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Baylor vs. SMU Preview / Prediction Thread

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We're just over 24 hours away from the start of Baylor's 2014 football season against the Mustangs of SMU. Will our Bears tear them asunder, or will the start be a little more muted than most expect?

Cooper Neill
vs.
10/10 BAYLOR (0-0, 0-0) vs. NR/NR SMU (0-0, 0-0)
Aug. 31, 2014 | 6:30 p.m. CT
Waco, Texas | McLane Stadium (45,410)

TV: FOX Sports 1
Listen | Gametracker Gametracker | Game Notes Notes | Tickets | Gameday Central

ODB Game Hub: Baylor vs. SMU
First Look: SMU Mustangs
Preview Links/Notes:
Updated w/ video from S11
ODB Predictions:
Pregame Results (average: 61-17 Baylor win)
ODB Roll Call: W/ TV, Radio, and Watch Party Info
SMU SB Nation Blog:
Underdog Dynasty
Spread: Baylor -33 | O/U 74
Weather Forecast: Waco -- Mostly sunny skies. High 98F. Winds S at 10 to 20 mph. Low 76F, some clouds.

Injury News:

Baylor -- WR Corey Coleman (DOUBTFUL), WR Clay Fuller (OUT), WR Jay Lee (WILL PLAY), RB Johnny Jefferson (WILL PLAY), RB Devin Chafin (WILL PLAY)

SMU -- /shrug emoticon

Thoughts on the Game:

When preparing for the first game of the season, it's always difficult to parse out what you know vs. what you think.  We think Baylor has a really good football team on its hands because of our returning players and coaching staff, the fact that we were one of the best teams in the country last year, and everything else.  We think SMU has a fairly mediocre team for similar reasons that look more at what they've been than what they are.  We think a lot of things because neither team has played anybody yet this year, so we're basically guessing at how everything will turn out based on results from last year that need to be discounted at least a little and overall program/schematic tendencies that may shed a little more light.

Major Matchups:

Neal Burcham vs. The Baylor Secondary:

Looking at what we know, it's relatively easy to see why and how the Ponies might have a chance to upset the apple cart tomorrow evening.  Theirs is an offense designed to challenge opposing defenses through the pass, especially down the field.  Ours is a defense breaking in three new starters of four in the secondary and two more in the linebacking corps (including nickelback as a linebacker).  Yes, we believe that in Xavien Howard, Ryan Reid, Orion Stewart, Aiavion Edwards, and Collin Brence we have five players more than up to the task, but until we see them do it in a real game, we won't know for sure.  We should find out in short order, though, because I guarantee you that June Jones is going to test them early and often.  The good news there is that Neal Burcham is largely inexperienced despite his long tenure at SMU, and the Mustangs lost their top two receivers from a year ago in Jeremy Johnson and Keenan Holman, a pair that combined for over 2100 yards and 15 touchdowns.

The SMU Rushing Attack vs. The Baylor Defensive Line:

If Baylor might be vulnerable through the air to SMU, we probably won't be on the ground.  Led by QB Garrett Gilbert, SMU averaged just 93.8 yards rushing in 2013.  They've since lost Gilbert, former Texas RB Traylon Shead, and both of their starting guards.  They bring back center Taylor Lasecki and both tackles, but Baylor will throw the quartet of Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings, Beau Blackshear, and Jamal Palmer at them across the line.  That's a formidable defensive presence that, when combined with SMU's general tendencies and our own potential weakness in the secondary, leads me to believe that SMU's fortunes against our defense will either come through the air or not at all.  In case you were curious if we might see touted freshman Daniel Gresham, it appears the answer is no.  SMU has senior Kevin Pope and sophomore Prescott Line (possibly the most SMU name ever) listed as the RBs on their depth chart.

Bryce Petty and the Baylor WRs vs. the SMU Secondary

On the other side, there is tremendous reason to believe that Baylor can and will have success throwing the ball tomorrow night.  Bryce Petty returns for the Bears with his #1 target from a year ago, Antwan Goodley, and a host of other fleet-footed, talented receivers.  To stop them, SMU will have to lean on a secondary that, like ours, lost 3 of its top 4 tackles and wasn't good at all against the pass to begin with.  Add that to the fact that SMU runs a defensive scheme, the 3-4, not exactly known for being good against spread attacks to begin with, and you start to see a lot of problems for the Ponies.  Given the opportunity, Bryce Petty could have a big day.

Baylor OL vs. the SMU Defensive Line

If he does, a large part of the reason will be Baylor's offensive line.  With Spencer Drango back after missing the end of last season because of a back injury, Baylor has probably the best pair of tackles in the conference.  We're still waiting to find out who the starting left guard will be, but he'll be huge, regardless.  Desmine Hilliard is also back for his junior season at right guard, and last year's backup at center, Kyle Fuller, takes over in the middle.  Against them SMU will throw its deepest defensive unit, the defensive line, where everyone who played a single snap in 2013 returns.  Behind them, SMU also returns 3 of 4 starters last year at linebacker, though not all are starting in this game per the latest depth chart.

The matchup between these two units will be interesting to watch in both the running and passing games.  Despite everything I said above about returning players, SMU's defense was only average stopping the run and terrible rushing the passer in 2013.  In the former, SMU's depth and experience may present a fairly intriguing challenge for the Bears' offense, since we can probably assume that in the first game of the season, Baylor will work hard to establish the run with Rashodrick Linwood, Devin Chafin, and Johnny Jefferson.  In the latter, I don't see much reason to believe SMU will be able to consistently get pressure on the QB, an absolute must for stopping our offense.

My Prediction:

Based on everything above, I feel pretty confident predicting that the Baylor offense will have a big day tomorrow against the SMU defense.  If SMU is capable of stopping the run early, it may take a bit longer for Baylor to get going than we've come to expect, but the offense will be there eventually.  Barring some miraculous improvement in their pass rush, it's a matter of time until Petty starts to click.  That's all assuming that I'm right about a commitment to the run early; Baylor may come out throwing from the get-go and churn the crowd into a frenzy immediately.

The real question in this game isn't if Baylor will score points-- we will.  It is, as always, how many we give up.  The spread on the game as of this moment is Baylor -33, and it seems most everyone expects the Bears to cover.  I expect that SMU will score at least a touchdown or two based on defensive lapses or through big plays, meaning that if Baylor is going to come through on that spread, we'll probably need 50 points or more.  I think we'll get it.

Final Score: Baylor 59, SMU 17.

Give me your predictions in the comments and vote in the poll!