The season is almost upon us, and I find myself fighting a sense of giddy, rampant optimism for the 2013 season. There is much to be excited about, and I find myself having a hard time looking objectively at the season. My excitement and anticipation is at an all-time high for the Bears, and there is a small part of me that is worried about that. Should I be?
Questions And Answers
To outsiders looking in, there are quite a few question marks about this team. That is reasonable, for these are folks that haven't scrutinized every bit of news coming from University Parks Dr. But what are the major question marks being discussed? Let's look at a few of them, shall we?
First, the quarterback situation. Bryce Petty follows in the footsteps of two record setting quarterbacks, one of which is Baylor's first Heisman Trophy winner and is now a superstar on the NFL stage. The other quietly broke records set by the Heisman winner. But to my biased, eternally optimistic brain, the question of quarterback isn't a question at all. First, Art Briles is the Quarterback Whisperer. He's taken a string of QBs and made them household names, even before he came to Baylor. Petty's been in his system for four years now, studying the game under the likes of Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence. Now it's his turn, and I have no reason to doubt that Briles will have him ready for the big stage. As Briles himself said, "Really, Bryce, a reasonable expectation, first thing that popped into my mind is break every Baylor record there is offensively, which is what we expect him to do and what he plans to do. . . His expectations are to win every game and be the best quarterback in the United States of America." It's hard to temper my excitement when the head coach comes out and says things like that at Big 12 Media Days.
Next we come to the Receiving Corps. Baylor lost two of its top receivers from last year, Terrance Williams (Terrence Williams) and Lanear Sampson. Both of those happen to be the two outside receivers. Questions surround this group. Can Tevin Reese take over as the main receiving threat? Will he stay at slot or move to the outside (edit: I know he's staying slot, but this question has been posed)? If he moves outside, how will that affect him? Can Antwan Goodley, Levi Norwood, Jay Lee and Clay Fuller take over where Williams and Sampson left off? What impact will true freshman Robbie Rhodes have? Will he redshirt? But once again, I'm not worried. Briles has a knack for developing receiving talent almost as well as quarterbacks. With the dynamic duo of Glasgo Martin and Lache Seastrunk in the backfield, plus Petty as a running threat, I think there is enough of a run threat to free up receivers and open up options down the field. And if Petty's arm strength is what reports say, the bubble screen may come back into vogue in the Briles offense this season, giving the receivers even more options to make plays. I don't find myself worrying about the receivers at all.
Then there is the defense. Will they continue the upward trend that they began in the last half of the season? Or will they sink back into the mire from whence they came, forcing the offense to score on every play? With the number of returning players, the addition of some impact players on the defensive front and another offseason of players buying into Phil Bennett's system, I don't see how the defense could reasonably sink back into the form that it was during the West Virginia or Texas games. The players are hungry, and from all reports, have been really killing it this offseason. If they improve from horrendous to even mediocre or serviceable, that should be enough to give our offense the separation it needs to put games away early. I think that the defense is better than mediocre to serviceable. I think it becomes a good defense, somewhere in the lower part of the top half of the league. I may be way off base there, but hey, I'm struggling with unrestrained optimism over here.
Finally we come to the one that is my biggest area of concern: The offensive line. I don't feel that this one is getting the attention in the media that the others are. Simply put, the problems on defense were a huge issue in the majority of the season, and the QB and WR "questions" are much sexier than talk about the offensive line, which has been a massive strength for Baylor during the Briles Era. So why is it a concern? Well, losing Troy Baker in the spring was a huge setback. When does he make it back? The most recent news that I could find was a one-liner in this Chron blog post that backs up Briles' initial estimates of late September/early October. And, yesterday he tweeted this:
Never been more excited to do OL drills in my life! Today was a great day #staypositive #17weeks #kickslide— Troy Baker (@T_Baker75) August 1, 2013
The 17 weeks is the amount of time since surgery on his knee. In another recent tweet, Baker said, "Blessed the process has gone smoothly," which indicates to me that he's on track to make his return in late September/early October. That would be huge news for the team. Without him, the offensive line somewhat lacks depth. Lose another and we could be in trouble. Honestly, I think that this unit is my largest area of concern, but the fact that Baker is making his way back is very encouraging, and barring any major setbacks he should be back in the game by the time we hit the conference schedule.
So then, what do we call a successful season for Baylor Football? I must admit, this is completely uncharted territory for me. For the entirety of my life, a season was a success if the Bears made a bowl game. Shoot, in the Dark Times, success probably wasn't even that. But now, I don't think it's possible to say that a successful season is simply six wins and a trip to the Heart of Dallas Bowl. But I don't know how to define success at this point. Have my expectations gotten so (unrealistically?) high that anything less than a 9-win season and a trip to the Cotton or Alamo Bowl defines success? Is it really possible for the Bears to run the table, or have I just been able to convince myself of that possibility? Ultimately, I believe that success for this team truly hinges on the offensive line and its ability to stay healthy. If the OL stays healthy and strong, then I think that the team will be successful. If injuries crop up early and often, then I'm afraid the Bears are in for a tough road. I arbitrarily end up saying that an 8-win regular season is the threshold of success for me this season. It's a win more than the team attained last year, and would probably be good enough for a solid bowl berth. But, that's my floor. My optimism still runs wild, though, and I dream of glory and championships. We'll see how it all shakes out, starting just 29 days from now.
How do you define success? Do you have another gauge for success other than win total? Vote in the poll and discuss your thoughts in the comments!