Spring football is always a time for optimism across the country. Teams that had success the previous season justify why that will sustain itself in the coming fall, while teams who struggled the year prior will find every reason to explain how they’ve turned the page.
The Baylor Bears are coming off a one-win season in 2017, the first year under head coach Matt Rhule. And while various media outlets have claimed Baylor can make a big jump in the win column, that’s a fairly vague statement. A “big jump” from one win could mean four? Could it mean eight? It’s debatable.
Baylor’s injuries and depth issues last season did create opportunities for many. Matt Rhule said this spring, “You only get better, especially on defense and especially at running back, by practicing and taking reps. You can’t be hurt and get those reps.”
That is a motto the Bears can live by. And as I’ve taken a closer look at the Bears this spring, I do feel that this team is capable of having one of the most explosive offenses in the Big 12 conference in 2018.
Charlie Brewer stepped into a very difficult situation as a true freshman and played admirably. In fact, of the three true freshmen to play QB (albeit some sparingly) in the Big 12 last year in Sam Ehlinger at Texas, TCU’s Shawn Robinson, and Brewer, I’d take Brewer for the next three years. He completed 68% of his passes in eight games, with 11 touchdowns to four interceptions. Plus he has some wheels, rushing for 160 yards on the season.
Brewer is not getting the attention of his counterparts because of the Bears’ struggles last season, but he should be a household name to the average college football fan in 2018. Brewer starting the final four games of the season against Kansas, Texas Tech, Iowa State and TCU will pay enormous dividends this fall.
This unit struggled mightily last fall. It allowed a Big 12-worst 37 sacks and 94 tackles for loss, which ranked 126th in the NCAA. But it was a young group of guys who were thrown into the fire due to a lack of depth at the position. Baylor returns everyone on the line, except for LT Mo Porter. Back are sophomore LG Xavier Newman, junior C Sam Tecklenburg, senior RG Blake Blackmar, and senior RT Patrick Lawrence.
Also coming in to help is Jake Fruhmorgen, a transfer from Clemson, who started most of the season on the offensive line for the Tigers during their National Championship season in 2016. He sat out last year and is ready to step in and play.
Let’s not forget Matt Rhule was an offensive line coach in the NFL with the New York Giants in 2012. The head coach can help self-teach this unit, which desperately needs it, and will help put the entire offense in a much better position in 2018.
If you were to rank the running backs in the Big 12 based on skill alone, the 1-2 of John Lovett and JaMycal Hasty is as talented and deep as there is in the Big 12 conference. Hasty missed time last season, which brought along the emergence and surprise of Lovett, as a true freshman.
Lovett led the way with 445 rushing yards and five touchdowns in 11 games. Hasty dealt with a shoulder injury, but in eight games ran for 314 yards. And Terrance Williams also suffered injuries last season, limiting him to 255 yards in eight games, but he is leaving and transferring from the program. If these two can remain healthy, and get solid blocking up front, it can be as dangerous and deep of a running back group as there is in the Big 12.
At the end of the 2017 season, the three wide receiver spots on the depth chart were occupied by six sophomores. Denzel Mims, Pooh Stricklin and Blake Lynch led the group and are poised to only improve on their 2017 campaigns. Mims led the team with 1,087 receive yards and 8 touchdowns. Plus, don’t forget about Chris Platt (knee) and R.J. Sneed (leg), who suffered season-ending injuries. Platt had at least 93 receiving yards in three of the four games he played in last season, along with five touchdowns.
Newcomers to the bunch include 4-star WR Tyquan Thornton from Miami, FL. Thornton was the second-highest rated player in the Bears’ 2018 class.
Then, there’s Tennessee transfer Jalen Hurd. After spending most of his career at running back with the Vols, Hurd sat out last season, dropped 10 pounds, and is ready to dominate the Big 12. Hurd has NFL level talent and recently praised the Baylor program, saying, “They’ve been straight up with me since the day I stepped on this campus. That’s what you want as a player, for someone to be straight up with you. They run a straight ship here, so I respect that.”
At 6’4”, 230 pounds, Hurd has the kind of size and potential teams salivate for at the position.
So when we look at the Baylor Bears, there are still a ton of question marks and concerns, but there are also reasons to believe that this team can surprise a ton of teams in the Big 12 this fall, and one of the most explosive offenses in the Big 12 can be a big reason why.