Last year the Baylor Bears won 10 games. You don't have to be a blindly loyal fan of the team to legitimately make the argument that they should have won more, too. They were at team that, by the end of the year, was dealing with the loss of their top two quarterbacks. It's no coincidence, then, that their three losses came in their last five games. So, given that both quarterbacks are back and will be healthy for the start of the season, and there are plenty of useful pieces around them, it was pretty easy to make the case that this was the second-best team in the Big 12 - well behind Oklahoma, but the best of the rest.
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But then the wheels fell right off the wagon.
They had a truly horrifying offseason - a scandal that cost Art Briles his job and the team many of their recruits. Jim Grobe, last seen resigning from Wake Forest in 2013 after running the program into the ground, is on board as head coach now, but only for this year. In the wake of the scandal, players and recruits were lost, and the mojo of the school took a massive hit.
They still have the same basic fundamentals - two healthy and good quarterbacks and so on - but less depth, worse coaching, and a far more uncertain future because the loss of recruits will really hurt in a couple of years.
So, will the turmoil of the offseason completely derail the season, or will the team rally around their misfortune and rise up? We'll look at that, but I'll tell you this from the outset -- there isn't a tougher team in America to judge right now.
Key Additions and Departures
Let's start with the good news on offense. Seth Russell and Jarrett Stidham are both very good quarterbacks. They lost stud receiver Corey Coleman to the NFL, but they still have good receiver talent, though perhaps a lack of depth. They had two 1,000-yard running backs last year, and both are back with good depth behind them. Those are all very good things. The issue, though, is that a team is only as good as their offensive line, and there are some big issues there. Center Kyle Fuller has two full seasons of starts under his belt. They have a grand total of one start combined among the rest of the linemen on their roster. Far from ideal.
The issues on the defensive line make the offensive line look world-class. All-American DT Andrew Billings was drafted. The rest of the line is gone, too. They have some guys with potential, but with no experienced anchor on the line and uncertainty about who will be filling any given role, it's really hard to judge what we can expect from the line. This would be an issue no matter who was coaching the team. Luckily, the picture is a little brighter both in the secondary and at linebacker - there is more talent and more experience in both spots.
Baylor Bears Schedule Analysis
It would be tough to start the season with an easier nonconference schedule - Northwestern State, SMU and Rice are not exactly a murderer's row. They can use that to figure out where they are at and to get some much-needed miles on the guys on both lines. Like most good Big 12 teams, they should also beat Kansas, Iowa State, Kansas State and probably Texas Tech. That's seven wins. Of course, it's the other five games that will really determine things. They open conference play at home against Oklahoma State in a game that will set the tone for the season for both teams. What will really determine things, though, is a brutal three-game stretch starting Oct. 29 - at Texas, at home against TCU and at Oklahoma. If they win two of those three games they will be very competitive in the conference. If their quarterbacks can still be upright by then it will really help.
2016-17 Baylor Betting Odds and Trends
Bovada has Baylor at +3300 to win the national title, which ties them with Michigan State, TCU and USC as the 13th choice overall. At +800 they are the fifth choice to win the Big 12 behind heavy favorites Oklahoma at -125 along with Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas.
The team wasn't much to bet on last year no matter if you were with them or against them - they were just 6-6 ATS. They went "over" the total in eight of their 13 games.
2016-17 Baylor Predictions and College Football Picks
Jim Grobe is not a good coach, he has not been coaching lately, he has no ties to this program, he is not working with his own assistants, and he has a one-year contract with little chance of sticking around beyond that. It's not a recipe for success. Add to that that both lines are in shambles, and I find it really hard to embrace this team. If the lines were to come together and Grobe channeled that side of him that won 11 games in 2006 then they could be a factor. I'd bet against it, though.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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