#50 Baylor Football 2017 Preview

Baylor Bears
Overall Rank: #50
#7 Big 12
Baylor had a roller coaster ride of a 2016 season as they went 7-6 under the direction of interim head coach Jim Grobe. Matt Ruhle takes over in 2017 after consecutive 10-win seasons at Temple. However, the situation in Waco is toxic with all of the off the field sexual assault issues. Thus, Ruhle could very well need all seven years of his contract to get the Bears back on a level playing field with the rest of the Big 12 when all is said and done.
2016 Record: 7-6, 3-6
2016 Bowl: Cactus Bowl vs. Boise State, 31-12 W
Coach: Matt Ruhle (0-0 at Baylor, 28-23 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Jeff Nixon, Glenn Thomas
Defensive Coordinator: Phil Snow
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Terrance Williams, RB, 1,048 yards
Passing: Zach Smith, QB, 1,526 yards
Receiving: Chris Platt, WR, 567 yards
Tackles: Taylor Young, WLB, 93
Sacks: K.J. Smith, DE, 7.0
Interceptions: Three players with 1 each
Other Key Returnees: WR Blake Lynch, WR Pooh Stricklin, WR Denzel Mims, LG Ishmael Wilson, RG Blake Blackmar, RT Patrick Lawrence, TE Jordan Feuerbacher, NT Ira Lewis, DT Tyrone Hunt, DE Greg Roberts, FS Chance Waz, CB Jameson Houston, WR/KR Tony Nicholson
Key Losses: RB Shock Linwood, WR K.D. Cannon, WR Ishmael Zamora, QB Seth Russell, K Chris Callahan, LB Aiavion Edwards, S Orion Stewart, C Kyle Fuller, DE Jamie Jacobs, NB Patrick Levels, CB Ryan Reid
It will be interesting to see what direction Baylor goes scheme wise offensively. With the personnel on the roster, some mix of a spread and maybe an occasional double tight end or two back set should be the right strategy in 2017. Zach Smith is the expected starter at quarterback, but will be pushed for playing time by Arizona grad transfer Anu Solomon. Terrance Williams is back at running back and should set a nice foundation for the Bears to be able to run the football very well. Williams ran for 1,048 yards to go along with eleven touchdowns. The losses of K.D. Cannon and Ishmael Zamora won’t be easy to replace at wide receiver, but there is a good mix of depth returning. Chris Platt and Denzel Mims should be able to combine for around 120 receptions or more and have around 15 touchdowns. In the trenches, Blake Blackmar will anchor an offensive line that returns three starters, but if injuries happen things could send the season sideways quickly. 
Defensive Coordinator Phil Snow will need a big season out of Taylor Young at linebacker as Baylor doesn’t return many starters defensively this season. Young has an excellent nose for the football and he racked up 93 tackles and 4.5 sacks last season. K.J. Smith is going to be counted on to provide pass rush help off the edge and if Smith can get his sack numbers into double figures it would be a big plus. Greg Roberts and Tyrone Hunt are back as well along the defensive line and Hunt was the Cactus Bowl MVP in the win over Boise State. Chance Waz is the only returning starter in the secondary but if this unit can stay healthy they may surprise some people with their production.
The Bottom Line:
Liberty visits McLane Stadium to kick off the 2017 season and if the Bears are going to go back to a bowl they will need to sweep their non-conference games. Oklahoma comes to Waco on September 23rd to kick off a very difficult stretch of games. After the battle with Sooners, Baylor will go on the road to Kansas State and Oklahoma State and then West Virginia and Texas will come to Waco. Thus, if the Bears can go 2-3 in those five games, or better, then they will go bowling again. In the end, it’s going to be a tough first season in Waco for Coach Ruhle as a lack of depth could very well cost them a bowl trip. But the foundation will be laid by Coach Ruhle to get the program back going in the right direction off the field and on the field.
Projected Bowl: None
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 241.8 (14th in nation, 1st in conference)
Passing Offense: 280.9 (24, 4)
Total Offense: 522.7 (6, 3)
Scoring Offense: 34.6 (35, 4)
Rushing Defense: 200.7 (87, 7)
Pass Defense: 230.2 (71, 2)
Total Defense: 430.8 (81, 4)
Scoring Defense: 29.0 (71, 6)
Turnover Margin: -0.38 (97, 9)
Sacks: 2.46 (32, 3)
Sacks Allowed:2.00 (59, 4)
Madness 2017 Recruit Rankings:
#233 R.J. Sneed
#247 Trestan Ebner