Preseason preview: Bears have nowhere to go but up
The Baylor Bears’ priorities and goals have changed in the two years since the school’s Title IX scandal spelled the end of the Art Briles era.
In the two seasons since Baylor decided to cut ties with Briles and, eventually, his entire staff, the Bears won six straight games and then lost 17 of the next 19.
But, all things considered, Matt Rhule enters his second season as Baylor’s coach in an enviable position. Nobody is expecting the Bears to elevate too much from their 1-11 campaign a year ago. However, the numbers suggest Baylor could make significant progress this season.
Baylor has a dependable returning starting quarterback in sophomore Charlie Brewer, who passed for 1,562 yards and 11 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions as a true freshman. He also has a fantastic top target in junior Denzel Mims, who caught 61 passes for 1,087 yards and 8 TDs in 2017. Mims is joined in the returning receiving corps by Chris Platt, who made 16 catches and scored 5 touchdowns in just 4 games last season.
The Bears also return four starters on the offensive line, but that’s where the good news hits a speed bump. Rhule wants to control games using the running game, but Baylor managed only 117.3 rushing yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry in his first season. Sophomore John Lovett and junior JaMycal Hasty are coming back after combining for 819 yards in 2017.
That’s a long look at Baylor’s offensive story for the upcoming season. But the real pressure will be on the offense as it might take the Bears’ defense longer to get better. Baylor surrendered 35.9 points per game and 456.9 yards per game, both of which ranked worse than 110th nationally, during their 1-11 struggle last year. The Bears return six starters, but only senior nose tackle Ira Lewis was a major-impact player.