Baylor begins the Matt Rhule Era on Saturday when the Bears open their 2017 season with a home game against Liberty. Rhule comes to Waco from Temple where he led the Owls to consecutive 10-win seasons as well as the 2016 American Athletic Conference championship.
Rhule inherits what some might describe as a huge mess, taking over a program that has been clouded by a wide-ranging Title IX scandal that cost former head coach Art Briles his job and featured numerous sexual-assault allegations involving players. The Bears also slumped badly on the field last season, losing their final six regular season games before bouncing back to defeat Boise State 31-12 in the Cactus Bowl. Barring a major upset, however, Rhule figures to start 2-0 out of the gate with back-to-back home games against the Flames, an FCS team that will transition to the FBS in 2018, and UTSA, which finished 6-7 last season and had its season opener with Houston postponed by Hurricane Harvey. “I think the thing you learn as a coach very early on is that you just control what you can control,” Rhule said about his new job. “You focus 100 percent on your team, knowing that any team you play can beat you and you can beat any team you play.”
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ABOUT LIBERTY (6-5 in 2016): The Flames, coached by former Kansas and Buffalo head coach Turner Gill, are playing their final season in the Big South Conference and will become a FBS independent in 2018. Sophomore Stephen Calvert returns at quarterback after throwing for 1,931 yards and 15 touchdowns while starting the final seven games of the season. The Flames also return four starters on the offensive line as well as a trio of running backs in Carrington Mosley (663 yards, 5 TDs), Todd Macon (620 yards, 7 TDs) and Frankie Hickson (450 yards, 6 TDs) who combined for 1,733 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.
ABOUT BAYLOR (7-6 in 2016): Rhule announced Tuesday that Anu Solomon, a graduate transfer from Arizona, beat out sophomore Zach Smith and freshman Charlie Brewer for the starting quarterback job. Solomon passed for 6,922 yards and 49 touchdowns with just 16 interceptions in three injury-plagued seasons with the Wildcats before transferring to Baylor in the spring. The defense, which gave up 200 yards per game on the ground last season, is led by linebacker Taylor Young, who had 93 tackles, and defensive lineman K.J. Smith, who had seven sacks.
1. Baylor CB Grayland Arnold, expected to be the team’s top cornerback this season, suffered a broken arm in the team’s final scrimmage and will miss six to eight weeks after undergoing surgery.
2. Bears senior S Taion Sells will serve a three-game suspension and senior offensive tackle Mo Porter will serve a half-game suspension Saturday for unspecified incidents that happened over the summer, according to Rhule.
3. Baylor has won 19 consecutive regular-season nonconference games.
PREDICTION: Baylor 44, Liberty 21