KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Improving an offense that ranked 11th among Big 12 football teams in scoring offense seems like a difficult task.
However, Baylor coach Guy Morriss said it would be easy. Sort of.
Morriss hired new offensive coordinator Lee Hays from West Texas A&M in the offseason to help install a spread offense. The Bears' new system is similar to the wide-open attack of Texas Tech, and Morriss hopes to improve on last season's 17.5 points per game average. He said the Bears had no trouble picking up the new scheme during the spring.
''This is about like falling off a log," Morriss said.''You know it's pretty easy, really.
''It's all about knowing where to go with the football, and if you've got some speed you can always run away from man coverage. If somebody is going to play in the zone, just find a hole and get in it. The quarterback is going to find you and get you the football."
The responsibility of distributing the ball falls on senior quarterback Shawn Bell, who operated a similar system four years ago in high school.
''It's by far the easiest system, but you have to put a lot of effort into it," said Bell, who last season passed for 1,964 yards and 12 touchdowns.''For a quarterback to play in that system is a dream. The quarterback needs to make quick reads and make accurate passes and that's the strength of my game."
Perhaps, but Texas Tech coach Mike Leach hinted that once the season starts that offense may prove more difficult than the Bears are letting on right now.
''It might be going over a little bigger over there (Waco) than it is for us," Leach said.
Doubtful. Texas Tech has had the nation's passing leader in each of Leach's six seasons in Lubbock.
Morriss, who coached with Leach under Hal Mumme at Valdosta State when the offense was developed, said the Bears will likely use two running backs more than Tech - which favors a one-back set. However, he said Baylor will try to throw as often as the Red Raiders.
''I've seen the system work and I'm sold on it," Morriss said.''I'm used to throwing the ball nearly 700 times a season."
Who are those guys?
Coach Bill Callahan said Nebraska's 2006 schedule has the feel of the great unknown.
The Cornhuskers face Louisiana Tech, Nicholls State, USC and Troy – teams they have not played previously under Callahan - in the first month of the season. Then the Huskers take on different South Division opponents and face Colorado and Kansas State, which have new head coaches.
''For us, there are seven new teams," Callahan said.''We played four teams in the non-conference schedule that we have never played before, so we have no history. Then with the crossovers from the South and within our own divisions we have changes at Kansas State and Colorado, so that's four new coordinators and new schematics.
''It's topsy-turvy and tough to get hands around. We're preaching to our players it's all different."
Huskers on a roll
Nebraska closed last season with three consecutive victories, including an Alamo Bowl win over Michigan, for an 8-4 finish. The Huskers felt that momentum continued into the offseason.
''It was confidence," Callahan said.''It carries into the offseason, and now it's a matter of how we use that motivation as we head into the last quarter of our offseason, that being training camp.
''We gained a lot of experience with those victories at the end. It's kind of funny; we always talk about starting fast and finishing strong. That's one of the signs we have up in our locker room. But last year somewhere in the middle we forgot to win. So, we're going to build on that aspect as well."
Senior cornerback Zackary Bowman said that experience has taught the Cornhuskers to pay more attention to details.
''Our main focus as a team is to stop making little mistakes," Bowman said.''That's what got us. When you watch film it was the little things … if I could have gotten there a second earlier or if he could have held the block a little longer somebody would have been able to make a play."
Herian on the mend
Two years ago Matt Herian was one of the Big 12's premier tight ends with 24 catches for 308 yards through eight games.
But then he fractured his left leg, which forced him to miss the remainder of the 2004 season and all of 2005.
However, quarterback Zac Taylor, who would benefit most from Herian's return, said the 6-foot-5, 245-pound tight end is expected to be ready this fall.
''He looks good and he's healthy," Taylor said.''It will be exciting to have him out there for his senior year."
As usual, Baylor was predicted to finish sixth in the Big 12 South in a media poll, which did not sit well with Morriss.
''I'm kind of PO'd to be honest," Morriss said.''Everybody is entitled to their opinion. I don't think we'll end up in the cellar."
Although Baylor finished 5-6 last season, defeated Iowa State and took Oklahoma and Texas A&M into overtime, the Bears still have the perception as the league's weakling - and Morriss detests that.
He said the Bears should be picked either fourth or fifth, which presumably means he feels Baylor will be better than Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. The Bears and A&M are building a rivalry, much to the Aggies' chagrin.
