This article was written and published in the Baylor Line’s fall issue. As the football season comes to a close, here’s a view of where we started.
The 2017 college football season kicked off against the background of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction in many of the Texas coastline’s cities. While Texans took stock of the reconstruction job ahead of them, few of the Baylor faithful likely anticipated that their football team would be experiencing its own metaphorical destruction and rebuild in the months ahead.
When thousands of Baylor fans gathered at McLane Stadium on the second day of September last year, they did so under the heady excitement that surrounds a program coming off of a convincing bowl win and with several key pieces on both sides of the ball returning. Following a difficult 2016 season replete with infighting among an interim coaching staff and a lingering cloud of scandal, there was a palpable sense of hope and cautious optimism about a new beginning under Head Coach Matt Rhule. And then, the unthinkable: a loss at the hands of an FCS program. Baylor’s first season opener loss since 2008, and a harbinger of things to come.
As the season progressed, the team was decimated by injuries, and a lack of depth across the board (particularly on the offensive line) grew increasingly apparent. The number in the loss column continued to tick upward, and the sole win of the season wasn’t notched until game nine against Kansas.
And yet, there were glimpses of what Baylor football could be. While injuries and losses mounted, a young and inexperienced team continued to play hard. Heading into the 2018 season, there are reasons for optimism.
It is said that everything in football begins with the offensive line, and, this year, Baylor’s unit should be markedly improved.
“Almost the entire offensive line is returning, and they should be much-improved,” explained former Baylor player and current KWTX Baylor Gameday personality Elliot Coffey. “I’m excited to see where [Clemson transfer] Jake Fruhmorgen fits in on this line.”
Colt Barber, Editor in Chief of SicEm365.com, says that Baylor’s greatest overall strength will be its offense, which is something that Baylor fans will be happy to see return to high efficiency.
“Baylor’s strength will definitely be made up throughout all of their offensive skill positions,” Barber said. “I don’t want to specify one group over another because when you look through the guys they have coming back, the talent is there across the board. Denzel Mims, Chris Platt, JaMycal Hasty, John Lovett and Trestan Ebner have shown tremendous flash, and only Mims played the entire 2017 season without missing time with injury. Throw in Jalen Hurd, a proven producer at a high-major program, and Tyler Henderson as additional threats and I wouldn’t put many groups in the Big 12 ahead of them from top to bottom.”
For Barber, it is difficult to speak definitively about either offensive or defensive schemes in the Matt Rhule era.
“Critiquing either the offensive or defensive schemes that were so new to the entire team last season is tough. We will get a better idea of what this scheme is all about after the 2018 season,” he explained.
Personnel-wise, as optimistic as Barber is about the offense in 2018, he is far from ready to make declarative statements about how improved the defense will be.
“As far as a particular position group that I’m not ready to get excited about yet, safety scares me. Not because there isn’t a talented player back there, but because they have a long way to go from last season to be considered good this year, and there aren’t a lot of new faces at the position after the offseason. Blake Lynch has made the move from cornerback to safety, and while he shows plenty of promise, he still has to go out there and execute. It will take a few games to really see what that group has.”
Players To Watch
The obvious choice for this category is Jalen Hurd, a talent-laden athlete who transferred to Baylor in the Summer of 2017 from Tennessee. Hurd was one of the top prospects in the 2014 recruiting class, and had a prolific career at running back for the Vols until he opted to transfer in 2016. It was a coup for Matt Rhule to land him, and early reports indicate that he could be the very best player in the entire Big 12 for the 2018 season.
The primary reason cited by Hurd in his decision to leave Tennessee is that he wanted to make a position change from running back to receiver. It will be interesting to see how he is utilized in the Baylor offense.
According to Elliot Coffey, “this is the kind of game-breaking talent that Baylor didn’t have last year.”
SicEm365’s Colt Barber expects that Junior running back JaMycal Hasty could have a year to remember.
“He is healthy and ready to rock heading into fall camp. He began carrying the load after he returned from injury last Fall, and he can be a perfect piece behind an offensive line that is still being groomed. Matt Rhule defers the hot hand at running back as games get going, but Hasty is going to be the guy to start the season if he gets through fall camp healthy.”
Best Case/Worst Case
As a former player, Elliot Coffey knows all too well how quickly the trajectory of a season can turn for the better or worse.
“Are we asking about wins? Of course we are. You do realize this is the hardest question to answer, because so many things change about these team throughout the year. I believe this is a bowl-caliber team. Staying healthy will be huge. Charlie avoiding a sophomore slump with also be a game changer.”
Barber, too, highlights last season as a shining example of how much of a role luck can play in the way a season’s story unfolds.
“We know what the floor is as we watched Baylor live it last season. Could that happen again? A lot of things would have to go wrong again in my opinion. The pieces to the puzzle are more clear and the table underneath them is sturdy. If Baylor has a season anywhere close to the same, the wheels are officially off.”
“Ultimately,” he continued, “this team has received a face lift and should enter 2018 with plenty of momentum from within. Charlie Brewer is the QB, there are clear primary, secondary, and tertiary receivers. “The running backs are healthy, and a defensive scheme that was going to take at least a year to install to basics has been brewing for eighteen months. It’s hard to predict injuries and what happens to opponents, but Baylor’s ceiling could range anywhere from gaining bowl eligibility to winning eight games if things fall exactly right. Seven games might make the most sense when looking at the schedule.”
In a little more than a year and a half, Matt Rhule and his staff have proven themselves to be tremendous talent evaluators and recruiters, especially after landing a top-30 recruiting class for 2018 following a one-win season. Arguably the biggest coup for the staff in the most recent recruiting cycle was landing 2018 quarterback Gerry Bohannon, one of the best dual threat quarterbacks in the country for his class. Bohannon, an early enrollee, arrived on campus just in time to shore up the quarterback position when Baylor had only one scholarship quarterback on campus. He is Robert Griffin III-esque in stature and on the field.
With the advent of the new early signing period for high school athletes, Baylor is once again looking to have most of its recruiting class wrapped up by early December. After taking larger classes in both the 2017 and 2018 cycles, look for Baylor to sign fewer players.
While Baylor’s 2019 recruiting class will be small in number, do not expect the staff to deviate from its “type.” This staff seeks out players who possess exceptional speed and size.