Baylor Season Preview: Forward

You have to take a long view of a crisis. Thinking in the moment leads to quick decisions and short-sighted conclusions. Armchair pundits have been clamoring for harsh consequences - deservedly so. Some have even called for the death penalty. Most see a scenario in which the Bears are relegated to the cellar of the Big 12 once again. Perhaps where they deservedly belong. The systematic "win at all costs," to the oblivion of the rule of law and safeguarding of sexual predators culture that grew in Waco should be eradicated. And, in the same manner, as Penn State's sordid 35-year history of harboring a known predator, should serve as a grim sign post that placing football above all else is a horrible cast of priorities. 

Enter Matt Rhule. The northeastern guy who's coached at Temple and never in the State of Texas seems to be the proper elixir and leader of men to pull Baylor from its horrid recent history. We weren't in love with the hire, and it appeared to come out of left field, but we have come to love Matt Rhule. He's said and, more importantly, done the right things - a novel concept for Baylor's football program. If that is his only role then he gets high marks. You don't change culture overnight but getting rid of the administration and coaches is a great start. Still, he must win football games in an increasingly dangerous league. 

Rhule's offensive scheme is a departure from the Bear Raid that, to a degree, revolutionized the game and may have been as responsible as anything for putting Baylor on the College Football map. Rhule isn’t implementing the wishbone, but he is taking Baylor in a more conventional direction. Expect oddities like huddles and fullbacks at McLane Stadium this fall. As one might expect, Biles’ regime didn’t leave the cupboard bare, but the pieces don’t exactly fit. What does fit is a commitment to the run game, perhaps even more so under Rhule. The Bears will be physical if nothing else. 

On defense, Phil Snow isn’t flashy, but he’s also seen just about everything. He built his Temple defenses into assignment first, dominant units. The Owls didn’t beat themselves and in today’s game that trait is as important as any. Snow’s 2015 Temple defense finished 3rd behind Alabama and Michigan in total defense. When your defense is mentioned in the same breath as Bama and Michigan, you’re in elite company. Now Snow attempts to build another elite unit in Waco. 

Key Numbers

Scoring Drive % (Big 12 Rank) Touchdown Drive % (Big 12 Rank) Scoring Drives % Allowed (Big 12 Rank) Touchdown % Allowed (Big 12 Rank) 3rd Down % (Big 12 Rank) 3rd Down Defense (Big 12 Rank) Turnover Margin (Big 12 Rank) Total Adjusted Run Rate (FBS Rank)
38% (8) 33% (5) 35% (5) 27% (7) 42% (7) 41% (6) -5 (9) 2.236 (39)
  • Scoring Drive %: Percentage of offensive drives that end in points.
  • Touchdown Drive %: Percentage of offensive drives that end in touchdowns. 
  • Scoring Drives % Allowed: Percentage of drives allowed that ended in points. 
  • Touchdown % Allowed: Percentage of opponent's drives that end in a touchdown. 
  • 3rd Down %: Offensives success on 3rd down. 
  • 3rd Down Defense %: Can a defense get off the field.
  • Turnover Margin: Total number of giveaways minus total number of takeaways. 
  • Total Adjusted Run Rate: Taking the national average of yards per carry and yards allowed per carry and comparing that to the relative team. Teams that end up with a plus Total Adjusted Run Rate average 8.4 wins per year. Teams with a negative Total Adjusted Run Rate average 5.5 wins per season. The top 20 teams in Total Adjusted Run Rate Averaged 9.7 wins per season over a five year period. 

Quarterback

 Zach Smith

Zach Smith

Call us crazy, but we're very high on Baylor's quarterback situation for one reason: Options. Baylor has a ton of them. Start with Zach Smith who filled in pretty admirably for the injured Seth Russell from the OU game on. You need to look beyond his radar graph a bit, in three of his four starts, Smith completed 60% or better. The one outlier was a trip to Morgantown and Tony Gibson's defense. That's a tough ask of anybody, let alone a true freshman. The Bears should be encouraged as after three weeks of bowl practices; Smith torched Boise State. In spite of an open competition, Smith looks like it's his job to lose. 

