CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 9 Baylor

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2013 record: 11-2 overall, 8-1 in Big 12 (1st in conference)
2013 postseason: Fiesta Bowl vs. UCF (52-42 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 13/No. 13
Head coach: Art Briles (78-60 overall; 44-32 in six years at Baylor)
Offensive coordinator: Philip Montgomery (6th season at Baylor)
2013 offensive rankings: 13th rushing offense (259.7 ypg); 5th passing offense (359.1 ypg); 1st total offense (618.8 ypg); 1st scoring offense (52.4 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: six
Defensive coordinator: Phil Bennett (3rd season at Baylor)
2013 defensive rankings: 38th rushing defense (145.4 ypg); 34th passing defense (214.9 ypg);  28th total defense (360.3 ypg); 36th scoring defense (23.5 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: four
Location: Waco, Texas
Stadium: McLane Stadium (45,000; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 2013

THE GOOD
The Baylor Bears are the Lamborghini of college football offenses. Last season, the Bears’ offense was ranked No. 1 overall and averaged 618.8 yards per game. To put that number in perspective, the Oregon Ducks finished 2nd overall in total offense and they averaged 53.8 less yards per contest. That is truly an astonishing number. It’s possible the Bears’ offense will be better in 2014. Quarterback Bryce Petty enters his second year as a starter. Five of the team’s top six receivers also return. Three offensive linemen are back, with a near 400-pound monster replacing one of the departing starters. And running back Shock Linwood was nearly as good as Lache Seastrunk when given the opportunity to carry the load. In the two games Linwood carried the ball more than 20 times, he rushed for at least 182 yards. To top it all off, the Bears added a pair of four-star recruits at wide receiver with K.D. Cannon and Davion Hall. The Bears’ offense is simply a well-oiled machine that will be nearly impossible to slow down this season.

THE BAD
When a team’s offense throws the ball all over the yard while operating at a breakneck pace, opponents will try to keep pace. Baylor took a big step in the right direction on defense last season, but the lasting impression of that unit will be sacrificing 556 yards to the UCF Knights during a 52-42 loss in the Fiesta Bowl. Each time Baylor made a comeback, the defense let them down. And the team now has to replace all but two starters from that game, four of which are currently on NFL rosters. Maybe a complete overhaul was needed. But there is always something to say about continuity within one unit of a football team. Baylor isn’t starting from scratch. They’re talented up front with both starting defensive tackles back for another season and the enigma known as Shawn Oakman at defensive end. Two key players, middle linebacker Bryce Hager and defensive end Jamal Palmer, will be asked to assume leadership roles as the rest of the defense continues to grow and improve around them.

THE UNKNOWN
With strength of schedule once again being an emphasis for determining the top teams in college football, the Bears fall short. Baylor suffers from a weak non-conference schedule. The Buffalo Bulls, which finished 8-5 and second in the MAC East last year, is the best non-conference opponent on the Bears’ schedule. Even when the Big 12 conference schedule is factored into the equation, the Bears only face two teams ranked in the preseason polls. A single loss could spell doom for the Bears. An undefeated run through conference play may be Baylor’s only chance to be named one of college football’s final four in the first College Football Playoff. Would that even be enough for the committee to vote the Bears into the tournament over a one-loss SEC or Pac-12 team?

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Oklahoma
Baylor is still the new kid on the block with the shiny new toys. Whereas Oklahoma remains the Big 12’s neighborhood bully. As the two teams enter the season, the Sooners are considered national title contenders, while the Bears are still scratching and clawing to prove they can be an elite program over the long haul. This particular game is crucial for Baylor. The Bears have beaten the Sooners two of the last three years. The Sooners, however, enter the season as the favorites to win the Big 12 and ranked in the Top 5 of both the AP and Coaches’ Polls. A victory in Norman will clearly establish Baylor as the team to beat in the Big 12 this year and moving forward.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: QB Bryce Petty
The thought of Baylor ever truly replacing quarterback Robert Griffin III was unimaginable. Yet, Petty quickly escaped RG3’s shadow and continues to build a legacy of his own. When RG3 won the Heisman Trophy in 2011, he threw for 4,293 yards, 36 touchdowns and only six interceptions. In 2013, Petty’s numbers were quite similar. The current Baylor quarterback passed for 4,200 yards, 32 and a microscopic three interceptions. While RG3 had decided advantages in overall accuracy and rushing yardage, Petty led Baylor to a better overall record (11-2) and a higher average per completion (16.8 yards). Due to the success of these two quarterbacks, Baylor is now considered a national contender. And in Briles’ explosive offense, the Bears’ starting quarterback has a chance to be in the Heisman conversation.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Virginia Tech transfer QB Josh Jackson tweets move to Maryland

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For the third time this offseason, first-year head coach Mike Locksley has pulled in a Power Five transfer to his Maryland program.

