After taking down Alabama as a huge underdog in the Sugar Bowl, the Oklahoma Sooners will enter 2014 as one of the favorites to claim the Big 12 Conference title.
But before boarding on the Boomer Sooner wagon, respect must be given to the defending league champion Baylor Bears.
The Bears are coming off the best season in school history, highlighted by their first ever Big 12 championship and BCS bowl appearance.
Perhaps the highest moment of that season came Nov. 7 when BU thumped OU, 41-12. Before that Thursday night victory, the Bears had made their way into the Top 10 of the polls but hadn't faced a ranked opponent all season.
The Sooners couldn't keep up with Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, who tallied 249 total yards and accounted for five touchdowns (three passing, two rushing).
It was just one act in a remarkable junior season for Petty. He amassed 4,409 total yards and 46 touchdowns (32 passing, 14 rushing), while throwing just three interceptions.
Those incredible totals came in just his first year as a starter. Petty will be back for a second term and will be firmly in the Heisman Trophy conversation.
While Petty will be back in Waco next year, the Bears will lose several key players, including running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin, along with deep-threat receiver Tevin Reese. However, Reese was out and Seastrunk and Martin combined for just 32 yards against the Sooners.
Additionally, the Bears won't be at a loss for talent on the offensive side. Running back Shock Linwood will be back after netting 881 rushing yards and eight touchdowns a year ago, as will receivers Antwan Goodley and Levi Norwood.
BU also has several possible replacements for Reese, including Robbie Rhodes, a former 5-star recruit who played a minor role as a freshman. He'll be joined by another pair of highly-touted receivers, 5-star KD Cannon and 4-star early enrollee Davion Hall.
|Baylor Bears 2014 Key Offensive Returnees and Newcomers|
|Player||2013 Stats or Recruit Rankings|
|QB Bryce Petty||4,409 total yards, 46 total TD|
|RB Shock Linwood||881 YDS, 8 TD|
|RB Devin Chafin||295 YDS 4 TD|
|WR Antwan Goodley||1,339 YDS, 13 TD|
|WR Levi Norwood||733 YDS, 8 TD|
|WR Corey Coleman||527 YDS, 2 TD|
|WR Clay Fuller||512 YDS, 3 TD|
|WR Robbie Rhodes||157 YDS (2013 5-star Recruit)|
|WR KD Cannon||5-star, No. 4 WR, No. 30 OVR|
|WR Davion Hall||4-star, No. 5 ATH, No. 49 OVR|
|Stats: BaylorBears.com, Recruit Rankings: 247Sports Composite|
Oklahoma brought in an impressive crop of recruits as well, highlighted by the nation's No. 1 all-purpose back, 5-star Joe Mixon.
Mixon might contribute immediately in Norman, but the biggest key will be quarterback Trevor Knight. He was the missing component during OU's inconsistent regular season in 2013.
After winning the job early, Knight struggled and, in part due to injury, was shuffled back and forth with Blake Bell. Finally OU settled on Knight, and he when finally regained health before the bowl game, the results were remarkable.
Knight was phenomenal against the Crimson Tide, throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns.
However, one strong game from Knight doesn't nearly outweigh a fantastic body of work from Petty. Knight will have to prove he can play that well consistently to give his team the edge over the Bears. Additionally, he'll have to do that without his top receiver, Jalen Saunders.
|Baylor 2014 Football Schedule|
|Aug. 31||Southern Methodist||Waco, Texas|
|Sept. 6||Northwestern State||Waco, Texas|
|Sept. 13||Buffalo||Buffalo, N.Y.|
|Sept. 27||Iowa State||Ames, Iowa|
|Oct. 4||Texas||Austin, Texas|
|Oct. 11||TCU||Waco, Texas|
|Oct. 18||West Virginia||Morgantown, W. Va.|
|Nov. 1||Kansas||Waco, Texas|
|Nov. 8||Oklahoma||Norman, Okla.|
|Nov. 22||Oklahoma State||Waco, Texas|
|Nov. 29||Texas Tech||Arlington, Texas|
|Dec. 6||Kansas State||Waco, Texas|
|The Dallas Morning News|
For both teams, the key contest will come Nov. 8 in Norman, where Baylor has never won.
Whether or not Baylor can stop its losing streak in Norman could end up deciding the Big 12 title. The conference will be wide-open as always, but there's little question that the Bears and the Sooners are the favorites going into the season.
Between the two, the ones currently wearing the crown and the ones with the league's best quarterback should have the slight nod.
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