With the 2017 season (finally) approaching we’re analyzing the situation in the Big 12. We’re here to breakdown every team and give you our 2017 outlook.
Let’s get going.
STADIUM: McLane Stadium (2014)
SEATING CAPACITY: 45,140
2017 RECRUITMENT RANKINGS: 40th (5th in Big 12)
ALL-TIME RECORD vs. TEXAS TECH: 37-37-1
2016 was not easy in Waco. After the scandal that hit the university in the previous offseason and led to the dismissal of Art Briles and his staff, former Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe accepted to be the interim coach and steered the ship through the storm.
Helped by some experienced players and an easy schedule, Baylor started the season 6-0, including a convincing win against Oklahoma State. The Bears also climbed the rankings and reached the eighth position in the AP Poll after Week 8.
Unfortunately, the good ended in that moment: after a tight loss against Texas in Week 9, Baylor didn’t win another regular-season game. Their 6-6 record was enough to get a Bowl berth, and the Bears did finish their bitter season on a sweet note, defeating the favored Boise State by 19 points.
Baylor showed to have clear ideas approaching 2017, followed a well-prepared project, and three days after the end of the past regular season the Bears officially hired former Temple coach Matt Rhule. The move surely brings fresh air, as he’s one of the smartest young coaches in the nation, comes from an environment that has nothing to do with Texas, and has a philosophy that is very different from his predecessors.
The biggest criticism was his lack of experience in Texas recruitment, but the first months of Rhule’s tenure showed that this was an unfounded fear: he recruited a solid 2017 class that he built up from only one commitment prior to his hire, and already has the 25th class in the nation for 2018, including many 4-star players.
Rhule obtained great results with Temple, but with a style that is very different from the high-octane offense to which Baylor fans are used to.
A head coach with a defensive background is something unusual in the Big 12, and it will be interesting to see if he can survive the expectations and, maybe, start a new wave of coaches with different attitudes.
In 1966 Sergio Leone ‘s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, the three leading actors fought for a treasure and it is the same in Waco for the starting quarterback job. The three-way duel includes the early favorite Zach Smith, who started four games in 2016, former Arizona starter Anu Solomon who was plagued by injuries the last two years, and freshman Charlie Brewer.
Running back Terence Williams is one of the few returning pieces of the offense, with players like Shock Linwood, wide receivers K.D. Cannon and Ishmael Zamora, and All-Big 12 1st team Kyle Fuller all leaving.
Williams and JaMycal Hasty will lead the running backs, while wide receivers Chris Platt and Blake Lynch need to grow up in a hurry. In addition, the offensive line won’t have the experienced center Tanner Thrift, who injured his knee and will miss the entire season.
Baylor also welcomes a new defensive coordinator, Phil Snow, who’s been with Rhule since 2013: Snow finds a defensive line that returns in full and has a cornerstone in edge rusher K.J. Smith. The linebackers and secondary lose some important players, and one of the projected starting cornerbacks, Travon Blanchard, was suspended from the team as he has been accused of multiple acts of abuse on a woman.
Senior Taylor Young leads the linebackers with his experience, as he is a good tackler who often reaches the backfield and creates problem. He drives a bunch of sophomores that are increasing their experience and have to be considered for 2018, like Clay Johnston and Lenoy Jones Jr.
Duke hasn’t the quality of 2013 and 2014 teams anymore, but is still an ACC team with good players, so this will be the first test to see the state of Rhule’s project. The young head coach can have a bad season without having his job put in doubt, but the team has quality and will probably overcome the old problems. A record around .500 seems like the most likely outcome with a chance for the Bears to pull off something slightly better if they can stay strong at home.
Performances in Waco will be the turning point of the season, as Baylor faces Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas, and Iowa State at home. If they’ll get out with four wins, the season will be a success.