Baylor's quarterback room received a boost with the arrival of transfer Anu Solomon from Arizona. Solomon was the favored quarterback in Tucson until 2016 when he was banged up and lost his job. Up until the injury bug struck, Solomon was a very effective starter, even leading the Wildcats to the PAC 12 South title as a redshirt freshman. Concussions derailed his 2015 season, and he never got off the ground in 2016. Hopefully, he's healthy, and a fresh start in Waco can give him one last run. 

A player Bear fans should be excited about is Charlie Brewer, the early enrollee out of Lake Travis. Brewer was arguably the best quarterback in the state last season. He ran the Cavaliers pass happy offense to near perfection as they rolled to a 6A Division I state title. Brewer is as polished as a high schooler could be as he integrates into Matt Rhule's offense. Brewer might be ready this season, but a redshirt year wouldn't hurt. 

Running Backs

The Bears will go as far as Terence Williams and JaMycal Hasty carry them. Williams stepped into a starring role as Shock Linwood made his residence in the dog house last season. Williams averaged 5.7 yards a carry as a sophomore and ran for 1,048 yards. He did miss time due to injury which took him out of the Kansas State game and limited his production against Oklahoma. However, he wrapped things up nicely with three straight games of 90 yards or more to end the season. 

Hasty is a jitterbug at 5-8, but he doesn't shy away from contact. He rushed for over 600 yards last season at over 5 yards a carry. He did all that the third option for most of the season behind Williams and Linwood. Once Linwood was out, Hasty took off. He is hard to find in a pile and explodes into creases. When he plants his foot, he's lighting quick through the hole with very little wasted motion.

Baylor's issues may arise if anything happens to Williams or Hasty. Depth gets pretty thin after those two. Walk-on Wyatt Schrepfer got a lot of carries in the spring game, but he can't be counted on for more than spot duty. 

Receivers

The Bear's receiving corps was decimated by graduation and early exits. K.D. Cannon is gone as is Ishmael Zamora. Between them, they caught 150 passes in 2016.

 Blake Lynch

Blake Lynch

Versatile athlete Blake Lynch returns after 34 catches and a productive freshman season. Lynch has a lot of untapped potential. He's athletically as good as you'll find and his size at 6-3 makes him a one on one nightmare.

Chris Platt out of Willis is a legitimate deep threat. He's not a nuanced route runner, but he can run by anyone. He was the perfect fit for the Bear Raid, how he fits into Matt Rhule's offense is anyone's guess.

Sophomore Pooh Stricklin caught thirteen passes as a freshman last season. Denzel Mims out of Dangerfield will also push for playing time. The numbers will dictate that a lot of young players will get a shot to contribute. R.J. Sneed a freshman out of Cy Ranch committed to Baylor over Ole Miss and TCU. He enrolled in the spring to get familiar with Baylor's new playbook.

Tight Ends

Baylor returns Jordan Feuerbacher at tight end. He weighs in at north of 260. Baylor will use more of a traditional tight end look this year in Matt Rhule's offense. Baylor used Feuerbacher as a hybrid H-backs and fullbacks in 2016. Feuerbacher caught seven passes in 2016 and two touchdowns. He spent the offseason dropping weight to 265. 

New position coach Joey McGuire is trying to change the look and feel of Baylor's tight ends. "We're looking for a guy that can really stretch the field and get vertical, but they've also got to be able to block" McGuire said in spring ball. 

True freshman Tyler Henderson comes in at 6-4 240 pounds and is more the look and skill set that Baylor wants to evolve the position. One of the more intriguing prospects is Ishmael Wainwright, fresh off the Baylor basketball team and at 6-5 235, he could prove useful in the passing game.  

Offensive Line

Baylor is hurting for numbers up front. In spring ball the Bears had seven scholarship offensive linemen. After signing day 2016, that was the least of Baylor's worries as they'd signed J.P. Urquidez and Patrick Hudson, two four star cornerstones. After the scandal broke, they both headed to Texas, and the number crunch started. After Tanner Thrift retired in May and Dom Desouza chose not to return for his senior year, the Bears faced the unenviable task of playing young players early and often at a position where that is usually an issue.

