NCF Nation: Antwan Goodley

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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.

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
12/31/13
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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.”
Going back to the advent of the BCS, 18 teams have been to just one BCS bowl without returning for a second.

This week, Baylor and Tostitos Fiesta Bowl opponent UCF will make their BCS debuts.

[+] EnlargeBaylor Bears
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsWith a financial commitment, recruiting success and head coach Art Briles leading the way, Big 12 title celebrations could become a frequent occurrence at Baylor.
And the biggest question for the upstart Bears is whether this will be a one-time BCS trip or one of many BCS-level bowls to come.

“We want to build a dynasty,” said Baylor junior quarterback Bryce Petty. “We didn’t come into this for just one season.”

Before head coach Art Briles arrived in 2007, Baylor making a BCS bowl seemed about as likely as zombies taking over the Earth.

But after 14 consecutive losing seasons, the Bears finally broke through in 2010 with Robert Griffin III as quarterback. And in the three seasons since, Baylor has gone a combined 29-9, culminating with this year’s Big 12 championship and BCS bowl berth.

Can the Bears keep it going or will this one year, like it has been for so many other programs, be a flash in the pan?

There are reasons to believe it might be the former.

“I think there are two things that will keep us out of the category of being just a one-time BCS team,” said defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, who has remarkably transformed Baylor’s defense into one of the best in the Big 12. “A lot of people use the word commitment, but you’re not committed if you’re not spending money and building the program.

“There’s a commitment here.”

Indeed, Baylor is putting its money where its mouth is.

Next season, the Bears will play in a new $260 million on-campus stadium, erected on the banks of the Brazos River.

Two weeks ago, Baylor announced plans to build a 14,000-square-foot nutrition center for its athletes that will be adjacent to the athletic academic building and indoor practice facility, which have both been constructed in the last several years. Once the nutrition center is completed later next year, Baylor’s football players will be able to meet with tutors, grab lunch and go to practice in one central vicinity.

“That’s millions and millions of dollars,” Bennett said. “And when you make that kind of commitment, it turns into recruiting assets.”

Which leads to the second reason why Bennett believes Baylor is built to last.

The last five years, the Bears have done a phenomenal job of unearthing hidden gems in recruiting and developing them into quality players. Unanimous All-America guard Cyril Richardson garnered little recruiting interest after relocating to Texas from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey's only other offers out of junior college were from Hawaii and New Mexico State. And standout wide receiver Tevin Reese was just a two-star recruit in high school because he weighed less than 140 pounds.

“Coach Briles does a great job knowing what he wants in recruiting,” said Baylor All-Big 12 wideout Antwan Goodley, who was also lightly recruited. “And getting his guys.”

The Bears are still targeting those guys.

But thanks to its success on the field and commitment off it, Baylor is also now gaining access to the blue-chip prospects. As a result, the Bears currently have RecruitingNation's No. 16-ranked recruiting class in the country, nine spots ahead of Oklahoma and only three behind Texas.

“We all know it’s a players’ game,” Bennett said. “And our days of not competing for the upper echelon guys are over.”

But as critical as the facility investments are to Baylor’s future success, no investment has been more critical than the one Baylor has made in Briles, who has guided the Bears to the first 11-win season in school history.

Last month, Briles agreed to a 10-year contract extension that will pay him more than $4 million annually. The Bears hope the deal will keep him at Baylor through at least the 2023 season.

Of course, that could be put to the test in the coming weeks.

Both the Austin American-Statesman and Dallas Morning News reported over the weekend that Texas has vetted Briles for its head coaching vacancy and has him on a short list of candidates.

But when asked about Texas before, Briles has said that “the grass is green” at Baylor. And thanks to the massive facility overhaul and uptick in recruiting, it definitely is more so now than ever.

With Petty, the reigning All-Big 12 quarterback, and other key players like Goodley and possibly running back Lache Seastrunk back, Baylor could be loaded for bear again in 2014.

If Briles returns as well, this BCS appearance just might be the first of many big-time bowls for Baylor. Where the grass continues to get greener.

“This is a team that wants more,” Petty said. "We're still hungry."

UCF defense relishes underdog role

December, 29, 2013
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The film can be a bit intimidating, UCF safety Brandon Alexander said.

Baylor’s quarterback, Bryce Petty, is fast. He makes quick decisions, has a quick release and he can run.

The receivers are fast, too. They stretch the field, and the Bears' big-play potential is immense.

The running backs are quick, juking through traffic and breaking tackles for huge chunks of yards.

"Their offensive linemen are even fast,” Alexander joked.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Alexander
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsDefensive back Brandon Alexander says the Knights are ready for Baylor's high-powered offense.
This is the challenge for UCF’s defense, perhaps the most overlooked unit playing in a BCS bowl game this year.

Baylor’s offense is a whirlwind of precise execution, breathtaking tempo and dizzying speed. Central Florida’s defense is young, unheralded and, after Jim Fleming left to take over at Rhode Island, without its coordinator.

