College Football's New Look

That's no small loss. But overall, the defensive losses for the Tigers are small. Five of the top seven tacklers, and three of the top four tacklers behind the line of scrimmage, are returning next fall for the national runner-up Tigers.

College football lineups change every year by definition. There will always be new blood. But for the Tigers, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson whipped out some old-school lessons to impress upon them the task at hand.

Senior defensive tackle Gabe Wright, second to Ford with 8.5 tackles for loss in 2013, said that Johnson told the defense the story of Sisyphus as a way of describing what they had to do.

"He finally got it up a hill, and it rolled back down," Wright said of Sisyphus, "and he was like, 'What do I do now?'"

That's the position in which the Tigers find themselves. They have to roll the ball back up the hill. Fortunately, they have a wealth of experienced players, including seven defensive starters, five in the front seven.

"We bring back a leadership and experience level that we haven't had since 2010," Wright said, referring to the senior-laden national champions. This year's team has the same makeup.

"Whenever you're able to fill up two full rows of seniors in your team meeting room," Wright said, "good things should happen."

Except for left offensive tackle Greg Robinson, the second player taken in the NFL draft, and running back Tre Mason, the offense returns pretty much intact as well. Quarterback Nick Marshall, who didn't arrive at Auburn until August yet led the Tigers to the brink of the national championship, has the advantage of participating in a spring practice with his coaches and teammates.

It's easy to project Auburn as a one-hit wonder looking for its second smash. But do so at your own peril. In the college game, it's hard to beat experience, and that's something the Tigers have coming out of their ears.

WACO, Texas -- Ask Baylor coach Art Briles about the players he's excited about after the Bears' spring practices and he'll deliver his answer with his distinctive style in his slow, Texas drawl.

On Devin Chafin, redshirt sophomore running back: "If you give him a dollar, you're not going to get any change. He's going to give you everything he's got."

On cornerback Xavien Howard, another spring standout: "If he doesn't make it in football, he might become a police officer. He can lock your ass up."

Briles refers to Bryce Petty, his star quarterback, as "Pettybone,"and although neither is quite sure of its origin, it might have something to do with the fact that Petty was, well, bad to the bone last season.

Petty completed 62 percent of his passes for 4,200 yards with 32 touchdowns in his first season as starting quarterback, leading the Bears to their first Big 12 championship. Even more impressive, he threw only three interceptions in 403 pass attempts and had the fifth-highest total QBR (85.5) among FBS quarterbacks.

"We expect him to be better this season," Briles said. "He should be better -- it's his second year."

The question is: Can Baylor be better in 2014?

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