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Every year seems like Baylor's year to reach the College Football Playoff and have a chance at the National Championship. Unfortunately, the Bears dealt with a rash amount of injuries to their quarterbacks in 2015 and that ultimately derailed their hopes, closing the regular season with three losses in four games. And yet, they still had a bowl win over UNC with the help of a ridiculous 645 rushing yards.
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With Art Briles gone, the expectations are obviously a little less than previous seasons, but with an experienced quarterback returning, it shouldn't be a huge deal this year. Jim Grobe, the former long-time Wake Forest head coach will step in as interim and has his hands full to say the least. He resigned from the Demon Deacons in 2013 after posting five-straight losing seasons.
The good news for the Bears is that quarterback Seth Russell should be ready to go for the season after injuring his neck last year. Russell was unstoppable in the seven games he played, tossing for 29 TDs and 6 INTs, granted none of those games were against top competition. The main issue for Baylor's offense will be on the line where four starters are gone. Center Kyle Fuller is the only guy with major experience and that could end up being this team's downfall. Although, if they can figure things out once conference play begins, it shouldn't be too big of a factor.
There's still a mass amount of talent on the offense with running backs Shock Linwood (1,329 yards, 10 TDs) and Johnny Jefferson (1,000, 8 TDs) in tow again. Even Devin Chafin (578 yards, 9 TDs) will be back once he returns from suspension. Receiver is a slightly bigger question, but KD Cannon (868 yards, 6 TDs) has the tools to step in and become the top guy with Chris Platt, Ishmael Zamora and Lynx Hawthorne all able to help Russell.
The defense should be decent, but with a lot of new faces on the line, there are some questions about how good the Bears can be at stopping the run. Without a true run-stuffer, they went with a three-man front in the spring. They need to reload at every spot on the line, but the linebackers at least look to be set, led by Taylor Young. The secondary has the most experience with senior corner Ryan Reid and safety Orion Stewart holding down that portion. The surprise in this unit is redshirt freshman Jameson Houston winning a starting spot opposite of Reid.
Baylor has plenty of new faces on both sides of the ball so their easy non-conference slate should help them in that respect, as well as getting Russell up to speed again. And for the most part, the Bears start slowly in Big 12 play. As long as they can get past OK State in the opener, their first true test will be a road game at Texas at the end of October. Baylor's schedule is favorable, but if they want to do bigger things this year, that will require winning at Oklahoma and then not disappointing in the final two games against Texas Tech and West Virginia, both away from home.
The Bears have some work to do, but with the talent they have on offense -- as long as Russell can play -- they should be one of the highest-scoring groups yet again. Winning those big games will come down to what the defense can do against top offenses.
2016 Baylor Bears Football Schedule
Sept. 3 vs. Northwestern State
Sept. 10 vs. SMU
Sept. 17 at Rice
Sept. 24 vs. Oklahoma State
Oct 1 at Iowa State
Oct. 15 vs. Kansas
Oct. 29 at Texas
Nov. 5 vs. TCU
Nov. 12 at Oklahoma
Nov. 19 vs. Kansas State
Nov. 25 vs. Texas Tech (AT&T Stadium)
Dec. 3 at West Virginia
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