NCF Nation: Lache Seastrunk

NFL draft breakdown: Big 12

May, 12, 2014
May 12
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Several former Big 12 stars watched their dreams come true with their selection in the NFL draft over the weekend.

None of those players went to Texas.

The Longhorns did not have a player drafted for the first time since 1937, leaving a lasting memory that could remain in Austin, Texas, until the 2015 draft.

Baylor led the league with five players selected, followed by Oklahoma with four. Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett were the only Big 12 players selected in the first round.

Here's a closer look at some of the Big 12's draftees and storylines from the draft over the weekend.

[+] EnlargeCyril Richardson
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsGuard Cyril Richardson was the first of five Baylor players who were selected in the draft. The Bears had five of the league's 17 draft picks.
Interesting storyline: In addition to the Longhorns going without a player drafted, it was a lackluster weekend for the rest of Big 12 with a total of 17 draftees, including five on the first two days of the draft (Rounds 1-3). Five Big 12 players were selected in the seventh round, helping to increase what was looking like a ugly and disappointing number midway through the draft’s final day. The Big 12 had 22 players selected in 2013, with eight in the first three rounds and 17 in the first five rounds.

Strong statement: While his current team did not get any players drafted, Texas coach Charlie Strong watched his former school, Louisville, get more players drafted in the first round than the entire Big 12. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, safety Calvin Pryor and linebacker Marcus Smith each were selected in the first round after being recruited by and playing for Strong at Louisville. Linebacker Preston Brown was selected by the Bills in the third round, giving Louisville four players selected in the first three rounds. No Big 12 team matched that feat.

Best fit: It’s probably hard to find a rookie in a better situation than former Oklahoma State cornerback Gilbert, who was selected No. 8 overall by the Cleveland Browns. First, Cleveland clearly valued him, taking him in the top 10 after moving down, and he should slide right into the starting lineup for the Browns. Second, he will be the most overlooked top-10 pick in recent memory as all the attention during his rookie season is likely to be focused on former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the Browns’ second pick of the first round. Third, he will get the opportunity to be mentored by Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden in a system that will allow his physical gifts to shine.

Immediate impact rookie: Former Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro could be the poised to have the biggest impact as a rookie. Amaro, the New York Jets' second-round pick, could become a big target who is a quarterback’s best friend, as Amaro proved to be during his standout 2013 season with the Red Raiders. If Amaro can hold his own as a blocker, he could develop into a lethal weapon on play action for Rex Ryan’s Jets.

Long-term impact: Former Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin won’t be earning Rookie of the Year honors. Selected in the fourth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Colvin is recovering from an torn ACL in January and could miss the entire 2014 season as he recovers from the injury. When he does get healthy, Colvin has the ability to be a starting NFL cornerback and could become a mainstay in the Jaguars secondary.

Potential steal: It's hard to understand why former Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk dropped all the way into the sixth round, where Washington drafted him to rejoin former teammate Robert Griffin III in the offensive backfield. He might not arrive in Washington and lock up a starting role, but it would be a surprise if Seastrunk, who averaged 7.4 yards per carry in 2013, doesn't makes an impact with his new squad.

Of the five major conferences, the Big 12 had the fewest players leave early for the NFL draft with only three. The departures of those three players, however, leave massive holes in their former offenses.

Below is a breakdown of those three players and who will be counted on to fill their shoes:

[+] EnlargeJosh Stewart
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsJosh Stewart's decision to go pro might not result in an early selection.
Leaving: Oklahoma State WR Josh Stewart

The replacement: Tyreek Hill

In a mild surprise, Stewart elected to go pro, even though he was given a Day 3 (fourth through seventh rounds) draft grade. Stewart might not get drafted high, but he has been a critical piece on the Oklahoma State offense as a dynamic slot receiver the past three years.

Due to inconsistent quarterbacking early in the season and a foot injury late, Stewart finished with only 60 receptions for 707 and three touchdowns. Stewart still ranked eighth in the Big 12 in receiving. But the season before, he had 101 receptions for 1,287 yards and seven touchdowns. Stewart’s numbers were down, but he was still Oklahoma State’s top playmaker, both as a receiver and a returner (Stewart was fourth nationally in punt returns).

The good news is the Cowboys might have just the player to replace him. Hill is the No. 4-rated junior college player in the country out of Garden City (Kan.) Community College. Hill had offers from Alabama, Florida State and USC, and Texas made an especially strong push to land him late, but Hill ultimately stuck with his commitment to Oklahoma State and signed with the Cowboys.

