Dave Aranda enters a critical fourth year at the helm looking to reach the Big 12 Championship heights he attained in 2021, but his roster contains several question marks after a lackluster 2022 campaign. Baylor needs replace six key offensive linemen and break in a new defensive coordinator. The Bears don’t have much time to find answers.
The 2023 schedule holds daunting games out of the gate against two-time reigning Pac 12 champion Utah and the conference opener against Texas. The end of the slate isn’t much kinder. Baylor closes with a grueling back-to-back against Big 12 champion Kansas State and national runner-up TCU.
2022 record: 6-7
2023 record prediction: 8-4
BIGGEST GAME: vs. TCU on Nov. 18
This year marks the 119th meeting between Baylor and TCU, which officially cements the rivalry as the most played intra-state football game of all time now that it’s passed the stagnant Texas vs. Texas A&M matchup. While TCU has dominated much of the game’s past decade on paper, winning seven of the past eight, the last two contests have brought plenty of fireworks.
TCU’s likely successor to Max Duggan at quarterback, Chandler Morris, actually got his first collegiate start two years ago in a 30-28 win against Baylor and totaled 531 yards, good for second-most in program history. Last season, Duggan pioneered two gutsy drives in the final minutes of regulation before Griffin Kell nailed a field goal as time expired to win 29-28.
This game has everything for a potential instant classic, Two teams who don’t like each other facing off deep in November. Hopefully, for both squads, it will have Big 12 Championship implications.
TRAP GAME: vs. UCF on Sept. 30
Baylor lucked out hosting their first four games of the season at McLane Stadium, but their first travel date in Week Five has them flying all the way to Orlando, Florida. Aside from the unfamiliarity of an away game so deep into the season, the Bears also face a new Big 12 opponent in Gus Malzahn’s UCF Golden Knights.
Baylor fielded a porous rush defense last season that ranked 62nd in the FBS and gave up at least 29 points in each of its final five games, leading to defensive coordinator Ron Roberts’ ousting. New coordinator Matt Powledge will have to shore up the front seven before they travel to UCF, which ranked ninth in the FBS last year with 228.4 rushing yards per game and returns three of its top four rushers.
UCF quarterback John Rhys Plumlee is a dynamic dual-threat who compiled 862 yards on the ground, and Baylor will need standout performances from defensive linemen T.J. Franklin and Gabe Hall to stop him.
POTENTIAL UPSET: vs. Utah on Sept. 9
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham has turned his program into the Pac 12’s staple of consistency, but the back-to-back conference championships can’t overshadow the Utes’ struggles in non-conference games. Last season, Utah dropped their season opener to Florida 26-29, and two years ago they stumbled to a 1–2 start.
The Utes will also travel to Waco still tinkering with replacements for Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year Clark Phillips III and dynamic tight end Dalton Kincaid, both of whom were NFL Draft picks. Two-year starting quarterback Cameron Rising, a former Texas Longhorn, is still rehabbing from a torn ACL he suffered in the Rose Bowl.
But Utah will still have plenty of playmakers returning from a defense that ranked 18th in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game. Baylor’s run game was the team’s strength last year with the emergence of workhorse Richard Reese, but it’ll be tough sledding against linebackers Karene Reid and Lander Barton. Baylor quarterback Blake Shapen will need to be sharp tossing to last year's returning leading receiver Monaray Baldwin and intriguing Arkansas transfer Ketron Jackson Jr. to alleviate some pressure from Reese.
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