Only seven teams remain undefeated this season. Fresno State and Northern Illinois have an easier schedule to thank for their success so far. Alabama, Florida State, Oregon, and Ohio State have the perceived “elite recruiting classes” that have lead folks to be unsurprised by their rise to the cream of the BCS crop.
But the Baylor Bears, with their highest scoring offense in college football and perfect record so far, should not be unfairly categorized as a “system” team that can’t match-up with the Alabamas and Florida States of the country. With a quarterback, running back, receiving duo, defensive end, and safety all among the best of their groups in the country (not to mention one of the country’s best coaches), the Baylor Bears and their roster are for real. And they’ll work to prove it as they reach the pinnacle of their schedule in their pursuit to remain unbeaten.
At the Helm: Quarterback Bryce Petty
While I won’t go into too much detail on Bryce Petty, because our own Alex Brown did a fantastic job on breaking him down two weeks ago, I will say that Petty deserves to be considered among the best quarterbacks in college football and warrants consideration from NFL scouts. Two of the biggest areas I was impressed with in Petty (that many college passers don’t possess), were his patience to let routes develop as well as his consistently catchable ball when he works from the pocket. With ample arm strength to reach receivers across the field, he’s focused (as quarterbacks should be in this offense) on TIMING for his vertical routes (not sheer arm strength), and catch-ability on his shorter routes (as opposed to finding throwing windows). That being said, Petty does seem to rush throws with far less accurate when asked to throw outside the pocket, and does seem to rely on route combinations/pre-snap reads too much, which leads to inexcusably obvious interceptions thanks to his reliance on throwing “to a spot”, and not progressing as naturally as other passers.
Big Play Potential: Running Back Lache Seastrunk and Receivers Goodley, Reese
While Bryce Petty and Art Briles remain the architects of the wildly successful Baylor offense, Seastrunk, Antwan Goodley, and Tevin Reese certainly are the pieces that make the whole operation productive. Lache Seastrunk may be the most talented running back eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft, thanks to a rare combination of lateral explosiveness, balance through contact, and outstanding top end speed. The former Oregon transfer, Seastrunk holds and regains balance at a near-elite level, bouncing off tackles without losing his footing and remaining able to gain speed quickly. With plus change of direction and body control, he’s able to navigate laterally smoothly through traffic without losing speed upfield. While he does tend to sideline hunt in an effort to always target the big play, he’s been able to finish those big runs well enough that the Baylor offense certainly doesn’t mind. A likely declaree, Seastrunk is likely the favorite to be the top runner selected.
As for Petty’s passing weapons, both junior Antwan Goodley and senior Tevin Reese will likely end the season remarkably close in their seasons’ receiving yards. Both on pace for over 1500 yards and 14 touchdowns, Goodley and Reese certainly have NFL futures, especially considering the success of past Baylor receivers (Kendall Wright, Josh Gordon, and Terrence Williams). Reese has proven to be the better straight-line receiving threat, and has shown ideal footwork to reposition at the top of his route to maximize sepeation. However, concerns about his after catch change of direction, ability to regain balance on interior routes, and at times inconsistent hands make him more likely a fringe Top 100. As for Goodley, he seems to be a happy yet not polished mix of Terrance Williams and Kendall Wright. With the straight line speed and vertical separation of Williams, Goodley has Wright’s size and short area quickness to make plays in the short area. Finally getting a chance to shine after two seasons with limited attention (just 23 touches as a freshman and sophomore), he may have a higher ceiling than Reese and wouldn’t shock as a potential Top 64 overall selection.
Paving the Way: Offensive Guard Cyril Richardson
Art Briles’s Baylor teams’ have produced five NFL draft picks from his offensive line, despite the line focusing mostly on quick pass protections and fairly simple open field zone blocking plays. However, of those five picks, both first rounders have been major busts (Jason Smith, Danny Watkins), one is out of the league after just one season (Robert T. Griffin), and two more aren’t close to being long-term NFL starters (Philip Blake and JD Walton).
