Coming off a six win improvement in 2018, Baylor opens the season at 6:00 on August 31st against SFA. That game is in Waco.
Baylor’s impressive turnaround last season has led to a range of predictions about the Bears. Almost every site and ranking system has Baylor back to at least bowl eligibility. While Shehan Jeyarajah of DCTF has Baylor in the Big 12 title game.
To join the chorus of predictions, we’ll take a look at the offense, turn to the defense, then offer game-by-game predictions.
The Bears return eight starters on offense. Jalen Hurd, Blake Blackmar and Patrick Lawrence are gone from the nation’s No. 46 adjusted offense last season.
The 2018 Bears were much better on the ground. With JaMycal Hasty, Trestan Ebner, John Lovett, Abraham Smith and Sqwirl Williams back, the running back group may be Baylor’s best position group. Ebner is currently backing up Hasty, but he averaged six yards per carry and is a monster:
The offensive line improved mightily last season, but that group remains the biggest issue on offense. Jake Fruhmorgen looks likely to play center, while two year starter at the position, Sam Tecklenburg moves to guard. Connor Galvin and Xavier Newman, two Matt Rhule signees, are sure bets to start as well. Johncarlo Valentin, a former junior college monster, should play a ton too.
The biggest advantage on the offensive line from 2017 to 2019 is the depth. The 2017 Bears faced retirements and injuries throughout Rhule’s first season. That unit was the worst offensive Baylor unit in a decade. The 2019 group has at least 10 guys ready to go. Baylor won’t have to catch every break health wise stay competitive on offense.
For the first time in the Rhule era, there is no quarterback competition. Charlie Brewer will lead the team coming off a 493 yard passing and rushing performance in the bowl win over Vandebilt.
Brewer’s completion percentage dip doesn’t worry me. He set the national record in high school for completion percentage. But more important than what Brewer did in high school was adjusting his performance last year. Based on Pro Football Focus’ adjusted percentage—which takes into account drops and throwaways to avoid sacks—Brewer had an adjusted completion percentage of 76.6%.
Shockingly to those that don’t watch the games or the advanced stats is that Brewer is PFF’s top quarterback entering the season:
Brewer wasn’t afraid to take hits and ensure he gave his receivers time to get separation or advance behind zone defenses:
Jalen Hurd’s departure makes Denzel Mims the focus of a deep receiving core. Mims received a single digit number, which portends well for the work ethic of Baylor’s most talented offensive player.
Matt Rhule: “I think you see Denzel Mims having his absolute, absolute best camp. He’s be an absolute warrior out here for us.” #SicEm— Craig Smoak (@CraigSmoak) August 20, 2019
Mims is simply too good to not have a monster season. His numbers dipped from 2018 to 2019, but part of that was due to Hurd’s dominance. And with Mim’s work ethic, desire to get to the NFL and role as Baylor’s top option, he’ll have his moments:
Chris Platt has his sixth year of eligibility. He came to Baylor when Harry Reid was still the Senate Majority Leader. Platt’s another year removed from his knee injury and should be a quality deep threat for the Bears.
After those two, Baylor has a host of options. Tyquan Thornton was a beat last year. Josh Fleeks has received rave reviews. Marques Jones was Baylor’s top engineering student, and he’ll probably have at least 500 yards receiving this year.
The offense should be very good. Maybe the offensive line stays about as good as it was last year, or maybe Brewer gets hurt and Gerry Bohanon isn’t ready to go yet. But there are so many skilled players at running back and receiver. And Brewer has been durable. The offense won’t be the 2014 Bears, but it’s going to be far closer to that than being the 2017 Bears.
Baylor’s defense remains the biggest concern for this season. At Temple, Phil Snow’s defense improved 97 spots in S&P+ from year one to year two. At Baylor, Phil Snow’s defense was eight spots worse in that category from year one to year two.
Baylor's defense gave up the most big-play TDs in FBS last season, 19 plays of 50+ yds, 5.4 yds/carry, forced just 10 turnovers.— Max Olson (@max_olson) May 15, 2019
Developing an impact defense is a must for 2019: https://t.co/KKAsbBVek3
Big plays killed the 2018 Bears, and the 2019 Bears will need their three man defensive line to do a nice job playing two gap responsibilities against the run. James Lynch might be Baylor’s best player, and he’ll need to dominate. James Lockhart had a magnificent spring, and Bravion Roy’s strength should be crucial.
The Bears have to be much better against the run. As our own Travis Roeder noted last year, Alex Barnes of Kansas State gashed the Bears for big plays all day. The linebackers will need to make sure they’re in the right places and reacting appropriately. This unit doesn’t have overwhelming speed—though a few guys in the group can really move—which means they need to be in the right spots more consistently:
Clay Johnston—a preseason All Big 12 selection—and Blake Lynch will be very good at linebacker. The question will be how well the group holds up with three man fronts. Maybe Baylor plays quite a bit of dime and nickel. If that happens, this group will need to be much better against the run.
