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Baylor vs. Stephen F. Austin: Preview and Prediction

NCAA Football: Abilene Christian at Baylor

Here is everything you need to know about the Baylor Bears’ season opener in our Stephen F. Austin vs. Baylor Preview.

Game Info

6 p.m. Central Time, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, McLane Stadium, Waco, Texas

TV: ESPN+/Big 12 Now (Joel Meyers, Barrett Brooks)

Radio: Baylor IMG Sports Network / ESPN Central Texas; Sirius 113 / XM 207 / Internet 967

 

Key players

Stephen F. Austin

CB Aretavious Hendrix: He broke up a team-high six passes during his debut season in Nacogdoches in 2018.  That earned him an All-Southland Conference Honorable Mention nod for the Starkville, Miss., product. He was also named SFA’s MVP for the 2018 season and was tabbed the SFA Male Breakout Athlete of the Year.

WR Tamrick Pace. The 2016 Freshman All-American earned All-Southland honorable mention acclaim in 2018 after picking up All-Southland Second Team selection in 2017. He enters the 2019 season as an All-Southland Conference Second-Team preseason selection. He led SFA in touchdowns (7) last season, finished second on the team in receiving yards (623), ranked third in all-purpose yards and was second in receiving yards per game (69.2). His 42 receptions and 14.8 yards per catch was third among Lumberjack receivers.

QB Trae Self. SFA has eight quarterbacks on its roster, but the Butler Community College transfer landed the job for the season opener. Self threw for 1,774 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2018 for Butler while also rushing for four scores.

Baylor

QB Charlie Brewer. After throwing for 3,019 yards, 19 touchdowns and leading Baylor to a bowl game in his first full season as a starter, Brewer now has his sights set on entering the upper echelon of quarterbacks in the Big 12 Conference and the country. While his completion percentage dropped from his freshman to sophomore seasons, his touchdown-to-interception ratio improved. Plus the talent around him is more experienced and more explosive. 

WR Denzel Mims. If the Bears end up with an All-American wide receiver in 2019 it’s likely to be Mims. The senior is one of the fastest players in the conference and is coming off a 55-catch season. In 2017 he had 1,087 yards receiving and he’s scored 8 touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. With an experience Brewer at the controls and a better offensive line, the stars could align for Mims to put together an otherworldly senior season.   

DE James Lynch. The 6-foot-4, 295-pound junior is an end in Baylor’s 3-4 defense and this could be the year he hits double-digits in sacks after registering nine in 2018. You won’t see him with a lot of tackles from game-to-game, but he’ll be around the quarterback on a consistent basis, and that’s an area head coach Matt Rhule wants improvement in from his entire team in 2019. 

LB Clay Johnston. The senior middle linebacker is the Bears’ leading current tackler (179) and is coming off a 99-tackle season. He’s made 21 career starts and has played in 33 career games, making him one of the most experienced defenders on the team. He’ll be around the football all season, especially with the three defensive linemen in front of him opening up tackling lanes. 

 

Key storylines

Stephen F. Austin

SFA, a member of the FCS’s Southland Conference, is in the midst of transition. The Lumberjacks lost their head coach, Clint Conque, a month before last season due to a violation of university rules that has never been disclosed. His replacement, Jeff Byrd, led SFA to just two wins. The Lumberjacks’ offseason coaching search yielded Colby Carthel, the former boss at Division II Texas A&M-Commerce. There, Carthel led the Lions to the 2017 Division II National Championship, along with 59 wins and six postseason appearances (four playoffs, two bowls) in six seasons. He instantly improved the recruiting credibility of the Lumberjacks, as he lured the nation’s No. 1 FCS recruit to Nacogdoches shortly after his arrival. Carthel’s task this season is to make the Lumberjacks competitive in the Southland Conference and sort out a quarterback situation that hasn’t been good in several seasons. 

Baylor

If you look at Matt Rhule’s limited history as a head coach, Year 3 is when his teams takes a marked jump in quality. At Temple the Owls went 2-10 in Rhule’s first season and followed that with a 6-6 season and bowl eligibility in 2014. Then, in 2015, the Owls went 10-4 and reached the American Athletic Conference championship game. The Bears’ first two seasons track similarly. Rhule took over a barren Bears team, talent-wise, in 2017 and went 1-11. In Year 2 the Bears went 7-6 and reached a bowl game. Now, in Year 3, one has to wonder if the Bears are a dark horse Big 12 contender. The offensive tools are there. But can the Bears play good enough defense — and, more importantly to Rhule, force enough sacks and turnovers — to slow down opposing Big 12 offenses? That could be what stands between the Bears and shocking the conference. 

Prediction

Baylor 63, SFA 10. Full disclosure — I’m an SFA alum, class of 1994. I would LOVE to write that SFA is going to shock the world. But it’s not happening. The Lumberjacks simply don’t have the talent to keep up with the Bears right now. In four meetings the Bears are 4-0 and have outscored the Lumberjacks 201-0. Yep, that’s right. SFA hasn’t scored a point in four meetings. Rhule and his staff will get to play a lot of second- and third-string guys on Saturday evening and leave the home crowd with that happy-meal feeling you get from an FBS money game. I’m just hoping no Lumberjack starters get hurt.

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