Baylor

So long in the shadow of Robert Griffin III, Nick Florence is in the driver’s seat this season. (Photo by Matt Hellman/Baylor Lariat).

Overview: Some players cannot be replaced adequately. Sure, someone else can do the job, and maybe even do it quite well, but when a team moves on from a Heisman Trophy winner to, well, almost anyone else, there will be a drop-off. That being said, while this year’s Baylor quarterback Nick Florence is not Robert Griffin III, he has had nine games of starting experience, something few other former backups can boast. The Bears still have some great wide receivers, a returning starter at center in Ivory Wade and promising running backs in Jarred Salubi and Lache Seastrunk.

On the other hand, Baylor’s defense in 2011 ranked among the worst in the nation in every aspect – 113th in scoring defense, 102nd in rushing defense, 118th in passing defense and 116th in total defense. In the secondary, a returning starter holds every position, and quickness at the linebacker spot is expected to be a strength. Two starters return on the defensive line. While the Bears’ defense might be vastly improved from last season, it could easily do so and still be quite insufficient.

Schedule: Like Kansas State, Baylor gets what should be a good test early in Big 12 play, starting off the conference season in a road game against West Virginia. Following that is a home game against TCU, then road trips to Texas and Iowa State. After a potential confidence-boosting game versus Kansas, the Bears travel to Oklahoma before facing Kansas State in Waco. They then travel to Texas Tech and finish the schedule at home versus Oklahoma State. It’s been said before, and I’ll say it again: the Big 12 has a lot of good teams.

Last year against Kansas State: On Oct. 1, 2011, then-No. 15 Baylor nearly sunk the Wildcats, but Kansas State prevailed in Waco with a 36-35 upset. Total yardage and first down statistics came out nearly even, but the Bears made some fundamental mistakes – two lost fumbles and eight penalties for 103 yards – on which the Wildcats capitalized. At the end, it was Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown who saved the day with a late interception of Griffin – the first time anyone had done so that season. The turnover set up the Wildcats for a field goal, which Anthony Cantele nailed for the victory.

Projection: The Bears outgunned everyone last season on the wings of Griffin, receiver Kendall Wright and running back Terrence Ganaway. Their offense will still be dangerous this season, but not nearly as much. The defense that got torched so often last season, while it may very well make strides in 2012, will probably not make enough improvement to compensate for the downgrade on offense. I’m thinking six wins for Baylor this time around.

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