2022 Ultimate Baylor Bears Preview: The Ceiling, The Floor, Position Grades, MVPs and More!

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Dave Aranda committed to evolving as a person and a leader after a two-win 2020 campaign as the first-year head coach of the Baylor Bears. The program went 11-3 the year before under the direction of Matt Rhule. The only losses that season were by three points to Oklahoma in the regular season, by seven in overtime to those same Sooners in the Big 12 Championship game, and to the Georgia Bulldogs in the Sugar Bowl. 

“A lot of my success is owed to Matt Rhule and the groundwork he laid, so I tried to be too much like him,” Aranda admitted. “I took the slogans he had. I’d try to do the things I’d think he’d do or say the things I’d think he’d say. I wasn’t comfortable being myself yet.”

Aranda, a long-time defensive coordinator who avoided the spotlight as an assistant coach, learned some valuable lessons from his failure in Year 1. Football was the most important thing in Aranda’s life from an early age. He started coaching as a teenager when injuries ended his career. He jokes that most of his collegiate time at Cal Lutheran was spent driving to different programs to soak up knowledge and talk in his favorite language: Football. 

That made Aranda a tremendous assistant, but it might have hurt his initial prospects as a head coach. Aranda admittedly lacked an identity as a head coach in 2020. He went about fixing that heading into the 2021 season. 

“I didn’t dig deep enough to know what my values were and what I believed in as a person and a leader,” Aranda said. “I honestly didn’t know how weird I was. Some of it was because I never had to talk to people as a defensive coordinator.”

Aranda began doing things his way. The man nicknamed “Fence Post” as a kid because he just stood there began to embrace his background in philosophy. He leaned into the sports psychology side of football. He ditched preconceived notions that a head coach had to be a tyrant or an energetic motivator and went about building a program in his image. 

The results were instant. Baylor won 12 games for the first time in program history, claiming a Big 12 title and a win in the Sugar Bowl over Ole Miss along the way. His level of sideline stoicism would make Marcus Aurelius blush. Aranda credits success in close games during the 2022 season to that even-keeled nature. 

“In those close games I’d look over to an opponent’s sideline and I could see their emotions moving up and down,” Aranda said. “Our sideline was steady. We can be like that in those crucial moments because we work that way the rest of the year. We try not to get emotional and reactive about adversity.” 

Aranda admits that his coolness under pressure is a double-edged sword. He recalled a conversation with former NFL head coach Tony Dungy days after accepting the job to become Baylor’s head coach. 

“He goes, ‘Dave, I hope you win right away because if you don’t, people are going to think you don’t care because of your personality,’” Aranda said. “And he was completely right. All that stuff is good if you win. If you lose, they’re going to think you don’t care.” 

That’s an issue Aranda won’t need to worry about if his program keeps winning. The defending Big 12 champions start the season with home games against Albany and Texas State sandwiched around a trip to future Big 12 Conference foe BYU in Week 2. The road to a repeat starts with a trip to Iowa State followed by a home game against Oklahoma State, the team the Bears bested in the Big 12 championship after losing to the Cowboys during the regular season. Baylor center Jacob Gall credited the 2021 win over Iowa State in Week 4 as the catalyst for last season’s success.

“Beating them in a last-second situation was a huge confidence booster because we overcame some adversity and won a tight game against a program that’s always in the Big 12 hunt,” Gall said. “Now, we know what we can achieve, and we know we can do better than that.”

The Ceiling 
Baylor rides strong offensive and defensive lines to a second consecutive Big 12 title in Year 3 under Dave Aranda. 

The Floor 
The losses of major contributors prove too much for the Bears as they finish in the middle of the Big 12 pack. 

Conner Galvin (Photo by Kassy Lara)


The biggest philosophical change for Baylor between Year 1 and Year 2 of the Dave Aranda era was the hiring of offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes away from BYU. Baylor averaged a pedestrian 23.3 points per game in a two-win 2020 season, rushing for 2.7 yards per carry and allowing 31 sacks. The Bears rebounded in 2021 to average 31.6 points per game, 5.4 yards per rush, and cut their sack numbers down to 18 despite playing in four more games than in 2020. 

“The system is built by an offensive line coach in Coach Grimes, so that helps us out a lot,” starting center Jacob Gall said of Baylor’s wide zone rushing attack. “Guys believed in the new system, and we saw the success we were having, which erased any doubts that it was the best scheme for our talents.”

Offensive line figures to be a strength again in 2022 with four out of five starters returning. Gall is back to play center. Khalil Keith and Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the year Connor Galvin return, as well. The unit must help a rushing attack that lost its two most productive players from a year ago. Abram Smith moved on to the NFL after breaking a Baylor single season record with 1,601 rushing yards. Trestan Ebner, who caught 28 passes and was a threat in the return game, is also gone. 

