The Baylor Bears 2020 football season didn’t go as planned in Year 1 under Dave Aranda. But it’s a new year, we’ve turned the page and Baylor will be working in new faces as they try to bounce back from a 2-7 season and inch closer towards where the program was in 2019, when it reached the Big 12 Championship Game under former head coach Matt Rhule.
So let’s look at each side of the ball for the Baylor Bears. If you missed it, here are the things that will define the Baylor offense in 2021, and now we discuss the three things that will define Baylor on the defensive side of the ball.
1. Terrel Bernard’s Health
Bernard came on during the 2019 season as established himself as one of the best linebackers in the Big 12 earning Second-Team All-Big 12 honors. Then the 2020 season came around and he was living up to big expectations. However, injuries got the best of him as he suffered a shoulder injury during the season and never returned. When he went down, he was leading the Big 12 in tackles per game (11.0) and was second in the Big 12 and 11th in the country in total tackles (55). So as he gets ready for the 2021 campaign, Baylor’s defense gets a huge lift if its gets a fully healthy season from Bernard, who is capable of being the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
2. Is Nose Tackle Siaki Ika the Real Deal?
Ika comes via the transfer portal as he joins the Bears from Dave Aranda’s former team, the LSU Tigers, where as a true freshman in 2019, Ika played in 13 games and recorded 17 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. The former four-star recruit and Top 300 player in the country is now set to become the anchor of the Baylor defensive line. Ika is listed at 6-4 340 lbs, whereas those who were manning the nose tackle position last season, Ryan Miller (6-2 290) and Josh Landry (6-1 285), were a fraction of Ika’s size. The nose tackle position has been critically important to Aranda’s defense in all of his stops, and if Ika turns out to be the guy he’s looking for, it’s a game changer for that side of the ball.
3. Keep winning the turnover margin
One area the Bears excelled in during the 2020 season was turnover margin. Baylor was +8, which was second best in the Big 12 behind Texas. Plus their 17 forced turnovers were tied for third in the conference. The Bears appeared to pick up where they left off on this in the spring game as the defense forced four turnovers. Players like Christian Morgan, Byron Hanspard, Kalon Barnes, Raleigh Texada and Al Walcott, are just some of the names who will play a huge role in keeping those turnover numbers near the top of the conference. But if the front seven can create even more chaos this season, that would be great for the secondary.
In many ways, it feels like we didn’t get to see Dave Aranda’s best plans implemented last season considering it was his first year on the job and it was thrown off by COVID-19. This will be the year we learn how Aranda handles the Big 12 and what kind of new, innovative defensive ideas this conference will get to view under the defensive whiz.