It may only be July, but it’s never too early to talk college football. Get your daily fix with our countdown of the preseason Top 25, the consensus picks of the American-Statesman sports staff:
No. 20 BAYLOR
The Bears will contend if … Bryce Petty, the new quarterback, continues the magic at the spot created by Robert Griffin III and continued by Nick Florence. And if the defense can figure out how the game is played (Hint: Look at their Holiday Bowl film).
Coach: Art Briles (6th year, 67-58)
2012 record: 8-5 overall, 4-5 Big 12
2012 bowl: Beat UCLA 49-26 in the Holiday Bowl
Returning starters: 6 offense, 9 defense
Another Heisman campaign?: Lache Seastrunk proclaimed himself a Heisman candidate as the Bears prepared for their bowl game last December. And the tailback very well could be, if he plays an entire season the way he finished 2012, rushing for 831 yards in the final six games. As he did last fall, Seastrunk will split carries with Glasco Martin, probably giving Baylor the Big 12’s best running game. Martin gained 889 yards with 15 touchdowns a year ago.
It’s Petty’s team: This is Petty’s fourth year in Briles’ offensive system, but playing behind Griffin and Florence offered him few on-field chances. Petty has thrown only 14 passes, completing 10 of them, in 11 career games. Chances are, Briles will try to ease him along early, going heavily to his proven tailbacks running behind a line with three senior starters. On paper, Petty is the total package. He’s smart — he finished his degree in May and was an all-Big 12 academic selection in 2012. He’s got nice size (6-3, 230). And he’s strong and athletic with a squat of 545 pounds and a broad jump of 10 feet, 5 1/2 inches. But can he read defenses? We’ll know by early October, when Baylor opens league play against West Virginia.
Linebackers on display: Former Westlake standout Bryce Hager led the Big 12 in tackles a year ago, with 124. The Bears’ middle linebacker started 10 of 13 games and was one of the stars in the upset of Kansas State, registering 10 tackles with a sack. Fellow linebacker Eddie Lackey also surpassed 100 tackles for the year; the former junior college standout returned interceptions for touchdowns in two games.
Getting defensive: The Bears ranked 119th in total defense a year ago. Only Louisiana Tech, statistically, was worse. The defense gave up at least 42 points in four games. But the Bears managed to play terrific defense in their last contest, the Holiday Bowl win over UCLA. Baylor had six sacks, two by Chris McAllister. And the Bears limited Johnathan Franklin, the Bruins’ career rushing leader, to 34 yards on 14 carries.
Did you know?:
• Last year’s offense averaged 572 yards per game, while the defense allowed 502.
• This fall will be the 64th and final season for Floyd Casey Stadium. An on-campus stadium next to the Brazos River is scheduled to be ready by fall 2014.
• Clay Fuller, vying for a starting spot at receiver, is a walk-on who played six years of pro baseball. He’ll be 26 this fall.
THE PAST FIVE YEARS
2012: 8-5, W Holiday Bowl
2011: 10-3, W Alamo Bowl
2010: 7-6, L Texas Bowl
2009: 4-8, no bowl
2008: 4-8, no bowl
Total: 33-30, 2-1 in bowls
Passing: Bryce Petty, 7-10-97 yards, 1/0
Rushing: Lache Seastrunk, 131-1,012-7 TDs
Receiving: Tevin Reese, 53-957-9 TDs
Tackles: LB Bryce Hager, 124
Sacks: DE Chris McAllister, 6
RETURNING ALL-BIG 12
OT: Cyril Richardson
LB: Bryce Hager (2nd team)
CENTRAL TEXAS PIPELINE
LB Bryce Hager (Westlake)
RB Glasco Martin (Stony Point)
RB Lache Seastrunk (Temple)
WR Tevin Reese (Temple)
OL Spencer Drango (Cedar Park)
Oct. 5;West Virginia*
Oct. 12;at Kansas State*
Oct. 19;Iowa State*
Oct. 26;at Kansas*
Nov. 16;Texas Tech*
Nov. 23;at Oklahoma State*
Nov. 30;at TCU*
* Big 12 game
TOP 25, BY CONFERENCES
(So far …)
3: Big 10 (No. 22 Nebraska, No. 24 Wisconsin, No. 25 Northwestern)
2: Big 12 (No. 20 Baylor, No. 23 Kansas State)
1: Pac-12 (No. 21 UCLA)
OUR TOP 25 (SO FAR)
No. 25 Northwestern
No. 24 Wisconsin
No. 23 Kansas State
No. 22 Nebraska
No. 21 UCLA
No. 20 Baylor
No. 19: Coming Wednesday. Want a hint? In 2011, this school’s quarterback broke Colt McCoy’s record for career wins. He is now a Detroit Lion.