Skip to main content

Baylor Football: 2022 Bears Season Preview and Prediction

Blake Shapen, Baylor Bears Football

Blake Shapen and the Bears are ranked No. 11 in Athlon Sports' Top 25 for the 2022 college football season

Midnight never came for Baylor's Cinderella story last year, a real-life fairytale that ended with a Big 12 championship, a school-record 12 wins (12–2) and a Sugar Bowl victory over Ole Miss.

Now, there's a target on its back going into an encore season without most of its proven playmakers on both sides of the ball.

"I think we're working with still something to prove," says sixth-year senior receiver Gavin Holmes. "We're not being complacent, going back to the roots of what we did last year to get us to that point."

Defensive coordinator Ron Roberts orchestrated a complete makeover of a beleaguered unit. But he's got a ton of production to replace in All-America safety Jalen Pitre, linebacker Terrel Bernard and safety JT Woods. "I honestly believe that we have a chance to be a higher-executing defense, just because we're older, our guys have been in the system," Roberts says. "The big thing will be that production: Who's it going to come from? I see it being spread out. But in my opinion, I think we can be better than we were last year."

An offense that lost a lot at running back and receiver got a boost with the return of four senior offensive linemen with starting experience. That includes Connor Galvin, a fixture at left tackle, along with former transfers Jacob Gall and Grant Miller.

"It's good that guys are back," says third-year head coach Dave Aranda, "but we need them to be at their best. And that requires them to kind of emerge from where they've been."

Related: Athlon Sports' College Football Top 25 for 2022

Previewing Baylor's Offense for 2022

Sophomore Blake Shapen, who won a tight quarterback battle in the spring that sent Gerry Bohanon to the transfer portal as a grad transfer, "has a lot of natural ability as a passer," quarterbacks coach Shawn Bell says. Shapen showed that in the Bears' 21–16 win over Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship game, when he completed his first 17 passes and threw for 180 yards and three touchdowns to earn MVP honors. His leadership skills will have to improve, though, after getting just two starts last season and sitting out the bowl game with a shoulder injury.

"It's hard being a young guy that's kind of thrust into that role," Bell said, "and he's really focused on it. It's not as much physical all the time, especially at quarterback, it's more mental than anything else. I think leadership is probably Blake's point of interest."

Backed up by redshirt freshman Kyron Drones, Shapen will play behind an experienced line that includes Galvin and sixth-year senior Khalil Keith at the tackles, Miller and fifth-year senior Mose Jeffery at guard and Gall back at center.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

That should also help a running back rotation that's expected to include Taye McWilliams, Craig "Sqwirl" Williams and converted receiver Josh Fleeks. Tight end Ben Sims is actually the leading returning receiver (31-361-6 TDs), but Holmes is a sixth-year senior who's expected to lead a young corps of receivers.

Previewing Baylor's Defense for 2022

On top of the missing production, Bernard and Pitre in particular left a leadership void on the defense. The best candidates to fill that void? A defensive front that returns its entire two-deep and also added Tulsa transfer Jaxon Player. First-team All-Big 12 nose tackle Siaki "Apu" Ika is flanked by some combination of Cole Maxwell, Gabe Hall, TJ Franklin and Brayden Utley.

"It's something we've talked about literally since we got here: We want to lead from the front," defensive line coach Dennis Johnson says. "Big men leading the way. I think if we can take that step as a unit, we'll be a lot better as a whole team."

Matt Jones was slated to take over for Bernard at one of the two inside spots, but he missed spring camp with an injury and will be seriously pushed by LSU transfer Josh White, a former four-star recruit who was named the Houston Touchdown Club Defensive Player of the Year in 2019, and junior Will Williams.

Former Iowa transfer Dillon Doyle returns to the middle linebacker spot, where he's made 145 tackles over the last two seasons. With Jones moving inside, Garmon Randolph and sophomore Tony Anyanwu are battling for the outside JACK linebacker spot.

Cornerback Al Walcott and free safety Christian Morgan are the only returning starters in a secondary that's breaking in Devin Neal, Mark Milton and Lorando "Snaxx" Johnson at the other three spots in the back end. "I see (Johnson) as a young (Pitre) in that role," Roberts says of Johnson playing the Star position. "He's got the talent, he's got the playmaking skills. He's a very dynamic player."

Related: Big 12 2022 All-Conference Team

Previewing Baylor's Specialists for 2022

The Bears have almost an embarrassment of riches at kicker, with the program's all-time career leader in field-goal percentage (John Mayers, 76.5 percent) backing up sophomore Isaiah Hankins, who won the job in fall camp last year and hit 14-of-20 and a perfect 57-of-57 extra points. Also back are punter Issac Power (45.0-yard average) and kickoff specialist Noah Rauschenberg. The only real question is who will replace Trestan Ebner on returns.

Final Analysis

Solid in both the offensive and defensive lines, the Bears should be in position to contend for another conference title if they can find enough playmakers. The test will be surviving a brutal road schedule that includes trips to Provo, Utah; Morgantown, W.Va.; Norman, Okla.; and Austin, Texas.

National Ranking: 11

Podcast: Top 25 Megacast! Complete Top 25 Breakdown, Rankings and Predictions Explained