By Daniel Hill
To put it lightly, when Baylor football first went to the Texas Bowl in 2010, it was a big deal. It marked Baylor’s first bowl game appearance since 1994. Baylor nation was happy just to go to a bowl game, never mind actually winning it. But times have changed in Waco. The Bears have won two straight bowl games with the Alamo Bowl against Washington in 2011 and the Holiday Bowl versus UCLA in 2012.
Going to a bowl game is officially an expectation now and winning that bowl game is a must. Baylor put on a dazzling performance in San Diego during the bowl season by shellacking the UCLA Bruins 49-26.
Senior quarterback Nick Florence made his final game in the Baylor green and gold a memorable one by rushing for 37 yards and a touchdown and by completing 10 of 13 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns.
Sophomore running back Lache Seastrunk and junior running back Glasco Martin ran behind Baylor’s supremely talented offensive line to combine for 236 yards and four touchdowns.
Next year Seastrunk and Martin will return to lead the Bears’ rushing attack. Seastrunk had a breakthrough finish to the season by rushing for more than 100 yards in the five of the last six games of the season.
He asserted himself as the featured running threat in the Baylor backfield. Whenever Seastrunk received double-digit carries, he proved to be a lethal difference maker.
In the last four games of the year, his lowest rushing total was an astounding 136 yards against Texas Tech. Seastrunk had an electrifying average of 7.7 yards per carry for the entire season. With Seastrunk being more prominently featured in next year’s rushing attack, look for him to topple his season mark of 1,012 yards that he posted this past season.
While running backs typically receive all of the glory, they can’t go anywhere without a solid offensive line.
Baylor’s offensive line was stocked with elite talent and experience this season and that shouldn’t change much heading into next year. Much of the offensive line also returns as the Bears only lose two starters in center Ivory Wade and guard Cameron Kaufhold.
Cyril Richardson is a highly valued NFL offensive line prospect and it looks as of now, that he will be returning to Baylor next year instead of declaring for the NFL.
Starting tackles Troy Baker and Spencer Drango both return with a year of experience under their belts. Baylor will lose two talented wide receivers in Terrance Williams and Lanear Sampson. Thankfully, the Bears are still loaded at receiver with senior Tevin Reese, juniors Levi Norwood and Antwan Goodley.
Both Norwood and Goodley are versatile receivers with immense potential. Much of the offense remains intact, except for the obvious task of replacing starting Florence.
The early favorite to replace Florence would be junior quarterback Bryce Petty.
Petty is an athletic quarterback with a big frame and a strong arm. He was a highly sought-after high school prospect from Midlothian who had offers from Arkansas, Nebraska, Tennessee and Virginia Tech.
With Baylor’s successful offensive schemes and a talented offensive line, playmakers at running back and game-breakers at receiver, Petty or whoever the quarterback is, should be in a position to succeed next fall.
During the first half of the season, the Bears’ Achilles heel was the atrocious play of the defense. During the latter half of the season, the Baylor defense started to perform at an extremely high level.
The defense had a coming out party against No. 1 ranked Kansas State in which they had three interceptions and held the Wildcats to under 100 yards rushing as a team. Baylor made the sure tackles and intimidated the Kansas State offense, including then Heisman front-runner Collin Klein.
The Kansas State game single-handedly shifted the momentum of the Baylor season.
After that upset win over the top-ranked team in the country, the Bears went gangbusters and won all three of its remaining games—including two over ranked opponents in Oklahoma State and UCLA.
The Bears’ defense should continue to build upon its late season 2012 successes to lead into 2013. Key returning defensive members are senior safety Ahmad Dixon, senior safety Sam Holl, senior defensive end Chris McAllister, senior defensive end Terrence Lloyd, junior linebacker Bryce Hager and senior linebacker Eddie Lackey.
Defensively, the Bears should also get a boost of the addition of Penn State transfer Shawn Oakman. The junior defensive end will be eligible for the 2013 season after sitting out the 2012 season due to NCAA transfer rules.
If the defense can keep the momentum from the 2012 season and improve over the offseason, the collective wealth of experience should lend itself to a stout Baylor defense in the fall.
Robert Griffin III led Baylor to new heights and Nick Florence followed. Both greatly helped the ascension of Baylor football.
The foundation has been laid for this current Baylor football team to accomplish something that both Griffin and Florence could not—win a Big 12 championship.