It’s no surprise then that the Knights’ defense isn’t getting much pre-game love or that they’re feeding off the litany of doubters.

“It’s an opportunity,” cornerback Clayton Geathers said. “We come with a chip on our shoulder, and we’re out to prove a lot of people wrong.”

They may be largely anonymous on a national stage, but the Knights have been solid defensively all season. UCF ranks 12th nationally in scoring defense, allowing less than 20 points per game, despite having just two seniors on its two-deep. It’s an athletic group that plays sound fundamentally, and if the rest of the world is overlooking the unit, Baylor isn’t.

“They’re very disciplined and have a lot of guys that can run sideline to sideline,” Petty said. “Just because we haven’t heard too much about them doesn’t mean they don’t have talent. It pops out on tape. They’re tough.”

Still, there’s no question the test UCF faces in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl is unlike anything it has seen before. Coach George O'Leary said Baylor’s tempo is something the Knights are used to from their days in Conference USA, but the skill with which the Bears execute is at another level.

“We ran a play every 18 seconds in practice the last two weeks, but it’s the quality of play you can’t simulate,” O’Leary said. “It’s quantity, but the quality isn’t there that Baylor is going to have.”

Baylor leads the country in scoring offense (53 points per game) and averages 50 yards more per game than any other team in the nation, while running nearly 83 plays per game -- a frenetic pace that will test the young UCF defense.

From a conditioning standpoint, Alexander said he’s confident the Knights are ready. The extra time to prep for Baylor has helped with the film study, too. Both will be key to slowing down the big-play Baylor offense, but the secret weapon, defensive lineman Thomas Niles said, will be UCF’s physicality, which he hopes will offset the Bears’ up-tempo style.

"You've got to disrupt their rhythm," Niles said. "You can't let [Petty] stay in one spot and be comfortable. If you let him sit there, he'll pick you apart."

Baylor gets healthy: As if UCF’s defense didn’t have enough to worry about, Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk said the offense is about as healthy as it has been all season.

Seastrunk said the extended downtime between the regular season and the bowl gave him a chance to get heal a groin injury that cost him nearly three full games late in the year.

“I needed the break to make sure my groin was all together and sealed up tight,” Seastrunk said, adding that he’s now 100 percent healthy.

Meanwhile, senior receiver Tevin Reese is set to return to the lineup, too. A wrist injury cost him the final four games of the regular season, but he’ll add another dynamic downfield threat, along with Antwan Goodley, for the Bears in the Fiesta Bowl.

“When you have two guys that can vertically stretch you, it’s tough [for the defense] and makes our job easier,” Petty said. “It adds another dynamic to an offense that’s already pretty explosive. For us, it’s like having a new toy.”

Easy intro for Ferraro: UCF’s new defensive coordinator is taking a hands-off approach to his first few days on the job.

Paul Ferraro was hired earlier this week to replace the departed Fleming, and while he’s in Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl, he’s working from a distance during practice.

“I’m really just observing, letting them do their thing and getting to know them a little bit,” Ferraro said. “It gives me a little bit of a jump [on 2014].”
Baylor still leads the nation with 635.1 yards and 55.4 points per game going into its regular season finale against Texas. But "America's Top Offense" hasn't looked much looked like itself recently.

In fact, since exploding for six touchdowns in just over 23 minutes in a 63-34 rout of Texas Tech last month, the Bears almost seem to be running on fumes.

[+] EnlargeLache Seastrunk
AP Photo/Jose YauWith Lache Seastrunk almost fully healthy, Baylor will have most of its offensive weapons back against Texas.
Over their last two games, the Bears have mustered just five offensive touchdowns combined, with one coming after TCU fumbled on its own 1-yard line.

At Oklahoma State, Baylor trailed 35-3 in the fourth quarter before finishing with a season-low 17 points.

At TCU, the Bears mustered a season-low 370 yards of offense while Spencer Roth punted a season-high eight times, as Baylor survived only after two defensive touchdowns and the fumble at the TCU 1.

"I feel like we may be looking around for too much and trying to see too many things,” said Baylor guard Cyril Richardson. “We just need to go out there and play. We need to go back to hard-nosed football, and that's basically it."

That will be easier with running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin back in the lineup.

Neither was available for the 32-point loss at Stillwater. And at TCU, both were easing their way back in after injuries.

“Those guys are warriors,” said coach Art Briles. “I don’t think either guy was 100 percent. They’ll both be a lot closer to 100 percent his week. But from a confidence standpoint, it made a big difference.”

Even at less than 100 percent, Seastrunk dashed his way to 94 yards on 24 carries. Martin was the closer, pounding out 69 yards on 17 carries, most coming in the fourth quarter when Baylor was attempting to move the chains and grind out the clock.

"I think it showed those guys provide a spark that not a lot of guys can,” said quarterback Bryce Petty. “Lache is that spark. Lache is that guy that can take a carry that shouldn't get anything and make yards out of it, which you've got to love. Glasco's the veteran guy. He's been there. He's done that. He's that thunder part of it so it's always fun to have him as far as closing out games. The guy that can make those tough yards for you so it's always fun watching him play."

