The Bears rank No. 47 in Athlon’s Top 130 for 2017
After a tumultuous and difficult 2016 season, both on and especially off of the field, no one really knows what to expect from Baylor this fall. Former Temple head coach Matt Rhule was signed to a seven-year contract and given the task of cleaning up the mess left behind by the former regime. Considering all of the turnover and culture change this program is undergoing finishing above .500 and earning a bowl bid would be an impressive debut for Rhule and the Bears.
Previewing Baylor Football’s Offense for 2017
Like a big melting pot, Baylor’s blended offense takes a sprinkle of Temple’s power offense with a tight end and fullback, adds in a few concepts from what Chip Kelly did with the San Francisco 49ers and throws it in with the spread attack that’s made the Bears one of the most explosive teams in the country.
First-year head coach Matt Rhule insists that it’s not as complicated as it sounds, saying, “You’ve got to give [defenses] different things they have to defend... The biggest thing is the ability to change tempo, change personnel groupings,” he says. “We’ll mainly be spread out with a couple bigger sets every once in a while — just really try to take advantage of what the defense is doing.”
Grad transfer Anu Solomon from Arizona was brought in to compete for the quarterback job, but sophomore Zach Smith has the stronger arm and is expected to be at the helm. True freshman Charlie Brewer is expected to redshirt.
Even with KD Cannon and Ishmael Zamora both leaving early for the NFL, the receiving corps might be the deepest and most talented position group on the team. Blake Lynch, Chris Platt and Pooh Stricklin are the most experienced, but sophomore Denzel Mims could be the next in a lineage of talented Baylor receivers that includes Kendall Wright, Terrance Williams and Corey Coleman.
A power back who also has breakaway speed, Terence Williams gave Baylor a 1,000-yard rusher for the seventh straight year, racking up 1,048 yards and 11 touchdowns. With sophomore JaMycal Hasty, the Bears have one of the best 1-2 combos in the Big 12.
Three starters return up front with Blake Blackmar and Ishmael Wilson at the guards and Patrick Lawrence at right tackle, but the depth is razor-thin. Former junior college transfer Mo Porter steps in at left tackle and might have the most NFL potential.
Previewing Baylor Football’s Defense for 2017
With defensive coordinator Phil Snow, everything is in the details. “You do the little things, and the big things work,” he says. “They don’t quite understand that, they haven’t totally bought into it yet, but it’s a process. It takes about a year to learn this defense, and we’re still in the early stages.”
Snow has some nice pieces to build around, with All-Big 12 defensive end K.J. Smith and a fourth-year starter in Taylor Young at weak-side linebacker. Young has amassed 265 career tackles, while Smith had a breakout junior season with 67 tackles and a team-high seven sacks.
“As I watch all the kids, Taylor is our best defensive player, by far,” Snow says. “He’s playing a position that allows you to make a lot of plays, so he should have a really good year.”
Greg Roberts, Cactus Bowl Defensive MVP Tyrone Hunt and four other returners have made starts on the defensive line and are joined by former high school All-American Brian Nance, who sat out last season.
The secondary was injury plagued in the spring, but there’s plenty of promise with sophomores Jameson Houston and Grayland Arnold at the corners and Henry Black at safety.
Previewing Baylor Football’s Specialists for 2017
Drew Galitz handled the punting (41.6-yard average) and kickoff duties last year and might even take over kicking chores if sophomore walk-ons Connor Martin and Peter Webster can’t get it done.
There are too many holes and question marks for Rhule to match the back-to-back 10-win seasons he had in his final two years at Temple. But Baylor — which returns 10 starters from a team that went 7–6 — is good enough to reach a bowl game for the eighth consecutive season.