If Baylor Can Answer One Question, We Have a Complete Team

This is my first fanpost as a member of ODB. I hope enjoy it!

In this exciting time leading up to the beginning of the college football season,commentators and football fans across America ask a multitude of questions. However, there are a few basic questions that arise every single year, questions that will determine the landscape of the coming season. Of these questions, perhaps none is asked more frequently, or argued over more vociferously, than the question of being elite. It's the primary inquiry when considering the top-ranked teams, the teams with the tools necessary to go all the way. I'm not going to ask that question about Baylor, for I believe it has already been answered. The preponderance of available evidence, which prominently includes last year's performance and the return of a high number of proven players, suggests strongly that the 2015 Baylor Bears will be an elite football team. As fans and avowed Baylor homers, let us not doubt the quality of what by every indication should be a phenomenal team.

My question is as follows: "Are the 2015 Baylor Bears a complete football team?" I believe the answer is yes, IF we can answer one key question about the defense. Our offense is going to be excellent. They are as reliably good as any unit can be, and there is no indication that will change with 9 starters returning from the nation's best scoring offense.

*NOTE* I will not be addressing the prospect of injuries or penalties in this post, since both are effectively impossible to predict with any degree of accuracy. I intend to deal only with known quantities.

The Question: Can the back 7 (or 8) on the defense tackle in space?

Since I was old enough to understand the game of football, my dad told me that there was one unit on a football team that separated elite teams from champions. In his mind, that unit was the defensive line. Defensive linemen are widely regarded as the most difficult position to recruit. Truly talented defensive are relatively uncommon when compared to other positions on a football team. These top-tier recruits are typically heavily concentrated in a few dozen historically successful, premier programs. Only occasionally does an "outsider" team such as Baylor possess a stellar defensive line. This season is that occasion. We are blessed with a fantastically talented defensive line filled to capacity with athletic freaks such as Andrew Billings and Shawn Oakman, which will prove to be an incredible benefit in the coming season.

Why do I place so much emphasis on a great defensive line? Because, simply put, an experienced, talented, well-rounded defensive line such as ours can almost single-handedly deal with most offensive plays. A line that reliably prevents gaps from forming can shut down even the best rushing attacks. The most talented running backs in football can't do anything if they lack room to maneuver. On top of that, an excellent pass rush can severely limit the medium-to-long passing game. A few particularly mobile quarterbacks (as much as it pains me to admit it, think Johnny Manziel) are capable of negating this advantage to a certain extent. However, even other elite teams frequently lack a quarterback that can reliably escape pressure while also create plays that result in positive yards. This means that only one type of offensive attack remains relatively unaffected by defensive line play: the short passing game (barring the occasional swatted pass, of course).

Teams that rely on short passes can, if precise in their execution, deal with the threat of a dominant defensive line by simply bypassing it. Numerous Big 12 offenses (now that Oklahoma has Lincoln Riley at the head of their offense, all of our main competition) heavily incorporate fast-paced, Air Raid-style short passes in their schemes. Combined with excellent quarterback and receiver play, for which the Big 12 is well-known, this results in chunks of yardage being gained quickly. The defensive line, no matter how talented, never really comes into play in such a scheme. Hence, my concern with our tackling prowess.

For a defense to shut down the short passing game, it must have players proficient in tackling in space. With a new starting MLB and NB, it is not totally proven that our back seven can reliably do so. I hope that they can, but we will have to wait and see how good Grant Campbell and Travon Blanchard are in this regard. If the two of them, along with the cornerbacks, can tackle the quick receivers of the Big 12 and prevent YAC, then Baylor will be amazing. We will have a team capable of dealing with any challenge they face. If they can answer this question, and maintain confidence during difficult road games, then the 2015 Baylor Bears will be more than elite.

They will be the mythical complete football team.

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