The Baylor Football team came into the 2010 season with a heavy weight on its shoulders. That weight was in the form of the 16 teams before it, the 16 teams that failed to make a bowl game. This 2010 version of the Bears lead by Robert Griffin III finally shed that weight, or as some would say got the monkey off their back.
This Baylor team that finished 7-6 was by all measures a success; Setting records on the offensive side of the ball, beating the all powerful (although terrible) University of Texas, and advancing to the Texas Bowl. However, you can rest assured that Coach Briles and the Baylor Staff aren't sitting around thinking on a season that was, but what the 2011 season will bring.
After all, we all know that great teams, good teams and even mediocre teams go bowling more than once every 16 years. Baylor is going to have a tough time going bowling again in 2011, playing a tougher schedule that includes all of the other nine teams that make up the "Big XII." For the sake of a different opinion, one that isn't just satisfied with one season going well, I'll play the devil's advocate.
Baylor won seven games, solid by their recent standards, but let's take a look inside those numbers. Excluding their Division IAA opponent, Sam Houston State, the Bears other six wins came by beating teams with a combined record of 26 wins and 47 losses. Out of those six teams, only Kansas State advanced to play in a bowl game, which they in turn lost to Syracuse.
The Bears also failed to play a competitive game against excellent competition. The Bears lost a close game to an average Texas Tech team, and played one excellent half against the Aggies before caving in the second half. However, Baylor lost to TCU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State by a combined score of 153 to 62.
Simply put, the Bears can't expect to be making trips to Bowl Games year after year simply because they play a weak schedule. If Baylor wants to compete with the Kings of the Big XII, everyone involved in the organization will have to be willing to accept change. Coach Briles and his staff, the players and the Baylor fans will have to avoid the trap of success leading to complacency if their is any hope of having future success.
While the Bears struggled on multiple fronts, the most obvious culprit for poor performance is the Bears defense. Baylor ranked 114th out of 120 teams in the Football Bowl Series in passing defense giving up 267 yards per game through the air, with opposing quarterbacks completing over 65 percent of their passes.
While the Bears don't have all the talent in the world on the defensive side of the ball, and struggle to tackle, it looks as if the true problem lies their defensive schemes. Baylor routinely lines up in very soft coverage, often times more than 10 yards off of the line of scrimmage, giving receivers opportunities not only to catch short passes in open spaces, but also to run deeper routes much more cleanly.
Another issue with the scheme that defensive coordinator Brian Norwood applies is that the Baylor linebackers are often stuck covering Wide Receivers, which is an obvious mismatch. It seems as if Briles should bring in a coordinator that knows what he is doing, but it looks as if Baylor fans will be stuck hoping Norwood changes his ways next year.
Make no mistakes about it, although the Baylor offense broke many offensive records this year, it is far from a finished product. The Bears offense was in the top 25 in both passing and rushing yards, but in big games the offense at times came up dry.
It starts with the play calling, and drifts all the way down to the playmakers. The Baylor offense had no shortage of playmakers this past year with Jay Finley setting the record for rushing yards in a season, and Robert Griffin setting the mark for most passing yards in a career at Baylor.
However, Baylor fans remained frustrated with the play calling, tired of seeing bubble screen on back to back plays, and the quarterback read time and time again. Baylor rarely looks downfield; however, that might be Robert Griffin's fault as much as anyone else's. Griffin needs to hit the practice field this offseason and work on his execution of deep passes.
Too many times this year the Baylor receivers came up empty on their deep routes because Griffin either left the ball short, or overthrew his receivers. If this Baylor offense wants to compete with speedy defenses like TCU, they'll need to not only open up the playbook but also be able to execute those plays.
If Baylor has any chance of competing with the top tier Big XII teams next season we'll find out in their opening game against TCU. With an offseason full of time to change, there is more than enough time for the Bears to make the needed changes to be competitive against elite teams.