The 5-foot-8, 190-pound Hill was a running back in junior college, but the Cowboys plan to use him as a slot receiver. Hill has run the 100 meters in 10.19 seconds, which would make him one of the fastest players in college football.

Hill has the speed and the moves. If he can consistently catch the ball, the Cowboys could have yet another dangerous playmaker operating out of the slot -- and as a punt returner -- next season.

[+] EnlargeShock Linwood
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesShock Linwood has already played a key role in Baylor's rushing attack.
Leaving: Baylor RB Lache Seastrunk

The replacement: Shock Linwood

Seastrunk went into this season on the short list of Heisman contenders. While he was never a threat to win the Heisman, Seastrunk still led the Big 12 with 1,117 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns and an average of 7.45 yards per carry as Baylor led the nation in scoring and captured the school’s first Big 12 title.

Even with Seastrunk bolting early for the draft, the Bears figure to feature another prolific offense next season, thanks to the return of quarterback Bryce Petty and wideout Antwan Goodley. If Linwood performs the way he did as Seastrunk’s replacement last season, then the Bears' offense might not miss a beat.

After gashing defenses in mop-up time, Linwood finally got meaningful snaps in a prime-time Thursday matchup with Oklahoma in early November. When Seastrunk strained his groin and Glasco Martin suffered a knee injury, Linwood took over in the Baylor backfield and the Sooners had no answer for him. Linwood cut his way to 182 rushing yards on 23 carries, with most of his damage coming in the second half as the Bears coasted to a 41-12 win.

Linwood followed that up with 187 yards in Baylor’s 63-34 victory over Texas Tech the next week. As a result, despite being Baylor’s third-team tailback, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing and averaged 6.88 yards per carry, second in the league only to Seastrunk.

With Seastrunk and Martin gone for good, Linwood will be the featured back, and he has the talent and skill to put up huge numbers over an entire season.

Leaving: Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro

The replacement: Jakeem Grant

There was no player like Amaro in college football this season. The unanimous All-American had 106 catches for 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns. He was too fast for linebackers; too strong for defensive backs.

The Red Raiders obviously don’t have anyone resembling Amaro’s skill set on their roster. But they do have an inside receiver in Grant who has the talent to replace some of that production.

As a sophomore this season, Grant hauled in 65 passes for 796 yards and seven touchdowns. The 5-foot-6, 160-pound dynamo was also fifth in the Big 12 in plays of 20 yards or more.

Due to some immaturity, Grant was benched for Texas Tech’s regular-season finale against Texas. But he got coach Kliff Kingsbury’s message and responded with 125 all-purpose yards, including six receptions for 89 yards and two touchdowns, in the Red Raiders’ 37-23 upset of Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl.

Grant probably won’t be able to replicate what Amaro accomplished this season. But his unique quickness and speed could make Grant one of the best playmakers in the Big 12 in 2014.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl preview

January, 1, 2014
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Baylor and Central Florida both opened the season outside the top 25, but that doesn’t mean much now. Both programs earned their first BCS bowl bids, and while Wednesday night's Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) matchup may not have the same box-office cachet as some of the other big bowls, it’s an intriguing matchup. Here’s why:

Who to watch: There might not be a better quarterback matchup in any bowl game this season. Baylor’s Bryce Petty is a big-play artist. He ranks second nationally in yards per attempt (10.8) and first in passing plays of 25 yards or more (46), and he leads all AQ-conference quarterbacks in both completions (25) and touchdowns (13) on throws of 25-plus yards. On the flip side, UCF’s Blake Bortles has rocketed up draft boards and could be a top-10 selection if he decides to enter the NFL draft. In his last seven games, he’s completing 70 percent of his passes, averaging 9.3 yards per attempt, and he has thrown 13 TDs to just four interceptions. But while the quarterbacks promise to steal the show, the running backs aren’t bad either. Both Baylor's Lache Seastrunk and UCF's Storm Johnson rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season.

What to watch: Two high-octane offenses mean the pressure will be on the defensive units to stem the tide. For Baylor, the task of slowing Johnson will be front and center. UCF figures to want to run the ball, chew up clock and keep Petty and the Bears’ offense off the field. Baylor led the Big 12, allowing just 3.26 yards per rush this season. Meanwhile, UCF will need to find any way to slow the Bears’ big-play, quick-strike attack. Baylor’s 76 touchdown drives this season averaged just 1:31 in possession time, with 57 of them lasting less than two minutes. UCF’s defense, led by linebacker Terrance Plummer (96 tackles), needs to make Baylor work for its points.

