Ah, yes, Baylor. When I hear the name, I think of only one thing....
You were a great DH, Don Baylor, but you were no Edgar Martinez. By the way, why, exactly, did Baylor never wear ear flaps on his batting helmet? Didn't the guy lead the universe in hit-by-pitches? Yet no ear flaps? I think I have a stack of those batting helmets from 1982 that I "borrowed" from the local Dairy Queen. Of course they are all Seattle Mariners or Spokane Indians, but you get the idea.
Seriously, Baylor. The wacky Baylor Bears take on our Cougs in the 3rd game of the season, and this time it's down in Waco. What do these guys look like coming out of spring? Let's see.
First of all, I think Baylor hates us. Really. Think about it - we beat them in the '94 Alamo Bowl. We beat them 17-15 in Qwest in 2006, on Peanut's chip-shot at the gun that almost wasn't if the refs hadn't totally missed DeMaundray's fumble at the goal-line a few plays before. And then last year, we go down there with the hoops team and hand them their first loss in dramatic style. All in all, I'm thinking they want a piece of WSU ass right about now.
Last Year: 3-9, including a terrible o-fer in the Big-12. And you thought we were the suckiest bunch of sucks who ever sucked last year? 3-9 and defeated in conference play isn't just bad. It's major poop-island stuff. Head coach Guy Morriss took the fall and was relieved of his duties, and Art Briles now takes over the only Big 12 team that hasn't ever been to a bowl game in conference history! (Baylor was not in the Big 12 when we beat them in 1994.) Briles comes from Houston, and he had a decent 34-28 record there, including three bowl games since 2003.
Offensive Scheme: Briles brings a pass-first, shotgun offense to Baylor. Spread 'em out and attack through the air. This is sure a common theme these days, isn't it?
Top Offensive Player: This could also be another QB controversy issue. Blake Szymanski is back as the starter from last year, and he threw for over 2800 yards and 22 scores in '07. He did toss 18 picks, however, in his first attempt as a starter in his sophomore season. Szymanski is tall at 6-4, but slightly over 200 lbs isn't exactly an imposing figure. He completed 57% of his passes last year, not too bad but still not great. In all the video I've watched of him, he doesn't have a gun, but he does throw a decent deep ball. A lot of touch on the lobs to the end-zone. Here's a shot of him tossing one up into coverage, but the WR goes up and gets it:
NCAA Football Highlights on Veoh.com
He could be an ideal fit for the shotgun spread offense, which doesn't rely on Brett Favre-types back there. A look around at some of the Big 12 offenses and you see a lot of QB's that are less about pure arm strength and more about executing the read-option offense, making your reads and getting rid of the football. He's got some decent weapons in WR's Thomas White and super-talented David Gettis. Gettis is a huge target at 6-4, 205 lbs, and could have a major breakout season in the spread offense. Our secondary will have it's hands full with Gettis.
But, I said QB controversy above, as it's not a lead-pipe cinch that Szymanski will be the guy next year. There was some spring buzz about QB Kirby Freeman, a hyped transfer from the U of Miami. Freeman was a big-time recruit from Texas who chose the 'Canes over Purdue, Okie State, Arizona, ASU, Nebraska, Texas and UCLA. But Freeman is already a 5th-yr senior, and with a new coach and offense in tow, it might not make a whole lot of sense to give him the job with a returning starter like Szymanski who has some time left to grow. But we'll see. You can read about Freeman from an ESPN profile last month here.
Top Defensive Player: This one is a tie between LB Joe Pawelek and safety Jordan Lake. Both are well-regarded in the conference, and per the Sporting News, are in the top 5 in the Big 12 at their respective positions. Pawelek (pictured) exploded onto the scene in 2006, leading the team in tackles as a frosh. He had 86 tackles his first year, and 99 last year. He is now an All-Conference and All-American candidate heading into 2008. At 6-3, 233, he fits the prototype linebacker mold to a T and likely has a real NFL future in front of him. Oh, and guess what? He almost was a Coug! That's right, Pawelek was one of those Texas kids we went after a few years ago, and in 2005 he chose Baylor over WSU and Houston. Pretty interesting. Here's a Cougfan article about him in back in the day, and who knows, maybe he would have been starting alongside Greg Trent this whole time? Meanwhile, Lake had a strong 2007, totaling 120 tackles and a couple of picks. Lake is a solid 6-2, 205 lb safety who is always around the ball, and like Pawelek, an All-Conference candidate as the leader of the secondary.
Bottom Line: Our first road game of the Paul Wulff era comes at a weird spot. Traveling back to Texas might be difficult enough. But then you factor in an opponent with a whole new system and this one is tough to read. Baylor opens with 3 straight home games, with Wake Forest on 8/30 and Northwestern State on 9/6 before WSU comes calling. Even though they have a new system, they are returning 9 offensive starters, including the likely starting QB in Szymanski. The offensive line looks really strong as well, with four starters back from '07. They only allowed 21 sacks all of last year, so, they will be regarded as the top unit on the team. I think USC sacked Brink 21 times last year? Anyway, defensively, however, they do lose some key guys, including safety Brandon Stiggers, who tied for the team lead in picks last year. Add in that they had the worst scoring defense in the Big 12, allowing over 32 points per game? In their case, a changeover in coaches and some new faces might be the best possible scenario.
To me, they look a little like Oklahoma State, only not quite as talented. But it will be our first road game, which can always be an adventure, especially for the new coaches and players. I would think Baylor will be a 3-4 point favorite, but it could come down to whoever has the ball last wins. That, or, "I'll tell ya what - if WSU can score more points than Baylor, they just might pull this thing off!" Signed, Ron Fairly.
Enjoy your holiday weekend with $4/gallon of gas. Not to get too political, but, did you know that the day the Iraq war started, gas was $1.58 a gallon?? I thought the war was about oil. Or was it terror? I forget. Whatever. Anyway, enjoy your weekend.