“Spring ball allows new guys to step up and become leaders in their position groups,” Gall said. “Our coaching staff is tremendous at developing talent, so I’m confident in this team.”

Wide receiver is another position that experienced turnover from the 2021 campaign. The Bears lost four of their top five receivers, including Tyquan Thornton and R.J. Sneed. The tight end room of Ben Sims and Drake Dabney provides the quarterback with reliable options while new receivers emerge. 

Sophomore Blake Shapen, who started the final three games of the 2021 regular season, emerged from spring as the expected starter at the quarterback position. He beat out veteran Gerry Bohanon, who transferred at the end of April. Redshirt freshman Kyron Drones serves as the backup.

Offensive MVP: Connor Galvin
Galvin, a Katy product, led a resurrected offensive line in 2021 and ended the season as the Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year. 

Offensive Name to Know: TE Drake Dabney 
Baylor lost most of its top receivers and rushers from the 2021 squad but do return talent and experience at the tight end position. Ben Sims leads the way after catching 31 passes for 361 yards and six touchdowns. Fellow tight end Drake Dabney could see his role increase in 2022. The junior from Cypress Ranch caught 10 passes and two touchdowns while starting in eight games for Baylor a year ago.


Sophomore Blake Shapen, who started the final three games of the 2021 regular season, emerged from spring as the expected starter at the quarterback position. He beat out veteran Gerry Bohanon, who transferred at the end of April. Redshirt freshman Kyron Drones serves as the backup.

Baylor must replace Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner. Expect the Bears to use a stable of players until a go-to option emerges amongst the younger players.

The good news is that Baylor returns tight end Ben Sims. The bad news is that the program’s top receivers from last year are no longer on campus. 

Connor Galvin and Jacob Gall lead an offensive line that returns four starters from the 2021 team that paved the way to a Big 12 championship.

Siaki Ika (Photo by Joe Buvid)


Hiring Dave Aranda as head coach was expected to make Baylor a premier defensive program in the country and the Bears lived up to that hype in 2021. The Ron Roberts led unit only allowed 18.29 points and 22 red zone touchdowns in 41 trips. The group also accounted for 27 turnovers, including 19 interceptions and 44 sacks. It was a banner year for a group that made game-winning plays on a seemingly weekly basis. 

Baylor must shed its skin on the defensive side of the ball thanks to key losses at multiple positions. Gone is leading tackler Terrel Bernard and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jalen Pitre. The Bears also lost starting safety J.T. Woods and cornerback Kalon Barnes. 

“It is time for new leadership to emerge,” Aranda said. “We need to lose the skin of who we were to become what we need to be to continue our success this season.”

The strength of the defense, and maybe the team, is in the trenches. Baylor returns nose tackle Siaki Ika following a Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year campaign in 2021. The LSU transfer’s impact isn’t always measured in the stat sheet, but his ability to take up blocks allowed Bernard, and the returning Dillon Doyle, to play free at linebacker. The defensive front also returns experienced players in Cole Maxwell, Gabe Hall, and T.J. Franklin. Baylor added Tulsa transfer Jaxson Player to the mix, as well. 

Losing Bernard and his 106 tackles is a tough blow for the linebacker core. Doyle is poised for an all-conference season. The staff expects players such as Will Williams and Matt Jones to help replace the lost production at linebacker. LSU transfer Josh White was also added to the linebacker room. 

“We think the world of the guys leaving, but we know there are guys on this roster ready to step up into those spots,” Doyle said. “We try to focus on growth.”

Cornerback Al Walcott and safety Christian Morgan return in the secondary. The Bears need young pups such as Lorando Johnson, Romario Noel, and Cisco Caston to step up in the back end.

Defensive MVP: Siaki Ika 
The 350-pound nose tackle demands double teams and causes disruption in the middle of the defensive line. Ika was the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year. 

Defensive Name to Know: LB Will Williams 
Among the holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball is the linebacker spot next to Dillon Doyle. The departure of Terrel Bernard to the NFL provides a massive loss in production. Doyle figures to be the leading tackler, but who can play next to him? Sophomore Will Williams, a product of Chapin High School in El Paso, has patiently waited his turn. Baylor also added LSU transfer Josh White to the linebacker room.


Nose tackle Siaki Ika returns to anchor a potentially elite Baylor defensive line that added all-conference Tulsa transfer Jaxon Player, a Waco Midway product. 

The linebacker unit must replace All-Big 12 selection Terrel Bernard. Luckily for the Bears, Dillon Doyle is ready to lead in his third year on campus. 

The Baylor secondary is undergoing a change of the guard with Jalen Pitre, Raleigh Texada, Kalon Barnes, and J.T. Woods no longer on campus. New stars must emerge. 

Punter Isaac Power and place kicker Isaiah Hankins return for Baylor on special teams. The loss of Trestan Ebner hurts in the return game. 

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