Why to watch: For a sizable portion of the country, this is the last chance to get acquainted with two of the best teams fans likely haven’t seen often this year. UCF opened the season in Louisville’s shadow in the AAC, but Bortles could be playing on Sundays next year. Meanwhile, Art Briles has created one of the most exciting offenses in college football at Baylor. It might be the first BCS bids for both schools, but there is no shortage of star power and explosiveness on their rosters.

Prediction: Baylor 35, UCF 27. The Knights are a more talented team than they’ve gotten credit for, but in the end, Baylor’s offense has too much firepower.

Ten reasons Baylor wins Fiesta Bowl

January, 1, 2014
Jan 1
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A near-perfect 2013 season can get even better for No. 6 Baylor with a victory over No. 15 UCF in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Here are 10 reasons why the champions of the Big 12 will pick up their first-ever BCS bowl victory on Jan. 1.

[+] EnlargePetty
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesWhen Bryce Petty gets in a rhythm, Baylor can put up points faster than anyone in the nation.
1. Bryce Petty in rhythm: The Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year is as efficient a passer as you’ll find nationally. He averaged 10.8 yards per attempt and an FBS-best 17.4 yards per completion, and he’s capable of spreading it around to an awful lot of options. He’s had some struggles when pressure throws off his timing, but good luck keeping up with this offense when Petty gets rolling.

2. They’ll strike first: Baylor’s strongest quarter this season has consistently been its first. The Bears put up 201 points in the first quarter in 2013, including 21-plus in half of their ballgames. UCF, to its credit, has allowed just 30 total first-quarter points. But will the Knights be ready for an offense this loaded?

3. Lache Seastrunk is back: Few things get Petty more comfortable and in the zone than when defenses can’t keep up with Baylor’s run-pass versatility. Seastrunk surpassed 100 yards in six of his first seven games before being slowed by a groin injury. He’s healthy and should get plenty of totes to get the Bears attack started.

4. They’ll stop the run: It’s a big night for the Baylor linebackers, who are already missing one of their leaders in the injured Bryce Hager. The only team that knocked off the Knights, South Carolina, held Storm Johnson to 64 rushing yards on 16 carries. Baylor has a top-25 run defense nationally and has given up 200-plus yards on the ground just once.

5. Turnover margin: Petty won’t make many mistakes, and because of that the Bears had a plus-11 turnover margin in 2013. In his first season as the starter, Petty finished with a TD-to-INT ratio of 30-to-2. On defense, 11 different Bears defenders nabbed interceptions on the year. Blake Bortles better be careful, because those takeaways can come from anyone.

6. Defending the big play: You know defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has preached one obvious fix in the past few weeks: Baylor can not give up big plays. Oklahoma State knocked off the Bears thanks to 10 pass plays of 20-plus yards, and the talented Bortles will test this secondary plenty. Given how much time they’ve had to clean up those mistakes and communication errors, expect fewer busts and one-on-one beats.

7. Gone in 60 seconds: This one probably shouldn’t be as low as No. 7, because it can’t be ignored. Baylor has scored 26 touchdowns on drives of one minute or less and has found the end zone 57 times in under 2:00. A strong start from UCF can unravel very quickly if Petty and Co. can hit those big plays.

8. Reese going deep: And here’s where Petty is going with those bombs. Can the Knights’ defensive backs keep up with Tevin Reese? Art Briles says Reese is looking fresh, fast and ready to go after a broken wrist sidelined him for Baylor’s final five games. He has 25 receptions of 40-plus yards in his career and is ready to nab a few more in his final game.

9. Don’t sleep on this D-line: When Briles says Baylor finally has Big 12 depth, he especially means it along this defensive line. Ends Chris McAllister, Terrance Lloyd, Jamal Palmer and Shawn Oakman combined for 37 tackles for loss, and the Bears like to rotate in several defensive tackles. They’ll stay fresh and cause some trouble.

10. What this game means: Throw out all the matchup talk and how this game looks on paper and appreciate for a moment what this game means for Baylor. It’s the cherry on top of a dream season, a chance for a 12th victory for a program that had never won 11 in its history. An opportunity for a BCS bowl victory, a top-five finish and incalculable momentum to kickstart a 2014 year that could be very good to the Bears. It’s not the national title game, but this Fiesta Bowl means an awful lot to Baylor no matter the foe.


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].”

