#4 Baylor Bears vs SMU Mustangs
Friday – September 4 – 6:00 pm CT
Gerald J. Ford Stadium – Dallas
The Baylor Bears will kick off their 2015 quest for the elusive Big 12 title three-peat with their road opener against old Southwest Conference foe SMU. Coach Art Briles and the Bears are looking to this game as a way to move past the heartbreaking meltdown they suffered in the fourth quarter against Michigan State at the 2015 Cotton Bowl. The specter of that 42-41 point loss, in which the Spartans scored 21 unanswered points in the 4th quarter has haunted the Bears all off season and has them hungry to take on the unheralded SMU Mustangs.
SMU presents an interesting early challenge for the Bears. With the departure of June Jones, new head coach Chad Morris brings a new style of football and a lot of unknowns. “We’re not really sure what SMU is going to do…” stated Art Briles during his press conference leading up to the game.
Baylor comes into the game in good shape on both sides of the ball, returning 8 offensive and 9 defensive starters from last year’s squad.
Baylor returns the top three running backs (Linwood, Jefferson and Chafin), as well as three of its top four receivers (Corey Colman, Jay Lee & K.D. Cannon). The offensive line is filled with veteran players with six lineman having eight or more career starts. The biggest question for the Bears will be how new starting quarterback Seth Russell will handle his turn at the helm of the Baylor juggernaut. Russell has just one career start which came last season in relief of an injured Bryce Petty. Russell will be looking to improve upon last year’s 56.6 passing percentage as he takes over the lead role against the Mustangs. Obviously, no discussion of the Baylor offense would be complete without mentioning the Bears biggest offensive weapon, LaQuan McGowan, the 6-7, 410 pound tight end will look to make an impact early against the SMU defense.
Baylor’s starting defensive line is loaded with talent. Senior Shawn Oakman and Junior Andrew Billings have been the subject of much attention this preseason, and will look to be a disruptive force against SMU. However, the big question for the Bears is how the secondary will hold up against the Mustang passing attack. Last season, the Baylor secondary looked quite outmatched at times, giving up over 300 yards five times (TCU, WVU, TT, KSU, MSU). A big factor in Baylor’s quest to three-peat and contend for a national championship will be the Baylor secondary’s ability to stay with receivers and avoid the penalties that plagued them all last season.
When Baylor has the Ball
- The Seth Russell show: With a plethora of fast capable receivers, look for Russell to throw the ball early and often. However, Russell is also a much more mobile QB then his predecessor Bryce Petty, so watch for him to break loose for a long run or two, RGIII style, along the way.
- I expect LaQuan McGowan to get some significant looks during the game. After catching an 18 yard TD pass in the Cotton Bowl, McGowan stands to be a looming threat for any defensive secondary. Look for Baylor to put the ball in his hands early in this game.
- If this game goes anything close to expectations, look for the backup QB, true freshman Jarrett Stidham to get some extended playing time in the second half. After beating out Chris Johnson for the position this fall, Baylor will be eager to get Stidham much needed game experience against SMU. Especially since QB injuries have been a common problem in the Big 12 the last few seasons.
When SMU has the Ball:
- Look for the Baylor front 4 to try and put pressure on starting QB Matt Davis early, if they can disrupt him on the early possessions and give Baylor’s offense a chance to jump out to a two score lead, it will be a long day for the Mustangs.
- Baylor fans are looking with great interest at the secondary. Watch to see how a healthy Ryan Reid performs against the Mustang receivers who will look to put pressure on the Baylor corners in hopes of big gain, or a return of the pass interference bug that plagued the Bears last season.
Baylor is coming into this game with its highest preseason ranking ever; they are hunting for a third Big 12 title and hope to contend for a National Championship. On top of that, the desire to erase the memory of the Cotton Bowl loss that end the 2014 season and it’s easy to imagine that the Bears will come into this game fired up and ready to make a statement against the unranked Mustangs.
Prediction: Baylor 45 – SMU 14