This may have been the most stressful/bizarre season of Baylor football. It’s over now and with a bowl win to boot.
Let’s look back at Baylor’s 2016 and maybe a little bit forward as well.
We harp on this because it's critical, what's the identity of a program? In other words, beyond the "core values" and marketing, what does a program do well? What do they do that makes them special, potent, or hard to deal with? If a program isn't intentional about what it wants to do, it's just hoping things go right and hope ain't a strategy.
We can’t really define the Baylor identity for 2016. The Bears moved on from Art Briles, brought in Jim Grobe to take attendance, manage the existing staff and above all else, don’t change the scheme. Grobe did a good job filling in even if the staff did go rogue a few times. Someday someone will write the book of the 2016 Baylor Bears, we will buy that book.
Baylor’s identity is evolving, from the Briles’ era to new hire Matt Rhule’s. Actually in 2016 is sort of evolved from Briles to Grobe. Either way the Bear Raid era appears to be over. Rhule cut his teeth coaching primarily on the defensive side of the ball. His offenses have been run first, but that’s not entirely different from Baylor’s recent stylings. The perception was Baylor aired it out, 24/7, always open, always dropping dimes. That wasn’t actually true. The Bears preferred to just smash you when the numbers played into their favor. The deep shots kept teams honest. Ask North Carolina about Baylor’s “finesse” offensive scheme. The Tar Heels are still wondering which truck hit them which time.
Defensively, the Bears move away from Phil Bennett for the first time in a long time. They’ll move on to Phil Snow who follows Rhule south. Snow's been coaching defenses in some capacity for 40 years, he's a survivor and adapter in the spread era. His units are bend but don’t break, three’s not seven’s, eliminate big plays and be multiple. Spread offenses thrive on creating a tempo that feeds into a sort of confusion/fog of battle. Snow attempts to counter that by creating a moving target. His defenses have been good at the things that defenses need to be good at in this era, points per play, red zone defense, limiting explosive plays, and turnovers.
Baylor was pulled out of the cellar of the Big 12 by Briles, can Rhule continue and build on that success? We’re about to find out.
The best and perhaps most bizarre win was the bowl game against Boise. Played on a baseball field. Baylor came out in 2016 like a house on fire. That’s a bad analogy. They came out strong. Even beat Oklahoma State, and got to 6-0 and a #8 ranking. Then the wheels came off, the engine blew, a gang of chimps stripped the car and the Bears were left for dead. Six straight losses. Then came the Cactus Bowl and Baylor curb stomped a very good Boise team in a result that no one predicted.
TCU came to Waco and extracted a pound of flesh from the Bears in a weekend that included alleged black uniforms to protest Art Briles’ firing, #CAB t-shirts, a #CAB banner from one of the high dollar suites, and a rogue statement issued by the coaching staff on Briles' firing. That weekend was the flashpoint of the Briles fallout during the season. A distracted Bear squad wasn’t at all competitive against their rivals from Fort Worth.
Answers we have…
Terence Williams stepped in when Shock Linwood ran afoul of Jim Grobe and Johnny Jefferson left to go back home. Williams became one of the best backs in the Big 12. A junior in 2017, he’ll carry a lot of the load in Rhule’s new offense.
The offensive line loses one starter in 2017 and while he’s a big one, All-Conference Center Kyle Fuller, four starters returning is a big plus. Fuller is the only lineman Baylor loses off it’s 2-Deep. Good teams build from up front and Baylor will have continuity on the offensive line.
Zach Smith was pressed into starting duties in 2016 after the injury to Seth Russell. Smith looked like a freshman pressed into duty too early, but he eventually leveled off and looked the part of a competent starter as the season progressed. His best outing was a dominant performance in the bowl game.
After losing the entire defensive front four after 2015, the Bears return the front for 2017. Every member of the 2-Deep on the defensive line returns including explosive All-Big 12 defensive end K.J. Smith and his counter part thephysical Greg Roberts.
Answers we need…
With K.D. Cannon departing early for the league, Baylor loses a player who can top the defense. Who of the remaining receivers can step up into the Terrance Williams, Corey Coleman, K.D. Cannon void?
The secondary losses two experienced hands in Orion Stewart and Ryan Reid. Stewart has seemingly started at Baylor since the Guy Morris era and Reid brought a long, physical presence to the cornerback position. Replacing those guys will be tough.
The departures from the 2016 recruiting class will be felt for a couple of years. A number of those players would have been contributors in 2016 and certainly 2017. What was Baylor's best ever signing class was decimated as the top talent left and cannot be replaced. It will take time for Baylor to get back up to a full allotment of scholarship players. How Rhule handles those depth issues will be critical to his immediate success.
Lastly, and on a more broad level, what does Baylor do now? We’ve talked about the shadow and weight that Art Briles casts over the University. He took a program that had never finished better than 5th in the Big 12 South and made then nationally relevant. Alumni who had spent 20 years watching a subpar program toil could now puff their chests out to rivals around the state and around the league. There’s a shiny new stadium in Briles' wake but there’s also the lingering cloud from a sexual assault scandal. With lawsuits and the inevitable slow drip of revelations, the University will be dealing with fallout for years. Perhaps that’s as it should be. Football shouldn’t be that important.
Baylor's capital improvements to the schedule sort of, kind of take effect this year with the addition of a roadie to Duke after home dates with Liberty and UTSA. In league the Bears face tough travel dates at K-State, Oklahoma State, and TCU.
9/16 @ Duke
9/30 @ Kansas State
10/14 @ Oklahoma State
10/21 West Virginia
11/4 @ Kansas
11/11 Texas Tech (Arlington)
11/18 Iowa State
11/25 @ TCU
The Bears are currently ranked 126th according to 24/7, dead last in the Big 12. That’s what you get when the fall was basically void of any real recruiting as everyone held their breath to see who the next hire was going to be. The Bears recently flipped Lake Travis quarterback Charlie Brewer from SMU. That’s a start.
|Scout Rank||Name||Pos||Pos Rank||Ht||Wt||40 Time||School|
|NR||John-Marcus Carruthers||RB||5'8"||170||Bradenton, FL|
|NR||Charlie Brewer||QB||42||6'1"||192||Austin, TX|
|NR||Timarcus Davis||CB||52||5'11"||160||College Station, TX|
|NR||Trevon Lewis||S||6'0"||173||4.63||Houston, TX|
|NR||Jalen Pitre||S||78||5'11"||195||Stafford, TX|