Big 12 bowl players to watch

December, 19, 2013
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Here are five key players to watch from the Big 12 this bowl season:

Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert

AT&T Cotton Bowl vs. Missouri

[+] EnlargeSaunders
Richard Rowe/USA TODAY SportsJalen Saunders' big-play ability will be much needed against Alabama.
The Jim Thorpe Award finalist and consensus All-American will be matched up against one of the rising pass-catching stars in college football in Dorial Green-Beckham. "DGB" finished just ninth in the SEC in receiving but exploded in the SEC championship game with 144 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He also had four touchdown catches in one game earlier in the season. If Gilbert can take away Missouri’s top downfield threat, the rest of the Oklahoma State defense can zero in on stopping running back Henry Josey and pressuring quarterback James Franklin.

Gilbert has made himself quite a bit of future money by coming back to school for what has been a banner senior season. He could make even more blanketing the physical, 6-foot-6 Green-Beckham.

Oklahoma receiver/returner Jalen Saunders

Allstate Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama

In many ways, the Sooners don’t match up well with Alabama, which was on track to advance to a fourth national championship game in five seasons before a dramatic loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl.

But Oklahoma does have an X factor in Saunders, whose versatile playmaking could keep the two-touchdown underdog Sooners in the game.

In the upset victory over Oklahoma State that pushed Oklahoma into the Sugar, Saunders had a 61-yard punt return touchdown, a 37-yard reverse rush that set up another score and a game-winning, 7-yard touchdown grab in the corner of the end zone with 19 seconds remaining.

If Saunders can also pull off big plays on special teams and reel in clutch receptions, Oklahoma just might be able to hang around with the Crimson Tide.

Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl vs. Central Florida

In the summer, Seastrunk declared he was "going to win the Heisman" this season. While Seastrunk rushed for more than 1,000 yards and Baylor led the nation in offense, Seastrunk didn’t have the kind of individual season he had gunned for, due in part to a midseason groin strain.

Will that prompt Seastrunk to come back for his senior season, or will the Fiesta be his final college game? According to ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper, Seastrunk grades out somewhere around a third-round pick. The Fiesta could be a chance for Seastrunk to improve his stock.

Or it could be a chance for him to build toward a more serious Heisman campaign in 2014.

Texas Tech quarterback Michael Brewer

National University Holiday Bowl vs. Arizona State

The ongoing Texas Tech quarterback competition was reduced by one last week, when freshman Baker Mayfield elected to transfer. That could open the door for Brewer to finally regain a stranglehold on the position.

Brewer was the offseason favorite to win the job. Then, he suffered a summer back injury and, after returning to practice in October, was never able to shake off enough rust to catch up with Mayfield and Davis Webb.

These bowl practices, however, should give Brewer plenty of snaps to return to form, and if he gets the starting nod over Webb, he could take the job for good with a solid showing against Arizona State.

Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl vs. Michigan

The junior college transfer was one of the most improved players in the Big 12 from beginning to end. After struggling during the nonconference and early portion of the league schedule, Waters helped fuel K-State’s surge the second half of the season. In fact, in the Wildcats’ only loss (Oklahoma) after Oct. 12, Waters still passed for 348 yards and three touchdowns.

The Wildcats will need another big game out of Waters against Michigan. They’ll also need him to take care of the ball, too. The Wolverines have been up and down defensively, but with 17 interceptions, they feature one of the better ball-hawking defensive backfields in the country.

Five things Texas, Baylor must do to win

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
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Breaking down five things Texas and Baylor must do to emerge victorious in Waco, Texas, on Saturday. Here are the keys to the game:

Five things: No. 25 Texas Longhorns

1. Be the more physical team: This was the most important reason why Texas upset Oklahoma. It wasn’t scheme, it was attitude. That’s applicable to both sides of the ball, but it’s especially important up front with an offensive line that must get rolling to power Texas’ essential run game. As Major Applewhite put it after OU, the key was “playing you’re a** off.” The Longhorns did that against Texas Tech and need more of the same on Saturday.

2. Limit big plays: In the blowout loss at Oklahoma State, Baylor put up 453 yards on 83 plays. Half of those yards came on seven plays. The Bears gained 30-plus on just two. That’s about as good as you could’ve asked for, defensively, if you’re the Pokes. A strong defensive showing can fall apart with just a few busts, like permitting an easy 50-yarder for Antwan Goodley or joining the many who have let Lache Seastrunk dash 80 yards. Weather permitting, Texas must get a few big plays of its own from speedsters Mike Davis, Marcus Johnson and/or Daje Johnson.

3. Turnover battle: Texas is 96-6 in the Mack Brown era when it wins the turnover battle, including 5-1 this season. TCU could’ve pulled off a huge upset in Fort Worth last week if not for the fact that Baylor’s defense created three touchdowns, two on pick-sixes. The Bears were minus-3 against Oklahoma State. Considering the weather expected for this game, there’s a good chance turnovers decide this game.

