College football never ends, and during the next few weeks teams will be getting ready for the 2013 season in their spring practice sessions. Here's a look at the Baylor Bears and what they'll be working on this spring.
Seastrunk went over 1,000 yards in 2012 despite coming off the bench for most of the season. (Getty Images)
2012 Record: 8–5 (4–5 Big 12); Won Holiday Bowl
Practice Begins: March 1
Spring Game: April 6
Returning Starters: 14 (6 Offense, 8 Defense)
BRILES OVER SUBSTANCE. This time last year, the looming question in Waco wasn't so much if Baylor's offense would regress in the absence of the most celebrated player in school history -- record-breaking, Heisman-wielding quarterback Robert Griffin III, but by how much. In that context, 2012 was a revelation: Riding the decidedly uncelebrated arm of senior Nick Florence -- no one's idea of a can't-miss NFL prospect -- the Bears still managed to finish second nationally in total offense and fourth in scoring, coming within a whisker of matching their 2011 totals in both categories with no Heisman frontrunners in sight. By the end, the 2012 edition was hot enough to average 48.5 points over the course of a four-game winning streak, running roughshod over three ranked teams (Kansas State, Oklahoma State and UCLA) and vanquishing any doubts about Baylor's post-Griffin staying power in the process.
This time around, the question is not if, but who? First in line to replace Florence is Bryce Petty, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound junior with three years under his belt in coach Art Briles' system who has every expectation of keeping his foot on the gas. The most serious threat to that assumption is a redshirt freshman, Seth Russell, who will have an opportunity to cut in line. But all eyes will be on the most physically imposing member of the incoming recruiting class, 6-5, 220-pound Chris Johnson, an early enrollee with more than enough raw talent to qualify as an intriguing dark horse. In this system, whoever wins the job will either rank among the most prolific passers in the nation or probably won't have the job for long.
LACHE SUPERIOR. It would be a mistake, though, to write off Briles' philosophy as one-dimensional. In fact, the Bears led the Big 12 in rushing last year after finishing second on the ground in 2011, thanks in no small part to the late emergence of Lache Seastrunk. A five-star transfer from Oregon, Seastrunk provided the spark for the late surge with 831 yards on 8.1 per carry in the last six games alone, accounting for well over 100 yards from scrimmage in all six. Even before putting the torch to UCLA in the Holiday Bowl, he'd endorsed himself for the 2013 Heisman. As long as senior Glasco Martin(889 yards, 15 TDs in 2012) doesn't command too many carries of his own, a more run-oriented approach to break in the new quarterback might give Seastrunk a fair shot at backing that up.
McAllister had two of Baylor's six sacks in the Holiday Bowl win over UCLA. (Getty Images)
HOLIDAY RUSH. Ground game notwithstanding, the most encouraging development in the bowl game was the awakening of a dormant pass rush, one that dropped Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley six times after logging a grand total of 13 sacks in the entire regular season. Three of those takedowns came courtesy of a pair of veteran defensive ends, Chris McAllister and Terrance Lloyd, who are both back as fifth-year seniors. The situation on the inside is not nearly as optimistic: With two positions to be filled at defensive tackle and exceedingly few experienced bodies available to fill them, sophomores Beau Blackshear and Trevor Clemons-Valdez appear to have the position more or less to themselves this spring -- at least until incoming freshman Andrew Billings arrives in the summer or coaches decide Penn State transfer Shawn Oakman is too good to relegate to second-string at end after a season on NCAA-mandated ice.
At any rate, it's hard to imagine the new bodies being any more forgiving to opposing runners than the old ones: Before the bowl game, the Bears yielded more than 190 yards per game on the ground, more than any team in the conference except Kansas.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER. The most anticipated newcomer this spring -- even more so than Chris Johnson at quarterback -- is freshman linebacker Brian Nance, another early enrollee who was forced to take a one-year academic detour through prep school after signing with Baylor last February. Then and now, Nance ranked among the most coveted incoming linebackers in the nation and stands to give the Bears another solid option at a position that already looks like a strength with returning starters Bryce Hager and Eddie Lackey. If only there was as much optimism at safety, where seniors Ahmad Dixon and Sam Holl have spent much of the last two seasons being posterized by opposing receivers, and there is no obvious help on the way.