1. 10 days. That is all that remains before the Baylor Bears football season is actually here. Baylor fans actually get a break, weird I know this year, and have one less day than most College football fans. With a Friday evening kickoff, the wait is 24 hours less. The Demons of Northwestern State will make the short trip over from Natchitoches, LA over to Waco coming off a 4-7 campaign last year. The longtime Southland conference member has been between 4 and 6 wins every year since 2010. Of course in 2009 they went 0-11. This is not an elite program, even at the FCS level.
They are led by Jay Thomas, who is in his 3rd season as the head coach. His 2013 and 2014 campaigns both finished at 6-6, two of the better seasons in over a decade for the Demons. 2015 however saw them fall to 4-7 after an 0-5 start to the season. A 3-1 finish to the season with wins over Nichols State, SFA and Abilene Christian have given them some hope of a bounce back 2016 though.
2. The Demons will have a new quarterback, but get an FBS graduate transfer in Brooks Haack, who made 21 appearances for UL-Lafayette over three seasons, including 8 starts in 2015. Haack passed for over 1,400 yards with 5 touchdowns and 7 interceptions last year for the Cajuns. The former Katy High School star won a state title as a freshman in 2008 and brings experience to the Demons. Juniors Joel Blumenthanl and JD Almond are also competing for the starting spot, as well as redshirt freshman Austin Skinner and newcomer Kenny Sears.
Whoever is the stater will have an experienced offensive line protecting him with two returning starters, a junior college transfer and two experienced backups the past few seasons. Terrance Boyd is a 2nd team all-conference as will play at guard. Running back De'Mard Llorens and wide receiver Shakeir Ryan are their best playmakers.
3. The Demons defense is one that struggled horribly to start the 2015 campaign, but improved later in the year. They play a 3-4 front primarily, but do use some 4-man looks. They return an experienced defensive backfield, with both corner backs coming back from strong freshman campaigns. With 7 returning starters, the hope for the Demons is that continuity will improve the overall performance. Senior end JeMarcus Marshall, linebackers Shawn Stephens and Peyton Guidry, and defensive backs Ike Warren and Adam Jones are the names to watch.
4. While the Northwestern State Demons are the first opponent on the schedule for the Bears, they probably won't be the focus in the first week. The Bears tumultuous offseason will be over. They can only hope that it is a calm and standard regular season with few additional distractions. There will be distractions all season ranging from the issues from this summer and the ensuing fallout. No way to get around that, but the ability of the staff, players, and coaches to not add fuel to the fire will be paramount. The more recent issues with Rami Hammad and Ishmael Zamora just cannot continue, or this team will continue to be its toughest opponent and worst enemy.
5. The Bears were ranked 23rd in the Preseason AP Poll, extending their steak to 50 consecutive polls in the top-25. It is an outstanding achievement, and one that should not be taken for granted. Quite simply, coaches and media have every reason NOT to put the Bears in their poll. It has nothing to do with the talent on the field or the results that would come under normal conditions. The Bears will be in anything but normal situations this year. That drama or circus will be expected to swallow the Bears up and knock them down a few pegs. Critics will point to other examples where a team lost their head coach just before the season as proof that Baylor will fail.
That might happen, but then again, it might not. This is a unique situation for the Bears. They lost their head coach and guiding force, but kept all of the assistants that make up the staff (right or wrong). The systems and staff will be the same as in the past, with little changes to the foundation of Baylor football, through the architect has been fired. This is still one of the most talented teams in the nation, with Seth Russell, KD Cannon and Shock Linwood being among the very best at their position. Not many schools will be able to compete when it comes to star power with the Bears.
The lack of depth will be an issue, unless it isn't. Impossible to predict what will happen, but a doomsday scenario is much more possible if Seth Russell is injured and the offensive line struggles with backups and walkons taking larger roles. But what if that doesn't happen? What if the Bears stay healthy, keep the distractions locked away and don't fuel any additional drama. What if the offensive line stays healthy and the defensive line gels with younger players? Then you are looking at a team that can compete for Big 12 titles. That isn't what most people will say, as minds and opinions are (and probably should be) skewed by the last few months in Waco. But that won't stop me from believing and dreaming of the best case scenario, one that still looks pretty good all things considered.
We finally get to start having some answers to the questions of football....just have to wait 10 more days.