4. Challenge Petty: Baylor QB Bryce Petty has been sacked 10 times in his last four games. Texas notched nine sacks in its last game. But it’s not just about takedowns. When a defense gets physical with Baylor’s receivers, Petty’s timing in the pocket can get thrown off and he starts overthrowing. If Jackson Jeffcoat plays his “spinner” role again, can he and the Texas defensive line cause problems for the All-Big 12 quarterback?

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJackson Jeffcoat and Texas' defensive front must hold up and get pressure on Baylor's Bryce Petty.
5. Hang in there: Could Texas have taken Oklahoma State four quarters if not for a pick-six in the final minute of the first half? We’ll never know. Unsatisfied with taking a 21-10 deficit into halftime, the Longhorns got greedy and it cost them. A game this big requires taking shots, but they have to be smart. Baylor can fire off a few scores quickly; it’s what this team does. How will Texas make adjustments and answer?

Five things: No. 9 Baylor Bears

1. Establish run game: Baylor leaned heavily on a now-healthy Seastrunk early last week, giving him 19 first-half carries and a career-high 24. Seastrunk, Glasco Martin and Shock Linwood need to pound the middle of a Texas front that, from an experience standpoint, is basically down to two linebackers and two defensive tackles. Keep an eye on the QB run game, too. It remains Texas’ greatest weakness as a defense, and Petty has rushed for 161 yards (excluding sacks) in his last four games.

2. Scoring explosion: In six games this season, the Bears scored at least 21 points in the first quarter. This Texas offense needs to control the tempo and would have a hard time keeping up if Baylor comes out firing and lights up the scoreboard early. But remember: Against Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU, Baylor scored a combined 20 first-quarter points. The good defenses haven’t made it easy.

3. Make McCoy beat you: It’s a phrase that has probably been uttered by every Big 12 defensive coordinator Texas has faced. And yet, the Longhorns are 7-1 in the league. McCoy has a 10-9 TD-INT ratio, which hasn’t burned him much, with the exception of a three-interception day against OSU. McCoy has had some big moments in 2013 and vows he’s a different quarterback than the gunslinger that threw four picks in Waco two years ago. Still, if Baylor can stop the run consistently and force McCoy to win the game with his arm, the Bears will like their chances.

4. Second-and-long, 3-and-out: No Big 12 team has forced more 3-and-outs than Baylor this season. Texas’ offense has the second-fewest in Big 12 play. Something’s got to give. With how heavily Texas relies on the run, getting into second-and-long and third-and-long will mean lots of advantageous situations for a banged-up Bear defense.

5. Depth needed: We talked the depth up plenty when Baylor was rolling. The injuries that have piled up and finally took a toll against Oklahoma State. The Bears gritted out a close one with TCU despite missing several starters, but once again, the second-stringers will need to step up big when called upon.
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.”

Baylor beats Horned Frogs for Briles

November, 30, 2013
11/30/13
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FORT WORTH, Texas -- Before Baylor's game at TCU, Bears running back Lache Seastrunk pulled his head coach to the side.

“Coach Briles, I know you lost somebody,” Seastrunk told him. “But you’ve gained 99 of us.”

On Wednesday, Art Briles lost his brother, Eddie, who died unexpectedly from a head injury after falling in the bathroom of his home.

On Saturday, Briles’ football family gave him a win to ease the pain of that loss, if only for a little bit.

Keeping their Big 12 title and BCS bowl aspirations alive, the ninth-ranked Bears (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) held on to defeat TCU 41-38 at Amon G. Carter Stadium in a thriller that came down to the final seconds.

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
MCT via Getty ImagesCoach Art Briles' Baylor team didn't play its best game against TCU but still came out on top.
After falling behind 34-17 on a pair of Baylor defensive touchdowns, the Horned Frogs made a furious comeback and drove into field goal range with a chance to tie. But with 18 seconds to go, TCU went for the win, and quarterback Casey Pachall’s pass toward the end zone was tipped, then intercepted by Terrell Burt, sealing the victory.

“That just showed we're a tough football team,” said Briles, who declined to speak directly about his brother, but spent time outside the locker room emotionally hugging players, boosters and administrators. “You want to be in a room full of fighters and believers, and that’s what we have.”

This week required some fight from the Bears.

They suffered their first loss of the season last weekend, as Oklahoma State emphatically bounced them from the national title picture with a 49-17 victory in Stillwater.

Four days later, Eddie -- a nurse in Haskell, Texas, and Briles’ only sibling -- passed away, leaving behind a wife and two children.