Compounding Thrift's loss is the fact that he was penciled in to replace four-year starter Kyle Fuller at center. That position is now vacant and void of a known commodity. Sam Tecklenburg moves over from tight end and walk-on Daniel Russell was second-string coming out of the spring. 

Patrick Lawrence returns at right tackle, and Blake Blackmar will start at guard on the right side. Lawrence notched a team most thirteen consecutive starts. Blackmar comes in second with twelve. At 6-5, 350 Blackmar struggles with mobility, but when he locks on, he's a man mover. 

Texas A&M transfer Ishmael Wilson will play at left guard once again. Mo Porter has been the most consistent player at left tackle. New offensive line coach George DeLeone has been high on Porter in particular after the spring. 

Help is on the way this summer since Baylor signed six offensive linemen: Eleasah Anderson, Jason Moore, Xavier Newman, Henry Klinge III, Ryan Miller, and Khalil Keith. Newman is considered the best of the bunch. He played center at DeSoto. Most if not all of those youngsters will be counted on to play in 2017. 

Defensive Line

 K.J. Smith

K.J. Smith

All Big 12 selection K.J. Smith is the undisputed leader of Baylor's defensive line. Smith's numbers are hard to argue with, he put up twelve tackles for loss including seven sacks. He added seven QB hurries in 2016. Smith has moved around the defensive line during his career, but he'll stay outside for his senior season. In Matt Rhule's defense, the "defensive end" position is an edge setter who has to hold up against the run. Smith is more tailored for that duty. 

Baylor can rightfully claim one of the deepest line rotations in the country with Michael Johnson at one defensive tackle, backed up by talented sophomore Tyrone Hunt.  At the other inside position, Ira Lewis looks to build on an excellent 2016 season with 320-pound Bravion Roy providing relief. Lewis started seven games last season and contributed three sacks. 

Smith is backed up by Greg Roberts who started ten games last season.  Jaime Jacobs and his three starts are also listed backing up Smith. Roberts should be better than his film indicates. He's got the long arms that line coaches dream of, but lets people get to his body too often and establish control. 

The rush end position requires versatility to drop into coverage and also rush the passer, switching roles down to down at times. Rhules's Temple teams used Hassan Reddick at the position. He's going to make a ton of NFL money. Senior Brian Nance, who sat out last season, is listed at the rush end/hybrid position. Nance has taken a circuitous route to his starting gig, but he's a freak athlete. The key is how he performs under the lights. Xavier Jones will back up Nance, the junior comes in 245 pounds, but he can move well.

Linebackers

Tackling machine Taylor Young enters his last year in a Baylor uniform having already proven he's an elite level linebacker in the Big 12. With 265 career tackles, the 5-10 225 pounder is the undisputed leader of an unproven linebacking corps. 

Travon Blanchard and Raaquan Davis were counted on to contribute, but chances are neither will. Davis left the team in a mutual breakup, and Blanchard is facing an indefinite suspension. Their absence gives Lenoy Jones Jr. an opportunity to step up to more playing time. Jones probably plays outside. He does pretty well in traffic and congestion. 

In the middle Clay Johnston will get the first crack at the position that was ear marked for Davis. Johnston is a versatile player who's played defensive end and outside linebacker. Eric Ogor who played in three games provides depth. Interim head coach Jim Grobe suspended Ogor last season. 

Redshirt Deonte Williams is a bigger backer who'll play in the middle. Sophomore Jordan Williams might be too good to keep off the field. Meanwhile, true freshman Jalen Pitre was picking up the new defensive scheme quickly after enrolling early. 

Secondary

Baylor stymied defenses to the tune of a 54.9% completion percentage allowed. A 44% completion percentage in non-conference games helped bolster that number. In wins, Baylor defended the pass at an elite level. In losses, they were a broken screen door.

