Usually, “What If Wednesday” will focus on exploring hypotheticals of the past. However this week, given the state of affairs, I think it’s prudent to ask, “What if the Bears go 0-12 this season?” To clarify, this is NOT me saying that we should give up on this football season. I think Zach Smith coming in at QB, the eventual return of players like Terence Williams and Taion Sells, and team improvement throughout the season could lead to a few wins. Rather, this is meant to examine the worst case scenario that seems to be on every Twitter users’ mind and see what we might expect moving forward if such an outcome occurs.
First, let’s look at Matt Rhule’s own coaching history. As some of you might be aware, his start at Temple was also lackluster, to put it lightly. His first year ended in a 2-10 record, with wins against Army (3-9) and Memphis (3-9). This 2-10 season came after a 4-7 season posted by Temple the year before, that led to Steve Addazio’s firing and Rhule’s hiring. Clearly, Rhule saw a need to rebuild and was willing to take losses up front to build a sound program.
But, the first year of his rebuilding process at Temple was not pretty. The defense was one of the worst in the country, ranking 110th out of 125. Yet in just one year, the defense jumped all the way from 110th to 24th in the country. The year after that it was 20th in the country. Then, in 2016, Matt Rhule and Phil Snow’s defense moved all the way up to 3rd in the country. The reason for Matt Rhule’s slow defensive start and his later defensive dominance are one and the same: his defense is an exceedingly complicated one. This article from before Temple played Notre Dame in 2015 does a good job of summarizing said confusing defense. There are two takeaways from this. First, the defense is probably going to take at least a year to get to respectable form. Second, if Matt Rhule is given the time he needs to implement his system, this defense could easily become one of the best in the country.
Next, let’s look at some teams that have gone winless in recent seasons. In 2008, the Washington Huskies went 0-12 (crazy to think they were in the CFB playoff last year, huh?) The following year, they were able to post a far more respectable 5-7 record. The year after that they went 7-6 and got a Holiday Bowl win.
Another, less ideal example, is the Kansas Jayhawks. They went 0-12 in the 2015 season. They improved marginally in the 2016 season, going 2-10 with a very memorable win over the University of Texas. So hey, even an awful team might be able to take a shot at the Longhorns? We’ll see what happens with Kansas this year, but I think Baylor is in a better position than Kansas to rebound if they do end up going 0-12 for a few reasons. First, Baylor football facility upgrades over the past few years have boosted Baylor into an elite category nationally. Second, Baylor is located in the center of Texas, a far better recruiting hotbed than Kansas. Third, this season could end up being viewed as a hiccup year in the grand scheme of things, unlike at Kansas where there had been a continual decline into football irrelevancy.
All that to say, this year might not end up pretty, with a real potential of zero wins looming. But give Matt Rhule time. His system was proven at Temple, with lesser ranked recruits than he’ll be able to get here. There are a LOT of depth issues currently and learning the new system is going to take longer than many expected. But I think even in the unthinkable, but possible, “what if” scenario of this year ending 0-12, there is a lot of reason for optimism moving forward. Rhule took a fledgling Temple team and crafted them into an American Conference champion. He might very well be able to do the same at Baylor in the Big 12, even with the disappointing start to his tenure.