If the sight of blood makes you squeamish, you might want to look away. This is going to get ugly in a hurry, and I’m not convinced coach Art Briles will feel any remorse after being left out of the playoff a year ago. The Mustangs should be scared. Very, very scared.
DATE & TIME: Friday, September 4th @ 6:00 PM CST
WHERE: Gerald J. Ford Stadium (Dallas, Texas)
FORECAST: Cloudy, Wind 8-10 mph, Game Temp 93°F
TV: ESPN / WatchESPN
BETTING LINE: Baylor -35.5 (O/U 73.5)
The #4 ranked Baylor Bears enter the 2015 season with a massive chip on their shoulders. As they should. With all of the right pieces in place, Baylor’s expectations last year were nothing short of a national championship. The Bears opened 2014 by blowing through three “cupcake” non-conference opponents followed by smashing Iowa State and the Longhorns. Finally, Briles and company would face their first real test in then #9 ranked TCU. With 11 minutes to go Baylor found themselves down 21 points with their undefeated season hopes all but gone. But on the momentum of a 6 TD performance by Bryce Petty, Baylor eradicated the deficit and declared victory.
The college football world was theirs to lose. Then it happened. One week later West Virginia stunned Baylor and would eventually send the Bears’ and the Big 12’s playoff hopes into a confusing and controversial tail spin from which it wouldn’t recover.
Friday night versus the SMU Mustangs begins the Baylor Bears’ 2015 journey of completing unfinished business.
BAYLOR PLAYERS TO WATCH
Seth Russell – Seth Russell is next in line to take command of the seemingly unstoppable Baylor offense. Russell took advantage of playing time resulting from Bryce Petty injuries in 2014 and threw for 804 yards, eight TD’s and one interception. The term, “plug and play” has been used to describe Baylor’s offense. Meaning any talented QB should be able to pick up where the previous guy left off and put up insane numbers. I’d say so far that has been the case since the Art Briles era began. We’ll see if Russell can keep the QB pedigree rolling in Waco.
Corey Coleman – Last year, as a sophomore, the All-American tallied 64 catches for 1,119 yards and 11 TD’s. A nice year to say the least but Coleman did it in only 10 games. NFL.com listed Coleman as “College Football’s Most Explosive Player.” Baylor is loaded with talented receivers, but Coleman is the standard-setter and an electrifying receiver who knows how to get open.
Shawn Oakman – Oakman led the 2014 Bears defense with 19.5 tackles-for-loss and 11 sacks. Those numbers put Oakman at #10 nationally for the season. He’s big and he’s scary and he has his sights set on the NFL which means the senior won’t be slowing down in 2015. Surrounded by the likes of Andrew Billings and Beau Blackshear, offensive lines won’t have the luxury to being able to double-team Oakman consistently. Look for this defensive front to do big things this year, especially Oakman.
BAYLOR’S KEYS TO THE GAME
Just Be Yourself – The Bears are favored by 35.5 points and some would call that conservative. This Baylor team is loaded with NFL caliber talent and needs only to set the pace and play their game. The powerful and speedy Bears won’t need to do anything different from what they have been doing all Spring to walk away with an easy win.
Get Up Big, Get Up Early – SMU knows they are out-manned in nearly every head-to-head match up on the field. Baylor has a way of hanging 14 points on teams before they even knew what hit them. If Baylor does this it will immediately take the wind out of SMU’s sails and the Mustangs will know they’re in for a long day.
Don’t Give Away Turnovers – Turnovers a “Key To The Game”??? Shocking I know. But let’s face it, it’s true. Whenever a major upset occurs, turnovers play a key role. If an underdog gets a bounce here and a call there, a poorly timed turnover can be the icing on the upset cake. Baylor simply shouldn’t have to be in a position to put the ball at risk against the Mustangs given their talent pool.
WHAT BAYLOR FANS WANT TO SEE
Utter domination. Baylor fans shouldn’t even have to raise an eyebrow in this one. Another thing Baylor Nation wants to see is their starting lineup intact at the end of the game. The smart money says the Bears will lead by a large margin and possibly very early. This will make Briles walk the fine line between getting his starters in-game action to prepare them for the remainder of the season, while also avoiding injuries to those key players. 2 1/2 to 3 quarters of starters getting action without any major injuries would be ideal.
The Chad Morris era opens for SMU against what will likely be their toughest home game of the season. The overriding question with SMU is how bare did former head coach June Jones leave the talent cupboard? There is certainly talent in spots but it’ll be tough to match up with a Baylor team that is loaded with speed and strength. SMU fans are hoping that Morris will bring the same scheme, strategy and recruiting to Dallas that fellow former Stephenville, TX High School head coach Art Briles brought to Baylor.
SMU PLAYERS TO WATCH
Matt Davis – Started the final 5 games of last season and amassed a total of 613 rushing yards to go with 855 passing yards. He’ll need to use his wheels to keep plays alive and stay away from Baylor’s aggressive defense. With a largely inexperienced set of skill players around him Davis will need to do his best to find a rhythm with his receivers early to keep the Ponies offense running along.
Darius Joseph – Joseph, SMU’s leading receiver last season, will need to find ways to connect with QB Matt Davis as often as possible. Joseph is the only proven commodity in the receiving corps and getting open early and often will give SMU’s other threats an opportunity to get the ball.
Zach Wood – In order for the Ponies to pose a threat in this game they will need to rely on their returning sack leader to get pressure on first year Baylor starting QB Seth Russell. If Wood can create pressure in the back field the rest of the defense will have a less gargantuan task in trying to corral all of Baylor’s terrific skill players.
SMU’S KEYS TO THE GAME
Get to Russell – If SMU wants to stay in this game beyond the opening kick off they will have to find a way to get to Baylor QB Seth Russell early and often. By pestering Russell and hitting the Ponies would prevent Baylor from finding any kind of offensive rhythm.
Make fewer mistakes – Ordinarily this would be winning the turnover battle, however when SMU takes the field they’ll likely need to play a perfect game just to have a shot at winning this game. Coach Morris needs his team to play a disciplined game combined with a few breaks and turnovers in order to keep this one close.
Hit them deep – If Matt Davis has time to move around and find a few open receivers downfield it will open up the shorter passing game for the rest of the night. Hitting a few big plays early will go a long way towards getting SMU’s confidence up. Going up on Baylor early and staying ahead might be the only way that the Ponies don’t get mauled.
You’ve probably figured this out by now, but give us Baylor in a big way. They are just too big, and too powerful for the Mustangs. The only question in this game is how long Art Briles keeps the starters in.