Finally on field: Rhule debuts as Baylor coach vs Liberty

WACO, Texas (AP) — Matt Rhule finally gets to coach a game for Baylor, nearly nine months after getting hired in the wake of the school’s sexual assault scandal and more than a month after the start of fall camp.

“It’ll be interesting to see how guys handle the situation of playing in the games, and that’s really the next step for our team,” Rhule said. “They’ve shown what they can do, so now how are they going to handle it in front of a crowd and in front of a good team.”

Rhule waited until this week, only days before Saturday night’s season opener against Liberty, to select a starting quarterback.

When Rhule makes his Bears debut , so will graduate transfer Anu Solomon. The former Arizona quarterback is set to take the first snap after a competition that started in spring drills with Zach Smith, who finished last season as the starter. Charlie Brewer, a freshman who enrolled last spring, also made a strong push.

“Anu just has a little bit of poise and a lot of experience, and I think he brings a little bit of leadership,” Rhule said. “And he brings the ability to kind of move in the pocket. With a young offensive line that’s something we might need.”

Solomon started 25 games his first two seasons playing for the Wildcats, but was limited to five games last year as a junior because of knee and foot injuries. Smith started Baylor’s last four games, including the Cactus Bowl victory, as a freshman after Seth Russell’s season-ending knee injury.

Liberty is going into its final FCS season, starting what is a two-year transition to becoming a full-fledged FBS team. Baylor is the only FBS opponent this season for the Flames, who will play in the Big South but will be unable to defend their conference title or be in the FCS playoffs.

Some other things about the season opener on the banks of the Brazos River between the two private Baptist schools:

FAMILIAR FACE: Liberty’s athletic director is Ian McCaw, who was Baylor’s AD for 13 years before resigning in May 2016 amid the sexual assault scandal that led to two-time Big 12 champion coach Art Briles being fired and the eventual departure of university President Ken Starr. McCaw had been sanctioned and placed on probation by the university before his resignation.

MISSING THE ACTION: Two expected Baylor starters are suspended for incidents that occurred over the summer. Senior safety Taion Sells will miss the first three games, and senior left tackle Mo Porter will sit out the first half of the Liberty game. “When they come back, they’ll be back,” said Rhule, who didn’t go into specifics of what he said were unrelated incidents.

FRESH PLAYERS: Baylor’s season-opening depth chart includes three freshmen listed as starters. That includes linebacker Jalen Pitre, who was the only remaining committed recruit for the 2017 class when Rhule was hired last December. The other expected freshman starters are center Ryan Miller and cornerback Harrison Hand.

KNOWING THE BIG 12: Turner Gill is starting his sixth season at Liberty. Before that, he coached Big 12 team Kansas for two years after four seasons at Buffalo. Gill is 0-3 against Baylor, including a 31-30 loss in his last trip to Waco six years ago with the Jayhawks. “They know the Big 12 better than I know the Big 12, and I know they’ll come out here ready to play,” Rhule said.

EXTRA POINTS: Liberty has had 11 consecutive winning seasons, but has lost its last 12 season openers that were away from home. … Liberty linebackers coach Josh Bookbinder is a Baylor graduate and the grandson of Grant Teaff, the Bears’ winningest coach with 128 wins from 1972-92. … Families affected by Hurricane Harvey were offered the chance to get up to eight free tickets to the Baylor opener, along with free parking and a meal.