Dave Aranda is approaching his third season on the job and expectations are through the roof.
After all, he’s fresh off of leading Baylor to a Big 12 Title, and its’ first-ever 12-win campaign. The scary part for the other nine conference foes is the fact that several pieces return to a team that’s a sleeper pick for a Playoff berth.
There’s no denying Aranda has made the Bears nationally credible again, and they’re No. 10 in the preseason AP Poll, which was their highest in August since 2015. The talent Baylor will be fielding on both sides of the ball is arguably the best in the league.
Blake Shapen showed he was one of the best quarterbacks in the country late last season. He combined for 510 yards through the air, six touchdown tosses and no interceptions against Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Shapen clearly made others around him better, and beat out Gerry Bohanon during the spring.
Not to mention he’ll be well protected up front, considering the Bears have the most experienced offensive line in the league. Connor Galvin, Jacob Gall, Grant Miller, Gavin Byers and Mose Jeffery have combined for a jaw-dropping, 131 starts in their careers. Galvin and Gall were also All-Big 12 performers in 2021.
Shapen will be operating with a new arsenal of weapons at the skill positions though. Still, the effective blocking should ease the transition of the gunslinger’s rhythm with his pass catchers.
It’s no mystery Aranda has one of the game’s best defensive minds. And the Bears are loaded on that side of the ball again. There’s reasons why the unit ranked second in the Big 12 in scoring and rushing defense last year. Every level of the defense contains a stud.
The defensive line is flat-out menacing. Cole Maxwell, Siaki Ika and Gabe Hall dominated the trenches. They all love mauling offensive linemen and bringing down ball carriers. The trio combined for 70 tackles last season, including 14.5 for loss and 10 sacks. Ika generated first-team, All-Big 12 honors for his heroics on the gridiron.
Linebackers Dillon Doyle and Matt Jones can fly from sideline to sideline. The duo combined for 141 stops in 2021, including 16.5 for loss and two sacks. Doyle is also Baylor’s leading returning tackler, who’s poised for an All-Big 12 caliber campaign.
Senior safety Christian Morgan is the enforcer of the secondary. He’s also a ball hawk, who broke up six passes as a junior. Cornerback Al Walcott has the skills to blanket his entire side of the field. The former juco picked off three passes, which ranked second on the team. Walcott has shown he’s more than capable of shutting down the opposing team’s top receiver.
With all of that experience, production and leadership returning, Baylor fans are expecting the defense to be even better this time around. The reigning Big 12 champs will have a bullseye on their backs though. So now the College football world will see if Aranda’s 2021 campaign was a fluke, or the arrival of a dynasty.
Regardless of the matter, there’s plenty of hype approaching kickoff and the fans are expecting Aranda to deliver again.