By Kevin Barrera
Head coach: Jim Grobe
1st year: 0-0
20th year overall: 110-115-1
Ten Best Baylor Players
1. LB Taylor Young
2. QB Seth Russell
3. NB Travon Blanchard
4. RB Shock Linwood
5. WR KD Cannon
6. OL Kyle Fuller
7. S Orion Stewart
8. CB Ryan Reid
9. RB Terence Williams
10. WR Chris Platt
Sept. 2 Northwestern St.
Sept. 10 SMU
Sept. 16 @ Rice
Sept. 24 Oklahoma St.
Oct. 1 @ Iowa State
Oct. 15 Kansas (HC)
Oct. 29 @ Texas
Nov. 5 TCU
Nov. 12 @ Oklahoma
Nov. 19 Kansas State
Nov. 25 @ Texas Tech (AT&T Stadium)
Dec. 3 @ West Virginia
The 2016 season will have a different feel to it than past years. After a tumultuous offseason that resulted in the loss of HC Art Briles, AD Ian McCaw and President Ken Starr; the Bears will head in to the season with a new coach in Jim Grobe and new AD in Mack Rhoades.
The Bears return a majority of their offensive skill players, including the return of QB Seth Russell. Russell missed the last half of the season after breaking a bone in his neck during a play against Iowa State, last season. Russell brings a wealth of experience and will be the asked to carry a team marred by scandal, to a possible Big 12 Championship.
Outside of the skill positions, Baylor will try to piece together an offensive line that suffered major attrition, both by the loss of graduating players and defections of recruits and one JUCO player. Coach Randy Clements will have his hands full, but is not without talent and one important piece. Senior Kyle Fuller returns at Center and will be the foundation of the offensive line. With Center being a very important position, having someone of Fuller’s caliber will help to shore up a position that is thin on depth.
On the defensive side of the ball, this may be one of the most experienced and athletic defenses that Coach Phil Bennett has had at Baylor. With that, however, comes the realization that the defense is very thin along the defensive line and will have to replace all 4 starters on the line, including All-American Andrew Billings.
The defensive line is not devoid of talent though, as several RSFR and RSSO lines the 2-deep depth chart. That could be both exciting and scary, but Baylor will march forward with a 3-4 defense that should showcase the overall athleticism of the unit. The LB’s seem to be the strongest group of the unit, but the secondary has its fair share of talent as well.
This season will be a trying one to say the least. These players are without their leader and will have to lean on each other to get through what will be the toughest season of any player or staff members career. The talent is there for Baylor to compete for a Big 12 Championship, but there will have to be things that fall their way and with how the past few months have gone, a betting man likely wouldn’t count on that happening.
What to watch for on offense: How will the offensive line come together. This will be one of the biggest question marks and a big indicator on how well the 2016 season will go for the Baylor offense. Baylor lost 4 of 5 starters on the offensive line and only returns Kyle Fuller, who has 27 of the 28 starts for this years line. Seth Russell returns and has several elite playmakers, including JR KD Cannon, RSSO Chris Platt, RSSO Ishmael Zamora (Currently serving suspension), SR Shock Linwood and RSSO Terence Williams. If the offensive line can keep Seth Russell upright and healthy, this offense could be very special and once again be one of the top offensive units in the Country.
What to watch for on defense: Like the offense, the defense will go as the line goes. After losing All-American Andrew Billings, All-Big 12 players Shawn Oakman, Beau Blackshear and Jamal Palmer, the Bears will have to rely on a talented but raw group of underclassmen to lead the way. While the line will have its questions, LB and the secondary will be one of the most athletic and experienced units of Coach Phil Bennetts tenure at Baylor. At the LB position, the Bears return All-Big 12 players Taylor Young and Travon Blanchard. Both should provide strong leadership and help to take some of the pressure off of a young defensive line, in run support.
In the secondary, a new name has emerged for the Bears and that is JR Davion Hall. The East texas native has made waves during spring and fall camps and was listed as the starter at cover safety for the Bears. Orion Stewart will man the deep safety spot and Ryan Reid will anchor a very talented corner unit that should provide Coach Buckles with his most talented unit yet.
Overall the defense should be a strength of the team. With a thin defensive line, the defense will be vulnerable to a good rushing attack, but with the Big 12 as a wide open, spread league, the Bears may be able to mask their thinness on the defensive line. Still though, it will be tough to counter a great rushing attack.
