Baylor football 2023 preview: Shapen up to be an interesting season

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One of the most successful Big 12 programs in the last decade, Baylor football is in curious position as the conference welcomes four new additions in 2023. This league is much stronger and deeper in its last year with Texas and Oklahoma, and spoiling either’s bid for a parting Big 12 championship won’t be easy for the Bears.

Who is going to start at QB for Baylor?

Dave Aranda already has named Blake Shapen the starting quarterback for Baylor in 2023, despite the transfer in from veteran signal caller Sawyer Robertson. Shapen was good in his first full season as a starter last year, but Baylor needs him to be great to offset the defensive woes we’ll likely see in Waco this year. The junior tossed 2,790 yards and 18 touchdowns with 10 interceptions, but registered a substandard passer rating of 57.1. If Shapen can’t improve his efficiency or even regresses, Bears fans can at least feel comfortable giving their backup a shot. Robertson has a lot of potential, but likely needs another year of development before he’s truly ready to lead this program forward.

Who is Baylor’s X-factor on offense?

When running back Richard Reese eats, everybody gets full. On games when Baylor gave the freshman 19 or more carries, the Bears were 3-0. When he had 10 or fewer carries, the Bears were 0-4. He also put together one of the most dominant two-game stretches I’ve seen out of a running back in recent memory with a 36-carry, 148-yard, three-touchdown performance against Texas Tech proceeded by 31 totes for 186 yards and two scores the following week against Kansas. If he’s healthy, he’ll easily cross the 1,000-yard mark this season and will take a good deal of pressure off Shapen and the passing game, forcing defenses to respect the run.

Who are Baylor’s best players on defense?

Baylor’s defense is littered with question marks going into the 2023 season. The Bears are ranked No. 97 out of 131 in returning production on the defensive side of the ball, and while the unit brought in potential impact transfers like linebacker Mike Smith, this is not an objectively talented group of players. That’s not an ideal reality in an offense-centric conference like the Big 12, so Baylor will need some guys to play above their recruiting rankings if they want to give their offense any leeway. Defensive tackle Gabe Hall has an NFL frame and plenty of potential, but hasn’t generated the production you’d like to see from a guy with his athletic ability.

Baylor’s NFL draft prospects for 2024

  1. Gabe Hall, defensive tackle
    • The 6-5, 295-pound defensive lineman eats up a lot of space on the inside and looks like he already belongs on an NFL roster. After registering six sacks in 2021, he took a slight step back with 4.5 last year. Hall is projected as a mid-to-late round pick in 2024, but he can elevate his draft stock if he can get those QB pressures, TFLs, and sack numbers up.
  2. Clark Barrington, offensive guard
    • Barrington enters his redshirt senior campaign a grown man at 6-5, 305 pounds. He’s come a long way since his days as a two-star prospect and has become one of the premier pass-blocking guards in the Big 12. In the last three seasons, he’s allowed just two QB hits and three sacks. The biggest area of improvement for Barrington is in the run blocking game, which I anticipate we’ll see significant improvement in 2023.

Baylor’s 2023 schedule breakdown and prediction

9/2Texas StateW
9/16Long IslandW
9/30at UCFL
10/7Texas TechW
10/21at CincinnatiW
10/28Iowa StateW
11/11at Kansas StateL
11/18at TCUL
11/25West VirginiaW

Baylor football 2023 season prediction

This is not Baylor’s most talented team by any stretch, but a favorable schedule, talented quarterback and plenty of explosive playmakers on the perimeter and in the backfield, the Bears can put together a pretty successful season with a 7-6 record and a shot at a nice bowl win. I like Baylor to upset Texas Tech at home in a competitive rivalry game after a couple of tough losses to Texas and Big 12 newcomer UCF. K-State and TCU will be tough on the road, but the Bears should finish the regular season on a high note against West Virginia at home. The season opener against Texas State is worth watching – new head coach G.J. Kinne just put together a historic season at FCS Incarnate Word and brought some of his most talented players with him to San Marcos. I’m not predicting an upset, but the Bobcats might hang around longer than expected.

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