Saturday, August 25, 2007

2007 Preseason Preview: Baylor Bears

In preparation for the 2007 College Football season, Drinking the Forty will look at every team in the Big XII, sizing up the conference for the 2007 season.

Guy Morriss knew what he was getting into when he inherited this Baylor program. He was getting the team that didn't belong in the Big XII, the perennial whipping boy of the Big XII, the butt of every joke, the Baylor Bears. Now entering his fifth season, it is now Morriss' program. Every recruiting class is his, and coming off a 4-8 season, this is Baylor's make or break year.

Last year, Baylor showed signs of turning the corner going 4-4 with wins over Colorado and Kansas State, and close losses to TCU and Washington State. However, it came unraveled at the end of the season losing their last four games, getting beaten by over 26 points in three of them. However, Baylor made progress with a much improved passing game and passing defense. But, the Bears will need to continue to make significant strides to compete in a powerful Big XII South.

On offense Baylor will be starting over on the progress they made last season. The only place Baylor returns any experience is on the offensive line where they return their junior left tackle Jason Smith, junior left guard Dan Gay, and senior right guard Chad Smith. The offensive line will need to provide leadership and protection as the rest of the offense is very inexperienced. Quarterback is still a big question mark for the Bears sophomore Blake Szymanski, who started three games last season, will most likely start the season at quarterback, but redshirt freshman Tyler Beatty is waiting in the wings, should Szymanski struggle. At wide receiver Baylor will have three to five wide at any point during the game. While they have a lot of young talent, junior Thomas White (26 rec/372 yds/2 TD) is the only returning player with extensive playing time at the college level. While they don't feature their running game much, Baylor will rely on senior Brandon Whitaker for leadership, as well as his pass catching ability out of the backfield.

If Baylor is to succeed this season it will be on the shoulders of their defense. Their porous run defense from a year ago should be much improved as Baylor returns three of their front four. Look for that group to be led by sophomore Jason Lamb (38 tackles/1 sack) and senior Geoff Nelson (36 tackles/2.5 sacks). The strength of this Baylor defense will be with their linebacking corps, as all three linebackers, including the team's two leading tacklers are back. Sophomore standout Joe Pawelek (86 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 int) and senior Nick Moore (75 tackles) will anchor this group. The only question marks on this Baylor defense will be in the secondary as senior Alton Widemon is the only player with starting experience. The other corner will be manned by senior Josh Bell, as sophomores Jeremy Williams and Jordan Lake will line up at the safety spots. Baylor's defense should continue to improve as their run defense is stout, but they will struggle against several of the pass happy teams in the Big XII, when they are forced into nickel and dime situations.

Baylor has the chance to start the season 3-1, as they have Rice, Texas State, and Buffalo on the schedule after going on the road against #22 TCU to start the season. With Big XII North opponents Colorado, Kansas, and Kansas State on the schedule, Baylor as the chance to pull off an upset against a Big XII South opponent and take 2 of 3 from the Big XII North, and get their first bowl appearance since 1994. But it all depends on whether the offense can gel and become an effective unit, to take pressure off the defense.

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