Briles' offense, Petty should be even sharper in 2014. If he is, he’ll have a chance to become the second Baylor quarterback to capture the Heisman Trophy in the past four seasons.

That’s it for our top 25 player ranking. Did we get it right? Send your thoughts to the Big 12 mailbag.

WACO, Texas -- Last season, Baylor won 11 games, claimed a Big 12 championship and played in a BCS bowl game -- all first-time accomplishments for the once-woebegone program.

But as much as the Bears accomplished last season -- they also scored more points (52.4 per game) and gained more yards (618.8) than any other FBS team in the country –- their last performance left a bitter taste in their mouths.

Kind of like Texas dust.

After starting the 2013 season with a 9-0 record and then beating then-No. 25 Texas 30-10 to win a Big 12 championship, the Bears were embarrassed in a 52-42 loss to Central Florida in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. The Knights, who were 17-point underdogs, piled up 556 yards of offense and scored on four straight possessions after Baylor tied the score at 28 in the third quarter. The Bears were penalized 17 times for 135 yards.

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
AP Photo/LM OteroArt Briles and Baylor have the talent to be considered the favorite to repeat as Big 12 champs in 2014.
“It was disappointing because that’s the only game you remember,” Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty said. “I had to be reminded that we won a Big 12 title. I didn’t even remember it because of what happened in the bowl game, and it’s the best thing that’s happened to Baylor football in a long time.”

Baylor coach Art Briles and his players haven’t forgotten the ugly loss more than five months after the bitter defeat in the Arizona desert. It figures to provide the Bears with plenty of motivation as they head into an unexpected Big 12 title defense this coming season.

“I don’t know how you describe sickening,” Briles said. “You hate to have your motivation fueled by getting slapped in the face, but that’s kind of what happened. We know [UCF] has a good football team, but we had to listen to how good we were for more than a month. Sometimes, reality isn’t perception. There was a hungry team on the field and a happy one on the field. We were the happy one.”

While its lackluster performance in the Fiesta Bowl might have sullied what had been a magical season, Baylor will enter the 2014 season as the team to beat in the Big 12. For a program that hadn’t been to a bowl game for 13 consecutive seasons when Briles arrived in 2008, it’s a rare position for the Bears.

“I think we take being the Big 12 champions as a challenge,” Baylor receiver Levi Norwood said. “Guys are targeting us and wanting what we have. We have to go out and do it again. We all know that when we got here, we weren’t that good and it’s not normal for us to be winning. We’re trying to make it normal.”

There’s nothing normal about Baylor under Briles. The Bears bring back much of the offense that shattered nearly every school record last season, although they’ll miss leading rusher Lache Seastrunk (1,177 yards with 11 touchdowns in 2013), All-America guard Cyril Richardson and receiver Tevin Reese (38 catches for 867 yards with eight touchdowns).

Petty, a senior from Midlothian, Texas, is back after completing 62 percent of his passes for 4,200 yards with 32 touchdowns and three interceptions in his first season as a starter.

“He needs to be better and he should be,” Briles said. “He’s expected to be better. You can have a lot of money, but you can’t buy experience. Some things should happen on pre-snap reads. We should know what happens before it happens. He’s a good player and a great leader. That’s why he’s who he is.”

Petty will be surrounded by plenty of proven playmakers in Briles’ high-octane offense. All-America receiver Antwan Goodley is back after catching 71 passes for 1,339 yards with 13 touchdowns last season, and three other Bears wideouts caught at least 32 passes. Tailback Shock Linwood returns after running for 881 yards with eight touchdowns.

“We’ve got some people who can play,” Briles said. “We feel really good about everybody who is around [Petty] offensively. We can be very diverse with everybody around him.”

Petty I had to be reminded that we won a Big 12 title. I didn't even remember it because of what happened in the bowl game, and it's the best thing that's happened to Baylor football in a long time.

-- Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty
The Bears must replace seven starters on defense, but Briles feels much better about his defensive front. Boise State transfer Sam Ukwuachu and sophomore tackle Javonte Magee, who sat out last season after unexpectedly leaving the team, are expected to bolster the defensive front.

“You’d have to shake the tree pretty hard to find three or four universities that have what we have up front,” Briles said.

Now, Briles’ challenge is to make sure his team doesn’t become complacent after last season’s unexpected success.

“That’s the first thing we talked about when we got back to campus,” Briles said. “We had to learn and grow up. We thought we were an accomplished football team and program. We lost [our edge] and got happy. We have to stay humble.”