Baylor, however, will continue to be without two key players to its passing game, left tackle Spencer Drango (back) and wideout Tevin Reese (wrist).

Through the first nine games with Drango protecting Petty’s blindside, the Bears gave up just 13 sacks. The last two games, they have given up five.

The loss of Reese and his downfield speed has been even more critical. One of the most lethal deep threats in college football, Reese was averaging 25 yards per catch, and 54 yards on his eight touchdown catches.

The Bears didn’t miss him at Tech. But they missed him dearly against Oklahoma State and TCU.

With TCU All-American cornerback Jason Verrett locking up leading receiver Antwan Goodley, Baylor’s patented vertical passing attack was almost non-existent. The Bears, which still lead the country in pass plays over 30 yards, had only one such completion against the Horned Frogs, while Goodley finished with just one reception for 12 yards.

“We’ve had to change a little bit to the personnel we’ve had or haven’t had on the field the last couple weeks,” Briles said.

The good news for the Bears is they’ll finally be back at Floyd Casey, for the stadium’s swan song. And even with the injuries, America’s Top Offense still has the personnel to put up big points.

“We didn’t have a lot going on offense,” Seastrunk said. “Missing key players hurts a lot.

“But we’ve got to get back to doing what Baylor does.”

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 14 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: After trailing by three scores for most of the game, Iowa State came roaring back with 17 straight points in the fourth quarter and ultimately prevailed 52-44 in a stunning, triple-overtime comeback. Freshman QB Grant Rohach was terrific in his second career road start, accounting for five touchdowns, including the winning toss on the first play of the third overtime. The defense forced four turnovers to help spearhead the rally. And punter Kirby Van Der Kamp converted a fake punt into a huge first down, igniting the comeback early in the fourth quarter. As a result, Iowa State finished off an otherwise disappointing season with a thrilling road victory and a two-game winning streak to build on for 2014.

[+] EnlargeRyan Erxleben, David Brenner, Keenon Ward
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsTexas Tech punter Ryan Erxleben (26) celebrated perhaps the Red Raiders' only highlight Thursday.
Disappointment of the week: After a fake punt touchdown gave them a 7-0 lead, the Red Raiders basically no-showed the rest of the way in a discouraging 41-16 loss at Texas. The Longhorns obliterated Tech up front, as both Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron topped 100 yards on the ground. On the other side of the ball, Tech couldn't protect its quarterback, as Baker Mayfield was sacked seven times. As a result, a team that once was ranked 10th in the country ended its regular season with a thud -- and a five-game losing streak.

Big (offensive) men on campus: Kansas State running back John Hubert and Iowa State wide receivers Quenton Bundrage and Justin Coleman.

Hubert unleashed a monster performance in his final Sunflower Showdown. The senior rushed for a career-high 220 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries, as K-State defeated Kansas 31-10 for a fifth consecutive victory in the series.

Together with Rohach, Bundrage and Coleman fueled Iowa State's comeback with huge catches down the stretch. After Van Der Kamp's fake punt conversion, Bundrage hauled in a 62-yard touchdown grab to cut West Virginia's lead to 10. Later, Coleman's 19-yard scoring reception tied the game with a minute left in regulation. And on the first play of the third overtime, Coleman reeled in another touchdown, which proved to be the game winner.

All told, Bundrage and Coleman combined for 12 receptions, 184 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Baylor linebacker Eddie Lackey, TCU cornerback Jason Verrett and Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat.

Lackey played a hand in two turnovers that ultimately led to defensive touchdowns. With the Horned Frogs driving at the end of the second quarter with a chance to take the lead before halftime, Lackey charged up the middle and tagged TCU QB Casey Pachall's legs. The hit forced Pachall's pass to be behind his intended receiver, and Orion Stewart intercepted it and raced 82 yards for a touchdown. Then on TCU's first possession of the third quarter, Lackey picked off Pachall and dashed 54 yards for another score, putting the Bears up 34-17. Lackey added six tackles and a sack in Baylor's 41-38 win.

As good as Lackey was, no player was more dominant than Verrett. Matched up one-on-one with Baylor's Antwan Goodley the entire game, Verrett checked the Big 12's leading receiver to just one reception for 12 yards. As a result, Baylor finished with a season-low 206 passing yards.

Jeffcoat also flourished in his final home game, recording a game-high three sacks as Texas shut down Texas Tech's passing game. Jeffcoat also had seven tackles and a quarterback hurry, solidifying his candidacy as an All-Big 12 defensive end.

Special-teams player of the week: Tech punter Ryan Erxleben produced one of the special-teams plays of the year in the Big 12 in Austin. On Tech's second possession, Erxleben took off on a fake punt and raced 51 yards down the sideline for a touchdown, giving the Red Raiders an early 7-0 lead. After the game, coach Kliff Kingsbury confirmed Erxleben called the fake on his own. It proved to be Tech's longest rush of the season, but pretty much its only highlight in the lackluster loss to the Longhorns.

