WACO, Texas – Baylor owns a record of just over .500 (584-565-41) entering its 114th season of college football, but it has looked like a powerhouse program every time it has faced Stephen F. Austin. Entering the third year of the Matt Rhule era, the Bears hope to build upon last year's seven-win season beginning on Saturday when they host the Lumberjacks.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN Plus. LINE: NL.
Much like the turnaround he orchestrated at Temple, Rhule's charges took a noticeable step forward in the second year under his leadership in Waco, as Baylor made a six-game improvement following a 1-11 showing in his first season, capped off by a 45-38 win in the Texas Bowl over Vanderbilt. One of the key components to the Bears' resurgence is Charlie Brewer, who was one of three Big 12 quarterbacks named to the watch list for the Manning Award last week. The junior may not be asked to do much in the season opener if Baylor's history against Stephen F. Austin is any indication, as the Bears have yet to allow a point to their in-state rivals in four meetings (201-0). The Lumberjacks, who haven't posted a winning season since losing in the first round of the FCS playoffs in 2014, are hoping first-year coach Colby Carthel can eventually replicate the success he enjoyed in six seasons at Texas A&M-Commerce (59-18).
ABOUT STEPHEN F. AUSTIN (2018: 2-8)
Jake Blumrick (1,597 passing yards, nine touchdowns, seven interceptions in eight games last season) is coming off back surgery but expected to hold off freshman Cam Arnold for the starting job under center. Senior receiver Tamrick Pace enters his final season ranked 10th on the school's career receiving yards list with 2,104 and tied for eighth in career touchdown receptions (20) after accounting for 42 of the Lumberjacks' 181 points last season. First-team All-Southland Conference selection safety Alize Ward finished 2018 as the team's second-leading tackler with 58 (team-high 36 solo stops) and ranked inside the top 20 with 7.2 tackles per game during league action.
ABOUT BAYLOR (2018: 7-6)
Brewer (3,019 passing yards, 19 touchdowns, nine interceptions in 2018) is one of only five players in school annals with six 300-yard passing games, while his seven career rushing touchdowns ranks eighth among quarterbacks in program history. Following Jalen Hurd's departure to the NFL this spring, senior receiver Denzel Mims (55 catches, 794 yards, team-high eight receiving TDs in 2018) figures to get plenty of opportunity to repeat the production that made him a second-team all-conference pick as a sophomore (61-1,087-8). He could get pushed by sophomore R.J. Sneed, who appears to be fully recovered from the broken leg he suffered nearly two years ago and has drawn raves from receivers coach Frisman Jackson.
1. Bears RB John Lovett - the team's leading rusher with 573 yards a season ago who spent the spring at safety - is one of 44 players on the Paul Hornung Award watch list.
2. Baylor has allowed the most sacks of any Big 12 program in each of the last two seasons, giving up 38 in 2017 and 39 in 2018.
3. The Bears beat the Lumberjacks 48-0 in a lightning-shortened game in 2011 in the last meeting between the schools.
PREDICTION: Baylor 45, Stephen F. Austin 7