Eddie actually appeared in a "College GameDay" feature last weekend, and spoke to ESPN.com for a feature story on his younger brother earlier this month. Their parents, Dennis and Wanda Briles, and their aunt, Elsie "Tottie" Kittley, died in a car accident while traveling to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas to watch Art play for the University of Houston on Oct. 16, 1976.

“(Winning for Coach Briles) was the emphasis of the week for sure,” Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty said. “Every guy in that locker room loves him like their own dad. It hurts you to see him hurt. I think this win was huge for him and that’s what we wanted to do.”

The win didn’t come easily.

TCU (4-8, 2-7), without enough wins to have a chance of qualifying for a bowl, turned Baylor into its de facto bowl game.

Due to an array of injuries and suspensions, the Horned Frogs had struggled offensively all season. But with an extra week to prepare, they saved their best performance for last. The Horned Frogs outgained the nation’s top statistical offense by 40 yards. Yet, after a flurry of turnovers, they found themselves still trailing Baylor 34-17 early in the third quarter.

Over the course of four possessions, TCU fumbled at its own 1-yard line, then Pachall threw two interceptions that Orion Stewart and Eddie Lackey returned for touchdowns.

"I made quite a few mistakes that cost us the ball game,” Pachall said. “I gave them 14 points, just handed it over on a platter."

But TCU didn't go down without a fight, either.

And the turning point came on its following possession. Baylor senior captain and safety Ahmad Dixon was ejected for a targeting penalty on Horned Frogs wide receiver Trevone Boykin, seemingly igniting a heated exchange between Briles and TCU coach Gary Patterson on the field.

Briles avoided addressing the exchange after the game. But Patterson didn't.

“To come across the field to me. ... He's picking on the wrong guy,” said Patterson, who didn't refer to Briles by name. “You're not going to come across to me. You can go correct your player, not me.

"If that's what class is, then I don't want to be it."

The penalty ultimately ignited the Horned Frogs, too. TCU scored touchdowns on its next two possessions, thanks to a Pachall 4-yard touchdown scamper, then a 16-yard scoring toss to Josh Doctson at the back of the end zone.

After Petty found Levi Norwood for a touchdown, TCU came right back again with Pachall’s touchdown strike to David Porter, trimming the deficit to 41-38.

The Horned Frogs got the ball back again with 1 minute, 23 seconds remaining and moved the ball all the way to the Bears’ 23. But two plays later, Pachall’s attempt to Brandon Carter was tipped away by Baylor nickelback Sam Holl, and into the arms of Burt in the end zone.

“This win really showed the character of this team,” Holl said. “We were all playing for Coach Briles. He’s family. He’s going through a rough time right now.

“So we really wanted to get this one for him.”
Baylor Graphic ESPN Stats & InfoBaylor's offense was a buzzsaw until it ran into Oklahoma State last week.

In 2011, Oklahoma State entered late November undefeated with a shot at the national title. Then, the Cowboys suffered their first loss after an inexplicable performance at Iowa State, knocking them out of the national championship race.

Two years later, Baylor finds itself in similar waters after getting decimated by many of those same Cowboys over the weekend. The Bears are also hoping they can respond the very same way those Cowboys did two years ago.

“We hit a bump in the road,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “But shoot, we’ve still got a lot of things out there.”

Baylor went into Stillwater, Okla., with a chance to climb as high as third in the BCS standings. But after quarterback Bryce Petty tripped at the Oklahoma State 1-yard line in the first quarter and running back Shock Linwood fumbled two plays later, the Bears were never the same. The Cowboys jumped to a 35-3 lead before coasting to a 49-17 victory, handing Baylor its first loss of the season in emphatic fashion.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsBryce Petty and Baylor still have a lot to play for in their final two regular-season games.
“[Sunday] we had a pretty tough time, because we knew how close we were, as far as postseason stuff,” Petty said. “At the same time, this is a mature team. We have to put that stuff in the rearview mirror now. We can’t let it affect us here these last two games.”

This Saturday, the Bears travel to TCU before playing the final game at Floyd Casey Stadium on Dec. 7 against Texas. The Bears will be heavy favorites in both games. But they’ll also have to play better than they did in Stillwater.

Baylor allowed Oklahoma State’s offense to average more than eight yards per play, almost double what the Bears had surrendered in any game this season.

The Baylor offense, which entered averaging a national-best 61 points per game, couldn’t get the ground game rolling or complete passes against man coverage downfield -- its two calling cards all season. Injuries to running backs Lache Seastrunk (groin) and Glasco Martin (knee), left tackle Spencer Drango (back) and wideout Tevin Reese (wrist) finally took their toll as the Oklahoma State defense completely shut down the Bears for three quarters.

