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Big 12 preview: Baylor

The SportsXchange

WACO, Texas -- After playing in bowl games three consecutive years for the first time in school history, Baylor now looks to extend another streak of success.

Not since the mid-1980s have the Bears put together four consecutive winning seasons, but the odds are in favor of their accomplishing that and more in 2013.

With 15 starters returning from an 8-5 team that won five of its last six games, including a 49-26 rout of UCLA in the Holiday Bowl, the Bears are far from being one-hit wonders.

"We're an established football program," coach Art Briles said. "When people talk about one of the top four or five programs in the Big 12, they mention us -- and rightfully so.

"That's something that we have to continually work on getting better at."

The Bears have been one of the more exciting teams to watch in recent years with Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin III leading them to 7-6 and 10-3 records in 2010 and 2011, respectively, and Nick Florence taking over last season.

Junior Bryce Petty will have to step in for Florence, and he has plenty of weapons offensively, including a fleet corps of receivers led by senior Tevin Reese. Baylor also has one of the best running back tandems in the country in junior Lache Seastrunk (who has promised he will win the Heisman) and senior Glasco Martin.

In last Saturday's 75-minute scrimmage at the Highers Complex practice field, Petty was hot but the level of expectations by Briles and Petty are, well, hotter.

The junior quarterback completed 19 of 27 ;passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns and the first three units combined for 506 yards.

Petty made no bones about the Bears' goal -- score early and often.

"You want to score," he said. "The personal thing for me is that I want to score and I want to be good. I want to be decisive and help move the offense, because it kind of runs through the quarterback."

But he was focused on things that bothered him, such as taking a sack on the second drive and just not finishing some plays or drives as well as he liked.

"We have got to clean it up," he said."That is what scrimmages are for, especially in college where you don't have any kind of tune up games or anything. Our first game is when it counts. We have to make sure that we hit the ground running. Today the offense was up and down, but you have to make sure that as a unit that we get through those and keep battling."

The reason for such a self-critical perspective reflects a word that Briles uses a lot -- perfection.

"When we get the ball, we've got to score," Briles said. "And when we're on defense, we have to stop them. We've just got to keep working and practicing for perfection, because that's when you reach it is when you get there."

The Bears are looking for a breakout season from wide receiver Tevin Reese, who played in the shadows of Kendall Wright and Terrance Williams the last two years. Reese looks to take over the spotlight in 2013. He had 53 receptions for 957 yards as a junior last year and has 149 catches in his career.

Two critical keys remain for the Bears:

--How the offensive line responds after the shuffling created by the knee injury to right tackle Troy Baker in the spring.

--How much progress the defense will make after finishing strong last year.

One reason for the optimism for the defense is the solid group of defensive ends -- seniors Terrance Lloyd and Chris McAllister are returning starters, and sophomore Penn State transfer Shawn Oakmon has a huge upside, especially as a pass rusher. Sophomore Jamal Palmer also will be in the rotation after playing in eight games as a true freshman last year.

The Bears will be playing their home games in Floyd Casey Stadium in the 2013 season for the final time. Their new facility on the Brazos River will open for the 2014 season. The Bears have seven home games this fall as they bid "The Case" farewell after 64 seasons.

SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: The Bears will have a light schedule the season's first month. After opening on Aug. 31 against Wofford, they take on Buffalo a week later but then have an open date before hosting Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 21. They have a second open date on Sept. 28 before diving into Big 12 play against West Virginia to start off October.

KEYS TO SUCCESS: If Petty, who has had three years (including a redshirt season in 2010) to learn Briles' system, lives up to his credentials, the Bears once again will have an explosive offense with lots of talent and depth at the skill positions. If the defense picks up where it left off in 2012, the Bears have the makings of a Big 12 contender.

AREAS OF CONCERN: Though it improved over the last half of the season, Baylor's defense still ranked second-worst in the country in total defense numbers for the year. Texas Tech compiled 567 yards in total offense (208 rushing) and Oklahoma State went for 560 (218 rushing) in the last two games of the regular season, so it's not like the Bears suddenly became a shut-down unit. The offensive line also went through a shakeup when RT Troy Baker injured his knee in spring drills.

--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.
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