By Daniel Hill
Coming off of a third-straight bowl game appearance and second straight bowl win, Baylor football is still hungry for something more: a Big 12 Championship.
Baylor has never won a Big 12 Championship, but this season I think that will change. From top to bottom, this could be the best roster the Bears have ever fielded with head coach Art Briles at the helm.
Everyone knows Robert Griffin III, the program’s first Heisman Memorial Trophy winner.
Last year Balyor fans were skeptical about how Nick Florence could replace RG3, then Florence set a school-record for passing yards in a season with 4,309 yards through the air.
This season, junior quarterback Bryce Petty will be the next talented athlete to takeover behind center for the Bears.
Petty is wildly athletic and has a huge frame at 6 feet 3 inches tall and 230 pounds. He has a powerful arm and is mature after learning behind RG3 and Florence.
Petty has been patiently awaiting his turn to be the starting quarterback, and now that he is the big man on campus, I think he’ll blossom on the gridiron this fall. Nick Florence’s school record might not be safe for too long with Petty.
To help Petty out, the Bears have a strong and cohesive line of scrimmage.
Redshirt sophomore Spencer Drango returns to start at left tackle. Second-team All-American left guard Cyril Richardson is the anchor of the offensive line. Senior Kelvin Palmer is slated to start at center and senior Stefan Huber should step in at right guard. Junior Troy Baker injured his knee in spring practices, but once he is healthy he will return to solidify the right tackle position.
The left side of the offensive line will be the stronghold of the unit. Behind Drango and Richardson, junior running back Lache Seastrunk and senior running back Glasco Martin will shoulder the load of Baylor’s ground game.
Last season, Seastrunk broke the 1,000-yard rushing barrier, and Martin ran for 889 yards. The two backs were not featured in the Baylor offense until late in the season though.
Once Seastrunk and Martin started to become the unquestioned go-to backs for Baylor, the offense ignited. That’s why it’s no coincidence that the Bears won six of their last seven games.
Don’t forget the explosive group of Baylor receivers. Speedy senior receiver Tevin Reese returns after posting 957 yards receiving last season.
Talented junior receivers Levi Norwood and Antwan Goodley will both step up in the offense and make an impact in the passing game. Senior tight ends Jordan Najvar and Jerod Monk bring leadership, experience and toughness to the table.
Defensively, the Bears struggled mightily last season, but the Bears turned it around late in the season by dominating No. 1 Kansas State and by absolutely wrecking shop against UCLA in the Holiday Bowl with six sacks.
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. The Bears return seven starters to a defense that should be one of the better units in the Big 12.
Baylor football has been on an upward trajectory for the last three years. This is the season where it all comes together and Baylor wins the Big 12. Not only is Baylor rising, but the Big 12 has no clear-cut favorite this season. The title is open for a team like Baylor.
Texas is not what it once was. The Longhorns haven’t been a relevant Big 12 contender in years. Oklahoma is losing starting quarterback Landry Jones and the Sooners got crushed by Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, 41-13. Kansas State loses the face of its team in quarterback Collin Klein. West Virginia no longer has Geno Smith at quarterback or electrifying receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin.
With talent at quarterback, studs at runningback, electric receivers, a rock solid offensive line and an improved defense, 2013 will be Baylor’s year on the gridiron in the Big 12.
With head coach Art Briles, Baylor won four games in 2009, seven in 2010, ten in 2011 and eight in 2012.
This coming season is where Baylor will make it to the mountaintop and take the Big 12 throne.
With the rest of the Big 12 taking a step down, it’s time for the Bears to step up, seize the moment and win the first ever Big 12 championship in Baylor football history.