That being said, Cyril Richardson will be aiming to prove that the past failures of Baylor offensive lineman aren’t a precursor for his future NFL success. While he could arch his back more effectively in 5 step drops (not all that often in this offense) and tends to take too long to leave double teams to work upfield, Richardson has displayed his ability to dominate as both a downfield run blocker and mauling interior pass protector. He transitions upfield with a strong, low base, and works hard to readjust his hands and feet to direct his block assignment. With a strong initial punch and efficient adjustments fundamentally, Richardson may fit better with team’s focused on power running more than Baylor does. His experience as a zone-read blocker, a downfield linebacker-pickup blocker, and quick pass protection lineman should provide ample versatility for NFL teams on draft day.
Forcing Pressure: Defensive Ends Chris McCallister and Shawn Oakman
While Baylor approaches it’s defensive line play with heavy use of rotations, two of their pass rushers stand out as among the best on the team and both potentially the best in the upcoming 2014 draft. The first is senior Chris McCallister, who wins in a variety of ways on this Baylor defense. Able to stay strong in his base and with solid hand exchange, McCallister is able to keep his balance as he protects the edge on outside pitches or quick swing passes, limiting the cut back lanes for opposing runners. He’s relentless in pursuit of the quarterback as well, closing quickly and transitioning to the edge after initial contact very well. While he doesn’t have remarkable upside (still a potential 2nd-3rd rounder for the 2014 draft though), he’s consistently been able to get the job done on the Baylor defensive line, attacking inside and out as a rusher and finishing plays in run support.
But while McCallister has impressed thus far, it’s redshirt sophomore Shawn Oakman who has become the face of this defense from a scouting perspective. The 6’9, 270 defensive end will instantly remind evaluators of Ezekiel Ansah. While they aren’t similar as far as their styles or position, it’s their length, sheer size, flashes of elite rushing upside, and limited snaps that will cause evaluators to compare the two. With a very powerful initial shove and the ability to drive off-balance blockers into the ground, Oakman has already shown that he can be a capable bull rusher at the next level. But he’s also displayed active exchange in his hands as a rusher, sinking and finishing off the edge, and patience as a rusher. While he still needs to improve his play/blocker recognition and develop more distict rush moves, Oakman should continue to see ample snaps the rest of the season. If and when he enters the NFL Draft (has two years after this season he could conceivably be at school), the top half of the first round seems to be a very likely destination.
Secondary Playmaker: Safety Ahmad Dixon
While Ahmad Dixon may have concerns for the team and NFL evalutors off the field, on the field, he’s continued to be a tremendously consistent playmaker and efficient strong safety. A very strong tackler in the box and open field, Dixon hasn’t been caught out of position much this season, actively attacking the ball carrier in the run game. While he has been a little aggressive upfield at times, especially against the read option, he’s been a fundamentally sound strong safety with flashes of coverage skills vertically when asked to do so. If not for his off field issues, and with this weak safety class until underclassmen declare, Dixon has the talent to be in the Top 50 discussion on draft day.
Schedule the Rest of the Way
After starting 7-0 and scoring 69 or more points in five of those wins, Baylor faces the brunt of their Big-12 schedule. While it wouldn’t be a shock to anyone who has watched this team in 2013 to see them end the season undefeated, they’ll be facing their four toughest teams in five weeks to finish off the season.
With Oklahoma and Texas Tech in back to back weeks, Baylor’s offense will be tested against two talented yet inconsistent defenses. Then they’ll travel to Oklahoma State and TCU (not a terrible hard game), and end the season with likely ranked-by-then Texas. From a college football perspective, it’ll be a blast to see if this team’s offensive production can keep up against the best of the best in the Big-12 and see them go undefeated.
But from a scouting perspective, it’ll be a chance for Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk, Shawn Oakman and the rest of the 12 potential draft picks on the Baylor Bears to prove that their record DOES indicate just how talented this roster is.