Raleigh Texada didn't allow a touchdown all season long. ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/gmA18Zkm50— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 27, 2019
I feel pretty good about the corners. Derrek Thomas is a big loss, but Grayland Arnold—who might play some safety—Kalon Barnes, Jameson Houston and Raleigh Texada are all reliable options.
Safety has been Baylor’s biggest worry during the Rhule era. In their Tampa 2 looks, the guys were often out of position. And they’ve had problems tackling, which has turned short gains into catastrophic touchdowns. Chris Miller needs to take over.
If there’s one area Baylor should be better, or at least luckier, it’s with turnovers. As Colt Barber of SicEm365 highlighted in a great article, Baylor ranked last in the league in turnovers in both 2017 and 2018. I’d expect fewer big plays this year as guys understand their roles better. That means teams will need more plays to score, and with more plays being necessary to score, Baylor should generate more turnovers.
This side of the ball still needs to prove it on the field. They have plenty of intelligent and skilled players. But the difference between 6-6 and 10-2 is probably going to be decided by if this group keeps Baylor in every game, or if they have games like they did against West Virginia and Oklahoma last year.
1) Most important offensive player?
Charlie Brewer. Football is a game decided by the quarterback, and Brewer will need to build on his impressive sophomore season. Bohanon and Jacob Zeno have also not played much, so if Brewer goes down, it’d be a scary proposition. Though I am also a big believer in those two. Hopefully that doesn’t have to happen until 2021.
2) Most important defensive player?
Blake Lynch. While James Lynch is Baylor’s best defensive player, Blake Lynch needs to be a force. He’s played about everywhere, and with the size and speed that’s allowed that versatility, he can drop back into coverage as well as most of Baylor’s guys in the secondary. He can also get into the backfield. If he’s on one of the All-Big 12 teams, then Baylor should be on the high end of the preseason predictions.
3) Biggest change between this year and last year?
The return of Denzel Mims as an unstoppable force. He dropped in almost every category last season. But everyone is lauding his work in the spring and summer. Mims wants to be an early selection in the NFL Draft. He should be one of the league’s two best receivers and an early selection in the NFL Draft.
4) Most important game on the schedule?
Iowa State. Baylor starts with three opponents they should be heavy favorites against. After the fourth game against Iowa State, the Bears avoid Texas and Oklahoma—the league’s two best teams—until two of the final three games. If Baylor knocks off Iowa State, the Bears will be ranked and have a shot to head into the game against Oklahoma with a chance at the Big 12 title game.
Baylor should be an 85%+ favorite in each nonconference game. They’ll avoid any slip up in those games and win each handily to start 3-0.
I’m not buying Iowa State. They overachieved last season, and if Brewer wasn’t ridiculously ejected, the Bears might have won in Ames. Iowa State’s going to miss David Montgomery too much to win. Baylor starts 4-0.
The Kansas State game is a wildcard. The Wildcats are led by a new coach, and Skylar Thompson is the league’s most underrated player. But Baylor has more talent, especially with Barnes gone, so I’ll take the Bears to open at 5-0 for the first time since 2016.
Texas Tech also has a new coach, and they’re a tier below the Bears. I’d expect a regression for their offense without Kliff K. and the defense to not be good enough to overcome it. Bowl eligible after six games!
As well as the season starts, the Oklahoma State game is going to be tough. Baylor’s best win last year was the comeback against the Cowboys on Homecoming, but the Bears don’t have the best history in Stillwater. Mike Gundy will have Oklahoma State as a real league contender, and they knock off Baylor to give the Bears a 6-1 start.
Things can change quickly, and they will for Baylor against West Virginia this year. I was in Morgantown to see Baylor crushed last season, and with so many guys gone from their 2018 team, West Virginia losses big to Baylor to give the Bears a 7-1 record.
I hate that I’m predicting this, but I’ll say TCU knocks off Baylor. The Horned Frogs need to figure out a lot on offense, but they should be pretty good on defense. And I figure Baylor will drop a game they should win, and sadly, it’s this one to make Baylor 7-2.
Oklahoma’s not going to be quite as good as they were in the Mayfield-Murray era, but they’re still the best team in the Big 12. Baylor makes it closer than they did last year, but the Sooners get the win to make Baylor 7-3.
Texas is a bit overrated, and the Sam Ehlinger hype is getting ridiculous. But the Longhorns have the second most talented team in the Big 12. I think Baylor’s odds are pretty good in this game, but I’ll say Texas wins a close one to make Baylor 7-4.
Baylor will beat Kansas. The Jayhawks are going to be terrible. The Bears finish 8-4.
I think that would put Baylor in the Alamo Bowl. I’m not going to predict the bowl because I have no idea who Baylor will play, plus several guys could sit out based on the recent trend of not hurting their NFL stock for a non-playoff game.
An 8-4 season would be a nice improvement. It should also help Baylor land a strong recruiting class and add talent on defense. Nothing from 6-6 to 10-2 would shock me, but I think 8-4 is the most likely outcome and would represent another nice turnaround from the 1-11 mark in 2017.