On his personal Twitter account Monday night, Josh Jackson announced that he has committed to continuing his collegiate playing career for Locksley at Maryland.  Nearly four weeks ago, it was confirmed that Jackson would be leaving Virginia Tech as the quarterback had placed his name into the NCAA transfer database.

As Jackson is expected to graduate from Tech in May, he would be eligible to play for Maryland this coming season.  Not only that, but he will have another year of eligibility he can use in College Park in 2020 as well.

After going through a tumultuous offseason, Jackson began 2018 as the Hokies’ starting quarterback only to suffer a season-ending injury in mid-September.

As a redshirt freshman in 2017, Jackson started all 13 games for the 9-4 Hokies. He passed for 2,991 yards and ran for another 324 yards while accounting for 26 touchdowns — 20 passing, six rushing.  The passing yards were the most for an FBS freshman that season, while the touchdowns passes were the second-most at this level.

Given the fact that he’ll be immediately eligible, Jackson will head into summer camp as the favorite to lay claim to the Terrapins’ starting job under center.

In addition to Jackson, Maryland has landed transfers from wide receiver Sean Savoy and linebacker Keandre Jones.  The former comes to College Park from Virginia Tech, the latter from Ohio State.

Ex-Arizona State LB Jalen Bates announces transfer to Colorado State

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Not long after declaring he was looking to transfer, ex-Arizona State linebacker Jalen Bates has found his landing spot. Bates is heading to Colorado State.

On Monday, Bates announced to his Twitter followers he is a Ram. The message was posted with a Photoshopped image showing him in a Colorado State football uniform. Bates started 10 games for Arizona State last season, and he has appeared in 18 games during his college career with the Sun Devils. That’s a nice addition for the Rams.

Having already earned his degree from Arizona State, Bates will be eligible to p[lay right away for the Rams this fall.

Oklahoma State OT Arlington Hambright announces transfer to Colorado

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Former Oklahoma State offensive tackle Arlington Hambright is ready for his final season of college football. He’ll play it at Colorado, Hambright announced via Twitter.

“I give all glory and praise to God, without him I would be nothing but I will be spending my last year in Boulder, Colorado playing in the Pac-12 under some GREAT coaches and for [an] amazing University,” Hambright announced, via Twitter. “Now let’s get to work!”

Reports of Hambright potentially transferring from Oklahoma State surfaced earlier this month as the player transfer fun has continued to run wild this offseason. While no specific reason for his reason for transferring has been made public, he will certainly be looking to close out his college football career on a high note. An ankle injury brought an early end to Hambright’s 2018 season after starting the first five games of the season. He did return for the Liberty Bowl against Missouri, but Hambright will look to get in a full season as a potential starter in the Pac-12 this fall.

E.J. Price, Kentucky OL with starting experience, leaves Wildcats

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Coming off one of the most successful seasons in recent memory in Lexington, Kentucky now has a hole to plug on the offensive line. Starting offensive tackle E.J. Price has reportedly left the football program. According to a report from Kentucky Sports Radio, Price will pursue other opportunities and a university spokesperson confirmed he is no longer with the program.

Price transferred to Kentucky from USC in 2017, but it was about a year ago Price suggested he was ready to leave Kentucky too. However, Price stuck with the Wildcats in 2018. He started 11 of 13 games for Kentucky as the Wildcats turned in a 10-win season capped with a victory in the Capital One Bowl against Penn State. It was Kentucky’s first 10-win season since 1977 and their first bowl victory since the 2008 season.

What’s next for Price remains to be seen. He will be required to sit out the 2019 season if he transfers to another FBS program unless he applies for a waiver and receives approval to be eligible in the fall.

As for Kentucky, the spring will open with a starting job up for grabs on the offensive line, although the return of Landon Young from a season-ending injury a year ago should help solidify the efforts up front.