The Baylor Bears were one of the most surprising teams of the 2021 season and this is why they are the subject of today’s 99 Things. Dave Aranda’s first season as the Baylor head coach was 2020 when the Bears went 2-7. His second season saw vast improvements which included a Big 12 championship with a 12-2 record. Aranda is hoping to defend the Big 12 title this fall but will face stiff competition from the rest of the conference. The Bears have familiar faces but new contributors will also play a factor in their success.
Baylor held a quarterback competition between Blake Shapen and Gerry Bohanon. Bohanon was the primary quarterback for the Bears last season but failed to maintain his status as the number one quarterback. Shapen won the battle and will be Baylor’s starter this season. Bohanon transferred to USF following the completion of spring practice. Shapen was previously named MVP of the Big 12 title game after completing 23 of 28 for 180 yards and three touchdowns. He would miss the bowl game against Ole Miss due to a shoulder injury. Coaches believe Shapen is a natural passer and can limit mistakes on the offensive side of the ball.
The running back position is a question for the Bears after Abram Smith departed for the NFL. Smith leaves large shoes to fill after rushing for 1601 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Taye McWilliams is likely to get the first shot at replacing him. McWilliams only played in three games last season rushing for 181 yards and two touchdowns. Craig Williams is also likely to see playing time but he only had four rushing attempts last season. The inexperience in the backfield will be an area to keep an eye on as it may be a major weakness for Baylor.
The defensive side of the ball also has voids to fill but the transfer portal may be the solution. Jaxon Player transferred from Tulsa and will likely be a starter on the defensive line. Player finished the 2021 season with 4.0 sacks and 14.0 tackles for loss. Player along with Dillon Doyle are two of the most experienced pass rushers on the team. Doyle is a linebacker who finished second on the team in tackles with 89. Doyle added 1.0 sack and 9.0 tackles for loss as well.
The secondary will be looking for a player to step up after J.T. Woods was selected in the third round of the NFL draft. Woods intercepted five passes and was one of the best safeties in the Big 12. Cornerback Al Walcott is the likely candidates as he was a starter last season and intercepted three passes. Walcott also returned one of the interceptions for a touchdown. The Baylor defense finished 10th in points per game allowed last season and will likely have a slight drop off. They need to stay in the top 20 to give their team a realistic shot at repeating their Big 12 title.
Baylor’s nonconference schedule is highlighted with a trip to Provo Utah to play BYU. Winning at BYU is always tough and Baylor could realistically lose this game but the Bears are currently favored by 6 points. The other nonconference games are against Albany and Texas State. Baylor’s Big 12 schedule includes away games at Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa State, West Virginia and Texas Tech. Aranda appears to be building a strong program in Waco Texas but we are unlikely to see them repeat at Big 12 champions. No on predicted they would win it last year so can Aranda surprise the country twice in a row?