If the Bears don’t, they might be a one-hit wonder. The Big 12 figures to be even more rugged this coming season. Oklahoma stunned Alabama 45-31 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl to finish 11-2 last season, and former Louisville coach Charlie Strong replaced longtime Texas coach Mack Brown.

“To be honest, we got too happy with where we were,” Petty said. “We became complacent. Every game is a big game that you have to prepare for as a hunter. We kind of bought into what everybody was saying about us, and unfortunately UCF put us in our place. You don’t lose; you learn. We learned a lot from that game, and we’re not going to let it happen again. When you’re building a tradition and dynasty, you can’t talk about complacency. It’s not something that Coach Briles is going to allow.”

The Bears open the 2014 season against SMU on Aug. 31 at McLane Stadium, their new $260 million riverfront stadium. They’ll play at Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma and versus Texas Tech in Dallas -- opponents they defeated at home last year.

“I think it’s always tough,” Briles said. “If we jump back a year ago, I don’t think people were picking us to be an outright champion. We’ve got to lock our doors and windows. Everybody is coming for us, but we’re going to protect what we got.”
It’s never too early to start talking about the Heisman. After all, the past two Heisman winners, Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston, were redshirt freshman who had zero college experience before their Heisman season. The Big 12 should have plenty of candidates, some known and some unknown, heading into the 2014.

Here’s a look at the Big 12’s top five Heisman candidates heading into 2014.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsBryce Petty, one of the nation's top QBs this season, returns to lead Baylor's high-flying offense and could be on Heisman short lists in 2014.
1. Quarterback Bryce Petty, Baylor: The Bears quarterback should continue to spark nightmares for Big 12 defensive coordinators. He’s confident, accurate and efficient while triggering the Baylor offense. His 16.8 yards per completion was a full yard better than Winston and led all FBS quarterbacks.

Petty’s 85.5 adjusted QBR was fifth nationally this season, and he should be even better with a full season under his belt. Top target Antwan Goodley returns as well, so the Big 12’s top quarterback-receiver duo remains intact, and there’s no reason to think Big 12 teams will have any answers for the Bears’ pair in 2014. If Baylor has another impressive run to the top of the conference standings, Petty could find himself making a similar run toward the top of Heisman ballots.

2. Receiver Tyler Lockett, Kansas State: Simply put, Lockett is K-State’s passing offense. He accounted for 43.2 percent of the Wildcats’ receiving yards and 50 percent of their receiving touchdowns while finishing with 81 receptions for 1,262 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013.

Lockett could easily be considered the Big 12’s most valuable offensive player, as his quickness, route running and consistency make him tough to contain. His progression from accomplished return threat to polished receiver has been remarkable. If he continues that progression, and the Wildcats win a bunch of games, he could insert himself into the Heisman conversation.

3. Receiver Antwan Goodley, Baylor: At Oklahoma State in 2011, Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon's combined brilliance tended to dull the shine on their individual accomplishments as the natural question emerged: Would they be as productive without each other? We could see a similar situation developing at Baylor with Petty and Goodley.

Goodley is the Big 12’s toughest cover, as his size, speed and strength combine to manhandle even the best defensive backs. Goodley had 71 receptions for 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns, with 100-yard games in eight of 13 contests. If Baylor makes a run at its second straight Big 12 title, Goodley could be in the middle of it. And if he has a Heisman moment or two in the Bears’ biggest games, he could earn some Heisman love.

4. Running back Johnathan Gray, Texas: If the Longhorns’ best running back returns to good health, he could become the breakout star in the Big 12 during Charlie Strong’s first season. Strong keeps speaking of toughness as a priority for his program, which means running the football will be a focus, particularly with Joe Wickline calling plays. And Gray could be the beneficiary of that focus with his quick feet and playmaking skills.

If Gray has a setback during his recovery from his Achilles injury, Malcolm Brown could find himself in the Heisman mix as Gray’s replacement since he’s very talented in his own right and someone will have to tote the rock for Wickline’s offense.

5. Quarterback Davis Webb, Texas Texas: When you actually step back and take a closer look at Webb’s numbers, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Red Raiders quarterback meeting room has resembled a Baltimore corner when someone yells, "Omar comin'" during an episode of HBO’s “The Wire.”

