That’s the margin that granted the eventual national champion Ohio State Buckeyes a chance to compete in the inaugural College Football Playoff over the Baylor Bears. At least, that’s the margin if you believe Baylor head coach Art Briles.
Briles claimed that a source told him that the final slot in the field of four came down to Baylor and OSU. The committee members voted in favor of Ohio State by a tally of 8-4, meaning three votes swung in Baylor’s favor would have meant the best team in the country (in hindsight) got left out of the Playoff.
Or, maybe the best team in the country did get left out. Baylor ultimately lost to Michigan State in a hotly contested Cotton Bowl matchup, but TCU was nipping at Baylor’s heels and they dumptrucked Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl, forcing many to question if it was TCU that was wronged by the process. The Horned Frogs will be an early favorite in 2015 to win the Big 12 and earn a CFP bid, but it’s Baylor that’s the two-time defending conference champion.
In 2015, Baylor and TCU both return a load of talent and many have already circled their Nov. 27 bout in Fort Worth as a national quarterfinal. And, because we always assume momentum from a bowl game carries over (it doesn’t), TCU is the early favorite to win the game and win the league.
But Baylor may be better than ever in 2015.
Yes, Bryce Petty is gone and anytime you lose a quarterback of that ilk, the adjustment is daunting. Replacing an all-league performer is never easy, but it’s especially difficult at quarterback.
However, let’s not forget how QB-friendly Art Briles’ system is.
Heisman Trophy-winner Robert Griffin III couldn’t possibly be replaced and then, all of a sudden, Nick Florence is throwing for more passing yards while accounting for 43 total touchdowns to RGIII’s 47. A year later, Bryce Petty throws for another 4,200 yards (the third different QB in three years to accomplish the feat), ripping off another 46 total TDs.
Seth Russell will be challenged in camp by early-enrollee Jarrett Stidham (the No. 2 dual-threat QB prospect according to 247Sports), but it’s ultimately his job to lose and, while the sample size is small, he’s already shown a great deal of potential in his 128 pass attempts over the past two seasons. And the athletes that return around the Garland, TX, native should make the transition a helluva lot easier.
Shock Linwood, Johnny Jefferson and their 1,776 yards rushing will return this fall. So will 1,000-yard receivers Corey Coleman and KD Cannon, though, if you’re a Baylor fan you’ve probably never been concerned that there’d be a shortage of playmakers in an Art Briles offense.
What should excite you, though, is the fact that Baylor returns every single scholarship defensive lineman on its roster. That includes All-American defensive end and Bane impersonator (meme reference for the sake of meme-referencing) Shawn Oakman and All-Big 12 defensive tackle Andrew Billings.
And if scary statue man and all his cohorts aren’t enough, Baylor also returns its entire defensive secondary. They’ve also positioned themselves nicely to close with a Top 30 (or even Top 25) recruiting class in the 247Sports composite team rankings.
On a team that will score 40 points on a weekly basis as sure as the sun will rise, Baylor’s defense also figures to be a strength in 2015, and that’s scarier than any picture of Shawn Oakman with his jersey rolled up and piercing eyes hidden behind a shield and a Shredder facemask.
Of course, the issue we almost always have to circle back to with Baylor will be scheduling. The non-conference games on Baylor’s slate in 2015 include SMU, Lamar and Rice.
If Baylor survives the regular season unscathed (as the schedule seems to be designed for, though the execution has always been lacking), that isn’t likely to matter. But, with trips to Manhattan, Stillwater and Fort Worth on tap in Big 12 play, that non-conference scheduling puts Baylor at a disadvantage when we start having to have the discussion of one and two-loss teams on the fringe of CFP consideration.
With the 2016 College Football Playoff a full 11 months away, it may seem presumptuous to assume that it’d come down to that, but with 17 returning starters off a team that was apparently three votes away from being invited to the party in 2015, it’d take a complete and utter collapse for Baylor to run through the 2015 regular season with any more than two losses.
And if the Baylor Bears are sitting there in December with only a loss, it’d be a shame to see them fall just a few votes shy yet again.