We're back for the next installment of the West Virginia football season preview, with the the fourth game and the Mountaineers' inaugural Big 12 Conference game against Baylor.
WVU officially joined the Big 12 on July 1—a monumental moment for the program, athletic department, and entire university, not to mention the state of West Virginia.
The Mountaineers were granted a relatively favorable schedule during their first year in the conference, as they will face three of the top four Big 12 squads from last year in Morgantown.
It all starts on September 29 against the Bears, who were the No. 3 team in the conference last year.
This will be an interesting year for the boys from Waco, as they will have to deal with the loss of the heart and soul of their team; their Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III.
[caption id="attachment_716" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Nick Florence (left) will attempt to replace arguably the best player in Baylor history, Robert Griffin III (right). Photo Credit: Jerome Miron | US Presswire | ESPN.com"][/caption]
Taking his place will be senior Nick Florence.
The Garland, Texas native has seen limited action in backup of RG3, most of which came in his 2009, his freshman season, where he threw for 1,786 yards, six touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Much of Baylor's season will hinge on how well he handles his first season as the starter.
Luckily, he will have a very talented receiving corps to rely on, led by RG3's No. 2 target from a year ago.
The group of receivers will be without its top performer from last year, Kendall Wright who went for 1,663 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Filling that role will be senior Terrance Williams who had 59 catches for 957 yards and 11 scores.
[caption id="attachment_717" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Terrance Williams (No. 2) will be filling the shoes of Baylor standout Kendall Wright. Photo Credit: Sarah Groman | Round Up photographer | Baylor.edu"][/caption]
Joining the 6-foot-3 205-pound Williams are two more returning starters from Baylor's spread attack.
Another senior Lanear Simpson went for 572 yards and three touchdowns, but junior inside reciever Tevin Reese may emerge as the most talented of the bunch.
Reese had 877 yards receiving and seven touchdowns in his sophomore campaign and has the talent to be the go-to guy for Florence this year.
This deep and talented group of receivers will be tough for the West Virginia secondary to corral.
As if the loss of Griffin and Wright weren't enough, Baylor will also have to replace its top rushing threat in Terrence Ganaway.
He averaged 119 yards per game a season ago, including a total of 1,566 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Senior Jarred Salubi and Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk will team up to replace him in the backfield.
The more experienced Salubi is listed as the starter heading into the summer, but Seastrunk was an extremely highly touted recruit out of Temple, Texas, and could prove to have a huge impact for the Bears.
The duo will be running behind an offensive line that is very experienced in the middle, but young on the outside.
Baylor's guards and center have a combined 76 starts under their belts, but tackles Troy Baker and Spencer Drango have none.
Look for the WVU rushers to pressure those young tackles out the outside early and often.
On the defensive front, Baylor will start three seniors and one junior.
Despite the apparent experience, the Bears will miss defensive tackles Nick Jean-Baptiste and Tracy Robertson, who combined for 8.5 sacks last year.
They will also lose their leading tackler, linebacker Elliot Coffey. Junior Terrance Lloyd, who had seven tackles for a loss last year will be relied on to lead an otherwise inexperienced group of linebackers.
Luckily for Baylor, they do return an experienced and talented group of defensive backs.
Sam Holl, Mike Hicks, K.J. Morton, Joe Williams, and Ahmad Dixon all return after combining for 12 interceptions last year.
[caption id="attachment_718" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Sam Holl (No. 25) will lead an experienced Baylor secondary this season. Photo Credit: Jay Janner | American-Statesman | Statesman.com"][/caption]
Although they allowed 291 yards per game through the air last year, the Baylor staff will be looking for the secondary to be the strength of this defense.
Against WVU, it will need to be.
Both of these secondaries will be tossed into a pressure cooker as the two dangerous passing offenses will look to boil them through the air.
It will be a shootout—there is no doubt about that.
Baylor will be a perfect first test for WVU in the Big 12; just enough talent to provide a challenge, but without RG3, the Baylor offense won't be able to keep up with Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, and company.
Check out this video and introduction of Baylor University athletics from WVUSports.com.
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