A lot of this seasons success will be determined by the defensive improvement. Last season the Bears allowed 456.9 yards per game, 112 in the country and 35.9 points per game, 114 in the country.
The defensive line doesn’t possess star power but has the potential to be a solid unit led by senior nose tackle Ira Lewis who led in sacks last season with 5.5. He teams up inside with 6’1 330lbs Bravion Roy who had a strong spring. A four-man rotation will be used at end with seniors Greg Roberts and Xavier Jones, sophomores BJ Thompson and Deonte Williams along with Texas A&M transfer junior Jame Lockhart.
The linebacking core is led by junior Clay Johnston who notched 8.5 tackles for loss through the first five games before suffering various injuries causing him to miss the last four games of the season. He is flanked by sophomore Jalen Pitre who finished with 33 tackles and one sack last season. Junior Jordan Williams is slated to start at WILL but is pushed by redshirt freshman Terrel Bernard who missed spring with an injury.
The secondary is led by junior Blake Lynch who moves to safety full time after starting last season at wide receiver. He finished with 15.5 tackles and six pass deflections a season ago. Both corners return in junior Grayland Arnold, who notched 30.5 tackles along with seven pass breakups and one interception, and sophomore Harrison Hand who registered 36.5 tackles, eight PBU’s and one interception. Junior Chris Miller is penciled in at strong safety. The Bears look to improve upon their meager three interceptions from a year ago.
If they can do so, an offense led by budding sophomore quarterback Charlie Brewer will put points on the board. Brewer was supposed to redshirt but due to injuries was forced into action throwing for 1.562 yard and 11 touchdowns to four interceptions earning Big 12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year.
For Brewer to build off of last season the line has to come together quickly. Four starters return led by guards Xavier Newman and Blake Blackmar. Clemson graduate transfer Jake Fruhmorgen should make an immediate impact after starting eight games on Clemson’s 2016 national championship team. While there is depth it is young with as many as six redshirt freshman in the two-deep. They must improve in the run game after 25.3 percent of runs were stopped behind the line of scrimmage, fourth worst in the country.
The Bears welcome back the trio of JaMycal Hasty, John Lovett and Trestan Ebner who combined for 880 yards and eight touchdowns. They look to improve a ground game that finished 115 in the country a season ago. Look for redshirt freshman Abram Smith and his 6’1 212lbs frame to be used in short-yardage situations.
Out wide the Bears have one of the best receivers in the conference in Denzel Mims. He had a breakout sophomore season hauling in 61 receptions for 1,087 yards and eight touchdowns en route to second-team all-conference honors. For the Bears to be successful a second option has to emerge. Chris Platt, 16 receptions for 401 yards and five touchdowns, and Tennessee transfer Jalen Hurd are the top two candidates. At 6’4 229lbs Hurd has the size to make an impact after sitting out last season.
The kicking game is solid with punter Drew Galitz and his 45.2 yards per punt and kicker Connor Martin returning. Martin hit 20-24 attempts last season.
For the Bears it is imperative they get off to an early start. The first four games; Abilene Christian, UTSA, Duke and Kansas are all winnable. Four straight wins would not only give a young Bears team much needed momentum but also a shot to reach six wins and bowl eligibility although they are likely still a year away.