Head Coach: Matt Rhule
2018 Results: 7-6, 4-5 Conference
Bowl: 45-38 Win over Vanderbilt in Texas Bowl
O/U 7.5 Wins (O -130; U EVEN)
National Title: +5000
The Baylor Bears had a huge turnaround last year, going from a one-win team in 2017 to a winning 7-6 record in 2018. Head coach Matt Rhule, however, sees that is just the start of this programs ascent, commenting, “We have to keep elevating our level of expectation.” NCAA oddsmakers at Bovada have elevated that exactly 0.5 games, setting the over/under on Bears’ wins at a healthy 7.5. If the Bears make it a point to fix some crucial flaws, that over easily could be achieved by the 2019 iteration of this program.
Baylor quarterbacks suffered a Big 12 high 39 sacks last year, and that is one of the first things on the list of what the offense must address in 2019. Charlie Brewer is hoping for far more protection from his offensive line, and he ended his sophomore season with an MVP award at the Texas Bowl, where the Bears downed Vandy 45-38. Former Bears’ QB Shawn Bell is the offensive line coach, and he is working with a lot of new parts on that OL. Connor Galvin is a key fixture, but two-year starting center Sam Tecklenburg moves to right guard and Clemson transfer Jake Fruhmorgen moves in to start at center.
Chris Platt signed a fifth-year waiver, and the receiver position should be a source of strength, as well. Denzel Mims had 1,087 yards as a sophomore but he struggled last year. Other WR options include Jared Atkinson, Tyquan Thornton, Marques Jones, RJ Sneed, Josh Flecks, and Tight end Christoph Henle. Mims was superseded last season as the go-to option by the emergence of Jalen Hurd who caught 69 passes for 946 yards and four TDs in 2018. Mims still is the same talent, and the Bears will hope he picks back up where he left off two seasons ago. Tristan Ebner will be the star running back, as the premier rusher over the last two seasons, but he also saw some time playing safety in the spring.
The defense needs to force turnovers. Last year it managed just seven interceptions and three fumble recoveries, and the Bears were last in Big 12 turnovers with just 10, while ranking only head of Oregon State nationally. At linebacker, the Bears are quite strong. It returns three starters and plenty of depth. Clay Johnston is a two-year starter in the middle who racked up 99 tackles last year. Blake Lynch flanks him as a converted safety on the other side, and Tercel Bernard or Jordan Williams will start, as well. Lynch has now attempted to play six positions, including WR, RB, and Wildcat QB. He has made impressive strides as a defender, though.
Up front, there are some depth issues. The Bears are hoping Lynch and former TexasA&M Transfer James Lockhart alleviate some of this, as well as Rob Saulin and Bravvion Roy at the tackle positions adding some further depth. The secondary is hoping to be at full health this year. Safeties Christian Morgan and JT Woods missed spring due to injury, and CBs Harrison Hand transferred. Corners Kalon Barnes, Mark Milton, and Raleigh Texada are all track stars. Barnes won the 100-meter in his first two collegiate meets, with a 10.29 time.
Baylor used placekicker John Mayers and punter Isaac Power at the Texas Bowl, and it worked out quite nicely. Mayers was 3 of 3 on extra points and Power had a 47-yard punt from his own end zone in his only attempt. Both should start this year.
The Bears have a tough task in improving after a six-win turnaround last year, but the team improved to 6.4 yards per play (No. 34) last year and its third-down conversions improved to No. 29 in the NCAA. Baylor prides itself on the rush game and last year it averaged 170 yards in six of the 13 games, while often using a pass-first approach. Its balance should prove crucial in keeping defenses on their toes.
Prediction: 8 wins (over)