The further Matt Rhule moves away from the dumpster fire that was the 2016 season the better. He survived the aftermath of the Briles/Grobe interim season. Surviving might be generous. The Bears finished the season 1-11, beating Kansas, but who doesn't do that, and losing to FCS opponent Liberty and, well, everyone else.
Never look back Baylor, that was undoubtedly Ian McCaw's mantra.
2018 marks the first real, strained, sloppy efforts to climb out of the crapper. Godspeed. Rhule somehow managed to recruit at a reasonably high level, but the talent will be young and lack depth. Still, the Bears might have just enough to get themselves to a bowl game, the definition of mediocrity in today's game. Screw you whoever came up with the idea that 84 teams should make bowls. You're terrible people. Moving on.
Do yourself a favor and tune in to see Charlie Brewer play quarterback. His trajectory is interstellar even if his stature is slight. He's fearless and efficient, and once Baylor realized that he was the best quarterback in the 254, they played better. Brewer completed 68% of his passes and threw for 300 or more yards in three of his five starts, 400 yards once.
Jalan McClendon arrives from N.C. State this summer and highly rated Gerry Bohanon is on campus after a decorated high school career in Arkansas to provide depth. They'll help absorb the loss of Zach Smith who transferred to Tulsa.
The Bears have an assemblage of options at running back even if none are break-out talents. John Lovett led the Bears in rushing as a true freshman, and JaMycal Hasty continued to produce even if missing four weeks with a knee injury. If Hasty is healthy, he might be the best option, leaving Lovett to act as the bruiser, change of pace.
Denzel Mims and Chris Platt will remind Baylor fans of the Briles' era speedsters. Mims stepped into a prime time mode last season with 61 catches. Platt averaged 25 yards a catch last season, but he's an all or nothing home run, hitter. Tony Nicholson finished second in catches last season, and Pooh Stricklin added another 32 catches.
The biggest barometer for Baylor's success will come up front on the offensive line. The Bears line operated on duct tape and hope last year, but Rhule redshirted five freshman last season, and two more lineman sat out due to transfer rules so help is coming. Jake Fruhmorgan, one of those transfers, will start at tackle along with veteran Patrick Lawrence.
At guard, two transfers will compete for playing time with senior Blake Blackmar and sophomore Xavier Newman. Newman might move to center where converted tight end Sam Tecklenburg is back along with sophomore Ryan Miller.
The Bears have more bodies on the line and a veteran line coach in George DeLeon who'll help Shawn Bell mold these parts into a cohesive unit.
Phil Snow is an experienced operator who understands how to put together a functioning defense. Last year the Bears were injured and inconsistent, but again, we're moving away from the embers of the dumpster fire.
The Bears return almost their entire depth chart up front. Ira Lewis continues to grow into an excellent interior player. He led Baylor in tackles for loss and sacks last season. James Lynch will play inside as well after a very productive freshman season.
Greg Roberts has all the physicality to be a dominant edge player, he's a bit stiff, but he'll work. Xavier Jones missed significant time last season, but he's an explosive rusher. James Lockhart transfers in from Texas A&M where he played in a rotation with Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall.
At linebacker Clay Johnston was a revelation in eight games before a wrist injury ended his season, but the loss of four-year starter Taylor Young won't be easy to overcome. Jordan Williams, Jalen Pitre, and Lenoy Jones Jr. are back, but none moved the needle much last year. Terrel Bernard redshirted last season, but he'll see live action as well.
The secondary is the Achilles heel of the defense, not a great Achilles heel for a Big 12 squad. Harrison Hand showed great potential as a true freshman, showing a willingness to stick his nose in and making nine starts. Grayland Arnold is under-tall, but that'll be countered with 6-3 Temple grad transfer Derrek Thomas. We'll see where Thomas fits into Snow's plans. Jameson Houston will compete for playing time well after five starts.
At safety Baylor loses Davion Hall, but Verkedric Vaughns and Chris Miller are back on the back end. Blake Lynch returns as well after settling in at safety last year. Lynch circulated from offense to defense last year. He's a very talented athlete who should thrive once his position is nailed down.
Connor Martin handled both placekicking and punted last season, earning Honorable Mention All-Big 12. He broke Baylor's school record for field goals made with 20, with a long of 48 yards. He also punted for a 40.3-yard average. He placed ten inside the 20 and kicked six punts 50 yards or more.
Tony Nicholson averaged 11.6 yards per punt return last year.
Charlie Brewer - Quarterback
If he can stay healthy, Brewer is a star in the making, able to put up numbers, efficiently.
Denzel Mims - Receiver
Mims came into his own last season in Baylor's passing game. He should be one of the top receivers in the Big 12.
Ira Lewis - Defensive Tackle
Lewis is a rarity, a disruptive, backfield crashing, interior player. Nineteen career starts for the Bears and put together a career year in 2017.
Clay Johnston - Linebacker
Before a broken wrist, suffered against Texas, Johnston led the Bears in tackles, including two games of ten or more stops.
Harrison Hand - Cornerback
Thrust into the starting lineup as a true freshman, Hand earned All-Big 12 honors and finished third on the team in tackles. Led the Bears in pass breakups.
The Bears win five of their first six and then steal two wins on their back-loaded schedule. 7-5
The Duke game goes the wrong way, and Kansas State does Kansas State stuff. 4-8.
Big 12 opponents would do well not to sleep on Bears, but this team is still a year away from seriously challenging the upper echelon teams in the league. Rhule won't rush development, and he'll redshirt most of his 2018 signees.
By 2019 the depth issues should be alleviated, and the Bears can go big game hunting.