Play of the week: After falling behind 34-17 on two Baylor defensive touchdowns, TCU made a furious rally and drove into field goal range with a chance to either win or send the game to overtime. Instead, with 18 seconds to go, quarterback Pachall's pass to Brandon Carter was tipped away by Baylor nickelback Sam Holl and into the arms of Terrell Burt for the game-clinching interception to seal Baylor's victory.

Stat of the week: By holding Baylor to 370 yards of offense, TCU snapped the Bears' 37-game streak of at least 400 yards of offense. Ball State now holds the longest FBS streak at 12 games.

Quote of the week: "Gary Patterson lives in Fort Worth. If he's got a problem with me, that's where I live."

-- TCU coach Gary Patterson, after a pair of heated exchanges with Baylor coach Art Briles

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 13

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
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What we learned about the Big 12 in Week 13:

1. The Big 12 title now goes through Stillwater: Before 2011, Oklahoma State had won just one conference title -- a three-way share in 1976 -- in 58 years. After a dominating 49-17 win over Baylor, the Cowboys are just a win over Oklahoma away from claiming their second Big 12 title in three seasons. The Oklahoma State defense has been the best in the Big 12 all year, and Saturday was no different. The Cowboys held the nation’s top-scoring offense to just a field goal through the first three quarters. Cowboys QB Clint Chelf remained red-hot, too, completing his first 12 passes while ultimately accounting for four touchdowns. Oklahoma State now controls its own destiny in the Big 12. And if the Cowboys take Bedlam, they will take the Big 12 title again, too.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiBryce Petty and Baylor's high-powered offense never got on track against Oklahoma State.
2. Baylor’s offense is not invincible: The Bears entered their Big 12 showdown at Oklahoma State leading the nation with an average of 61.3 points per game. Early in the fourth quarter in Stillwater, Baylor had just a field goal. The Bears had been fabulous offensively all season. But Oklahoma State completely shut them down. Baylor’s vaunted vertical passing game was completely nonexistent, as Antwan Goodley and Levi Norwood failed to shake loose from the Cowboys' cornerbacks corps, which for the most part was without All-American candidate Justin Gilbert. The Bears also struggled to get the running game going, as Oklahoma State’s defensive tackles controlled the line of scrimmage. No doubt, not having running back Lache Seastrunk and wideout Tevin Reese hurt. But Baylor had overcome such injuries against Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Against Oklahoma State, the Bears proved to be human. And against a top-notch defense, vulnerable, too.

3. OU might have found its QB of the future: In place of the injured Blake Bell, Trevor Knight was terrific in Oklahoma’s 41-31 win in Manhattan. Knight did most of his damage out of the read-option with Brennan Clay, who had a career day with 200 yards on the ground. But Knight was also precise with his passing, completing 14 of 20 passes, including 7 of 8 in the second half, for 171 yards. His throw of the day came in the first quarter when he found Sterling Shepard in the end zone with a bullet on third-and-goal from the K-State 12. It gave the Sooners a 7-0 lead. The Sooners have gotten inconsistent QB play all season. But the way Knight has performed the past two weeks, it’s possible he just might be OU’s long-term answer at the position.

4. K-State not quite in the Big 12’s top tier: The Wildcats entered their game with the Sooners as a favorite thanks to a four-game winning streak. But even with a freshman QB making his first career start on the road, OU controlled the game from beginning to end, piling up 301 yards on the ground while shutting down a K-State rushing attack that had been so good the last month. No doubt, the Wildcats made a great recovery from a 2-4 start to become bowl eligible. But after going 0-4 against the Big 12’s top four teams, it’s evident they don’t quite belong in the league’s upper tier.

5. Iowa State still better than Kansas: With a spot in the Big 12 cellar on the line, Iowa State throttled the Jayhawks 34-0 for its first conference win of the season. A week after snapping a 27-game conference losing streak, Kansas resorted to its old ways in the frigid Ames weather. Freshman QB Montell Cozart completed only 4 of 12 passes for 20 yards, and Jake Heaps was not much better in relief in the second half. As a result, Iowa State rolled to its first Big 12 shutout since a 41-0 victory over Baylor in 2001. The Cyclones also racked up a season-high 502 yards of offense behind freshman QB Grant Rohach, who had 300 yards passing in the best game of his career. The Jayhawks might have ended their conference losing streak. But as Saturday showed, they are still the worst team in the conference. And apparently, it’s not close, either.

Eight years ago to the day, Oklahoma State traveled to Waco for a clash of the Big 12’s worst defense against its worst offense.

That season, Baylor couldn’t move the chains. The Cowboys couldn’t keep the chains from moving against them.

The Bears ultimately prevailed that day, but only because first-year coach Mike Gundy’s offense coughed up the ball eight times.

My, how times have changed.

Saturday, instead of playing for last place, Baylor and Oklahoma State will be vying for the Big 12 title. And this time, the matchup will feature the Big 12’s best offense (Baylor) against the league’s best defense (Oklahoma State).

