Four scores and seven points ago, Baylor only had 30 points...no, that's not right.
Friends, Wacoans, BEARS, lend me your ears, I come to bury Guy Morris...no, let's stay off that rabbit trail. Ok, here we go.
We hold these truths to be self-evident that not all college football beliefs are created equal. Some are the highly purified truths that have been tested by stats and time alike. Some simply suck.
At the start of this 2013 football season, I wanted to take some time to write down some of my core college football beliefs in order for the newer members of our community to catch up and so that I can easily refer back to this at a later date. Without further ado...
1. In Art Briles I Trust.
This one is obvious, but the ramifications can be further reaching than many realize. There are few programs in the country that would uninterested in hiring Art Briles to run their offense, but the trust that I, and ODB, has in Art Briles goes beyond that. It means that I trust his play calling despite, at times, hating how much it can rely on passes behind the line of scrimmage. It means that I trust his willingness to spread the field in multi-WR sets when up multiple scores, to keep a flexible TE on the field, or to decide to run the football repeatedly despite being down multiple touchdowns. This means that I give him the benefit of the doubt in recruiting and scouting over the scouting websites.
It does not mean that I always agree with Art Briles. But given how much he's done for this program and the greater access to information that he has, I think that we should all be careful in our critiques. There are a few important exceptions to this, but, hey, exceptions make the rule, right? We'll cover those at a later date.
2. Experience matters.
Again, this seems obvious, but it's amazing how quickly we forget this. Lache was a phenomenal talent heading into the 2012 season, but there were important reasons why backs who were less talented than Lache kept starting ahead of him. From the outside, we care about production and highlight reel plays. But knowing how to call out blocking assignments, how to chip and release, and when to take the 2 yard short gain are also integral parts of being a successful running back. Lache is a Heisman candidate now because of the experience he had last year.
What does this mean for the 2013 Baylor Bears?
The Good: Baylor secondary, linebackers and defensive ends. Baylor returns more talent and experience at these positions than at any time in the Art Briles Era. The defense that showed flashes of potential amidst putrid early conference performances was able to put that together down the stretch. I expect a significantly smaller learning curve as most of these players return.
The Bad: The 2013 UberProspects. Art Briles had glowing things to say about Robbie Rhodes and Andrew Billings, especially regarding their potential to earn early playing time. That they have the possibility of beating out upperclassmen tells you their promise; however, don't forget how steep the adjustment is from high school to college. In light of this, it's best to temper expectations for these players. The hope is that they get enough playing time to set themselves up as next year's Lache Seastrunk. For the first half of the year, you should probably include players like Javonte Magee here.
The Unknown: QB Bryce Petty. On the one hand, he hasn't started a game for Baylor. On the other hand, he's been in Waco for 4 years and has likely mastered the system as well as anybody can...who has never started games. It's important to factor this relative lack of experience into projections - Bryce Petty is almost certain to have at least one or two bad games. It's possible that there will be more than one or two.
3. Pace informs everything that happens at Baylor.
Like any other sport, college football discussion involves the use of numbers and statistics. However, unlike many other sports, the shortened schedule and the distribution of talent means that vastly different schemes can render the basic counting statistics that are most frequently used incomplete, foolish, or inept.
Many people expect improvements from Baylor's defense this year. Realize that while there is much room to improve, Baylor could get dramatically better on defense and still look like a below average defense by traditional metrics. If your evaluation of defense relies on stats like points allowed, completion percentage allowed and time of possession, Baylor may never rate well under Art Briles. However, if you consider the more advanced pace-adjusted stats, you will get a better picture of the performance of the Baylor defense in a conference that has regularly placed more than half of it's members in the top 25 teams by pace. In the past, Phil Bennett has gone one step further and played passive schemes that allow teams to move the ball with the hope of creating more turnovers and preventing points in a bend-but-don't-break(too often) approach. Hopefully, the increase in talent allows him to play a bit more aggressively - like we saw against UCLA.
One last corollary/tangent regarding Rule No. 3. Simply going fast on offense is not desirable, despite what our neighbors to the south may have you believe. While this could be a way to boost your point totals and counting stats, if you don't have an efficient offense to pair with your high speed offense, you're left with a worse product that is going to lose you games. Baylor's offense doesn't just grade out well by counting stats, it rates amongst the best (or the very best) by the advanced metrics as well. One of the major reasons for this is that the system that Art Briles employs is one that nurtures and develops the ability of quarterbacks to quickly decide between a set number of options.
The University of Texas is returning loads of impressive, experienced talent. The problem is that they're changing systems to a very QB-dependent one, and the QB they employ has never inspired lots of confidence from me. Perhaps his experience outweighs his previous mediocre performance, but I'll remain skeptical about their plan until he actually proves it.
Next week: Part 2!