 Davion Hall

Davion Hall

The Bears replace arguably their top two defensive backs in Orion Stewart and Ryan Reid. They also lost nickel Patrick Levels. Davion Hall is at times frustrating and looks like a converted receiver, which is what he is. But then there are times, more and more regularly now when Hall makes an instinctual, uber athletic play and you forget everything else. Hall is back at safety, and he's now the leader with Stewart gone. 

Grayland Arnold thrust into the starting lineup as a true freshman in 2016. At 5-9, he's not ideally sized, but he plays like a natural and with instincts beyond his experience. Redshirt sophomore Jameson Houston picks up on the other side, and he's a blazer with two starts to his name. Junior Verkedric Vaughns is set to either challenge for a starting spot or get plenty of action in nickel packages. 

Baylor lists Taion Sells as the starter opposite Hall. Sells is a senior from Irving who is a mystery, other than his measurables, which aren't great at 5-8. Expect Chance Waz to start when the season begins. Waz has eighteen career starts. 

Specialists

Baylor has one of the more consistent specialists in the Roundup in Drew Galitz. Galitz averaged 41 yards per punt and handled the primary kickoff duties for the Bears in 2016.  

The Bears will be breaking in a new placekicker as Chris Callahan has packed up and moved north to Purdue of all places. Callahan lacked the consistency last season. So much, so that midway through the season Baylor reopened the kicking competition between Callahan, Connor Martin, and Galitz. Callahan ultimately prevailed but, again, decided to leave for Purdue. Martin gets the first crack at the kicking job; he kicked off twice in 2016.

Baylor's Tony Nicholson showed quite the acumen for returning punts and kickoffs as a redshirt freshman. The Grand Prairie product averaged eighteen yards a kickoff return and over ten per punt return.  

2017 Schedule 

Best Case

One of Baylor's three quarterback options pans out. The Bear defense thrives under Phil Snow, and Baylor steals a couple of Big 12 games at home. Eight wins would be a tremendous accomplishment. 

Worst Case

The Bears struggle to transition offensively from the Bear Raid to whatever Rhule's offense is going to be. Dominoes fall, and stress comes to the defense. The roster number crunch comes to full view. A four or five win floor is possible. 

Libert Win

FCS Liberty comes knocking to start the 2017 season. 

Will former Baylor AD Ian McCaw be welcome in Waco? We think not. 

UTSA.png

UTSA Win

Can't take the veteran Roadrunners lightly. 

The next six weeks are brutal. 

@ Duke Pick'em

Baylor goes to tobacco road to take on the fighting Cutcliffs. 

A win here may be essential get a bowl bid. 

Oklahoma Loss

The Top 10 Sooners come to Waco. 

A brutal conference opener for the Bears.

@ Kansas State Loss

Baylor can steal one on the road here, but it won't be easy. 

'Cats are always ready and rarely out-coached.

@ Oklahoma State Loss

Back to back tough roadies. 

The Pokes are a top five squad and the memory of 2016's loss in Waco is fresh. 

West Virginia Pick'em

The Mountaineers and Bears have played in some classics recently, this one should go down to the wire as well. 

Conference wins are hard to come by, Baylor needs this one. 

Texas Loss

Texas comes to town and could be heading towards a conference title. 

Baylor can make their season by beating the Horns. 

@ Kansas Win

Lawrence isn't the cake walk it used to be. 

Baylor's league slate is front loaded, the Bears can make headway starting this week. 

Texas Tech (AT&T Stadium) Pick'em

The days of the Red Raider/Bear shootouts aren't over, this one will still be a points explosion. 

Iowa State Win

The Cyclones come to Waco for Baylor's last home game. 

ISU is improving but Baylor should take care of business. 

@ TCU Loss

The emerging rivalry has come back to earth thanks to a horrible weather game and Art Briles leaving Waco. 

Last year the Frogs beat the Bears in an off-field circus in Waco. 

We never completely trust Kenny Hill, but he should be able to handle the Bears. 

Prediction 6-6

The Roundup's season previews. . .

Posted on August 14, 2017 and filed under Baylor, Southwest Round-Up.