“Everyone talks about their quarterback, but they average 300 yards rushing a game -- I don't think people really realize that,” Cowboys safety Zack Craig said. “Their passing is great, but their running backs are some of the best in this league.

"They are, by far, the ultimate offense.”

Not only is Baylor’s offense the ultimate, it has a chance to go down as the most prolific in college football history. The Bears lead the country with an average of 61 points and 684 yards per game, which, if they held up, would both shatter NCAA records.

Baylor has already totaled 53 touchdown drives of two minutes or less (Oregon led the country with 45 last season), 50 plays from scrimmage that have gone for 30 yards or more (Indiana is second with 38) and six games with at least 60 points (Ohio State is next with only three such games).

"They are the way they are because they have great talent,” Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “A quarterback with a fast and accurate release, running backs who can make you miss and an offensive line that will maul you.”

Bryce Petty ranks third nationally in QBR, four different running backs have 100-yard rushing games and guard Cyril Richardson is on the short list to win the Outland Trophy. The receiving corps is as explosive as any around, too, headlined by All-American candidate Antwan Goodley.

“No doubt, this is going to be a huge test for us,” Oklahoma State nickel back Lyndell Johnson said.

But this will be a huge test for the Bears as well.

Behind a veteran core, the Cowboys have featured one of the stoutest defenses in college football all season. Oklahoma State’s defense ranks in the top 10 nationally in several “Next Level” stats from ESPN Stats & Info, including points per drive (seventh), percentage of drives that end in touchdowns (sixth) and red-zone efficiency (seventh).

Oklahoma State is also now tied for the national lead in interceptions after picking off Case McCoy three times in a dominating 38-13 win at Texas last weekend.

“They have great personnel and they do a great job,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “They’ve done a great job recruiting the last four to five years, and it’s paying off for them.”

Thanks to those talent upgrades, this Oklahoma State defense, which features seven senior starters, has been the best of the Gundy era. By far.

Tackle Calvin Barnett is a run-stuffer up front. Linebackers Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey don’t miss tackles. And Justin Gilbert is a lockdown cornerback who tops the Big 12 with six interceptions.

Over seven Big 12 games, the defense has surrendered just 14 offensive touchdowns, the fewest in the league.

“We’re more athletic and more aggressive on defense than what we’ve been the last three or four years,” Gundy said. “Our players have bought into it, and they’re consistent in their play each week."

But on Saturday, Oklahoma State’s defense will find out just how stingy it is, while the Baylor offense will learn if it truly is unstoppable.

“We have a great defense and they’re a great offense,” Craig said. “When you go against somebody like this, you find out just how good you are.”

Baylor offense faces injury adversity

November, 11, 2013
11/11/13
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Baylor finally has its first taste of injury adversity.

Star wideout Tevin Reese is out for the rest of the regular season with a dislocated wrist. Running backs Lache Seastrunk (groin) and Glasco Martin (knee) are banged up and day-to-day heading down the stretch.

With those injuries, can the nation’s highest-scoring offense keep humming?

“We’re about to find out,” coach Art Briles said.

There’s reason to believe it can. Look no further than Baylor’s final three quarters against Oklahoma.

Martin exited early in the first quarter with the knee injury. Soon after that, Seastrunk tweaked his groin. Then just before the end of the first half, Reese injured the wrist.

[+] EnlargeShock Linwood
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsThird-string tailback Shock Linwood had a career day against the Sooners, rushing for 183 yards.
But facing one of the Big 12’s better defenses, Baylor barely missed a beat. From the middle of the second quarter to the middle of the fourth, the Bears scored on six of eight drives, including five touchdowns.

In place of Martin and Seastrunk, freshman Shock Linwood exploded for 182 yards on 23 carries. It wasn’t just gaping holes the offensive line carved out for him, either. Linwood amassed 97 of his yards after contact, repeatedly driving his way through Oklahoma defenders for big plays on the ground.

“Shock's performance was non-surprising,” Briles said. “He's a good football player, understands the game.

“You give him an opportunity, he's going to take advantage of it.”

This wasn’t first time Linwood took advantage of an opportunity. Despite essentially being Baylor’s third-team tailback, the former 2-star recruit is now second in the Big 12 with a rushing average of 89.3 yards per game, trailing only Seastrunk.

“Shock is going to step up great,” quarterback Bryce Petty said. “His success is no surprise to any off us."

Seastrunk and Martin, however, will be coming back soon. Perhaps as soon as this week against Texas Tech in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Reese is not coming back. At least not until a bowl game.

To most teams, losing a player of Reese’s caliber would be a deathblow. Reese, a fixture in the Bears’ receiving corps since Robert Griffin III was the quarterback, leads the country with an average of almost 25 yards per catch. His penchant for big plays had become a cornerstone of the Baylor attack.

“We'll have to compensate in a variety of ways,” Briles said.

The fact Baylor is equipped to compensate for the loss of Reese underscores just how loaded this receiving corps is.

Antwan Goodley, perhaps the most improved offensive player in the conference, leads the Big 12 in receiving touchdowns (10) and receiving yards per game (121.8).

