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TODAY at No. 9: BAYLOR Coach: Art Briles (55-34, entering eighth season; 89-62 record) 2014 record: 11-2, 8-1 in Big 12, tied for first...

college football lock pickTODAY at No. 9: BAYLOR

Coach: Art Briles (55-34, entering eighth season; 89-62 record)

2014 record: 11-2, 8-1 in Big 12, tied for first

Look back: Baylor’s high-octane offense picked up where it left off in 2013 as the Bears won their first six games, including a come-from-behind thriller against TCU on Oct. 11. However, any celebration was short-lived, as the team dropped a 41-27 stunner at West Virginia the next week. That loss would come back to haunt Baylor, with the Bears and Horned Frogs finishing the season with one conference loss apiece. And while they were named co-champions of the Big 12, the lack of a league title game appeared to prevent either team from earning a spot in the College Football Playoff final four.

Offensive starters returning: 8

Offensive starters lost: 3

Defensive starters returning: 9

Defensive starters lost: 2

Key losses: QB Bryce Petty, WR Antwan Goodley, RB Levi Norwood, LB Bryce Hager, LB Collin Brence

Top returnees: OL Spencer Drango, WR Corey Coleman, WR K.D. Cannon, OL Kyle Fuller, RB Shock Linwood, OL Blake Muir, DL Shawn Oakman, DE Andrew Billings, DT Beau Blackshear, CB Xavien Howard, S Orion Stewart

Strengths: During the past two seasons, Baylor have led the nation in total offense and scoring offense. Much of that success hinged on the development of the quarterback, with Robert Griffin III and Bryce Petty becoming household names after putting up video game-like numbers. Petty’s departure to the NFL leaves the program looking for a new signal caller. Seth Russell, a redshirt junior, has spent the past season as the team’s backup and appears ready for the opportunity to lead the Bears’ offense.

Russell will have the benefit of playing behind an offensive line that returns all starters from last season. The group is led by All-American tackle Spencer Drango, senior guard Blake Muir and junior center Kyle Fuller. Last season, the line allowed just 24 sacks while helping Baylor average more than 215 yards per game on the ground.

The Bears boast a variety of playmakers on offense, with Shock Linwood back after rushing for 1,252 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. The Bears also feature two players — Corey Coleman (1,119 yards, 11 TDs) and K.D. Cannon (1,030 yards, 8 TDs) – who reached at least 1,000 receiving yards last season.

Senior All-American defensive end Shawn Oakman will help lead the defense. Throw in All-Big 12 nose tackle Andrew Billings and tackle Beau Blackshear and the group could arguably be the best front line in college football.

Weaknesses: Linebacker Bryce Hager was the team’s top tackler last season with 114 stops and 10 tackles for a loss. His departure, along with that of Collin Brence, leaves the group in young hands.

Baylor needs to improve a pass defense that ranked near the bottom of the pack in the Big 12, allowing more than 262 yards per game through the air in 2014.

Outlook: Normally, back-to-back Big 12 championships would be cause for celebration, but in Baylor’s case, the program is still feeling the sting of being left out of the playoff. The Bears return plenty of experience – 56 letterman – making this year’s squad one of the most experienced groups under Art Briles.

2015 SCHEDULE

Sept. 4 at SMU

Sept. 12 Lamar

Sept. 26 Rice

Oct. 3 vs. Texas Tech

Oct. 10 at Kansas

Oct. 17 West Virginia

Oct. 24 Iowa State

Nov. 5 at Kansas State

Nov. 14 Oklahoma

Nov. 21 at Oklahoma State

Nov. 27 at TCU

Dec. 5 Texas

Vincent Rizzo

College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com

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