Dave Aranda knows a thing or two about winning a national championship, serving as the defensive coordinator for an LSU team that capped off a perfect 15–0 season with a 42–25 win over Clemson in last season’s national championship game. Three days later, the 43-year-old Aranda took the Baylor head-coaching job and boldly proclaimed that the Bears had “the ability to win a national championship.”
“To be able to hire somebody that knows that, that gets that, that understands that … it’s something that is incredible,” says Baylor director of athletics Mack Rhoades. “I really believe this, with the staff he’s going to assemble, we’re going to take a run at a national championship. Nothing less is acceptable, and that’s where we’re headed.”
Aranda takes over a program that was 11–3 and a win away from last year’s playoffs, losing to Oklahoma in its first Big 12 Championship game.
“It’s coming from somebody that’s actually done it, somebody that actually won the national championship,” junior linebacker Terrel Bernard says, “and it’s somewhere we’re trying to be.”
Previewing Baylor's Offense for 2020
There’s not a better time than now to have a senior quarterback with 30 starts under his belt and the leader of one of the greatest two-year turnarounds in the history of college football. Charlie Brewer earned Texas Bowl MVP honors two years ago and threw for 3,161 yards and 21 touchdowns last season, helping the Bears go from 1–11 in 2017 to 11–3 in 2019. With 7,742 career yards passing, he’s just 2,624 yards shy of the school record set by Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III.
“That’s a foundation piece,” says Aranda, who took the Baylor job when the Carolina Panthers hired Matt Rhule in early January. “The respect he carries among our team and his ability to want more and be better and want to maximize his potential, he’s a joy to be around and a joy to coach.”
Last in the Big 12 the last two years in sacks allowed, the Bears need to improve an O-line that returns junior Connor Galvin and senior Blake Bedier at the tackles. Xavier Newman-Johnson has made 19 starts at guard over the last three years and is moving to center, but he could be a redshirt candidate if Jason Moore works out.
John Lovett has already cracked the top 20 on the school’s all-time rushing list with 1,673 yards in three years. He is capable of being the featured back, but this is possibly the deepest position on the team with senior Trestan Ebner, sophomore Craig “Sqwirl” Williams and redshirt freshmen Qualan Jones and Jonah White.
Tyquan Thornton could be one of the Bears’ go-to receivers after hauling in 45 passes for 782 yards and five touchdowns last season. In his first two years, Thornton was in the shadow of a pair of NFL Draft picks in Jalen Hurd and Denzel Mims.
Previewing Baylor's Defense for 2020
Ron Roberts, who gave Aranda his first defensive coordinator job at Division II Delta State 13 years ago, jumped at the chance to switch places.
“I consider Dave a friend. Sometimes, I see it as tough, because the last thing you want to do is let your friend down,” says Roberts, who takes over DC duties after holding that position the last two years at Louisiana. “The plus is obviously coming to a university like Baylor, which I consider a destination job. And then the other thing, which is a no-brainer, is the chance to be around (Aranda) again on a daily basis and talk football.”
With All-America defensive end James Lynch and safety Grayland Arnold both declaring for the NFL Draft a year early, Roberts has a major rebuilding job with only two returning starters.
Bernard led the team last year with 112 tackles and three fumble recoveries and added 9.5 tackles, 4.5 sacks, five QB hurries and an interception. Jalen Pitre is in line to start at the other inside linebacker position, with grad transfer William Bradley-King from Arkansas State the frontrunner at the hybrid linebacker/stand-up end spot that LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson parlayed into a first-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft.
“Those guys are born linebackers,” Aranda says of Bernard and Pitre. “They understand football, they know what’s coming at them, they’re great communicators. Just about as important as having a quarterback is having someone like that in the middle of your defense.”
There’s not much experience up front, with sophomore ends TJ Franklin and Gabe Hall and junior Chidi Ogbonnaya at nose tackle. On the back end, senior cornerback Raleigh Texada is joined by JT Woods and Christian Morgan at the safeties and Kalon “Boogie” Barnes at corner.
“You could see the flash, the speed. I think we’re going to be a very fast group,” Aranda says.
Previewing Baylor's Specialists for 2020
John Mayers nailed 16-of-19 field goals last year, including a career-long 51-yarder at the end of regulation in a triple-OT win over TCU. Punter Issac Power had an up-and-down freshman season but finished strong with a 49.1-yard average in the Sugar Bowl.
The Bears will have some ground to make up after having spring football canceled by COVID-19. Look for a step back with the inexperience on defense, but Brewer has enough weapons on offense to get this team back in a bowl for the third straight year.