Northwestern St.-Baylor Preview
Baylor opens the season Friday night and no team is more anxious than the Bears to embark on a new normal.
The season begins at McLane Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET, FSN) with a matchup against Northwestern State, a series the Bears have dominated to the tune of a 4-0 record.
Baylor went 10-3 last season and opens the season ranked 23rd.
The Week 1 opponent is almost a peripheral matter for the Bears, who might be glad to see anything but the usual around the program.
Someone noted during Baylor interim head coach Jim Grobe's first game-week press conference on Monday that Grobe was wearing the biggest smile anyone had seen from him since he was named head coach in a whirlwind summer for the program.
Grobe again smiled at the question and replied, essentially, that football is the fun part of his job and he's happy to finally get to it.
"It's just good to get to football," Grobe said. "We've spent a lot of time talking about things that have to be talked about. We've had to deal with a lot of serious issues. But now it's kind of more lighthearted because we're getting ready to play a game. For me it's just exciting to get back into a football season and watch these guys perform."
Grobe walked into an unusual situation in June when took the Baylor job.
Baylor dismissed Art Briles, the coach that helped the Bears rise from the ashes to win two straight Big 12 titles, amidst the university's major Title IX failings.
Briles took the blame for a rash of rape cases involving Baylor players after an independent law firm, hired by Baylor, investigated the school's problems and determined Briles was culpable. Additionally, 16 players were deleted from the roster since the scandal began.
Oddly, however, most of the rest of Briles' staff remained at the school. Those are the coaches that Grobe is allowing to continue running the program.
"In the past I had more input as far as what we were going to do X and O wise," Grobe said. "I had more input as far as what players were going to be first, second team. I've had to rely on our coaching staff quite a bit. I've relied on them to stack the guys up first, second, third team. I really couldn't do that until we start playing games. From that standpoint, I've been really, really impressed. I think we've got a great group of coaches on both sides of the ball."
It seems like Grobe was hired to speak at press conferences and let the same people who were running practice keep at it.
Grobe's results speaking to the media have been mixed.
He drew the ire of regional media at Big 12 Media Days in July when he said that Baylor no longer had a culture problem on its team. That statement appeared all the more naive later in the summer as another couple of legal issues cropped up for Baylor players.
But on Monday, Grobe met with mostly local media and was able to maintain his bright complexion throughout the presser. He handled a question about wide receiver Ishmael Zamora, who is in limbo after video of him beating and kicking a dog, got into the mainstream media. Grobe's response was measured and appropriate to the school's current circumstances.
"We're just following the process," Grobe said. "I think we were criticized in the past for not having a process. It's critical that we're fair and reasonable in our decisions. I have no problem that it's taking longer."
That's probably the right answer for Grobe in the long run as he will continue to field questions about issues other than football this season.
Offense should be Baylor's strength yet again, but the Bears are not in great shape defensively if you count only proven players.
Points won't be an issue if health isn't. Baylor's backfield is well-stocked with running back Shock Linwood, who gained 1,329 yards last season, back behind quarterback Seth Russell. In seven games before he was injured in 2015, Russell passed for 2,104 yards and an astounding 29 touchdowns.
The one big name to replace on the offensive side of the ball is wide receiver Corey Coleman, a first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft (Cleveland Browns).