It is never too early to start looking at next year. This series aims to take an early look at the upcoming 2017 schedule of each Big 12 team. A lot can happen between now and September. Players can leave, coaches can change, and more, but these predictions can be locked in as 100% accurate (Note: these predictions are not accurate at all and should not be used by any means).
We kick off the series with the Baylor Bears.
Just in case you forgot, the Bears went just 3-6 in conference play last season as they dealt with the fallout from the sexual assault scandal that’s rocked the university. However, new head coach Matt Rhule has brought some excitement back to the program. Baylor finished the season on a high note by smashing Boise State 31-12 in the Cactus Bowl, and coach Rhule was able to produce a pretty decent recruiting class considering the short amount of time he had to do so and as the aforementioned fallout of the sexual assault scandal continues to grow.
So what should 2017 expectations be? Let’s take a look at the schedule.
Baylor 2017 Schedule
SEP 2 – Liberty
SEP 9 – UT San Antonio
SEP 16 – at Duke
SEP 23 – Oklahoma
SEP 30 – at Kansas State
OCT 14 – at Oklahoma State
OCT 21 – West Virginia
OCT 28 – Texas
NOV 4 – at Kansas
NOV 11 – Texas Tech (Arlington, TX)
NOV 18 – Iowa State
NOV 25 – at TCU
It’s hard to know what we will get out of Baylor under a new head coach, but looking at their schedule there are not a lot of guaranteed wins.
It is refreshing to see an actual Power Five opponent on the schedule, and though Duke football is not the powerhouse that the basketball team is, they have shown the ability to shake things up in the ACC. Also, UT San Antonio went bowling this year. All-in-all, a much stiffer non-conference schedule than we are used to for Baylor.
Baylor will be breaking in a new coaching staff, which means new schemes. It also means that the Art Briles’ spread system will most-likely be replaced and the offense and defense must learn a whole new playbook. In the past, Rhule has favored a more power running offense and tough defense over a pass happy spread offense.
Also, while Rhule brought the recruiting numbers up and signed a full class, the question is, are these Big 12 caliber players or Temple caliber? If you do not think there is a difference just ask TCU and West Virginia how their first few years were in the Big 12.
Depth is also going to be a concern. Several players left the program after coach Briles was fired, and Baylor, while talented in the starting positions, had very little depth. You usually do not want to have to rely on a bunch of freshmen and sophomores if you want success (see: Texas, every year under Charlie Strong). It was primarily depth issues that led this team to finish 6-6 in the regular season after starting 6-0 last year.
With that, let’s look at the best and worst case scenarios for Baylor in 2017.
Best Case: 9-3
In the best case scenario Baylor runs through the non-conference slate undefeated, but it won’t be an easy out against Duke. There’s potential that Baylor’s lack of depth gets exposed.
The start of Big 12 play is absolutely brutal for the Bears. Oklahoma, K-State and Oklahoma State appear to be the conference’s top contenders in 2017, and even in the best case scenario, Baylor opens conference play 0-3.
Sitting at 3-3 the Bears have an opportunity to right the ship with West Virginia coming into Waco. While the Mountaineers will most-likely be favored it’s not totally out of the question that Baylor pulls off the upset, and this is the best-case scenario, so we’ll give the Bears the win here.
The rest of the games on the schedule are 50/50. Okay, maybe the Kansas and Iowa State odds are a little better than 50/50, but both of those programs enter 2017 with promise and might not be the easy out we’ve all come to expect. However, the good news ends there as TCU dominates the Revivalry.
Baylor finishes the regular season at 9-4 and gets an invite to the Russell Athletic Bowl
Worst Case: 3-9
In the worst-case scenario we’ll look at what games change and why. The non-conference starts out well, but then the wheels fall off early. In the best-case scenario we said Baylor’s depth could get exposed. Well, here it does and the Bears fall to Duke on the road and then suffer three more losses in their brutal Big 12 opening stretch.
Here’s where things really go different. With four-straight losses the Bears struggle to find any confidence and can’t put it together against West Virginia, and that trend continues against Texas.
The next game up is Kansas in Lawrence. The Jayhawks have proven to be a different team at home under coach Beaty and even pulled off the upset against Texas last season. In this scenario the Bears are reeling and coach Beaty once again capitalizes and picks up another big win at home.
At this point the season all is but lost. However, even in the worst-case scenario, we’ll give coach Rhule the benefit of the doubt and say the Bears rebound against the Cyclones at home, putting the Bears at 3-9 on the regular season and out of bowl consideration.
Of these two scenarios, the most likely outcome is the worst-case scenario and it’s due to the brutal opening stretch of Big 12 play. When the Bears started losing last season they weren’t able to pick themselves up off the mat until they had a month to rest for the bowl game. With depth continuing to be a concern, Baylor’s resolve will once again be tested.