“We lost badly. Tremendously,” said guard Cyril Richardson, who was named an Outland Trophy finalist Monday. “There weren’t too many positives in that game. We just have to learn from the experience and come back stronger from it.”

Nobody knew how Oklahoma State would come back after that stunning defeat at Ames two seasons ago. But instead of allowing Iowa State to beat them twice, the Cowboys bounced back with their finest performance of the season, routing No. 14 Oklahoma 44-10 to clinch the school’s first Big 12 title and first BCS bowl berth.

Like the Cowboys did, Baylor still has a lot of things out there, as Briles put it.

“If we finish with just one loss, in three weeks no one will care about it,” Petty said. “We still have a lot to play for. That’s how we have to treat it.”

The Bears could still earn a share of their first Big 12 title, or even win it outright if the Sooners can upset Oklahoma State in two weeks. The Bears could also still advance to their first BCS bowl game.

But at the worst, Baylor could set a school record for victory in a season, go to its first Cotton Bowl in 32 years and finish in the top 10 of the polls for the first time since 1951.

“We’re fine; we really are,” Briles said. “I mean, what choice do you have? My goodness, we played a good football team, and they made the plays when they needed to make them. It’s happened to a lot of people at a lot of different times.

"To me it’s a great chance to show our resolve, our toughness and where our direction is.”

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.

Baylor using all of its increased depth

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
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WACO, Texas -- Art Briles has been saying it for nearly a year. After what his No. 4 Baylor team has endured this season, he definitely believes it too.

“We finally have Big 12-quality depth,” said Briles once more after the Bears’ 41-12 win over Oklahoma on Nov. 7.

In the two weeks since that game, he’s needed all that depth to come through in a big way. Briles is proud of the fact his 9-0 Bears don’t lean on any one person to succeed, and they’ve needed plenty of reserves to step up recently.

The Bears lost top deep threat Tevin Reese for the season to a dislocated wrist. Running backs Lache Seastrunk (groin) and Glasco Martin (knee) also went down against the Sooners and haven’t played since.

[+] EnlargeShock Linwood
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThird-string running back Shock Linwood starred against Texas Tech, rushing for 187 yards and a touchdown.
Like the rushing duo, linebacker Bryce Hager is questionable for this week’s huge test at No. 10 Oklahoma State with a groin injury. Left tackle Spencer Drango had back surgery on Tuesday and is out indefinitely.

It’s November. The guys that are practicing and playing are banged up, too. And Briles’ confidence in just how deep these Bears are is being put to the test.

“I wish we weren’t having to prove it,” Briles said. “You hate to see anybody give so much time and effort and soul to a situation and then not be able to carry on.”

And yet, Baylor keeps plugging in new parts and thriving.

Levi Norwood replaced Reese and scored three touchdowns against Texas Tech. Redshirt freshmen Shock Linwood and Devin Chafin filled in at running back and each went for 100-plus yards. Another freshman, Aiavion Edwards, took over for Hager.

“The only thing that’s changed is the name and the number,” senior safety Ahmad Dixon said. “Guys are still running the ball as if Lache was there. Guys are still catching the ball as if Tevin was there.”

And those are just the obvious spots, where injury created opportunity. How’s this for depth: Defensive end Shawn Oakman leads the team with 12 tackles for loss and isn’t even a starter. Fellow backup Jamal Palmer is second on the team in sacks.

True freshmen Byron Bonds and Andrew Billings are getting major minutes at defensive tackle and succeeding. The Bears’ No. 3 cornerback, Joe Williams, has 22 career starts.

Baylor has been stockpiling talent like this for years in preparation for a season like this.

“It is critical. It’s something our staff and everybody has done a great job recruiting to fill needs,” Briles said. “That’s the first thing you look at, what needs do we need to fill? We’ve been fortunate up to this point. I don’t think you ever get to where you want to get, but we do have guys that can play on our roster.”

The development of that Big 12-caliber depth begins with recruiting, but getting them to Waco was just the first step. Bears players say they wouldn’t be ready to play whenever needed if not for strength coach Kaz Kazadi.

“We rely on Coach Kaz a lot,” Chafin said. “Coach Kaz is our base and foundation. He has us ready physically.”

Kazadi has been part of the Briles regime from day one and is renowned for his intensity and passion. Players say his offseason regimen is especially challenging. And borderline crazy.

Dixon offers this example: Kazadi tinkers with the atmosphere of his workouts every day. He’ll crank the temperatures to hot one day and cold the next. Blast rap music one day, old-school reggae the next and the Baylor fight song the next, never at the same volume. He’s trying to create chaos by any means necessary.

