WACO, Texas – Year two of the Matt Rhule Era of Baylor football kicks off Saturday night when the Bears host an FCS team, Abilene Christian of the Southland Conference. And after suffering through a 1-11 campaign that included a season-opening 48-45 loss to Liberty, the Wildcats will have Baylor’s undivided attention.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, FSN. LINE: None
Rhule expects the Bears, who had to deal with the frequent distractions from the school’s ugly sexual assault scandal last season, to reach a bowl game this season.
He performed similar magic in his second year at Temple where the Owls progressed from a 2-10 record in his first year in 2013 to 6-6 in 2014 en route to back-to-back 10-4 finishes in 2015 and 2016. Armed with his second straight top-25-ranked recruiting class and a solid group of returnees, Rhule believes taking the next step may be more mental than physical.
“I don’t want to have a team that goes out there … scared, that’s like, ‘Oh, remember last year,’” Rhule told the Waco Tribune. “I don’t care about last year. I want a team that goes out there confident and ready to play.”
ABOUT ABILENE CHRISTIAN (2-9 in 2017)
The Wildcats were picked to finish seventh in the Southland Conference preseason poll after going 2-7 in head coach Adam Dorrel’s first season.
Sophomore Luke Anthony, who took over starting quarterback duties late last season, returns after throwing for 776 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. Also back is the team’s top rusher, Tracy James, who finished with 638 yards on 113 carries and scored two touchdowns, as well as explosive wide receiver D.J. Fuller, who sat out the 2017 season for academic reasons after leading ACU with 51 receptions for 749 yards and six TDs in 2016.
ABOUT BAYLOR (1-11 in 2017)
Sophomore Charlie Brewer, who started at the end of last season and led the Bears to their only win against Kansas, and North Carolina State grad transfer Jalan McClendon were listed as quarterback co-starters on the team’s first two-deep depth and will be throwing to fast and talented group of receivers led by Denzel Mims, Chris Platt and Tennessee transfer Jalen Hurd.
“You put on the 2013, 2014, 2015 Baylor teams and the one thing that stands out is Bryce (Petty) and all those guys throwing to Corey Coleman and those guys,” Rhule said. “The ability to throw the ball down the field was special. We think we have those kinds of receivers.”
Baylor’s ground attack, led by powerful junior running back JaMycal Hasty and talented sophomores Trestan Ebner and John Lovett, should benefit from an upgraded offensive line that includes Clemson-transfer Jake Fruhmorgen and UCF transfer Christian Beard.
1. Baylor is 16-1 all-time against current Southland Conference teams with the lone loss coming to Lamar, 18-17, in 1981.
2. The Bears return 39 players that started at least one game in 2017 -- 21 on defense and 18 on offense.
3. Platt led the nation in receptions of 70-plus yards (four) despite playing in only four games due to injury.
PREDICTION: Baylor 56, Abilene Christian 7