Spring football 25: Baylor Bears

Dr. Saturday will be looking at the 25 most interesting teams headed into spring football through March, examining which programs have the biggest questions, the most expectations and the best storylines. This isn’t a list of the 25 best teams going into the spring, just the 25 we’re keeping the closest eye on. Previously: South Carolina

What happened in 2012
Baylor finished the season as one of the nation’s hottest teams, winning five of its final six, including a decisive 49-26 victory over UCLA in the Holiday Bowl. Though most of Baylor’s losses early in the season were close, the real turnaround came on Nov. 17 when the Bears upset No. 1 Kansas State and knocked the Wildcats from the national championship picture.

From there, Baylor was seemingly unstoppable and finished the season on a four-game winning streak.

[Related: Baylor coach Art Briles a fan of the Stanky Legg]

At the beginning of the season, no one really knew what to expect from a Bears team that had lost Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III, starting running back Terrance Ganaway and star receiver Kendall Wright. And the pieces seemed to have a little trouble fitting early, but once the Bears all got on the same page, they were one of the most dangerous teams in the country, especially offensively.

What makes them interesting in 2013
For the first time in school history, Baylor is coming off three consecutive bowl games and seems to have the makings of another bowl game contender despite the loss of some key pieces.

Running back Lache Seastrunk had a slow start to the season, but became a force in the Big 12 in the second half of the year. In the final six games of 2012, Seastrunk, an Oregon transfer, had fewer than 100 yards just once – 91 against Oklahoma – but he did have three touchdowns in that game.

Because of Seastrunk’s return, Baylor has the opportunity to be one of the better offensive sides in the Big 12, but it does have to replace its top quarterback (Nick Florence) and wide receiver (Terrance Williams) for the second consecutive season. If lightning can strike twice, Baylor might be a scary side to watch. Still, the defense lacks a little something to be desired as it was one of the worst in the conference a year ago.

What needs to happen this spring
The main goal this spring will be finding a replacement for Florence, who completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 4,309 yards, 33 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in his only year as starter. Bryce Petty, a junior who is in his fourth year in the program, will be the frontrunner for the job since he actually has game experience. In limited time last year, he completed 7-of-10 passes for 97 yards and a score. He also rushed for a score. It seems to be his job to lose over redshirt freshman Seth Russell, sophomore Gus Frerking and true freshman Chris Johnson. Of the three, Russell could give Petty a run for his money because of his athleticism, but until Petty gives the coaching staff a reason to bench him, he’ll be the guy.

[Baylor fans: Check out SicEmSports.com for more team coverage]

The other main goal will be shoring up a defense that was, at one point, the worst in the FBS a year ago. The Bears seemed to outscore their opponents rather than actually stop them, which made for some very close games. But this year’s unit should be better than it was a year ago and has the ability to replicate the effort is gave when it held Kansas State to just 24 points. The Bears are adding JUCO All-American Terell Brooks and tackle Andrew Billings to a defensive line that is getting deeper (probably deepest at defensive end), but the secondary still needs a lot of work. The defense doesn’t have to be great, especially with how good the offense can be, but it has to be better than 119th, where it finished a year ago.

Finding a new star receiver also will be a priority, though the Bears seem to have a lot of talent in that area. Tevin Reese and Levi Norwood both played a bunch a year ago and Reese is the team’s leading returning receiver with 53 catches for 957 yards and nine touchdowns. Reese is more of a deep threat, so the Bears will have to develop someone for shorter routes.

The Bears also need to find a center to replace Ivory Wade. Center has been a strength for the Bears under coach Art Briles, so this interesting to watch. Briles said Stefan Huber, Kyle Fuller and Kelvin Palmer would be the leading candidates for the position. Baylor also needs a new right guard after seniors Jake Jackson and Cameron Kaufhold platooned at that position last year.

Game changers
There can’t be enough said about the significance of Seastrunk to this team. Through the first seven games of the season, he had 29 carries for 181 yards and one touchdown. The Bears went 3-4 in that span. In the final six games of the season, Seastrunk had 102 carries for 831 yards and six touchdowns. As noted above, the Bears won five of their final six. So, if Baylor can get the Seastrunk from the second half of the season to show up through all of 2013, not only would they have one of the most dangerous running threats in the country, they might have their second Heisman Trophy winner in the past three seasons.

Wild cards
Even though the quarterback race seems to belong to Petty, it’s hard to discount Russell just yet. The spring should settle whether Petty is ready to take over the team or whether Russell can swoop in and steal the starting role, or at the very least, playing time.

While receivers have usually been the focus for the Bears, tight ends Jordan Najvar and Jerod Monk could play a bigger role in the offense, especially as the Bears try to find some decent underneath threats.

Key games
Oct. 12 at Kansas State
Nov. 9 Oklahoma
Nov. 23 at Oklahoma State
Dec. 7 Texas

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Check out Dr. Saturday's other spring previews: Notre Dame, Texas, Oklahoma, Stanford.

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