65 Teams in 65 Days: Baylor Bears

Updated: Jul 14

Head Coach: Dave Aranda

Offensive Coordinator: Jeff Grimes

Defensive Coordinator: Ron Roberts

Conference: BIG 12

2021 Record: 12-2 (7-2) (Beat Ole Miss in Sugar Bowl) 2022 Non Conference Opponents: Albany, BYU, Texas State

Notable Additions: None

Baylor was a team that surprised me in a big way last season as I did not even predict them to make a bowl game. Dave Aranda’s squad proved me wrong and ended up winning the Sugar Bowl and the BIG 12 championship game, their run game was amongst the best in the nation and their pass rush was as lethal as it gets. Over the offseason, they surprisingly lost starting quarterback Gerry Bohanon to the transfer portal and replacing him will be a very tough task.

The man likely to win the starting quarterback job is Blake Shapen, who actually started for the Bears in their BIG 12 championship game victory. He had a very solid game, throwing for three touchdowns and no interceptions. However, the Bears offensive approach in that game was very short, quick pass oriented, as Shapen only averaged 6.2 yards per attempt. It also helped that Oklahoma State was not scouting for him, as they expected Bohanon to start. Shapen’s sample size is very small, so it is very hard to predict how he will do in 2022, but I do not think he possesses the same big play threat as Bohanon, therefore making Baylor’s offense a lot less versatile. The Bears running attack was fantastic in 2021, led by Abram Smith and Tristan Ebner. Both of those two have moved onto the next level, so expecting Baylor’s rushing attack to be as potent as it was in 2021 is extremely unreasonable. The new lead running back, Taye McWilliams only appeared in three games last season and carried the ball a total of 17 times. The Bears rushing attack is simply inexperienced, and losing the versatile duo of Ebner and Smith will hurt a ton. The receiving corps loses the speedy Tyquan Thornton, who was their only real threat, and just like at the running back position, they did not bring anyone in to replace their biggest contributor. The new starting trio will be senior Gavin Holmes, freshman Josh Cameron and sophomore Monaray Baldwin. Holmes did not play in 2021, but he was nothing special in 2020, as he only averaged 7.4 yards per catch. Cameron is a freshman, so he obviously has no experience playing at the college level, and he was not even rated as a recruit out of high school, so trusting him with a starting role is a huge risk. Rounding out the group is Monaray Baldwin, who only had one reception in 2021. This trio is arguably the worst in the BIG 12 and easily one of the worst in power five as they lack both experience and talent. Last season, the Bears offensive line was elite at both run blocking and pass blocking, as their five leaders in snaps all did not allow a single sack and none of them committed more than four penalties. They return four of five of those players, meaning their offensive line will be elite once again. This is a huge win for the Bears, as they lack talent at every other position. With an elite offensive line, their rushing attack has potential to be very solid, despite having a below average lead running back and their passing attack has potential to be average as Shapen will have all the time in the world to throw. Expect both Connor Galvin and Jacob Gall to be in contention for an All BIG 12 First Team selection and Galvin to possibly be an All-American. An elite offensive line saves what is one of the least talented offenses in the power five. However, as elite as they are, Blake Shapen will need to take the Bears over the top if they want to repeat as BIG 12 champions, and I do not believe he has what it takes.

What really set Baylor’s defense apart last season and made them elite was their speed in the secondary. Jalen Pietre was arguably the fastest cornerback in last spring’s draft and JT Woods was without a doubt the fastest safety in last spring’s draft. Losing those two will hurt a ton, and they also lost safety Jairon McVea, an elite cover safety who had an 88.7 coverage grade last season. By losing all these players, the Bears secondary is decimated. They do return two solid pieces in cornerback Al Walcott and safety Christian Morgan, but neither of them will match the impact Jalen Pietre or JT Woods made. The front seven loses a key piece in Cole Maxwell, but returns three suitable defensive linemen for their 3-3-5 scheme in defensive tackle Siaki Ika and defensive ends Gabe Hall and TJ Franklin. All three are very good pass rushers, as all three had a PFF pass rushing grade better than 71 and Ika had a grade of 85.7. In 2021, Ika was not great against the run, as he missed 20% of his tackle attempts. However, I expect him to improve in 2022. The potential has always been there for him, as he was a very highly touted recruit and his build is freakish, standing at 6’4 and weighing 350 pounds. He has stuck with Dave Aranda since his days at LSU, and now with a few years under his belt, he is bound to break out and become one of the best defensive tackles in the nation. The Bears lose their best linebacker in Terrel Bernard, who was a great all around player and leader, which will be a huge loss. Dillon Doyle is the only returning linebacker, but he was extremely average last season, as he failed to produce as a pass rusher and was very average against the run. Overall, the Bears defense is very lackluster, their defensive line is very good at rushing the passer and I expect them to be one of the better groups in the BIG 12 in that category. I would have faith in their run defense, but the linebacking core is way too inexperienced to match what they did in 2021 and the secondary simply loses way too much talent, as their 2021 group was incredible.

The Bears schedule is by no means easy. A road trip to Provo in week two versus a very disciplined BYU team led by a fantastic quarterback playing behind what will be a rambunctious crowd is not an easy feat for any team, and I doubt the Bears get the job done. The beginning of the conference schedule is not too demanding, but that all changes after the Kansas game, as their next three matchups are versus very tough teams: Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Kansas State. If they can win two of those three they will be in great shape to make the conference championship game, but I only see them winning one. The season finale at Texas will be a tough one too as the Longhorns will have a lethal passing attack and match up very well versus Baylor’s secondary that loses a ton of production. Overall, given all the studs they lost on both sides of the ball, 7-5 is a very solid season for Dave Aranda's squad.

Record Prediction: 8-4 (6-3)

V Albany: Win

AT BYU: Loss

V Texas State: Win

AT Iowa State: Win

V Oklahoma State: Win

AT West Virginia: Loss

V Kansas: Win

AT Texas Tech: Win

AT Oklahoma: Loss

V Kansas State: Win

V TCU: Win

AT Texas: Loss

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