Around the Big 12: Baylor Bears
Baylor’s magical 2019 11-3 season came an overtime period away from it playing in the college football playoffs.
But the last two games against Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship, a 23-20 loss in overtime, and against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, a 26-14 loss, revealed that if this program is going to continue to play at an elite level, there is still some work to do.
Expectations may have shifted because Matt Rhule went on to the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has succeeded Rhule.
SicEmSports examines 2020.
3 prominent story lines
Dave Aranda’s first head coaching assignment
He’s been highly regarded as one of the best defensive minds in college football. But it’s a different story now that he is in charge of the entire football program for the first time. Aranda has surrounded himself with an experienced staff in some spots between defensive coordinator Ron Roberts and offensive coordinator Larry Fedora (a one-time Baylor assistant). It’s a matter of how much will he delegate to his coordinators. Ultimately, every major decision rests with him rather than one side of the ball.
Replacing 9 defensive starters
Baylor could have used spring football in March and April to determine how it was going to reshape that unit. The only returners are MLB Terrel Bernard and DB Raleigh Texada. Plenty or reserves along the front including Chidi Ogbonnaya, Gabe Hall and T.J. Franklin saw playing time during the season. It’s just going to take time how it would look and finding a lineup. A good defense always starts with the push up front.
For the past two seasons, this unit has struggled more than any other. It allowed 35 sacks and watched QB Charlie Brewer get knocked out of both the Big 12 title game and the Sugar Bowl. Rhule’s recruits didn’t produce the answer to protect Brewer. There’s hope that veteran OL coach Joe Wickline will be able to train/develop the returning faces led by Connor Galvin, Xavier Newman-Johnson and Blake Bedier so that it can be a true asset to this team.
3 biggest departures
James Lynch – The junior defensive end declared for the NFL draft and should have. He turned in an All-American season and collected Big 12 Defensive POY honors. Lynch also set Baylor’s all-time sack record. The presence he provided made things a lot easier for the rest of the defense. Players like these don’t come around often.
Denzel Mims – He held the distinction of being the only wide receiver in Rhule’s college coaching career to collect two 1,000-yard seasons. While there were some consistency issues early in 2019, he rallied and finished strong. Mims has all the makings of being a 1st-round selection in the upcoming NFL draft.
Grayland Arnold – When the junior safety declared for the NFL draft, it came as a shock to just about everybody in the program and fan base. Beset by injuries early in his career, Arnold turned 2019 into his best season as a returner and a ball hawk with six interceptions. His presence in the secondary in 2020 could have helped the transition of new faces.
3 key returners
Charlie Brewer – The senior QB returns for his final campaign and has a new OC to work with in Fedora. A gamer and one who has a history of leading Baylor comebacks, Brewer finished the season banged up and concerns over his future mounted. However, he appears to be fully recovered. Fedora’s background with spread offenses should play to Brewer’s strengths.
Terrel Bernard – When he was pressed into the starting MLB role when Clay Johnston went down with a torn ACL, the junior actually provided an upgrade to the position. Bernard is comfortable in the middle, has the speed to move from sideline to sideline if need be and has great instincts. His return is essential to this defense.
Connor Galvin – While the Baylor offensive line struggled and the junior left tackle had his share, Galvin’s growth is pretty important to the well being of this group. Everything would suggest that he’s going to stay where he is to protect Charlie Brewer’s blind side. The Bears’ offensive line needs an anchor. He’s the best candidate for it.
3 biggest additions
Taye McWilliams – The freshman from Lamar Consolidated is coming off a 2,000-yard season as a senior in 2019 and arrived at Baylor in January. Baylor’s lack of a go-to back in its offense was a problem in the prior two seasons. The running game just wasn’t consistent between the backs and the line. McWilliams could be a game changer.
James Sylvester – A late flip from TCU, the Newton 4-star defensive end could have a chance to find his way into the rotation. Baylor has some candidates on the end including T.J. Franklin. However, Baylor put the full court press on Sylvester because Rhule’s staff knew it needed help in that position. Aranda’s staff would agree.
Al Walcott – A DB from Butler (KS) County Community College, Baylor ramped up its efforts when it found out Arnold was leaving. Walcott benefitted from redshirting his freshman year at the JUCO and became one of the best JUCO DBs. Baylor fought off SMU, Auburn and West Virginia to get him. Baylor needs immediate secondary help in 2020.
Expectations for 2020
Aranda’s first season should be filled with its ups and downs. But the Bears should be a bowl team. Contending for the Big 12 title really depends on how quickly the defense comes along under Roberts, the offensive line finds something and Brewer is ready to go.
The schedule opens with an interesting tilt against Ole Miss and its new head coach Lane Kiffin at NRG Stadium in Houston. The Big 12 schedule flips from last year where the Bears must travel to Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, Iowa State and West Virginia.
This is about developing depth and maximizing everything out of the returners and hoping they are ready to embrace the new coaching staff.
The Bears enjoyed a lot of good fortune in 2019. They took advantage to play in a New Year’s 6 Bowl game. Could they make it two in a row? With Brewer at quarterback, this team will always has a chance. Maybe the ceiling is eight wins.