Coach: Guy Morriss (3rd season, 6-17) 2004 record: 3-8 Big 12 finish: 1-7 (t-6th, South) 2004 I-A offensive rankings:Rushing: 104th (98.9 ypg) Passing: 61st (212.9 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 102nd (205.8 ypg) Passing: 62nd (215.3 ypg)
at Texas A&M
at Iowa State
Depth Chart: Offense
4 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
7 returning starters in red
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By the end of his first game as Baylor's defensive coordinator, Bill Bradley was questioning his career move. The former Philadelphia Eagles All-Pro defensive back had left the NFL coaching ranks for one of college football's most downtrodden programs and debuted with a 56-14 drubbing at UAB. But in the middle of a 3-8 season, Bradley saw the Bears turn the corner.
Believe it or not, the turning point was not the 35-34 overtime victory over Texas A&M, which ended an 18-year winless drought against the Aggies. It came the week before in a 26-25 loss to Iowa State.
"I walked in that dressing room, and that's the first time here where I actually saw guys crying from hurt. Pride and hurt," Bradley said. "They knew we should have won that game. And it hurt. That's where we started turning the corner. The A&M game speaks for itself. We really got after 'em and played our best game probably in the two years they've all been here."
Whether it was the Iowa State loss or the A&M win, the belief is that the corner has been turned.
"I think we're miles ahead of where we were when we first got here," said head coach Guy Morriss, who has a two-year record of 6-17. "Our No. 1 goal is always to win conference. But we need to find a way to win enough games to get into some kind of bowl."
The biggest obstacle is the same as the previous nine years -- the Big 12 South. Consider the fact that every other team in the division went to a bowl game last year and had a combined record of 45-16.
"I tell you what, the southern division of the Big 12 is as tough as it gets," said Morriss, who was 7-5 in his final season at Kentucky. "Of course, the eastern half of the SEC is the same way. So we cut our teeth on some pretty good competition before we came over here."
Even with a spread offense that uses a host of receivers, junior tailback Paul Mosley is "the man" for the Bears. After splitting time last year, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Mosley is due for a breakout season. A powerful downhill runner, he rushed for 582 yards on a 4.6-yard average behind a much weaker offensive line.
"We expect him to be one of our main playmakers, a guy we've got to feed the ball to a lot," offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. "He's big and strong and has all the intangibles you're looking for, and I think he can carry the load."
No area on the team should make a bigger jump than the offensive line, which adds Tulane transfer Will Blaylock, junior college All-American Matt Lott and redshirt sophomore Nick Pace, who sat out last season with a back injury.
Junior quarterback Shawn Bell had the starting job all but fall in his lap when former junior college All-American Dane King transferred to Division II Henderson State and sophomore Terrance Parks suffered a hand injury late in spring practice. In his finest moment, Bell hit wide receiver Dominique Zeigler for the touchdown and two-point conversion in the win over Texas A&M last year.
Bell has a quality corps of receivers, led by Zeigler, Trent Shelton, J Fields and Shaun Rochon.
Bradley points to turnovers as the one area where the Bears have to make a huge jump. With four interceptions and five fumble recoveries, they ranked last in the nation in turnovers forced.
"You've just got to make the play," Bradley said. "You look at the tapes, and we had a ton of what I call MOPs -- missed opportunities. In the games we won, we got those turnovers."
Easily the deepest and most talented area on the team, the secondary is led by senior free safety Maurice Lane and senior outside safety Willie Andrews, who have made 57 starts between them.
The starting linebackers had to be replaced. But instead of throwing freshmen "into the fire," Bradley can turn to veteran seniors Colin Allred and Jamaal Harper. Allred rotated with starter Michael Tolbert last season and came up with 42 tackles.
Senior end Montez Murphy is a legitimate NFL prospect at the other end, even if his numbers in '04 (20 tackles, two sacks) didn't show it. Marcus Foreman is a solid replacement at the other end, but the Bears need to find quality instead of quantity at a crowded tackle position.
Ray Guy Award winner Daniel Sepulveda averaged 46 yards per punt and nailed 26 inside the 20-yard line last season. Andrews is a potential All-America returner, but he's got to show that he can take it the distance.
Ultimately, the season hinges on an opening three-game stretch that includes road trips to SMU and Army and a home date against I-AA Samford. While it doesn't guarantee anything, a 3-0 start would at least keep the door open for a possible winning season and even a bowl trip.
The talent level at the skill positions seems to be adequate, but the lines are still suspect. And until they prove they can win on the road, anything more than three or four wins is probably just wishful thinking.