Big 12

Baylor offense rallies around senior-laden crew in productive OL

Outland Trophy finalist Spencer Drango is one of five senior linemen who helped the Bears lead the nation in offense.
Outland Trophy finalist Spencer Drango is one of five senior linemen who helped the Bears lead the nation in offense. AP

Between them, the five seniors who will line up Saturday in the Baylor offensive line have combined for 125 starts in their college careers as they prepare to face Texas in their final home game at McLane Stadium (11 a.m., ESPN).

Mix in jumbo-size tight end LaQuan McGowan (6-foot-7, 410 pounds), a fifth-year senior and converted lineman who does more blocking than pass catching in his current role, and the Bears will be saying goodbye to six seniors in the offensive trenches who have combined to play in 224 games, with 126 total starts.

The most decorated member of the group is left tackle Spencer Drango, a fifth-year senior who is one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy.

That is a lot of collective experience up front at the college level. And it does not include the contributions of center Kyle Fuller (24 career starts), a junior who will be the unit’s lone returning starter next season.

The six seniors in Baylor’s trenches, who weigh in at a combined 2,020 pounds (336.7 per player), have been instrumental in helping the 12th-ranked Bears (9-2, 6-2 Big 12) win two Big 12 titles (2013, 2014). They have cleared the way for this year’s team to rank first among the nation’s FBS schools in scoring (50.8 points per game) and total offense (616.0 yards per game) as well as fourth in rushing yards (291.5 average).

A victory Saturday against Texas (4-7, 3-5), combined with a College Football Playoff berth for No. 3 Oklahoma (likely), would send the Bears to the Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Regardless of Saturday’s result, coach Art Briles said this group has been special and will be hard to replace.

“It’s always key to have guys that have cohesiveness and understand each other,” Briles said. “Through the years, a lot of those guys have been three- and four-year starters. Those guys have been around. They’ve all contributed and helped us get to this point.”

In terms of career starts, the breakdown favors the four seniors projected to be in Saturday’s lineup: Drango (46), left guard Blake Muir (23), right guard Jarell Broxton (19) and right tackle Pat Colbert (19). Fellow senior Desmine Hilliard, who backs up Broxton at right guard, has 18 career starts. McGowan has only one career start but has played in 38 games at multiple positions.

“We’re pretty close. We’re all brothers. That’s how we see ourselves,” said Drango, who arrived in Waco as part of the 2011 recruiting class with McGowan, Hilliard and Colbert. “Every stage of the way, the four of us have been together. That builds that camaraderie and brotherhood that you want so much.”

Drango said Broxton and Muir, transfers from other schools, were quickly “absorbed as well” into the mix. Broxton was a junior-college transfer. Muir began his college career at Hawaii.

Jimmy Burch: 817-390-7760, @Jimmy_Burch

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