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An Absurdly Premature Assessment of: Baylor

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A too-soon look at next fall, sans the inevitable injuries, suspensions and other pratfalls of the interim.

The least you should know about Baylor...
2006 Record
4-8 (3-5 Big XII/T-5th South)
Past Five Years
18-40 (8-32 Big XII)
Returning Starters, Roughly
9 (3 Offense, 6 Defense)
Best Player
In the long run, linebacker Joe Pawelek is just another white guy in a long line of campus heroes too small (6-2, 225) and almost definitely too slow to play football on a football field with the best football players on the next level of football in the National Football League. But for now, Joe Pawelek is just a football player, dammit! He led Baylor with 66 tackles as a redshirt freshman. Feel his existential teenage rage courtesy of mysanantonio.com.
Bizarre Tradition
On the list of public rituals designed exclusively for the embarrassment of freshmen, the pre-game Baylor Line is probably SMQ’s favorite (until he can think of another one). It consists of the freshman class running onto the field and praying they remain upright for the entire journey. Where that journey leads appears to be variable; at least one clip includes the Line actually running into a roped-off section in the stadium, only to be booed by the upperclassmen when they immediately begin to file back out through conventional exits. Here is the most recent crop of newbies, the Baylor Line 2010, which just sprints for the opposite end zone:

Pleasantries dispensed today:

What's Changed: In a section in the bowels of last year's Phil Steele preseason annual, the fairly maniacal author actually has a banner, "WARNING: This page is for Hardcore Fans ONLY." In it, he discusses information that "just wouldn't fit" on obsessively detailed individual team pages or in his weekly "News & Notes" section, things like Iowa's population and Moscow, Idaho's position as the dry pea and lentil capital of the world and the retirement of Kansas State's play-by-play announcer. He also mentions his confusion over Baylor's quarterback situation in 2005, when Shawn Bell was - and Steele makes his point pretty effectively - by far the better option over Terrance Parks, but the latter was strangely allowed to ruin chances to upset Nebraska and Texas Tech and perform atrociously in starts against Texas and Missouri, costing the Bears a rare winning season. As always, all hail Steele: with Bell playing full time through the first two-thirds of last season, Baylor was 4-4, had played every loss but Texas well into the fourth quarter and had won three of four entering a sort of prove-it game with Texas A&M. Bell was averaging right at 300 yards passing with a nearly 2-1 TD-INT ratio. Baylor was tied with A&M at 21 when Bell was knocked out late in the fourth quarter and proceeded to lose 31-21, then was outscored sans its quarterback by 102 points in the final three games. Utter collapse.

Anyway, Bell is gone without a full season to his credit, packing up with him a pair of receivers - Domonique Zeigler and Trent Shelton - with 321 career catches and 27 touchdowns, making way for the skinny kid (Blake Szymanski) who led the offense to 12 turnovers in his brief year-end showing. Bummer.

What's the Same: Offensive coordinator Lee Hays came out of West Texas A&M running some very Mike Leach-looking stuff, down to the peculiar verbage ("Inside receiver," "Big Y," F-back"), and threw it about as much as Leach's offense at Tech did in `06. The top receivers the last three years are long gone, but half a dozen others return who caught more than 15 passes each as freshmen and sophomores. Only four other teams (Texas Tech, New Mexico State, Hawaii and Purdue) dared launch more passes than Baylor's 510, which the running back situation gives no indication will go down much.

Comeback Kids: Under no circumstances could Baylor's defense be decribed as "good" or "okay" or probably even "mediocre" over the first half of last season, but there is a marked cliff beginning with the final victory of the year, against Kansas, over which the whole putrid jalopy was flung repeatedly for the last month. The front four that had held up fine against TCU, Washington State, Kansas State and Texas (relatively) was unmericfully gashed on the ground, suddenly, allowing 284, 292, 387 and 236 rushing yards in the last five games; the only reason there are only four ghastly figues there is that Texas Tech, which averaged nine yards when it deigned to run, was mostly busy passing for 507 in a three-touchdown rout.

There was an excuse, at least, in Bell's injury, for the offense to fall to pieces, but no corresponding loss on the defense. Except of its motor skills, apparently. Despite returning its leading tackler and a reserve lineman named "LeQuantum," this fall's group is going to have to pull itself back up from its bootstraps.

Quick Shout: Since he kicked the crap out of the ball as a feshman, it was easy, bankable lame humor to note that Baylor's best player was a punter, the overworked Daniel Sepulveda, the Bears' only presence on any all-America team in a decade. Thanks for the quasi-memories, Dan.

Overly Optimistic Speculative Spring Chatter: Waco correspondent Red Andrews at Bear Meat reports Guy Morriss days are likely numbered with anything shy of .500, which may or may not be exactly fair - if nothing else, Morriss has stores of karma still waiting from the unsolicited victory bath to which he was subjected before his was heart ripped out by Devery Henderson in the best football moment of 2002 - but is cool with partisans nevertheless because it might facilitate the hiring of Mike Singletary, beloved ex-Bear (in more ways than one: Mike is three-seventeenths sloth bear). Red laments scads of coaching departures, mostly to the pros, and a general sense of doom so pervasive he, says, that, even when their chances of playing elsewhere are nil, "we can't even get the offspring of our coaching staff to commit to Baylor." This is what he's talking about.

Baylor on YouTube: Nobody believed it could get this far, but they had a dream and by god, it happened - this is the time, this is the moment to watch a highlight video from the 1988 season, when the Bears beat Texas 17-14 to finish 6-5:

See also: Trent Shelton's father leading his section in a cheer straight through a big hit offscreen at the 50-second mark, a two-year-old sings "That Good Ol' Baylor Line," and Baylor Line: A Hand Jive. And just for the look on the one kid's face (the one with the tie behind Marcus Randall), the Bluegrass Miracle.

Best-Case: The three conference games Baylor managed to win last year represented its greatest success since the Big XII was formed, but the fate of the opener at TCU should mean a lot for the tone of the rest of the season. Whether or not they win (the Bears led TCU late last year and let it slip away), it's probably as important for BU to play well and demonstrate that it's still good enough to be competitive against the middle of the Big XII - which is about comparable to TCU - rather than sink further back into the cellar with its top playmakers gone on offense. Rice for Washington State is a good tradeoff that will give the opportunity to be 3-1 at the start of conference play, which features possible swing games with Colorado and Kansas early. No way there is a bowl without a win in one, and probably both, of those, and it will require an upset somewhere else either way. Another three wins in conference would be overachieving, just as it probably was last time, but the elusive 6-6 barrier is there if so. That's something of a breakthrough.

Worst-Case: There's not much difference on paper in this team and the one that essentially laid down and died in November. It's a safe bet the Bears can handle Texas State and Buffalo, but the talent is still the worst in the league and ripe to do what's it's done the last two years, which is let close losses turn into humiliating ones when morale starts to go. Even Rice is toss up enough with the inexperience on offense early in the year to imagine a reversion to 2-10, which will be a terminable offense here.

Non-Binding Forecast: Not good enough to win three conference games again, because Bell was the key in retrospect to that limited success, and BU was frankly closer to losing two more than it was to winning any of those it dropped. The Bears won three every year before Guy Morris came, and never more than one in the Big XII. From whence you come, you shall return - which will apply, conveniently, to Mike Singletary when he's named new head coach.