Webb ranked No. 12 nationally with a 82.6 adjusted QBR this season, ahead of Braxton Miller, Teddy Bridgewater and Tajh Boyd, among others. And he did it as a true freshman. Now, with the departures of Baker Mayfield and Michael Brewer, Webb is poised to be the main man throwing darts in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, which should be among the Big 12’s top passing units again after ending the 2013 season second among FBS teams (392.89 passing yards per game). The clear dark horse on this list, it wouldn't be shocking to watch Webb rise to the top if the Red Raiders end up in the middle of the Big 12 title race.

Way-Too-Early 2014 Big 12 power poll

January, 7, 2014
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Immediately after the national championship game, colleague Mark Schlabach released his Way-Too-Early Top 25. In concert, below is our Way-Too-Early Big 12 power poll. This could change between now and the end of the spring. In fact, it probably will. But this is a first look at how the Big 12 teams stack up against one another for 2014:

1. Oklahoma Sooners

In the Allstate Sugar Bowl, freshman Trevor Knight finally played like the quarterback that had been drawing comparisons to Johnny Manziel behind Oklahoma’s closed practices. The Sooners lose some cornerstone players to graduation, notably running back Brennan Clay, center Gabe Ikard, receiver Jalen Saunders and cornerback Aaron Colvin. But with Knight and budding running back Keith Ford returning to man the backfield, and nine starters coming back defensively, including menacing outside linebacker Eric Striker, Oklahoma could be a favorite in every game next season -- and a force once again on the national stage.

2. Baylor Bears

Even with running back Lache Seastrunk going pro, the Bears return plenty of firepower offensively. Bryce Petty will be the reigning All-Big 12 quarterback, and Antwan Goodley will be coming off a monster junior season. Rising sophomore Shock Linwood showed he could shoulder the rushing load, too, when Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were banged up late in the season. The Bears, however, could take a step back defensively. Baylor, which got torched for 52 points in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, loses six starters there, including All-American safety Ahmad Dixon and All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey. Former blue-chip defensive tackle recruit Andrew Billings will need to step up and become more of a force. Even if the defense stumbles, Baylor should be capable of scoring enough points to win every game on its schedule, thanks to coach Art Briles being back on its sidelines.

3. Kansas State Wildcats

Along with Missouri, the Wildcats were the first two teams left out of Schlabach’s Top 25. But they make a compelling case for inclusion. Quarterback Jake Waters improved dramatically during the second half of the season, eventually squeezing Daniel Sams out of the QB rotation. Wideout Tyler Lockett could be a preseason All-American, after torching Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan for a combined 631 receiving yards and six touchdowns. The defense should be better, too, with sack artist Ryan Mueller back at end, and rising junior safety Dante Barnett set to take over for the outgoing Ty Zimmerman as leader of the secondary. The Wildcats will be tested early with national runner-up Auburn visiting Manhattan on Sept. 20. If K-State can win that game, the rest of the Big 12 will be on notice.

4. Texas Longhorns

During his introductory news conference on Monday, new Texas coach Charlie Strong said Mack Brown left him with a team that could win right away. Strong might be right. The Longhorns return eight starters off a defense that found its stride under interim coordinator Greg Robinson. Texas also brings back six starters offensively and its entire running back corps, including Malcolm Brown, who rushed for more than 100 yards in the Valero Alamo Bowl. A big part of Mack Brown’s downfall, however, was quarterback play, and that once again will be a huge question mark in Strong’s first season. David Ash sat out most of this season with concussion issues, making his football future tenuous. Tyrone Swoopes is athletic with a big arm but needs polish. The other option will be incoming freshman Jerrod Heard, who just led his high school team to a Texas state championship. If one of those three emerges, Strong could have Texas on the way back ahead of schedule.

5. Oklahoma State Cowboys

The Cowboys were 19 seconds away from playing in a BCS bowl game. But two losses to end the year soured what could have been a stellar season. Now, Oklahoma State must replace the bulk of its team, including quarterback Clint Chelf and seven starters defensively. Star slot receiver Josh Stewart is also reportedly mulling over leaving early, too. Either way, 2014 will be a retooling season for coach Mike Gundy, whose first order of business will be settling on a quarterback. J.W. Walsh, who started the first half of the season before losing the job back to Chelf, would have to be considered the favorite. But Gundy has shown before he’s not afraid of turning the keys of the offense to a true freshman, and the Cowboys have an intriguing freshman QB enrolling for the spring in Mason Rudolph, who threw 64 touchdown passes this fall as a high school senior in South Carolina. That could result in some growing pains for Oklahoma State, which opens the season against defending national champion Florida State. But if Rudolph proves to be the long-term answer at QB, it shouldn’t be more than a year before the Cowboys are contending in the Big 12 again.

6. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Texas Tech completely changed the tenor of its offseason with a dominating 37-23 win over Pac-12 South Division champ Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. Finally healthy again, the Red Raiders showed they were better than a five-game losing streak to end the regular season indicated. Now, Tech returns eight starters offensively, including quarterback Davis Webb, who torched the Sun Devils and had several other encouraging moments as a true freshman. Tech has to replace most of its defense. But if Webb settles in at quarterback, the Red Raiders should be improved in coach Kliff Kingsbury’s second season in Lubbock.

7. TCU Horned Frogs

TCU was the 2013 preseason pick of many people to win the Big 12. Instead, injuries ravaged the roster, and the Horned Frogs failed to go to a bowl game for just second time with Gary Patterson as coach. Patterson shook up his offensive staff after the season, bringing in Houston’s Doug Meacham and Texas Tech’s Sonny Cumbie as co-coordinators to revamp TCU’s offensive attack. TCU should be stout again defensively, especially if 2012 Big 12 defensive freshman of the year Devonte Fields returns to form from a broken foot. But the key to a better season will be whether Meacham and Cumbie can squeeze more offense out of the Horned Frogs and find the answer at quarterback. The answer, however, might not be on campus yet. Trevone Boykin has 15 career QB starts, but is probably a better fit as a receiver. Meanwhile, TCU’s top incoming recruits, Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein, are both quarterbacks, and could factor into the wide-open competition.

8. Iowa State Cyclones

Even though Iowa State just finished in the bottom three of the Big 12 in points per game (24.8), yards per game (363), yards per play (4.82), rushing yards (143.8) and passing yards (219.2), the Cyclones return some offensive firepower. Tailback Aaron Wimberly was effective when healthy, and Quenton Bundrage flashed signs of a legit No. 1 receiver. The key will be QB, and whether Grant Rohach builds on his late-season surge. But with a proven offensive coordinator in Mark Mangino now on board, the Cyclones have the pieces to form one of the better offenses in the league next season.

9. West Virginia Mountaineers

The Mountaineers careened off the road late this season with back-to-back losses to Kansas and Iowa State. Now, the pressure is on coach Dana Holgorsen, who will have to win games to keep his job even though the 2014 schedule is brutal. Like so many other teams in the Big 12, West Virginia must find a solution at quarterback. Holgorsen has options. Clint Trickett, Paul Millard and Ford Childress are all back after getting at least two starts apiece last year. Junior-college transfer Skyler Howard will be enrolling early and joining the fray. Four-star recruit William Crest will be in the mix, too. Even if Holgorsen finds his answer at quarterback, a winning season won’t come easy. The Mountaineers have one of the toughest schedules in the country, beginning with the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against Alabama in Atlanta.

10. Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas showed only modest improvement in Charlie Weis’ second season as head coach. This will be a key season for Weis as he attempts to rebuild the program. He desperately needs Montell Cozart to develop into the answer at quarterback. Cozart still has a ways to go with his passing, but he showed he could hurt defenses with his legs. Defensively, the Jayhawks bring back some solid players, notably linebackers Ben Goodman and Ben Heeney and safety Isaiah Johnson. But Kansas will take the next step only if Cozart -- or somebody else -- emerges at quarterback.

Baylor becoming new Wide Receiver U

December, 31, 2013
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A few years ago, Kendal Briles sent Facebook friend requests to prospective recruits knowing that expressing Baylor’s interest might be a futile practice.

Plenty of those requests were denied. No, thank you. Not playing at Baylor.

“Now,” Briles says proudly, “we’re making some moves.”

The Baylor receivers coach has a much easier time selling what the Bears have to offer these days. Kids want to play in this high-tempo offense. They’re the ones befriending him now. The reason why is obvious.

[+] EnlargeAntwan Goodley
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsAntwan Goodley and his Baylor teammates are picking up where their wide receiver predecessors left off.
Baylor is becoming the new Wide Receiver U.

Sorry, Tennessee. No offense, USC. But since arriving in Waco, Texas, in 2008, Art Briles has quickly built arguably the premier receiver factory in college football. The proof is all over, from his former players to current Bears to the next ones up.

What Briles’ son is selling now is tangible proof that Baylor can turn receivers into stars. Just look at Kendall Wright, the Tennessee Titans slot man who surpassed 1,000 yards in his second season. Former Baylor teammate Terrance Williams finished third among rookies in receiving for the Dallas Cowboys.

