WACO, Texas (AP) — Matt Rhule had no reason this week to remind Baylor players about how last season started.
“I think they remember that pretty well,” Rhule said.
The Bears won only once last year, later in the season after starting with consecutive home losses to teams that had never before beaten a team from a Power Five conference — first Liberty, then UTSA, who they play again in their second game this year.
Baylor opens Rhule’s second season at home Saturday night against Abilene Christian, an FCS team from Texas that is also coming off a difficult debut season with a new coach. The Wildcats were 2-9 in coach Adam Dorrel’s first season.
“I’m still pretty lukewarm on playing FBS football programs right now where we’re at with our program,” said Dorrel, pointing out that the game was scheduled before he became coach. “At least this year we’re playing an instate FBS school, which I do think helps from a recruiting standpoint.”
While Rhule would rather avoid talking to his players on game week about how last season started, the subject wasn’t off limits during the offseason.
“I’d rather mention it in the middle of the winter when we’re out there at 5:45 in the morning and saying, ‘Why are we here? Well, let’s remember why we’re here,’” he said. “I think all of our guys know that nothing that happened last year affects this week, but we should have learned from things that happened last year. I always say that if you don’t learn from it, you’re a fool. I think we’ve learned from it.”
The Bears have youthful experience among their 52 returning lettermen, including nine starters on each side of the ball. They had 11 true freshmen among 27 first-time starters last season.
1,000 TIMES 7
Denzel Mims had 1,087 yards receiving last season, making Baylor the only FBS program to have a 1,000-yard receiver each of the past seven seasons. Mims is back for his junior season, while speedy Chris Platt will be a senior. Platt had 401 yards receiving, including an FBS-high four catches of at least 70 yards, even though he played only four games last season before a knee injury.
GOT TO BE BETTER
“There’s no doubt in my mind they’re going to be better than they were last year, for a lot of reasons,” Dorrel said, making reference to talent, player development and a change in culture. “I think both of these fans, of Baylor and ACU, are going to be pleasantly surprised Saturday to see these two programs have made a lot of headway in one year.”
Baylor has added five Division I transfers to its roster, including two defenders, two offensive linemen and running back-turned-receiver Jalen Hurd. The 6-foot-4 Hurd redshirted last season while making his transition from running back, which he played at Tennessee. CB Derrek Thomas is a graduate transfer from Temple, Rhule’s previous school. OL Jake Fruhmorgen started eight games for national champion Clemson in 2016.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
Abilene Christian has lost its last four season openers, all on the road. The last time the Wildcats won an opener was 84-6 over Concordia (Alabama) in their 2013 opener, their first game as an independent FCS team. They have since completed the transition to the Southland Conference.
ACU is 11-36 against FBS opponents, and is playing Baylor for the first time. The last time the Wildcats played a Texas team from the highest level of college football was Sept. 10, 1949, in a 20-0 loss at Texas Tech.