Baylor Bears (-34) at SMU Mustangs
No team is more eager to start the 2015 NCAA football season than the Baylor Bears (11-2, 8-1 Big 12 in 2014). Last year, the Bears were the last team out of the inaugural College Football Playoffs. While some key pieces have departed, the Bears will open the season as huge favorites when they take on the SMU Mustangs (1-11, 1-7 American in 2014) on Friday, September 4, at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas (7:00 PM Eastern).
Head coach Art Briles’ number one concern is replacing the prolific numbers of QB Bryce Petty, who’s now the next QB of the future for the Jets. Petty led the team to the fourth-best passing offense in the nation last season and the top scoring offense. Junior Seth Russell looks have the inside track on replacing Petty. “He’s shown the ability to help our football team win with his feet and with his arm and with his intelligence,” Briles said of Russell during the fall camp.
If Russell falters, look for sophomore Chris Johnson to get a chance with the first team offense.
With Petty departing and RB Shock Linwood returning, the Bears should boast a more balanced offensive attack this year, helping Russell transition to his new starting role. Linwood ran for 1,226 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, and those numbers should go up for the junior, who projects as a mid- to late-round 2016 NFL Draft pick.
As for the Mustangs, expectations are extremely low following a one-win season. While the 34-point spread against the Bears looks big and makes SMU a tempting play, keep in mind that the Mustangs lost to the Bears 45-0 last year (as 32-point dogs), and were just 4-8 ATS on the season.
The optimists in the crowd will note that the Mustang offense should be a little more dangerous thanks to new head coach Chad Morris and dual-threat QB Matt Davis. Morris spent the last three seasons as the offensive coordinator with the Clemson Tigers and is known for his daring up-tempo offense, which should suit Davis’ natural abilities.
Morris made it known that he’s not coming to Dallas to see the once mighty SMU program continue to flounder.
“I hope you’re talking about SMU being a championship contender year in and year out and a top ten program through the landscape of college football,” Morris told Dave Campbell’s Texas Football. “I want to be a trendsetter, and we’re going to do it the right way and recruit the right high caliber players that want to be here.”
In the trends, Baylor and SMU have met five times since 1995 with Baylor winning and covering in all five. But with Baylor getting used to a new QB, the Mustangs packing a little more offensive punch, and the game being played in Dallas, 34 points looks like too many. SMU won’t be a championship-caliber squad under Morris – at least, not right away – but they’ll be a team that fights back and puts a few points on the board.
Pick: SMU (+34).
(Photo credit: GoIowaState.com (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)