This time last year the Bears were in the midst of a coach firing and what followed was a bizarre season under an interim, substitute head coach. A top 10 ranking happened, #CAB did too, coaches went rogue, the Bears lost six straight, then inexplicably won a bowl game in impressive fashion. Topping all that will be tough, but how will the Bears do in 2017? Let's discuss.
The Bears will be better...
Last year is over. How about a little normalcy in Waco? We're sure players and fans alike are excited about saying goodbye to 2016. Baylor hired a new head coach, a new AD, a new president, and generally eradicated the remnants of the Briles regime. Matt Rhule has been a breath of fresh air for the Baylor family and the new beginning gives the Bears a chance at a fresh start. For the players in Waco a large part of the distraction of 2016 will be gone which should do nothing but help.
One of the three quarterbacks should work, right? Baylor's quarterback room is one of the most diverse and talented in college football. Freshman Zach Smith gave a very good accounting of himself after the injury to Seth Russell including a dominant bowl game performance. He's been thrown to the fire in places like Norman, that's invaluable experience. Arizona transfer Anu Soloman is a true dual threat quarterback with big time experience in the PAC 12. He's a gravitational leader and should provide a steadying force in the locker room and for his two young counterparts. .
Lastly Lake Travis true freshman Charlie Brewer was a major coup for the Bears in recruiting season. He was one of the most accurate quarterbacks in Texas high school history. He looked totally at ease with the new Bear offense in the spring. The Bears are deep at the most important position in college football.
Running Backs Help too. The Bears' quarterback will benefit from the running back room. Terence Williams and JaMycal Hasty are both ready for prime time even with the loss of Shock Linwood and Johnny Jefferson. Williams is a real thumper at 6-1 220, he ran for over 1,000 yards in 2016. He also scored eleven touchdowns. Hasty is a jitterbug at 5-8, 200 pounds. He ran for 623 yards even has he spent a fair amount of the season as the third option and carrying ten or more times just six times.
Both average over 5 yards a carry and in Rhule's pro-style, multiple offense they should thrive and take pressure off a depleted receiving corps.
The Bears will be Worse...
Speaking of Wide Receivers. The Bears lose some real talent from their 2016 receiving group including K.D. Cannon and Ishmael Zamora. They were responsible for 150 catches or 55% of the Baylor output in 2016. Blake Lynch returns and should carry a lot of the load. Speedster Chris Platt returns as well. Platt and returning receiver Pooh Stricklin each had a 50% catch rate which isn't ideal especially considering Platt's 70 targets. Platt may be a track guy playing football. The Bears will count on several freshman to contribute early. After producing multiple NFL pass catchers, Baylor needs to restock the pantry.
Speaking of numbers...The Bears 2016 recruiting class was decimated by the Briles scandal. What was Baylor's historic recruiting class in February, turned into a mass exodus. Other early exits have hurt Baylor's numbers at well. The Bears had seven scholarship linemen in the spring and while a freshman class is showing up in the summer to bolster, the numbers are going to be difficult to overcome. Baylor will need another recruiting cycle or two to catch up and overcome 2016's losses.
Rebuilt backend. The one position that you don't want to be weak at in the Big 12 is the secondary. The offenses in the league view a bad secondary as chum in the water and feeding frenzies ensue. Baylor lost their best cover player in Ryan Reid, stalwart safety Orion Stewart, and steady contributor Tion Wright. The news got worse when safety/nickelback Travon Blanchard was suspended for off the field issues. Stewart was one of the best safeties in the Big 12 for the last two years and made six interceptions in 2016 and twelve for his career. He was first team All-Big 12 two of the last three years. Reid made 37 starts in his Baylor career and was honorable mention All-Big 12 last season, adding three picks. Baylor will be relying on a lot of new faces to stop the pass. Opposing offensive coordinators are excited about this development.