And how about Josh Gordon? The former Bear led the NFL in receiving with 1,646 yards this season. You bet Briles and his son are throwing their names around these days when recruiting.

Baylor replaced those three with one of the top receiving duos in the country in All-Big 12 wideouts Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese and one of the conference’s best slot receivers in Levi Norwood. They have underclassmen Corey Coleman, Robbie Rhodes and Jay Lee on the way.

And coming soon, Baylor has three of the best wide receiver prospects in Texas in ESPN 300 verbal commits K.D. Cannon, Davion Hall and Ishmael Zamora. The surprisingly rich are about to get richer.

“There’s no doubt you’ve got guys who are proven in the system and now proven on the next level,” Kendal Briles said. “If you’re a 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kid in high school and you’re looking at where to play in college and you’re looking at the things we’re doing with throwing the football, it’s a pretty good deal. You’ve got to take a pretty heavy look at us.”

Art Briles’ first receivers coach at Baylor, Dino Babers, just landed the Bowling Green head-coaching job this month. Briles' son has been on the staff from the start and now coordinates Baylor’s passing game. He’s had plenty of talent to work with in this gig.

This season, Goodley became the third consecutive Bear to lead the Big 12 in receiving. He insists his 1,319-yard, 13-touchdown breakout season wouldn’t have been possible without his predecessors.

“I just knew you better show up to work every day, because those guys work hard every day,” Goodley said. “They play with a passion and love being out there. They taught me a lot and built me into the receiver I am today.”

In Wright, Williams and Reese, Baylor has three of the six most prolific receivers in the Big 12 since 2008. They all still send text messages to each other on a daily basis. Their position group is becoming a fraternity.

Gordon had the best hands of the bunch. Reese indisputably was the fastest. Williams was the superior route-runner. Goodley, at 222 pounds, might be the strongest. And Baylor cornerbacks say Wright was the most impossible to cover.

One thing nearly all of them had in common: They were not coveted recruits.

Goodley was a three-star prospect. Reese was a two-star recruit who weighed 138 pounds in high school. Gordon was ranked No. 128 among receiver prospects by ESPN. Only Wright was a member of the ESPN 150, but as a quarterback who’d never played receiver.

“We’ve been overlooked a little bit, but we like that,” Goodley said. “We show guys what we can do. You don’t have to be a five-star athlete to be a great receiver.”

Baylor’s approach to evaluating and recruiting receivers is no different than anyone else’s: Get them in camp and see what they can do. Hitting on the trio of Wright, Williams and Lanear Sampson in the 2008 class gave Briles precisely the kind of weapons Robert Griffin III needed. Baylor loaded up on speed and more speed.

“Track speed, football speed, it’s just speed, period,” said Wright, who finished with 4,004 receiving yards at Baylor. “They just want somebody with speed. Everything else will come.”

Kendal Briles would argue that Baylor’s scheme is as easy as it gets for a receiver. Often times, Reese said he’ll have three options on a route. A defender can’t answer for all of them. With how wide the Bears split out their receivers, there’s plenty of opportunity to get the ball in the open field.

What’s remarkable is the fact that Baylor has built a top-five passing offense nationally while still running the ball on 55 percent of its snaps. Since Art Briles arrived, Baylor ranks No. 5 in the FBS in yards per catch at 13.7. Its best big-play threats, Williams and Reese, averaged a stunning 11.2 yards per target.

No wonder the big-name recruits are interested. Landing Rhodes, the No. 3 receiver in the class of 2013, was a coup. Getting Cannon and Hall on board was even better, and Zamora might have the most upside of the incoming three.

“Now you get some top-notch players in here,” Kendal Briles said, “and it could be crazy what happens.”

Only Reese is graduating, setting up Baylor to have a loaded group of wideouts in 2014. That will mean plenty of competition, and Reese frequently talks with Goodley and Norwood about becoming the vocal leaders when he’s gone.

The way Reese sees it, there’s a certain pay-it-forward mentality within the group. Wright took him under his wing and believed in him from the start.

He cares about maintaining what’s quickly becoming a proud tradition.

“When we have wide receivers coming in, we’re going to put it in their head: This is Wide Receiver University,” he said. “You’ve got to play like it. Baylor produces the best wide receivers and the No. 1 offense in the nation.”

And a few good pros, too. Wright is looking forward to seeing his successors join him at the next level soon. Together, they’re planning to take over the NFL.