“He puts us in difficult situations, weird situations,” Dixon said. “I mean, you sit there and you hear the fight song over and over, doing drills in the indoor during offseason. He’s doing everything possible to try to throw our focus off.”

There’s another key reason why so many Bears are ready to ball: All those blowouts.

Only three foes have faced Baylor’s starting offense in the fourth quarter. Bryce Petty has 11 pass attempts in the fourth. Seastrunk has two carries. The rest of the snaps have gone to backups and underclassmen, and those extra reps are proving valuable now.

Going into the Oklahoma game, Linwood and Chafin had a combined 86 carries. The third- and fourth-quarter snaps they shared early in the year brought needed experience.

“Us young people still have a lot to learn, but for us to step in at a big level like that just shows us how to prepare ourselves and all the depth we have,” Linwood said.

Dixon can spot that depth and development every day on the practice field. The amount of talent on the Bears’ roster has come a long way since he was a freshman. It’s going to take a lot more than the best 22 to sustain this Big 12 championship run.

“That depth, that offseason, all of that work with Coach Kaz has helped us,” Dixon said. “We’re starting to turn elite."

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 13

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
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Four Big 12 teams are on byes this weekend, but there is no shortage of storylines in Week 13:

1. Who’s the king of the conference? The Big 12 title race won’t officially be over after this weekend’s big showdown, but by the end of Saturday we should know whether Baylor or Oklahoma State is the conference’s top team. If the Bears win, they’re one big step closer to being No. 3 in the polls and fighting for a spot in the national title game. Oklahoma State sets up a three-way tie at the top of the Big 12 standings with a home victory, and then things get messy and crazy. But the Cowboys would assert themselves as the best of the bunch with that upset.

[+] EnlargeClint Chelf
William Purnell/Icon SMIClint Chelf and No. 10 Oklahoma State are out to prove that they are the Big 12's best team when they host No. 4 Baylor on Saturday night.
2. Can OSU go four quarters? Of all the nine teams the Bears have defeated this season, only Kansas State has taken them deep into the fourth quarter. That was a 35-25 game on the road. Baylor’s average margin of victory in its eight other games has been 48 points. The Cowboys have enough talent in all three phases to challenge Baylor, but can they keep this game close entering the fourth and survive late?

3. Winning the battle of the injury report: Baylor doesn’t know if running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin will be available to play Oklahoma State. Top Bears linebacker Bryce Hager could be out, too. And the Cowboys need top playmaker Josh Stewart back on the field after he missed the win over Texas. Cornerback Justin Gilbert got banged up against Texas but has said he won’t miss Baylor. Don’t expect Mike Gundy or Art Briles to tip their hands until kickoff.

4. Baylor tries to break Stillwater curse: The last time Baylor defeated Oklahoma State in Stillwater was 1939. Since 1994, the Cowboys are 9-0 at home against Baylor and 6-3 in Waco. There’s no obvious reason for the Bears’ longtime futility at Boone Pickens Stadium other than, you know, that BU used to be the cellar dweller of the Big 12. But they have a chance to end that slump on Saturday.

5. Kansas State: Big 12’s fourth-best team? The Wildcats are on quite a hot streak after starting 2-4 on the year. K-State has won four in a row, clinched bowl eligibility last weekend with a win over TCU and has a chance to land a signature win in the home finale against No. 20 Oklahoma. Beat the Sooners head-to-head and KSU can finish 6-3 in league play and as high as fourth place in the Big 12.

6. Trevor Knight time: Or maybe Blake Bell will start. Or it could be Kendal Thompson, which evidently would make a lot of Sooners fans happy. If the Iowa State game is any indication, we could see two or all three make appearances against Kansas State. No matter what, OU needs to find a solution to its QB carousel before the team travels to Oklahoma State on Dec. 7. This is the last chance for an in-game audition.

7. Jayhawks going for two: Kansas went more than 1,100 days between Big 12 victories. Might this program have to wait only seven days for its next one? KU knocked off West Virginia with a heavy commitment to the James Sims-powered run game and has been playing foes much closer than Iowa State has in Big 12 play. This is a big chance for the Jayhawks to notch their first road win since 2009.

8. Iowa State just wants a W: Iowa State remains winless in Big 12 play, and since knocking off Baylor 35-21 last October, ISU has won two of its last 15 games. Cyclones fans are ready for this brutal 1-9 season to end. The home finale against Kansas is as good a chance as any to at least get one win and send the program’s seniors off on a good note.

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