Bears need a fast start
Although 11 more games will remain, Morriss said Baylor's season-opener against TCU will be the key to the Bears' season.
''The key for us obviously is winning the first game," he said.''I think it can be a springboard to what we hope can be a successful season. It's former SWC (Southwest Conference) rivals and it's my alma mater, so that gets me fired up. And there's been a lot of noise coming out of Fort Worth, and that gets me fired up. I can thank the Frogs for that."
Morriss did not say exactly what noise was coming out of Fort Worth, but he said he felt the Bears would win their first four if they win the opener.
''We'll be 4-0 when we start the conference. That's what I think," he said.''You can't win four if you don't win the first one. That's our goal right now, just to make sure we win the first one and then the rest of them will take care of themselves."
After the season-opener against TCU, Baylor faces Northwestern State, Washington State and Army before beginning Big 12 play against Kansas State.
Freshmen receiver David Gettis, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound speedster, is already drawing high praise from Baylor coaches and teammates.
''He's going to be a super impact guy," Morriss said.''He's the guy we've got to get the ball in his hands."
Baylor cornerback C.J. Wilson, who has tried to cover Gettis in summer seven-on-seven drills, agreed.
''If you give him five yards just throw up your hands and let the fight song play," Wilson said.
First-year Kansas State coach Ron Prince knew the Wildcats were determined to improve on last season's disappointing 5-6 finish when several starters asked to be added to special teams.
''The coaching staff has been very encouraged by our very best players, people like (linebacker) Brandon Archer and (receiver) Jordy Nelson not only asking, but demanding they have an opportunity to play on special teams. I think that really has given all of us on the coaching staff the indication that these young people really want to have a good season."
He's no replacement
Prince said he doesn't like it when people use the word''replacing" to describe his takeover for successful Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, who retired after last season.
''I think that's absurd, when you have someone who did arguably the greatest coaching job of the last century," Prince said.''We're excited about building upon what he has accomplished."
Kansas State had one of the most dismal programs in the nation before Snyder took over in 1989. Snyder led the Wildcats to nine victories or more nine times in 10 seasons from 1993 to 2002.
Prince has been eager to include Snyder as a part of the Kansas State program.
''No one knows more about winning games at Kansas State than Bill Snyder," Prince said.''No one has a better formula and better plan. That was his plan. It was his formula and it worked for him. So, as a resource, we're open to that."
No sure starter
Allan Evridge, last season's starting quarterback, Allen Webb and Dylan Meier - the 2004 starter returning from injury - are all vying for the starting job. To this point, nobody seems to know who's leading.
''Who ever steps up in camp is who it's going to be," offensive lineman Greg Wafford said.
Nelson, the Wildcats' leading receiver last season, said it doesn't matter who starts at quarterback.
''Whoever they go with we'll be behind him," Nelson said.''If you put a screen in front of the quarterbacks I couldn't say, 'Oh, that's Dylan Meier's ball.'"
Who's the nation's next passing leader?
Sophomore Graham Harrell figures to take over the Texas Tech quarterbacking duties, but coach Mike Leach declared that wasn't assured.
Leach said redshirt freshman Chris Todd, who like Harrell is the son of a high school football coach, is still in contention.
''You make the situation as competitive as you possibly can," Leach said.''And then from there you just go back to picking the one you feel best about and then, of course, you've got to split the reps a little bit."
However, Texas Tech guard Manuel Ramirez indicated he thinks Harrell will be the starter.
''I feel he's real comfortable in the offense," Ramirez said.''He's just matured and shows a lot of knowledge of the game. He's very patient. He's our leader, and I feel he won't get us in bad situations."
The honeymoon's over
That was literally the case for Ramirez, who was in Kansas City one day after returning from his honeymoon in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
He married his wife Iris, a former trainer for Texas Tech's volleyball team, on July 15.
''I have my own personal trainer," he said.
Staying put, at least for now
When asked whether he had a''dream job" at another college or in the NFL, Leach was predictably elusive.
''The one where I'm at is pretty darned good," he said.''I'm real happy at Texas Tech and it's really a thrill to be there. I imagine the temperature is about like here, but no humidity. So, if you come up there I'll show you a great steak place and pretty soon you'll move to Lubbock, Texas."