“That’s what we plan to do, man,” Goodley said. “They don’t call us Wide Receiver U for nothing.”


SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When last year’s Holiday Bowl ended, Bryce Petty shook hands with teammates, found a seat on the team bus, and fired off a tweet.

“Last game as a backup,” he wrote. “Tomorrow it starts.”

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsBaylor's Bryce Petty sat for three seasons behind Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence before finally getting his chance to start at quarterback.
After three years waiting in the wings, it was a message to fans that Petty was eager to take the reins of the Baylor offense. But it was a message to himself, too -- a reminder things were different now, and he had to prepare accordingly.

“It’s funny how much exposure it got,” Petty said. “But at the same time, it was a mental note for myself.”

Petty was a backup to Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, then sat behind Nick Florence, the school’s single-season record holder in passing yards. But in his first season as a starter, Petty has done something either of his predecessors managed: A Big 12 title and a trip to a BCS bowl game.

Now UCF awaits in Wednesday’s Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, and Petty said the game represents a chance for him to put his stamp on a program that, in the past few years, has been defined by its quarterbacks.

“It's the making of a dynasty,” Petty said. “That's what we want, that's why we came here, is to build that legacy.”

It took a little longer than he expected for Petty to add his part to that legacy, but now that he’s taken the Bears to an unprecedented level, he sees the value in his long wait for the starting job.

Watching from the sideline was a grueling experience, but it was one he could learn from. Those lessons have been put to the test this season -- something that crystalized for Petty after Baylor thumped rival Oklahoma 41-12 on Nov. 7.

“After the OU game, I was thinking, man, it was a good thing that I waited,” Petty said. “It was a good thing I stuck with it. It was a good thing I worked as hard as I did last year to be the starter and have it not go my way.”

Petty is a perfectionist. There’s no detail too small to ignore, and three years as a backup allowed him to mine every aspect of his game and refine it to stark precision. Now the starter, that precision is showing on the field.

Petty is second in the country in yards-per-attempt (10.8) and passer rating (179.2). He has completed more passes of 25-plus yards than anyone (46). He has thrown for 30 touchdowns, run for 11 more and he has been picked off just twice.

“He’s a perfectionist,” receiver Antwan Goodley said. “He’s like that all the time -- practice, games, workouts, offseason. That’s how he is.”

And for all he has accomplished in his one season as the starter, Petty insists he’s not done. He announced last month that he’d be returning for his senior season in 2014 -- a decision he said was easy. He likes to be prepared for every challenge, and he wasn’t sure he was prepared for the NFL.

But more than that, he’d waited too long to simply leave Baylor the first chance he had.

“I wasn’t wanting to be a one-and-done deal, no matter how good this season was,” Petty said. “That’s weird to say, but there’s a lot of things I want to do here still.”

That decision, of course, means another year for Petty as the starter, and another year for his backups to wait for their shot.

It’s a road map that has worked pretty well so far, Baylor coach Art Briles said.

“[Petty] had a great mentorship,” Briles said. “And it’s just like the guys in the room with him right now, looking at him, watching him and having a chance to grow from him.”

Renewing acquaintances: Baylor tailback Lache Seastrunk hasn’t seen UCF quarterback Blake Bortles since the two teams arrived in Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl, but he has an idea what kind of greeting is in store.

“He’s going to come up and be like, ‘What’s up,” Seastrunk said. “Because Blake has the same personality as I do -- outgoing, and he doesn’t care what anybody says.”

Seastrunk and Bortles roomed together at a recruiting camp in Paisley, Fla., spending three days together practicing and joking around.

They’ve kept in touch over the years, but communications have been limited as UCF and Baylor get set to play each other Wednesday. Still, Bortles said he’s looking forward to a reunion.

“I had a lot of fun being around him, hanging out,” Bortles said. “And he’s a lot of fun to watch on the field. He’s an amazing football player and a really good running back.”

Keeping quiet: While Petty ended any NFL speculation weeks ago, Bortles is letting the guessing game continue a while -- and he continues to insist he’s made no decision about whether he’ll leave early for the NFL draft after Wednesday’s game.

“I don’t know because I really haven’t sat down to think about it,” Bortles said. “I wish I knew.”

Bortles is considered a first-round pick if he entered the draft this season, potentially going in the top five. He began to climb draft boards late in the season, and he said he decided then to put off any decision until after UCF’s season came to an end.

“When stuff started coming up, it was like -- don't worry about it,” Bortles said. “I told my parents not to talk to anybody, that we would figure it out when the season is over.”

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