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AMES — Iowa State opens Big 12 football play this season with its first road game against an up-and-coming Baylor team on Sept. 28.
Baylor, a year behind Iowa State in its process, is rebuilding from further depths than Matt Campbell had to at Iowa State.
Baylor had two years of cleaning house after the Art Briles fiasco. Jim Grobe handled the first step of cleaning house in 2016 as the interim coach. Matt Rhule took over from there and Rhule seems to have the Bears headed in the right direction.
After going 1-11 in Rhule's first season in 2017, Baylor beat Vanderbilt 45-38 in the Texas Bowl to finish 7-6 in 2018.
The Bears will be led by quarterback Charlie Brewer in 2019. Brewer is in the top tier of Big 12 quarterbacks, alongside the likes of Texas' Sam Ehlinger, Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts and Iowa State's Brock Purdy.
As a sophomore in 2018, Brewer threw for 3,019 yards and 19 touchdowns on 61.5 percent passing with nine interceptions.
He also proved to be a threat on the ground if left unchecked. He was Baylor's fourth=-leading rusher with 375 yards. He gained 600 yards, most on the team, but sacks and negative-yardage runs pushed him down the list.
Baylor actually returns all four of its leading rushers from 2018. John Lovett led the way with 573 yards and six rushing touchdowns, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Interestingly, he may not even play running back in 2019.
According to the Waco Tribune, Rhule moved Lovett to the defensive side of the ball during the spring to evaluate him as a safety.
'He's a valuable player,' Rhule said, according to the Tribune. 'He's put on some size. He's about 210 pounds and we're taking a look at him on defense. Not sure exactly where he will be when he comes back, but he's going to make his presence felt somewhere on this team. Whether he ends up on offense or defense, John's going to be a great player for us.'
Rhule is able to do that because Baylor has two other backs that put up similar numbers to Lovett. JaMycal Hasty ran for 434 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 5.3 yards per carry and Trestan Ebnar ran for 413 yards and one touchdown, averaging 6.0 yards per carry.
Brewer lost two of his main targets in Jalen Hurd (not to be confused with Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts) and Chris Platt (not to be confused with Hollywood star Chris Pratt). The two combined for over 100 catches, 1,400 yards and five touchdowns.
Denzel Mims returns as a senior. Mims caught 55 passes for 794 yards and eight touchdowns. Tyquan Thornton is coming off of a promising freshman campaign in which he caught 20 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns.
Baylor also has a defense. It isn't very good.
The Bears ranked in the bottom half of the conference in nearly every statistical defensive category — except passing defense which ranked third. But they brought it back down by being the second-worst run defense.
Baylor gave up 31.7 points per game, eighth in the Big 12, and 425 yards per game, which was seventh. Kansas had similar numbers in points per game (30) and yards per game (418), but Kansas at least forced turnovers. The Jayhawks forced a Big 12-best 27 turnovers. Meanwhile, Baylor forced a Big 12-worst 10.
Way-too early prediction: Matt Campbell has never lost to Matt Rhule and the game has never been within single digits, either.
Baylor seems like it will have another high-powered offense in 2019, but Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock has been able to slow down even the most prolific offenses with his 3-3-5 defense (three linemen, three linebackers, three safeties).
On the flip side, Baylor's defense leaves a lot to be desired and, while Iowa State needs to replace key production from the losses of David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler, it appears the Cyclones have the pieces to keep their offense moving.
Heacock's defense has never given up more than 14 points to a Rhule-led Baylor team, but I think that streak ends in Waco with Baylor scoring somewhere in the neighborhood of three touchdowns. This one will be a bit of a barnburner, likely decided in the fourth quarter.
Iowa State's schedule is back-loaded but I think this is one the Cyclones could drop early in the season. It's either this one or the Iowa game — take your pick. I have Iowa State at 3-1 after the first conference game of the season.
Iowa State football look ahead
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