Even with the added focus with Reese off the field, Goodley kept popping the Sooners deep. He pulled in a 24-yard touchdown grab just before halftime. Then at the beginning of the fourth quarter, he delivered the exclamation point, hauling in a 25-yard touchdown pass that put Baylor ahead 41-12.

Levi Norwood stepped up well as Goodley’s new receiving wingman, too, bursting through the Oklahoma secondary for a 17-yard touchdown grab that put Baylor up 31-5 early in the third quarter.

"We have a good nucleus of guys,” Briles said.

But to capture their first Big 12 title, the Bears might need help from outside the core nucleus. Speedy freshmen Corey Coleman and Robbie Rhodes showed loads of promise during the preseason. Neither had a catch against Oklahoma. But both could play key roles down the stretch.

"You can't replace a guy like Tevin, on or off the field,” Petty said. “Leadership and experience. It's a big loss.

“But the other guys, they’re ready.”

Big 12 predictions: Week 11

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
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Welp, it finally happened. I finally lost to a guest picker. And to a 14-year-old, no less. Thanks, Caymen. I thought you weren’t going to embarrass me?

Anyway, this reporter’s pride is on the line again. This week’s guest picker submission:

My name is Claire Stallings and I would love to one day be a guest picker for you. It’s about time a lady shows these men how to pick a perfect week! I love the Big 12 and of course Baylor. I worked for the team all through college and I am that girl who knows more about Baylor football than most of the men on campus. I think it would be interesting to throw a girl into the “man’s world.” Don’t worry, I can hold my own. #GirlPower

The last time a girl challenged me to something, I was destroyed by my wife in a 5K. So this is my shot at redemption. #BringTheNoiseClaire.

Tonight, Max and national writer Mark Schlabach will be in Waco for Oklahoma-Baylor. Saturday, Brandon will drive to Stillwater to check out Kansas-Oklahoma State. Due to my horrific picking, I've been benched for the weekend.

To the Week 11 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 2-2 (.500)

Guest picker (14-year-old Caymen) last week: 3-1 (.750)

Trotter overall: 43-14 (.754)

Guest picker overall: 29-11 (.725)

THURSDAY

Baylor 52, Oklahoma 34: The Sooners’ best chance in this game is to pound the ball, wear out the clock and keep Baylor’s high-powered offense on the sidelines. But without star fullback Trey Millard, I’m skeptical OU can pull off such a game plan. The Sooners have no viable tight end, and none of their other fullbacks are capable receiving threats off play-action. OU’s remaining firepower keeps the game interesting into the second half. But a Sooners defense playing two freshman linebackers finally capitulates to the overwhelming speed of the Baylor offense, as the Bears make a statement they belong in the national title picture.

Claire’s pick: The media (including you, Jake) keeps saying K-State laid out the blueprint on how to beat Baylor, but then again, Mack Brown made it clear that OU is far from invincible. Between Baylor’s dynamic receiving duo, Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese, along with Lache Seastrunk and Bryce Petty’s Heisman-worthy performances, this pick was easy. #GoingTarpless. Baylor 56-35

SATURDAY

West Virginia 26, Texas 23: I find it strange the voters still haven’t put Texas back in the Top 25 polls. I actually had the Longhorns ranked 14th in the ESPN power ranking, the highest of the 19 voters in the ESPN poll. But this is a tough spot for Texas. West Virginia has been a far better team in Morgantown than away from it. The Mountaineers also have a ton of momentum from last week’s comeback overtime win over TCU, with a bowl appearance in their sights. Texas QB Case McCoy comes back to earth a bit and the Longhorns get caught peeking ahead to next week’s clash with Oklahoma State, as Charles Sims runs wild again to hand Texas its first Big 12 loss.

Claire’s pick: The Horns will win if they keep the ball with Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray. But they have to make sure Case doesn’t make too many mistakes on the road. If they are not careful, West Virginia will upset Texas, just like they did to OSU. #TexasStayawayfromBriles. Texas 31-28

Kansas State 37, Texas Tech 34: With receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson back in the fold, the Wildcats are finally firing on all cylinders offensively. QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters have been terrific lately, and, much to Bill Snyder’s satisfaction, have been taking care of the ball, too. Tech has had a great run. But turnover-prone teams usually don’t fare well against Snyder-coached teams, and only six offenses in college football have turned the ball over more times than the Red Raiders. As a result, K-State continues its late-season push and hands Tech a third straight defeat.

Claire’s pick: I grew up in a Tech-loving family from Midland, Texas. I have lost sleep over this pick, and I may lose friends and a chunk of my inheritance after this is published. Unfortunately, the clock has struck midnight for Cinderella, and they are beginning to look reminiscent of last year’s West Virginia squad. #SorryDad. K-State 38-35

TCU 19, Iowa State 13: Will either side have enough players left to actually stage the game? Iowa State figures to be without running back Aaron Wimberly, who’s been its best offensive player, and could be without QB Sam B. Richardson, too. TCU cornerback Jason Verrett and running back B.J. Catalon are questionable on a team that also will be missing running back Waymon James and receiver Brandon Carter. The difference in this game proves to be TCU QB Casey Pachall, who finally showed signs of returning to his old self last week.

