New Baylor coach Dave Aranda isn’t stepping into a major renovation project in Waco. Instead, the former LSU defensive coordinator inherits a team that finished second in the Big 12, played in the conference championship game and made an appearance in the Sugar Bowl in 2019. Former coach Matt Rhule went 1-11 in his first year but improved to 7-6 in 2018 and 11-3 last fall. Aranda has never been a head coach at the FBS level, but he’s off to a good start with his staff and has enough pieces in place to push for a finish in the top 25 next season.
For every new coach, the to-do list after the initial press conference is pretty standard. The head coach has to recruit, implement scheme changes, build a staff of quality assistants and coordinators, discuss potential NFL Draft impact with juniors and work on any facility or support staff requests. Needless to say, that’s a lot.
While every coach has those goals in mind, it’s never too early to look at some of the personnel concerns surrounding a program and a new coach for the upcoming year.
Here’s an early look at three personnel question marks for Aranda to address in 2020:
3 Priorities for New Baylor Coach Dave Aranda in 2020
1. Rebuild the Defense
Baylor’s defense led the Big 12 in fewest yards per play, scoring defense, sacks, turnovers forced (30), red zone defense and allowed the fewest plays (seven) of 40 yards or more. The stat sheet shows just how significant the improvement was from 2018. After giving up 6.5 yards a play in 2018, the defense cut that total to 4.89 in ’19. Additionally, the Bears held teams to 19.8 points a contest after allowing 31.7 in 2018. Aranda is one of the top X’s and O’s coaches on defense, but he will have a busy offseason ahead. Baylor is set to lose All-America lineman James Lynch and nine other players that ranked inside of the top 13 tacklers from 2019. Every level of the defense was hit hard by departures, so Aranda and assistant Ron Roberts have some retooling to do this offseason to keep the defense near the top of the Big 12.
2. Progression Along the Offensive Line
Keeping Charlie Brewer healthy and upright in the pocket is going to be a priority in 2020. Baylor allowed 38 sacks (the most of any Big 12 team) in 2019 and no player started all 14 games at one spot. Centers Sam Tecklenburg and Jake Fruhmorgen finished their eligibility, and guard Prince Pines decided to transfer. However, the rest of the depth chart from the Sugar Bowl will return largely intact. How far can the new staff develop this group in 2020?
3. Restock the Receiving Corps
Denzel Mims (66 catches for 1,020 yards) finished his eligibility after the Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia. The cupboard certainly isn’t bare for Aranda and his offensive staff, as Tyquan Thornton (45 catches) and R.J. Sneed (42) are back for 2020. However, with Mims and Chris Platt departing, the offense will have to replace two of the team’s top receivers from the 2019 season. Josh Fleeks (25 catches) is a candidate to step up, but it’s likely Baylor will need to find another receiver or two to round out its rotation.