The team will be far better if …. The offensive and defensive lines can be good to great. Frankly, there is more a question mark on the defensive line than there is on the offensive side. The offensive line is very talented but lacks experience. With a weak non-conference, the reps will be there and Coach Randy Clements should be able to shuffle players around to see what unit works best. The defensive line is much more of a question mark because of the sheer lack of reps. The young Bears are very raw and will be looked upon to make an impact. That’s asking a lot of a group that will likely play several true and redshirt freshmen.
The schedule: The Big 12 once again did not favors for Baylor on the schedule front. The Bears 2016 schedule is very back loaded and if the Bears can get to November injury free, they will have an opportunity to make some noise.
The Bears begin the 2016 campaign with a trio of weak teams in Northwestern St., SMU and Rice. After beginning the season at home, Baylor will hit the road for the first time for a Friday night matchup against the Rice Owls, in Houston. These first three games will be very important in getting players reps and hopefully keeping some of the upper classmen healthy and rested.
The Bears will return home at the end of September to welcome the Oklahoma State Cowboys to McLane Stadium. This will be an important game for the Bears, as Oklahoma State is supposed to battle for top position in the conference. After this opening battle, Baylor will hit the road again to take on a dangerous Iowa State team in Ames. Ames is always a difficult place to play and this year will be no different, as there is a buzz in the air with a new head coach on the sidelines for the Cyclones.
Sandwiched between two off weeks, is a Homecoming game against the Kansas Jayhawks. The Jayhawks are in year two of Coach Beaty’s regime, but shouldn’t be much of a matchup for the Bears. Still, with the depth concerns, Baylor shouldn’t overlook this opponent. After a second off week, the Bears will head to Austin for a much anticipated matchup against the Texas Longhorns. This game will have a much more tense feel to it, especially after the Longhorns were able to secure 5 of the recruits that were given their release from Baylor.
The month of November will be a tough one to say the least. After a tough game with Texas, the Bears will return to Waco for a big game against TCU. This game will be remembered by Horned Frog and Bears fans because of a last second kick that sealed a huge comeback win for Baylor. The Bears will then head to Norman, Oklahoma for a tough battle against the Sooners. The Bears embarrassed OU, in their last trip to Norman, and the Sooners will make sure that doesn’t happen again. Closing out a rough November, the Bears will welcome Kansas State to Waco and will end the month with their yearly matchup against Texas Tech at AT&T Stadium, in Arlington.
To close out the 2016 campaign, the Bears will make a tough road trip to West Virginia to take on the Mountaineers. Depending on how the season has gone to that point, the Bears could find themselves in a good position to win a Big 12 Championship or will be trying to get better placement for a bowl game.
Best offensive player: Senior QB Seth Russell. Hands down Seth is the most important player on the offensive side of the ball. At his best, Russell is in the top 3 of QBs in the country. After beginning the season on fire, Russell’s season was cut short by injury. A broken bone in the neck and several months later, the Senior signal caller was able to go through spring drills and fall workouts. Russell possesses a freak athletic ability to go along with a canon for an arm. Russell is a gun slinger, so it is likely he will make some plays that make fans scratch their heads, but he is the type of player that can completely take over a game and can lead Baylor to a great season.
Best defensive player: This one is a tough one and is between two players, Junior NB Travon Blanchard and Senior LB Taylor Young. Both are strong leaders for the defense and are playmakers. Young is excellent in run support and rushing the passer, while Blanchard has the athletic ability to make plays sideline to sideline and cover the slot position. Both will be relied upon heavily to lead a defense that won’t be short in athletic ability and experience.
Key player to a successful season: Senior QB Seth Russell. Russell is the make or break player. This teams season will be based on how healthy Russell can stay. When he is on, there is no one better at the QB position, in the country, so it will be very important that the OL finds its rhythm before conference play.
The season will be a success if … Baylor can put the events of this summer behind them and just play football. There are certain variables at play for this team to win 10+ games, but the talent is there, the will is there and the coaches are there. Will this team allow all the talk to get in their heads or will they charge forward and play for their teammates? Time will tell, but when you have someone like Kaz Kazadi in your corner, it is likely that you will have the foundation to look forward and not backwards.
Key game: Some will look at the end of the season and point to several games that could be “key games.” I, however, look at the first game of Big 12 play. The Bears will face their first tough opponent to start league play, in Oklahoma State. OSU is expected to be improved over last year, but there are still question marks on defense for the Pokes. Coach Gundy always fields a high octane offense, so it will be important for the Bears defense to play well in this game, if they have any hopes of beating the Cowboys.