Claire’s pick: This is the “Battle of Who Could Care Less” between two struggling teams. TCU’s players are dropping like flies. TCU barely wins, but for sure is not making a bowl. #NotYallsYear #ByeFelicia. TCU 14-10

Oklahoma State 55, Kansas 9: Kansas has been hanging tough in Big 12 play. That ends here. The Cowboys have finally found their identity offensively with Clint Chelf at QB and the tough-running Desmond Roland at tailback. Oklahoma State keeps rolling in its return to the thick of the Big 12 title race.

Claire’s pick: I have always liked Kansas -- they have great school colors for game-day outfits. But that is all they have. Chelf is a real threat and the Cowboys' backfield has exploded these past few games -- they might actually steal the Big 12 title right out of Baylor’s little paws. #ButPleaseDont. Oklahoma State 56-14
NORMAN, Okla. -- Just the thought of his defense spending the majority of the game on the field makes Mike Stoops uncomfortable.

“If we play 90 to 100 snaps, it’s not good,” the Oklahoma defensive coordinator said. “You can’t win a game against Baylor playing 90 to 100 snaps. That’s not a game you want to be in.”

[+] EnlargeRoy Finch
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerRoy Finch and the Oklahoma offense must stay on the field to keep Baylor's high-powered offense on the sidelines.
Oklahoma’s offense could be its best defense when it meets Baylor at Floyd Casey Stadium on Thursday. By running the ball, controlling the tempo and keeping the Bears' offense on the sideline, the Sooners' offense could be the difference.

“You hope that your offense can control the football and that you can control the tempo of the game,” Stoops said.

It’s a formula that has worked before against the Bears. Kansas State held BU to 58 offensive plays in its 35-25 loss to the Bears on Oct. 12. Not surprisingly, the Wildcats held the Bears to season lows in plays (58), yards (446), touchdowns (5) and plays of 10 yards or more (12).

Giving Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk, Antwan Goodley and the rest of the Baylor playmakers too many opportunities to make plays will result in big plays and plenty of points. It’s simply unavoidable. But limiting their offensive plays and opportunities can make their offense look human and make the ultimate goal of winning the game within reach.

Fortunately for the Sooners, this game plan fits right in line with the approach that has carried them to a 7-1 record. Opponents average 63.8 offensive plays against the Sooners this season, five plays per game less than any other Big 12 team. It’s a big reason why OU sits atop the conference in yards allowed per game (314.3) and ranks second behind the Bears in points allowed (18.8).

The Sooners average 234 rushing yards per game and have leaned on that running game to carry the offense this season while their passing game has been inconsistent. Running the ball, controlling the clock and converting on third downs is a formula the Sooners used to defeat Texas Tech, 38-30, in their last game.

“If we can limit the opportunities they get by not turning it over and converting on third downs we help our cause,” OU co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “It’s not a complicated formula, but it’s important that we get the type of execution we had a week ago.”

Ideally, OU will have to find a way to get a lead then use its running game and short-passing game to run out the clock while Petty and company helplessly watch from the bench. The approach has been widely discussed in the halls of the Switzer Center over the past week as the Sooners know their offense and defense must work as one unit to slow the Bears’ explosive attack.

“The short passes have to be like runs,” Norvell said. “They’ve [OU receivers] got to be catch the ball no nonsense and get up the field, no dancing, and that’s the mentality we have to play with. We’ve got to make a three-yard catch eight yards and a six-yard catch nine yards. We’ve got to get the first down first and then worry about making something flashy happen.”

OU is converting just 40.7 percent of its third down conversion attempts, ranking fifth in the conference. But the Sooners have improved in recent weeks, converting 14 of 28 attempts combined against Texas Tech and Kansas in back-to-back weeks. Like any big game, making key plays in key moments will decide the outcome.

“It’s critical that we stay ahead of the chains, not get in third and long,” quarterback Blake Bell said.

In its lone loss to Texas, on third down OU had to gain six or more yards on 50 of its 59 plays against the Longhorns. It averaged -0.31 yards per play on third down. Quite simply, the Sooners won’t win if they have another performance like they did against the Longhorns.

“Staying on the field obviously comes down to your first- and second-down plays,” guard Bronson Irwin said. “I think getting yards on those plays puts you at third-and-manageable, whereas if you’re at third-and-long your percentages for staying on the field are going to be a little lower. I think being effective and efficient on first and second downs is going to be a huge part of this game.”

The moral of the story? OU wants to make this game ugly because its not sure it can win pretty. It’s an approach that has been pushed upon them by the struggles of its passing game but one the Sooners have grown to embrace.

“That’s kind of the mentality we have,” Norvell said. “This team has become a blue collar team. We kind of felt that way in the spring, and we’ve got a fighter’s mentality. We’re going to pound on you for four quarters and then try to win it in the fourth. That’s the way we’ve got to be, and that’s okay. It doesn’t matter how pretty it is. If we end up on the right side of the ledger that’s really all that matters.”

