What a decade the Baylor Football program has had. From “the season that no one talks about” (RGIII knee injury in 2009), to a Heisman and the first 10 win season since 1980, to the back-to-back Big 12 Championships of ’13-’14 under former Head Coach Art Briles. Then there was the scandal that burned the program down, the limp to a 7-6 record capped with a win over Boise, the hiring of Matt Rhule, and the one-win season. Life was breathed back into the program in 2018 with a 7-6 finish, but no one saw the meteoric rise of 2019, capped with an 11 win season, a spot in the Big 12 Championship game, and a Sugar Bowl appearance versus Georgia. The roller-coaster ride that has been the past decade of Baylor football cannot be understated.
When I stepped foot on Baylor’s campus in the Summer of 2011, the 2009 season where Robert Griffin tore his ACL in a blowout victory over Northwestern St. (LA) had the same reverence as the uttering of “Voldermort” in Harry Potter. You just didn’t talk about it. 2009 was supposed to be “the year” that Baylor made its assertion into relevancy. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. The Bears would finish 4-8, going 1-7 after their victory over Kent State in early October.
Once Art Briles decided to make a change on defense after an average 2010, and a concerted effort to commit to the ultra-spread in 2011, the rise was real. RGIII would win the Heisman in ’11 on the back of stellar performances against Oklahoma and Texas in the latter part of the season. Though 2012 saw a step back in terms of wins (they did lose a generational talent at QB), the Bears solidified their spot atop the Big 12 in ’13 and ’14, as they won back-to-back championships. The ascension, as we all know too well, was short-lived.
2016 is the season the wheels came off. The program was rocked with multiple sexual assault accusations. Briles, the school president, and the AD were all let go. Former Wake Forest Head Coach Jim Grobe was brought in to calm the waters and steer the program out of the storm as Baylor searched for its next Head Coach. At the conclusion of the ’16 season, Baylor settled with Temple’s Matt Rhule who had just taken the Owls from a 2-10 record to 10-4 in only three short seasons.
Baylor took a chance on Rhule who had an NFL pedigree and a knack for turning programs around. Rhule instantly instilled a degree of discipline and toughness that the Bears desperately needed following the tumultuous roller-coaster ride that was the 2016 season (remember the famous “bull-in-the-ring pre-game routine?). The results of 2017 were predictably grim, as the Bears finished 1-11. People around college football started to question if Baylor could ever get back to prominence in the Big 12 again?
Where Baylor was known for their offense under Briles, Rhule shifted the focus to defense. the 2019 Baylor Bears were one of the best defensive units in America, finishing eighth in Defensive Efficiency. There is always a learning curve when entering the Big 12. It takes time to understand the nuances within the conference and adjust the defense accordingly. Iowa St. starting in 2016, began aligning in the now-famous Odd Dime. With so many Air Raid offenses in the conference, HC Matt Campbell and DC Jon Heacock shifted to a modified 3-3-5 (below). Following the 2018 season, many in the Big 12 followed suit. The Odd Dime essentially became the de-facto “Big 12 Defense.”