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TCU Football 2016 Opponent Preview: Baylor Bears

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TCU evened the score with a victory in Fort Worth last year. The all-time series is tied, and someone has to take the upper hand in 2016

NCAA Football: Baylor at Texas Christian
Turpin hauls in the go-ahead touchdown in the 2nd overtime of the TCU vs Baylor game in Fort Worth last year.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Things were easier when our feelings about Baylor were just those that a fan feels in regards to their greatest rival. Nowadays, our feelings are more complicated. We can’t help that. I’m not going to condemn Baylor or apologize for them here. This is just a football preview, and it’s not the place for that. What I am saying is that when it comes to thinking about Baylor football, things used to be much simpler.

College football fans don’t want sexual assault to happen, on their campus or on anyone else’s. We can all agree on that. There’s been plenty written about what happened at Baylor, as there should have been. There will be plenty more written too, because it’s not over for the victims and because this issue continues to affect college football. But today, for the purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on simpler things; namely football.

That being said, the scandal that has enveloped Baylor over the last few months has led to the firing of their head coach, chancellor and athletic director. It also led to the loss of 11 of Baylor’s 22 signees in the class of 2016 and pretty much their entire 2017 recruiting class. All of these circumstances, while the issues that led to them are about much more than football, do still affect the football team.

The History

Since 1899, the Horned Frogs and Bears have been in each other’s way. They’ve been playing for a long time, but these last five years have been arguably the most intense in the 110+ year history of this rivalry. TCU’s 2014 loss in Waco kept them out of the College Football Playoff, and robbed them of a chance a their first national title in more than 70 years. Last year in Fort Worth, Baylor lost just their second game of the year to the Frogs, effectively knocking them out of the college football playoff conversation. Should we watch that real quick? Sure. Let’s watch it.

It’s fitting that it happened that way. The score was evened. So even in fact, that the all-time head to head record between TCU and Baylor is 52-52-7. But we’re going to keep playing, and that means we can’t stay even for long.

The Offense

Seth Russell will be playing quarterback, and Baylor will be good on offense.

They won’t be as good as last year, but anyone who thinks that Art Briles’ departure will drain Baylor’s offensive mojo is mistaken. Yes losing Briles will hurt, because no matter what your feelings towards him the man is an offensive genius, but it won’t be enough to make them bad. They still have the entire offensive staff in place, and enough talented players to score points.

Beyond losing Briles, the Bears are losing two of their top receivers. The 2015 Biletnikoff winner Corey Coleman left early for the draft, and Jay Lee, their other top deep threat, graduated. Even so, KD Cannon, Ishmael Zamora, Chris Platt and Lynx Hawthorn should fill in their receiving corps just fine. They still have some talented underclassmen on the roster in redshirt freshmen Pooh Stricklin and Blake Lynch, so look for them to make an impact as well.

Shock Linwood resumes his role as the Perry Ellis of college football in what seems like his 6th season as the starting running back for the Baylor Bears. Linwood has been an All-Big 12 running back the last two years and he and Seth Russell will be the rock on which Jim Grobe’s new team is built. Johnny Jefferson, who rushed for 1,000 last year as a sophomore, will also return to give Baylor a solid 1-2 punch.

The weakness of the offense will be the big boys up front. Baylor is faced with the task of replacing every starting offensive lineman from last year’s team, with the exception of All-Big 12 center Kyle Fuller. They have some size available to them, but depth and experience will be an issue or Baylor in the trenches. To make matters worse in that regard, Rami Hammad, who was projected to start at right guard, was arrested on felony stalking charges on August 1st.

The lack of depth on the offensive line will also increase the amount of chances that opposing defenses will have to get into the backfield and disrupt Seth Russell. That’s a big time worry for this team, because they don’t have Jarrett Stidham to back him up anymore. The talented sophomore elected to transfer this summer (he visited Auburn on August 3rd). The bottom line is if Russell gets hurt, Baylor will be in trouble.

The Defense

Defensively Baylor may struggle a little bit. From the incoming class of 2016 they lost two defensive ends, one of whom (Brandon Bowen) ended up at TCU, and a talented cornerback recruit. While they should be fine in the secondary, their linebacker depth is questionable with only three upperclassmen. While Baylor has been pretty decent defensively lately, this year should be a step back.

The Bears’ defensive line is facing the same problem as the offensive line, in that all of their starters from last year graduated. The defensive line may have slightly better depth than there is on the offensive side, but they have very little experience. Between the three returning players that saw action in games last year, they share a total of 25.5 tackles, and junior defensive end K.J. Smith has 19 of them.

Smith, along with senior Byron Bonds, are also the only upperclassmen on the defensive line. The other seven defensive lineman on the roster are all sophomores and freshman. Two of those younger players, sophomore Ira Lewis (6’3”, 300 lbs) and true freshman Bravvion Roy (6’1”, 315 lbs), have the size to make an immediate impact, but the entire group will have to grow up fast for this unit to be successful.

As I mentioned above, their linebacker depth may be an issue. Taylor Young and Aiavion Edwards are good, experienced options, but after them there is only one player in the position group with in-game experience. The secondary is the only group where depth shouldn’t be an issue. They bring back starters Travon Blanchard at nickel and Chance Was and Orion Stewart at safety. Ryan Reid at cornerback offers some good experience returning after seeing action in all 13 games with 24.5 tackles and three interceptions last year.

Special Teams

This year every TCU fan’s favorite Baylor player, Chris Callahan, will return for his junior season as the place-kicker. In 2014 he was pretty reliable, making 69.2% of his FG attempts, but last year that conversion percentage fell to 61.5% and he wasn’t truly tested as none of his field goals took place with the game on the line.

Chris Platt will resume his role as the kick returner after an impressive redshirt freshman season that saw him average 27.61 yards per return. He should be their most effective weapon on special teams. Baylor will return Drew Galitz as their punter, who managed to earn an All-Big 12 honorable mention last year, despite the fact that his team will do anything to not punt the football. Under Jim Grobe though, he’ll probably see more opportunities.

Final Thoughts

The fact that Baylor retains their entire staff of assistants, and brings back quite a bit of talent in the skill positions, should make them a pretty tough team again in 2016. Jim Grobe has experience coaching and winning at small private schools as well: Wake Forest is smaller than TCU in terms of enrollment and certainly smaller than Baylor.

When Grobe coached for the Demon Deacons he ultimately put together a losing record of 77-82, but he never had anywhere near the amount of talent that he has at his disposal this year. He’s also proven that he can win with less. He led Wake Forest to an 11-3 record in 2006 which included an ACC Championship and a berth in the Orange Bowl.

Their schedule is what you would expect from Baylor, so the first three wins will be very easy to come by. Then they play OSU, at Iowa State, Kansas and at Texas before they host TCU. It’s pretty easy to see how they could have three losses already by the time the Frogs leave Waco. Then they have to go visit Oklahoma, followed by Kansas State, Texas Tech (Cowboy’s Stadium) and they finish with a trip to Morgantown to take on West Virginia.

Flash and pizazz can get you far in college football, as we have seen at TCU under Meacham and Cumbie. Ultimately though, you just need strength and depth in the trenches to win football games, and I think Baylor will struggle there, making it difficult for them to reach the 9-10 wins that most media outlets seem to expect from this team.