EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the 13th in a series of previews on West Virginia and Marshall football opponents.
Date with WVU: Saturday, Oct. 18, time TBA
Site: Mountaineer Field (60,000, FieldTurf), Morgantown
Series: Tied at 1-1
Last meeting: Baylor defeated WVU, 73-42, on Oct. 5, 2013 at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco, Texas
Coach: Art Briles (7th year, 44-32; 12th year overall, 78-60)
Checking them out
It seems almost criminal what Baylor returns on offense this season. Is it really fair that a team that averaged more than 50 points and 600 yards of total offense has a senior quarterback whose TD-to-pick ratio was almost 11-1, four of the top five receivers and a tailback who averaged nearly seven yards per carry?
Of course it’s not. But get used to it. If Art Briles has proven nothing else over the course of the last few years it is that he has the ability to attract top-notch skill-position players to Waco and he knows how to use them. The question is whether or not the Bears can put enough talent around those offensive skill players — on both sides of the ball — to avoid losing 70-63 shootouts like the one in Morgantown two years ago.
Last year Briles did just that and it resulted in Baylor’s first outright conference title in 33 years. But this year the Bears have those same questions. The offensive line has to be largely rebuilt and the defense is a huge question mark beyond a deep front four. How those units come together will determine if Baylor is in the 8-1 area of league play like last year or the 4-5 of the year before.
The only real issue on offense is that line, but it’s a big issue. Tackle Spencer Drango is as good as there is in the league, but he’s coming off of back surgery. Cyril Richardson is gone, along with two other starters, and depth was never good there to start with.
If the line is even adequate, though, quarterback Bryce Petty (4,200 yards, 32 TDs, 3 interceptions) is the preseason player of the year in the league, Antwan Goodley and Levi Norwood lead a receiving corps that is already deep and adds two freshmen phenoms, and Shock Linwood stepped in last year as a freshman while both Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were hurt and ran for almost 900 yards.
As good as the offense was last year, though, it was the defense that made the difference for Baylor. It wasn’t statistically great, but it allowed the Bears to largely avoid those shootouts. But while skill is abundant on offense, it’s untested on defense. The line is terrific, as is linebacker Bryce Hager, but most of the playmakers on the back end and around Hager are missing.
Offense: QB Bryce Petty, WR Antwan Goodley, WR Levi Norwood, RB Shock Linwood, OT Spencer Drango
Defense: LB Bryce Hager, DL Shawn Oakman, NG Andrew Billings, DE Jamal Palmer
Special teams: PR Levi Norwood, P Spencer Roth
Special teams could be a concern for Baylor because the Bears are either really good or really bad there. Punter Spence Roth averaged almost 46 yards and Norwood and Corey Coleman are terrific returners, but coverage is a big issue. … Baylor’s schedule is a double-edged sword. The non-conference is weak and the slate is largely back-loaded, which could mean another great start. But if the Bears are somehow good enough to be in the playoff discussion, that non-league schedule won’t help their argument. … The winning team in the two WVU-Baylor games in Big 12 play has averaged 71.5 points. The winning score in the four basketball games between the teams over the same period is higher, but not by much — 74.8 points.
Date Opponent 2013
Aug. 31 SMU (Sun.) DNP
Sept. 6 Northwestern State DNP
Sept. 12 at Buffalo (Fri.) W 70-13
Sept. 20 Open
Sept. 27 at Iowa State* W 71-7
Oct. 4 at Texas* W 30-10
Oct. 11 TCU W 41-38
Oct. 18 at West Virginia* W 73-42
Oct. 25 Open
Nov. 1 Kansas* W 59-14
Nov. 8 at Oklahoma W 41-12
Nov. 15 Open
Nov. 22 Oklahoma State* L 17-49
Nov. 29 vs. Texas Tech* (Arlington) W 63-34
Dec. 6 Kansas State* W 35-25
* Big 12 Conference games
n 2013 record: 11-2 overall, 8-1 Big 12 (lost 42-52 to Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl)
n Dropped: Wofford (W 69-3), Louisiana-Monroe (W 70-7)