When: September 24, game time TBD
Where: McLane Stadium (Waco, TX...capacity 45,000)
Watch/Listen: Cowboy Radio Network (TV broadcast TBD)
Baylor started the season 8-0 before losing at home to then #12, and eventual Big 12 champ and CFP participant, Oklahoma. The Bears rebounded with a solid win in Stillwater, pounding a tired Cowboys' defense into submission, however they stumbled mightily at the finish line, losing consecutive games to TCU and Texas to complete their regular season at 9-3 (6-3 Big 12). They ran for over 8,000 yards in beating North Carolina in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
As with many teams that make big runs and stumble late, scheduling and injuries played a major role. Baylor was just one of the contenders for the Big 12 and the CFP that had to deal with a heavily backloaded slate. That schedule, plus the losses of starting QB Seth Russell and capable backup Jarrett Stidham, contributed 100% to dropping three of their final four regular season games.
Who to watch for:
Or should I say "What to watch for."
Most previews involve the simple equation of what they did last season, and who's coming back. That's not such a simple question for the 2016 Baylor Bears.
We all know the story...HC Art Briles, out. A number or players and recruits left the embattled program. Jim Grobe is now the "acting" head coach.
Baylor football enters fall camp with around 70 scholarship athletes. The NCAA maximum for FBS is 85. The max for FCS is 63. The Bears do have 101 players listed on the fall depth chart (according to www.baylorbears.com). Despite all this, don't expect Waco to turn into "Lawrence South."
The key assistants are back, including both coordinators (DC Phil Bennett and OC Kendal Briles). The Bears return:
- Top passer (Seth Russell...59.5% comp / 10.52 ypa / 29 TD's - 6 INT's / 189.7 rating);
- Three of their top four rushers (Shock Linwood...1,329 yds / Johnny Jefferson...1,000 yds / Terence Williams...556 yds). That's 68% of their total rushing yards from 2015, and just over half the rushing TD's;
- Four of their top seven receivers, including #2 KD Cannon (50 rec's for 868 yds / 17.4 ypc / 6 TD's);
- PK Chris Callahan (83/83 XP and 8/13 FG)
- Six of the top nine tacklers on defense, accounting for 45% of their total tackles for 2015
- Defense returns 57% of their interceptions from 2015
- They return their top passer, but with Stidham's transfer, Baylor is left with a RS Freshman and two true Freshman behind Russell;
- As we've seen at OSU, good running backs mean nothing if the offensive line can't open holes. Since finding out about this position group is challenging, I reached out to Sean Cordy, Baylor and Big 12 contributor for TodaysU.com:
The offensive line is plastered with questions. Last year was a true blessing for Baylor having a line chock full of experience and all-conference talent. That's all gone except for the man holding it all together in the middle, Kyle Fuller. He's a fifth-year senior (third-year starter). Spencer Drango may have got more attention as the blindside, but Fuller's athleticism keeping the line moving at Baylor speed has been integral. Other than him, it's anyone's guess, especially with the recent suspension of Rami Hammad at right guard. But ultimately, Baylor's system has made its O-line, not the other way around.
- They return their #2 receiver, but nobody else coming back had more than 11 catches in 2015;
- They return six of the top nine tacklers on defense, but only return 42% of their tackles for loss and 30% of their sacks;
- Only 21 players return on defense that recorded at least one tackle in 2015, and many of those were on special teams;
- Of the top 20 returning tacklers, only four are defensive lineman, and only one of them recorded more than seven tackles (KJ Smith, 23);