Baylor and the Brazos: It Begins

Wideout Levi Norwood and safety Orion Stewart answer questions before they take on SMU - Andrew Miner

Along I-35, there is a river. Over 1,200 miles long, the majority of the vast waterway oozes through the heart of Texas. It does so peacefully, adding to the scenic, watercolor picture of the Texan geography. For a subtropical climate, the waters are muddied, and the icy surface greeted occupants with a freezing blanket of hidden waves.

Until recently, the most important thing about the Brazos River was its service as a landmark for 42 million annual travelers down the Texas interstate.

Baylor embarks on their quest for consecutive conference championships as they take on the SMU Mustangs. Quarterback Bryce Petty returns to lead his under-the-radar Bears to the promise land once again. He brings a full-fledged army of carnivorous Tasmanian devils at the skill positions, and beefy bodyguards that litter the offensive and defensive lines. At the helm is their five-star general Art Briles who flanked by two superior lieutenants that run his offense and defense.

First up in Baylor’s dual championship quest is SMU; the same team that scratched the Bears from their 2013 schedule. Maybe the Ponies only delayed the inevitable 50 to 60 plus point blowout; something that Baylor did four times last year for victories of 63, 57, 63, and 64 points. Or…

Or, SMU simply bided their time until they knew that they could go toe-to-toe with the beasts of Waco if they held off an extra year. Unfortunately for the Mustangs, nobody could have envisioned the marinating of Baylor football to this extent. Yet coach June Jones fits into his own category of wizardry, hanging his hat on a 57.7 winning percentage combined during his tenure at Hawaii and SMU.[1]

But while Baylor Nation is drooling as they dream about back-to-back titles and inaugural final four appearances, they easily overlook SMU. And even though pundits critique a soft nonconference schedule, the Mustangs are no cupcake.[2] From struggling with Montana State to nearly toppling Central Florida and every American Conference nonsensical, head scratching, triple overtime game in between; SMU desperately clawed their way through 2013.

The biggest point of difference of SMU football is the aerial attack. It is not exactly a blitzkrieg operation that Baylor has been perfecting since Art Briles began his tenure. Take a look at the numbers, the Bears had 60 touchdown drives of tow minutes or less last year, which is the most for any team over the last decade.[3] Yet SMU saw their passing yards per game increase from 235.3 in 2012 to 341.4 in 2013; consequently their passing offense ranked eighth in the nation last year compared to 62nd.[4]

There was a saying about coach Jones, a former QB himself, when he was in Hawaii: ‘June would throw.’ SMU is going to throw all day against Baylor and pray that they can force a few turnovers and field goals as well as pile up points on a weak secondary.

Other than the linebackers, the secondary is one of Baylor defense’s main concerns. Youth is the concern. They are green as turf. Plus they are challenged with the expectation of replacing Ahmad Dixon, K.J. Morton, Joe Williams, and Demetri Goodson. Redshirt sophomore, and six foot two, 200-pound safety, Orion Stewart addressed these concerns during an on-campus ‘Chalk Talk.’

Dixon and company "were playmakers and ballers last year, and our secondary can be better this year than last year" stated Stewart. "SMU is a better team than people think" Stewart reiterating when asked about the Jones’ frenzied passing style, "They are going to throw it around a lot, but we’re more athletic at every position from our cornerbacks to our safeties."

SMU has an opportunity to be a highly efficient offensive team, while Baylor is an offensive juggernaut. The two teams juxtaposed on the same field my result in something similar to the 59-24 Baylor victory in 2012.[5] It could be more in Baylor’s favor, or SMU could provide a heart-stopping scare. One thing is certain, Waco will be buzzing on Gamedays forevermore.

Along I-35, there is a stadium. Overtaking 93 acres, it acts as an extension of the campus that it dwarfs; a shaded porch with the Brazos as its backyard swimming pool. The resurrection of on-campus football after six decades resulted in a $266 million dollar facility laced in neon lighting, surround sound, and twenty-second century technology to accompany overwhelming cinematography.

The stadium accents the river. Or does the river highlight the stadium? Does Baylor football christen McLane stadium or the other way around? Baylor sacrifices coziness and homeyness of Floyd Casey for grander and modernization; however, when the results come now, so will national respect.

The Bears are a season away from fully earning national respect. And that’s all Baylor, and the Brazos River, has ever wanted.

[1] Jones holds a career 112-82 record, 76-41 at Hawaii with two WAC titles, and 36-41 at SMU where he tied for two division titles.

[2] Remember Baylor isn’t opening with FCS Wofford – who was chosen to replaced SMU in 2013.

[3] Their average TD drive was one minute and 32 seconds.

[4] The Mustangs’ rushing attack dwindled; however, their total yards per game increased by 67.9 yards. That was good enough to jump 51 teams, and rank 41st in total offense.

[5] Nick Florence had two picks that game (and Four TDs); Petty had three total picks last year.

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