After a brutal year of off-field issues and fired coaches and overall darkness, the Baylor football program is looking for a way back into the light under first year coach Matt Ruhle and a new staff that is largely in place die to their Texas High School connections. In many mindsm the damage has been done, and continues to happen as more and more allegations of sexual assault and wrongdoing by the former staff continue to bleed into the public eye, and it has killed recruiting in many ways. Can Ruhle eventually overcome this drama? Why did a guy with Northeast roots even want this job in the first place?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Zach Smith played in ten games at QB in 2016 due to injuries to Seth Russell. He played well enough to earn a lean on getting the starting nod this season, but a late development may have changed all of that, when former Arizona starter Anu Solomon transferred in. Solomon had a truly amazing freshman season,but the injury bug then set in and has largely derailed his career, as had terrible coaching from the current Arizona staff. Solomon has a chance to hit the reset button, and if he can hold the job through fall camp, and stay healthy, Baylor has a solid situation on their hands in the passing game.
Shock Linwood left early to prepare for an NFL draft that he had no shot of getting drafted in prior to the bowl game last fall, but that leaves the door wide open for Terrence Williams, who may be a breakout candidate in 2017. I saythat lightly, because he managed to rush for 1058 yards and 11 scores while largely splitting carries with Linwood last season, and he will likely be the primary back this fall, giving him all kinds of opportunities to explode onto the scene. JaMycal Hasty also carried the football over 100 times last season. and there should be opportunities for him as well after a 623 yard rushing season.
Four starters are set to return on the line, which is a good start for whatever kind of offense that Ruhle will be setting up in. LT Dom DeSouza, LG Ishmael Wilson, RG Blake Blackmar, and RT Patrick Lawrence are all set to come back, and every key reserve will return as well up front.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Zach Smith was good, but was not great last fall at QB, and nobody knows what Anu Solomon has left in the tank. If neither player can lift themselves up and really grab the starting job, the QB position can go from a traditional Baylor strength, to a complete and utter mess.
The receivers are not as deep and talented as they have been in recent seasons for the Bears. KD Cannon and Ishmael Zamora both left early for the NFL Draft, good decision or not, and that leaves Baylor thin on experience. Chris Platt is the lone returning starter from the bowl game two deep, and he caught 35 balls last fall. Blake Lynch also returns as a sophomore, and he caught 34 passes. After those two players, nobody caught more than 13 passes last season.
The kicking game needs some juice as well. Chris Callahan is back as a senior, but hit just 10/15 FG attempts last season, which may have opened the door for sophomore Connor Martin to give him a good push in camp this fall.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
If what Ruhle did at Temple is any indication, he will put an emphasis on this side of the football, which is something that Art Briles never did.
All three starters return on the line in DEs Greg Roberts and KJ Smith, and NT Tyrone Hunt. Smith led the team last season with 12 TFLs and seven sacks, and finished with 67 tackles overall. Hunt and Roberts combined for 8.5 TFLs and combined for 57 tackles. Ira Lewis is a key returnee at NT, and may push for starting time as well after finishing with 36 total tackles. Xavier Jones, Jamie Jacobs, and Bravvion Roy will also all return.
Three starters will return in the secondary for the Bears. NB Travon Blanchard, Safety Davion Hall, and CB Grayland Arnold will all be back. Blanchard finished with five PBUs and 73 tackles on the season. Hall finished with 51 tackles, three PBUs, and a pick. Arnold, a freshman last fall, broke up four passes, and finished with 20 tackles. Four key reserves return as well in Jameson Houston, Verkedric Vaughns, Chance Waz, and Jourdan Blake.
Punter Drew Galitz will also return after finishing with an average of 41.59 yards per punt.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
Baylor still gave up quite a few points last season, as is indicative of a team that finished the regular season on a six game skid after winning their first six games.
One area to look at is at LB this fall, as only one starter returns in Taylor Young. Young finished second on the team last season with 93 tackles, but will be exposed on either side with inexperienced starters. Young was good for nine TFLs, and 4.5 sacks as well. Thomas Cletcher, a junior this fall, will likely start at one OLB spot, with either Raaquan Davis or Clay Johnston starting at the other.
Two starters also need to be found in the secondary, a unit that gave up just shy of 3000 yards passing last season. CB Ryan Reid, and Safety Orion Stewart are both gone. They combined for 13 PBUs last season.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Liberty, 9/9 UTSA, 9/16 at Duke, 9/23 Oklahoma, 9/30 at Kansas State, 10/14 at Oklahoma State, 10/21 West Virginia, 10/28 Texas, 11/4 at Kansas, 11/11 Texas Tech at Arlington, 11/18 Iowa State, 11/24 at TCU
Matt Ruhle is a very good football coach who took on a reclamation project at Temple and succeeded to certain degrees to make that program relevant. He has a huge mess to solve with all kinds of baggage after what has happened and what is still happening in the aftermath around the Baylor football program. To remotely hint at expecting immediate success would be just completely sweeping all of that under the rug. There is more going on in Waco than football around this program, and that is a big problem that will be used against this program in recruiting for years to come. Ruhle has got to dig in and cut out the bad seeds and continue to try to get on the right track with the players in this program, and that is going to take some time. This team could either win six games in 2017, or they could completely explode in a bad way.