Spring practices are on the books and fall camps will be here before you know it, so that means having an early jump into the 2006 NCAA football season. Knowing the teams now will save you time in August and Matt Fargo is here to help you understand what to expect next year. We go from worst to first in this 2006 college football preview.
# 77 – Baylor Bears 5-6 SU; 6-4 ATS
Fargo’s Take What could have been. The Bears began the 2005 season 3-0 before losing a heartthrob to Texas A&M in overtime. They rallied for their first road win in the Big XII at Iowa St. but then two more difficult losses, one to Oklahoma in double overtime, sent them into a tailspin. Baylor won their final against Oklahoma St. giving the Bears their most wins since 1995. Both offense and defense showed improvement last season and there is even more optimism heading into 2006. Baylor averaged 21.5 points per game on offense And while it was an improvement, changes are on the horizon as the Bears will implement a new spread offense this season. They will use their speed and athleticism in all key positions to try to produce more offense and put more points on the board, as they finished 91 and 97 respectively last season. The defense returns only four starters, but there is a lot of experience there, although depth could be a long-term issue.
Starters Returning to Offense – 8 New offensive coordinator Lee Hays is implementing the new system that is loosely based on Texas Tech’s extension offense. He used this extended attack at 1-AA West Texas A&M last year and that team led the country in passing yards and averaged 40 points per game. Hays has the weapons at his disposal led by fifth-year senior quarterback Shawn Bell. Bell had a pretty solid season last year, throwing for close to 2,000 yards and finishing sixth in the Big XII in passing efficiency. He has a solid group of receivers to throw the ball to and two excellent running backs to deliver. The bigger question is on the offensive line, as not only is it small, but the new system affects them so much. Head coach Guy Morriss will take over the direction of the line and if spring was any indication, things should be fine.
Returning defensive starters – 4 The defense improved tremendously last season, allowing 10.4 fewer points per game than in 2004 and the biggest improvement came from the rushing defense even though the numbers weren’t too pretty. Only four starters are back, but two of them are on the line and that will help continue the improvement of the ground defense. All linebackers need to be replaced, but there’s a lot of speed there and that’s what the Bears will be betting on going into the season. High school will be the stronghold once again, as two starters are back alongside Braelon Davis, who should return from his academic probation. Baylor allowed opponents to complete just 51.3 percent of their passes, the best percentage since 1998. If safety can step up, the overall defense has a chance to improve even more.
Schedule Four of the first five games are at home this season and the only away game is a ‘neutral’ game in Seattle against Washington St. The season begins with a tough home game against TCU, but the next two games at home against Northwestern St. and the Army must win both. Playing at Big XII South, Baylor will never have an easy schedule, taking on Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas A&M every year. Three of the Bears South division games are away, which means that two of the North division’s three games are at home, against Kansas and Kansas St., which is a good break. They miss Nebraska, Iowa St. and Missouri, all three have a chance of winning the North division.
You can bet on … Baylor is moving in the right direction, but the Bears may never be able to compete in the ever-powerful Big XII South. Texas and Oklahoma are mainstays and it’s impossible for Baylor to get the same caliber of talent based on the fact that the university is the only private one in the conference. After failing to buy a winning season from ATS, the Bears have been doing well the last three years, going 20-11 against the number. They have been much better at setting up points as they are 7-1 ATS in their last eight like chalk. As a house dog, it’s a different story with Baylor at just 9-19 ATS since 1999, including an 0-3 record last season. The Bears will likely be in that role in Game 1 when they host TCU, the favorite at MWC.