A year ago, a ragtag Baylor squad came into Durham with a lot of inexperience after having dealt with the repercussions of the rampant sexual assault that previously plagued the program.

Although talented, the Bears just made too many mistakes to stay in the game, as Duke used three rushing touchdowns of at least 30 yards to pull away in a 34-20 victory. But this year, the sense around Baylor is completely different. 

The Bears are ready to make their mark in head coach Matt Rhule’s second season at the helm. Having already doubled its win total from last season—albeit against inferior competition—Baylor has used transfers as well as an extra year of experience to its advantage in boasting a high-powered offense averaging 46 points per game this season.

“Matt Rhule and his staff, they do a great job coaching,” Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe said. “They’re physically better. You can tell it’s their team now, so that’s why they’re playing as well as they’re playing, so it’s a huge challenge.”

Last time out, Rhule employed Zach Smith at quarterback, who has now transferred to Tulsa. When Smith got injured, Rhule wanted to see what he had in a talented freshman Charlie Brewer, and Brewer played so well he all but forced Smith out the door, especially with talented N.C. State transfer Jalan McClendon coming in as well.

The Big 12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year—who mustered a 68.1 completion percentage and 11 touchdowns despite starting just four contests—has rode that momentum into his sophomore season, having taken the lion’s share of the repetitions from McClendon. Thus far, Brewer has thrown for three touchdowns and is averaging 251.5 yards per game as a dual-threat signal-caller.

“Brewer’s all over the place. He’s a very athletic quarterback,” Cutcliffe said. “He can run it [and] move the pocket, so pressuring the quarterback’s not easy, you’ve just got to battle.”

Still, Baylor has utilized a second quarterback in McClendon, which speaks more to his talents than Brewer’s lack thereof. The 6-foot-5 graduate transfer has the size, pocket presence and arm that provide at the very least a change of pace from Brewer.

Baylor has yet another element that it can add to its offense as well with both quarterbacks, who are both capable ball-carriers alongside running backs John Lovett and JaMycal Hasty.

“What concerns me is their ability to throw run-pass options on a run game,” Cutcliffe said.

On the other side of the ball, Baylor returns the majority of its playmakers, including junior linebacker Clay Johnston, who notched 13 tackles, three tackles for loss and one sack in last year’s game. It has been largely uneven, though, surrendering 47 combined points against Abilene Christian and Texas-San Antonio.

Despite the loss of starting quarterback Daniel Jones for the foreseeable future, the Blue Devils still may be able to compete with the Bears in a shootout with Quentin Harris under center.

However, Baylor’s weapons have gotten even better since last year.

Both starting wideouts Denzel Mims and Chris Platt—who combined for 216 yards and three touchdowns at Wallace Wade Stadium—are back, and they will be helped by former Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd, who has 12 receptions and two touchdowns already.

With Hurd, Platt and Mims, the Bears have three guys who are dynamic in the open field, which may be an issue for a Duke defense having to compensate for preseason All-American cornerback Mark Gilbert’s season-ending hip injury last weekend against Northwestern. 

Baylor’s speedy trio will face converted safety Michael Carter II and redshirt freshman Josh Blackwell, who will be making his first career start in an important nonconference matchup for both sides gearing up for ACC play.

“Our biggest thing is staying physical and running with them step for step,” preseason All-American linebacker Joe Giles-Harris said. “We’ve got guys in our secondary who are the most athletic I’ve seen in a long time and they’re up for the challenge.”