This is the first installment in our (seemingly mandatory) Big 12 preview and we turn our keen eye to those madcap snakehandlers in Waco, the Baylor Bears.
Did you know that Baylor is still in the Big 12? Yes. I checked. Google is an awesome tool! They remain largely on the strength of women's equestrian and club badminton. In football, they are best known for allowing Texas fans to fill 2/3 of their stadium during our roady and for the extraordinary anchorman hair that any male in their fan base over the age of 35 seems to possess. Very severe parts with a range of inspiration from Trent Lott (unctious clergyman #2 please) to John Edwards (a Breck girl flip to emphasize body). I've walked through George's tent and thought I was in a White Rain commercial. Where were the Mandrell Sisters?
I actually have a soft spot for Baylor. Baylor women specifically. They have a reasonable number of good looking girls and the little secret that most don't know is that half of the girls in Waco chose Baylor; the other half were sent there. So, if you're a sharp dude at a Big 12 school, I have some words of advice for you: the sent girls are tired of watching 700 Club and dating guys named Chaz who close their eyes and hold their hands up above their heads during the chorus at Christian Rock concerts.
Given the sheer volume of web and print resources available to ascertain Baylor's 3rd team OT's height and weight, I'll stick to broad themes, try to avoid neutral ass-covering previewspeak, and generally give my thoughts on what will make and break this program.
Guy Morriss is a good coach despite his 15-31 record in Waco. Truly. He had things progressing, but made a serious gaffe at the end of 2005 just as Baylor started playing borderline respectable football. He looked at 2006, saw some talented senior WRs, a capable QB, and he fully committed to the spread in a gamble for a bowl bid. Unfortunately, his other personnel weren't very well suited - particularly at RB and on the OL. The move also exposed a bad defense even more profoundly. Changing your offense in the middle of a rebuilding project is a bad idea, particularly when coupled with the complementary misguided notion that this would offer a competitive recruiting advantage for kids who want to throw it around.
We know how it all played out: Bell got hurt (The Horns down curse), the running game was vile, and all of the recruits realized every other school in the Big 12 runs the spread too - but they actually do it well. To exacerbate the problem, what had been an improving defense in 2005 regressed in 2006 with the departure of some top notch defenders. They lost three winnable games (Wazzou, Army, A&M) and those losses kept them from respectability, a bowl game, and a reasonable sense of momentum. The last three games of the year without Shaun Bell ended in humiliating blowouts. They were close. Then it all spiraled out of control.
Now Baylor's fan base is despondent - actually pining for Chuck Reedy - and they're looking a 3-9 season squarely in the face. They have two players of note in the entire program: Joe Pawelek, a Penn St LB if there ever was one, and Jason Smith, a competent offensive tackle. That's it. The rest of the team is just some lower tier Division I guys and a sprinkling of decent recruits too young to meaningfully contribute. There are questions at QB (Machen or Weed? - I know Ricky Williams' vote), WR, the OL, and the entire defense. No unit ranks in the top half of the Big 12. It's grim.
They have winnable games at Buffalo (great scheduling, make sure you get those Western New York recruiting pipelines open, Guy!), Rice and Texas St. In the Big 12, they'll have a shot at beating Colorado in Waco. Maybe Kansas. In every other game, they'll be a substantial underdog. I think they'll play hard. I'm not sure it will matter.
What should Baylor do? (Or what should Baylor have done - as it may be too late)
They went the wrong way. If Guy wanted to make a move, it should have been a gradual one to a spread, zone read running attack modeled on West Virginia. There are two primary reasons:
1. It would allow Baylor to punch well above its weight on the recruiting trails. This is Texas: high quality option QBs and quality RBs abound. Many aren't suited to the pro-style offense. Some of those running QBs would rather be The Man at Baylor than a converted 3rd team WR at Texas. On the OL, everyone in the Big 12 is looking for long armed 6'6" 300 pound NFL types; at the skill positions, the elite pro offense studs won't sniff Waco. Baylor's not getting a reservation there - it's Spago and they're Cory Feldman. So look to Jack in the Box - it has a parking lot full of 6'2" 280 pound road graters that are being neglected in the current recruting paradigm. These are the guys Nebraska used to come down and get, redshirt, fill them with "supplements", make them camp in the weight room, and then unleash them on defenses built for the modern passing game to knock the dogshit out of the overhyped thoroughbreds. In fact, every body type that plays well to the West Virginia offense is exactly the kind of athlete that doesn't translate well at his position to any of the other Big 12's major programs - except, perhaps, A&M.
There's an opportunity there, Guy. Sorry if you don't see it, mi amigo.
2. The offense could be a competitive advantage in the Big 12. The trend towards the passing game in the Big 12 makes the option a legitimate conundrum for most defenses. It's a different animal. It's also an animal that protects your defense, runs clock, and makes games more winnable by turnover, special teams, and good fortune.
The notion that Baylor at some fundamental level can't compete is wrong. They have a loser's mentality in the athletic department and it's deeply engrained in the school (certainly as far as football is concerned), but it's not a life sentence. Wake Forest just won the ACC, for God's sake. Northwestern and TCU can field teams ranging from respectable to outright good. Baylor fans actually have outstanding gallows humor about their frustrations, but with it comes a sense of deep resignation: at some level, they think this is their inexorable fate.
It doesn't have to be. Baylor sits in fertile recruiting ground, they have very specific advantages that they can play up as a small, attentive Christian school (Mama, we'll keep your boys away from all that big school hellraisin') and they're in a conference that gives them exposure in the media at several levels above a TCU, SMU or UTEP. I don't see how Guy will turn it all around, but for the Baylor fans who want to make a change and ask - how could it get worse? - it's clear they've already forgotten the Steele era.
Baylor Football: we're praying for you.