ARLINGTON, Texas — Matt Rhule had to make the best of a tough situation walking into his first year as Baylor's football coach, and the limited resources on his depth chart didn’t do him any favors.
Rhule was forced to put several players on the field before they were ready, and that resulted in a 1-11 campaign in 2017.
“We had to sign a record amount of guys the first year,” Rhule said at Tuesday’s Big 12 Media Day. “We’ve had to try to find every way to take advantage of the rules that are there.”
The bar was set low for Rhule heading into last season with the 2018 Big 12 football preseason poll giving the Bears a ninth-place prediction. Kansas, the team that allowed Baylor’s lone victory, was the only team ranked lower.
Rhule had other expectations for the program and managed to take a six-game leap, posting a 7-6 record that included a 45-38 win over Vanderbilt in the Texas Bowl.
He took the Bears to their 24th bowl game in program history and became just the second coach in the past 50 years to earn Baylor a bowl berth in his second season. Baylor finished sixth in the conference standings and tied TCU for the fifth-best conference record at 4-5.
Last year’s success bumped the Bear’s preseason conference rankings to sixth heading into this year. Oklahoma State, whom Baylor beat by four points last season, is one spot ahead of the Bears in fifth.
This wouldn’t be the first time Rhule turned a program around in his first three seasons. Rhule went 2-10 in his first year at Temple before winning six games his second year and reaching the 10-win mark by season three.
He is on track to follow that model with Baylor, but Rhule said he isn’t focused on trying to reach a set number of victories.
“I really never say I hope we win this many games when people say what would be acceptable,” Rhule said. “If I say to you I think we’ll win 10 games, that means I’m telling you I think we’re going to lose two.”
Rhule said he believes there is a chance to win every game on the schedule, but he also understands every team on the Bears schedule is capable of beating them as well. He said the key to having a successful season is having the humble confidence to prepare at a high level and play as well as you can.
“When I say process, that’s really what I mean,” Rhule said. “Focusing on the things that we can control, and that’s our preparation and work ethic. I think if our team does that, then we’ll have a chance to win a bunch of games this year.”
Senior offensive lineman Sam Tecklenburg expects Baylor to take another jump this year. He said it was a good thing to have won their bowl game so the main focus heading into this season wouldn’t be on trying to win one. Now they can just focus on the game that’s in front of them.
“It kind of clears everyone’s minds to have a taste of what that’s like and now we want more,” Tecklenburg said. “We want some of the bigger things that this season has to offer.”