Best WR tandems in Big 12 history

November, 4, 2013
11/04/13
2:35
PM ET
The Big 12 has featured some prolific wide receiver tandems over the years.

Baylor’s Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley, however, have a chance to top that list.

[+] EnlargeAntwan Goodley, Tevin Reese
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsAntwan Goodley and Tevin Reese rank 1-2 in the Big 12 in receiving yards per game.
This season, Reese is second in the Big 12 with 118 yards receiving a game. He trails only Goodley, who leads the league with an average of 128 yards receiving. They are a big reason why the Bears are on pace to break the FBS records for points (56.0) and yards (624.9) per game that were set by Army in 1944 and Houston in 1989.

But Reese and Goodley aren’t the only big-time duos in the Big 12 this year.

Kansas State’s Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett have been lighting it up since returning from injury. The last two weeks the two have totaled five touchdown catches.

Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard lead the Sooners with five touchdowns apiece. Texas Tech’s Eric Ward and Jakeem Grant are fifth and sixth in the league in receiving. Oklahoma State’s Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore are beginning to warm up with Clint Chelf at QB. And Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis have been stalwarts in this league for years.

But who are the best tandems ever to play Big 12? We lay it out below.

Tight ends were not included (sorry Jermaine Gresham and Chase Coffman). The tandems were evaluated on what they accomplished together, not on whether their careers simply overlapped (eliminating Jeremy Maclin and Danario Alexander, for example); and, this is a list for duos, not singles, trios or quartets (apologies to Rashaun Woods, and the 2008 Oklahoma and 2010 Baylor receiving corps).

To the list:

1. Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, West Virginia (2012): In their only year in the league, this tandem was one-two in the Big 12 in receiving, combining for 224 receptions and 2,914 receiving yards. Bailey himself had 25 receiving touchdowns; nobody else in the league had more than 13. Austin, meanwhile, also rushed for 344 yards in one game at running back. As Bailey tweeted out earlier Monday morning on this topic, “case closed.”

2. Michael Crabtree and Danny Amendola, Texas Tech (2007): Crabtree got all the headlines in 2007 on his way to winning his first of two Biletnikoff awards. But out of the slot, Amendola quietly put up 109 receptions for 1,245 yards, as Tech went 9-4.

3. Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby, Texas (2008): Shipley and Cosby starred on one of the three best Big 12 teams that didn’t win a conference title. The two each had 1,000 receiving yards and double-digit TDs from QB Colt McCoy, as the Longhorns finished the year 12-1, their only loss coming on Crabtree’s game-winning touchdown in the final seconds in Lubbock. The two were also prolific on special teams, with Shipley’s kick return touchdown sparking Texas’ 45-35 comeback win over Oklahoma.

4. Justin Blackmon and Josh Cooper, Oklahoma State (2011): As with Crabtree-Amendola, Blackmon got all the attention on his way to a second Biletnikoff award. But Cooper was a pivotal piece in OSU’s first Big 12 title team, as he racked up 71 receptions out of the slot. Blackmon, of course, had a monster year with 121 catches and 18 touchdowns.

5. Kendall Wright and Terrance Williams, Baylor (2011): Reese was actually the third wheel to this duo, which shined with RGIII at quarterback. Wright was an All-American with 108 catches, 1,663 yard and 14 touchdowns. Williams was big time, too, finishing fifth in the Big 12 in receiving before taking over the No. 1 role in 2012.

6. Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills, Oklahoma (2010): Broyles led college football with 131 receptions on his way to becoming the all-time FBS leader in career catches. Stills broke OU’s freshman single-season receiving record, as the Sooners stormed back to capture the Big 12 crown after a pair of midseason losses.

7. Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas (2008): It might be difficult to remember now, but the Jayhawks used to play some ball. Meier tied Crabtree for second in the league with 97 receptions. Briscoe trailed only Dez Bryant with 1,402 receiving yards. This was an underrated duo.

8. Quincy Morgan and Aaron Lockett, Kansas State (1999): On one of the first passing teams in the Big 12, Morgan and Lockett shined. Morgan had 42 receptions for 1,007 yards and nine touchdowns and was a first-team all-conference selection. Lockett, Tyler Lockett's uncle, was a second-team all-league pick for the Wildcats, who went 11-1 and finished the year ranked sixth in the polls.

9. Jarrett Hicks and Joel Filani, Texas Tech (2005): Neither might be a household name around the Big 12 anymore, but these two were both first-team All-Big 12 selections in ’05 along with Iowa State WR Todd Blythe.

10. Mark Clayton and Travis Wilson, Oklahoma (2004): Clayton carried the moniker of best receiver in OU history until Broyles came around. Because of Adrian Peterson, Clayton’s numbers dipped in ’04, but he was still an All-American with 66 catches. Wilson led the Sooners with 11 TD grabs, as OU advanced to a second consecutive national championship game.

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