With a little more than ten weeks until the opening kickoff of the 2019 college football season, there are ten teams that I am looking forward to following this year. I will be breaking down one team per week right up until the opening weekend. The first team on the list is the surprisingly surging Baylor Bears.
In his second season with Baylor, head coach Matt Rhule was able to bring the Bears to their first bowl game since 2016 thanks to an impressive 7-6 season. The Bears had won only one game their first season under Rhule and made considerable strides in his sophomore year. This upcoming season, Rhule will be returning a number of key players on the offense including quarterback Charlie Brewer. Brewer was impressive under center during the 2018 season, but he will have to try and emulate last season without star wide receiver, Jalen Hurd, who was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL draft.
OFFENSIVE LINE WOES
Rhule and Brewer have made it clear that they will not be able to be as successful this season if they do not fix their protection issues. Brewer was sacked a Big 12-high 39 times last season. Baylor returns all five players who have at least started games on the offensive line in Sam Tecklenburg, Xavier Newman, Johncarlo Valentin, Jake Fruhmorgen and Connor Galvin. One part of the o-line that will help the Bears is former Clemson transfer Jake Fruhmorgen. Fruhmorgen was a part of a dominant offensive line in the past, and he will need to be a massive part of this team if they want to take a step forward. He will be moved to center in 2019 and will be able to flex his muscle. If the line can keep him upright, Brewer has the weapons to run a prolific offense.
When analyzing the potential of Baylor’s offense, certain stats jump off the page. Last season, Baylor ranked 25th in offensive efficiency (rate of successful plays) but had a putrid 117th ranked adjusted touchdown margin. When Baylor was in the red zone, they struggled to capitalize on their opportunities. When they played superior defenses, they had a hard time scoring more than two touchdowns. They only put up 17 against Texas, 14 against West Virginia, 14 against Iowa State, and nine against TCU. The offense is going to need to score more touchdowns, especially when trying to keep up with the offenses in the Big 12.
CAN THE DEFENSE IMPROVE?
A glaring weakness for Baylor is their defense. Defensive coordinator Phil Snow has had a tough time recruiting and maximizing the little talent he was acquired. Baylor ranked last in the Big 12 and second to last in college football in turnovers gained last season. The secondary is already in shambles because of injury over the spring. The one bright spot is they will be secure at linebacker. They have three returning starters and have good depth behind them.
I think that if Baylor can execute on offense, then they might be able to make another step forward in the Big 12. Looking ahead to their schedule, they have three practically guaranteed wins to start the season (Stephen Austin, UTSA, and Rice). They also have five toss-up games that can go either way against Iowa State, Kansas State, Texas Tech, West Virginia, and TCU. You can already pencil in two losses against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, but they end the year with a very winnable game against Kansas.
BIG 12 TITLE ASPIRATIONS
The Bears have been trending in the right direction under Rhule. This year they have an excellent chance to make it to their ninth bowl game in ten years. The question is, can they make a run at a Big 12 title? With the state of their defense, it might be a challenge, but if the offense can put the team on their shoulders, it is not out of the question. I will be looking to play a lot of point total overs with Baylor because of that defense.
The Bears will be coming out of hibernation this season, and I can see anywhere between eight and ten wins for this team.
Ryan Gosling is a Contributor for the Unwrapped Sports Network website. Follow him @rygosling on Twitter.