1-11. That’s certainly not what Baylor fans had in mind for the 2017 season. The inaugural season under Matt Rhule didn’t live up to expectations, whatever those were. If you’re ESPN’s Joey Galloway, that meant a Big 12 title. For those of us not living on Mars, it was a bowl berth.
But youth, injuries, lack of depth, and adjusting to a new staff and system, all factored into Baylor’s disappointing season.
However, there’s no doubt there’s reason for optimism moving forward.
First off, there’s Charlie Brewer. The true freshman stepped in with a team sporting a leaky offensive line, not much depth or experience, and never wavered in his leadership of this team this team. He also progresses each and every week on the field.
Brewer’s final five games of the season where he saw significant action and started, saw nine touchdown passes to three interceptions with 1400 passing yards. He didn’t put up big rushing numbers, but his mobility in the pocket and ability to scramble helped extend plays when his weak offensive line would break down.
It was actually too ironic that Brewer’s season ended with an apparent right arm injury. How else could it end for the another important player for the Bears?
Now think about all the key players that went down or missed time for Baylor throughout the season. Xavier Jones, Chris Platt, Clay Johnston, Gavin Holmes, Taylor Young, and K.J. Smith. That just lists a handful of the overall number.
On the injury front, it was as brutal a season as I can remember for a team. Compounding these injuries was the fact that the lack of depth for this program became even more evident. Due to the issues under the Briles administration, his final recruiting class was decimated and many players ended up never enrolling or transferring.
As a result, it left Matt Rhule playing a ton of freshmen throughout the season. Put into perspective some of these numbers: 32 different freshmen or sophomores have started a game for Baylor throughout the season. In the Texas Tech game, freshmen and sophomores accounted for 98.7 percent of the Bears’ total offense (516 of 523), with freshman QB Charlie Brewer leading the way.
That’s absurd. But it’s the kind of numbers that should pay off in a big way come the 2018 and 2019 seasons in Waco.
Also important, this team never quit on Matt Rhule. That was evident as you watched each and every game down the stretch. This was not the case last season under interim coach Jim Grobe, who was dealt an impossible hand as he oversaw the rest of the coaching staff that worked under Art Briles.
But each and every week, right through the TCU game on Saturday, these young men showed grit and fight.
So as we look to the future in Waco, not only will Baylor benefit from all the playing time young guys received this season, but there are fresh faces that enter the picture in 2018. There’s Texas A&M defensive end transfer James Lockhart. Also, Tennessee wide receiver Jalen Hurd, who Matt Rhule reportedly called the best player on the team. And Clemson offensive lineman Jake Fruhmorgen.
If you recall, Lockhart ended up choosing Texas A&M over Miami, Notre Dame, Ohio State and others. He was a consensus four-star player and ranked as the No. 11 player in the state of Texas. Meantime, Hurd has serious ability as a wide receiver and a running back. He rushed for 2,100 yards in 2014-15 with the Vols, but also had 57 catches over those two seasons. Hurd could end up as one of the scariest players in the Big 12 conference next fall. Then there’s Fruhmorgen, who was a four-star player with offers from Alabama, Florida and Miami. That’s a serious infusion of talent for the Bears.
None of this of course includes 19 recruits currently committed to Baylor, which is ranked as a Top 25 class by Rivals. Remember, for all of Art Briles’ success, he was not recruiting Top 10 classes to Waco. Defensive end Joshua Landry is one of the stars of the class who should make an immediate impact. He’s a top 40 player in the state of Texas and chose Baylor over several other Big 12 schools.
So while the pain stings for Baylor Nation, fans and boosters alike should look at this season as what it was: short-term pain for potential long-term success. It doesn’t make the taste of the 2017 season any better, but under the direction of coach Rhule and his staff, there’s no reason to have any less optimism than when he was hired nearly 365 days ago.