Year 2 of the Dave Aranda era at Baylor begins in earnest with spring practices, and — fingers crossed — a more traditional season ahead.
Aranda's debut campaign with the Bears could not have been much more taxing with COVID-19 stoppages disrupting any rhythm the team might have been able to establish. A five-game losing streak bookended a three-week layoff related to pandemic protocols.
With some shakeup to the coaching staff and a real offseason ahead of it, Baylor could position itself as one of college football's most intriguing bounce-back stories of 2021.
5 Storylines to Watch During Baylor's Spring Practice
1. A new offense
When Jeff Grimes took over the offense at BYU in 2018, the Cougars were coming off two uncharacteristically anemic seasons on that side of the ball. To wit, the Cougars ranked No. 124 in scoring offense in 2017.
In Grimes' three seasons, BYU climbed to No. 79, No. 67, and last year peaked at No. 3, posting a LaVell Edwards era-like 43.5 points per game. He brings that experience in his reunion with Aranda (both were LSU assistants a few years ago), and aims to engineer a similar, immediate turnaround.
Baylor ranked No. 100 in scoring offense last season, producing just 23.3 points per game.
2. Quarterback competition
Part of the success of the BYU offense last season was the play of quarterback Zach Wilson. For Baylor to undergo a transformation akin to that which the Cougars experienced under Grimes, it needs its own quarterback to step up. Three-year starter Charlie Brewer transferred in the offseason, leaving youngsters Jacob Zeno and Gerry Bohanon to contend for the starting job.
Both took snaps in 2020, but had limited opportunities to produce any numbers of note. As a 2019 signee, Zeno was a 4-star prospect out of John Jay High School in San Antonio and played well thrown into the high-pressure spot of the 2019 Big 12 Championship Game. Bohanon was a high-4-star and the top-rated recruit from Arkansas in the 2018 class.
3. Bernard is back
The loss of Terrel Bernard to a shoulder injury midway through the season rendered a difficult 2020 all the more trying for Baylor. The standout linebacker, a key piece to the Bears' excellent 2019 defense, racked up 3.5 sacks before his season-ending injury.
His return to the linebacker corps that also has back Abram Smith and the very promising Dillon Doyle should reinvigorate the Baylor defense. The Bears backslid in 2019, giving up more than 29 points per game. Building off a strong group at linebacker, however, BU is poised to recover.
4. Trestan Ebner's ceiling
A long touchdown in the 2019 Big 12 Championship Game offered a sample of just how dynamic Ebner can be. In Baylor's season-opening romp against Kansas, Ebner was a one-man wrecking crew.
The do-everything back opted to return for 2021, and has shown the skill set necessary to be one of the elite playmakers in the Big 12. As a pass catcher and as a ball carrier, or on special teams, he's able to swing the trajectory of a game.
5. A more authentic season
A new coaching staff heads into its first season with inherent challenges, but nothing comparable to a global pandemic. Aranda's first season at the helm of Baylor went without any semblance of a typical spring season, and the lingering threat of a canceled fall. That Baylor fell to 2-7 after reaching the Big 12 title game a season prior isn't necessarily surprising, though certainly not the kind of start Aranda wanted for his program.
Having spring practices at all sets the 2021 Bears on a much more positive path than last season's team. With in-person meetings and on-field activities, Baylor's spring will be much more integral in setting the foundation for the fall.
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.
(Top photo courtesy of @BUFootball)