Baylor vs. UTSA

Baylor defensive end Greg Roberts (52) right blocks a UTSA place kicker Victor Falcon (57) field goal in the first half.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson

After several seasons of victory, limelight and national envy, the Baylor Bears would seem to have fallen into old ways — and so have some of the fans. If this isn’t obvious around the water cooler, consider Facebook comments on Trib stories about the first two games of 2017. Blame is cast on everything from the offensive line to new coach Matt Rhule’s leadership to the decision to raze Floyd Casey Stadium. As Melissa Stamps notes: “As a Nebraska fan going through it for years now, new coach, new players ... but one thing stays the same: Fair-weather fans suck!”

Just as in politics, so it is in college athletics: Context matters. No football program can go through what Baylor University’s has for more than two years now without consequence . Our friends at Dave Campbell’s Texas Football: 2017 — so-called “Bible of Texas football” — said it best when making Big 12 predictions: “The good news for the Bears is that 2016 is done. The bad news is that the rebuild, both on the field and in reputation, may be a long one.”

Let’s keep in mind that, however poorly Baylor might fare this season, Matt Rhule faces two steep priorities. One is winning football games. Given that in many ways he starts from scratch, this will take some time, a period aggravated by a legacy of football greatness over the past decade and some fans crying out for Art Briles, the former BU football coach whose career was swallowed up in a scourge of sexual assaults involving players. The other priority is ensuring coaches and players embrace a Christian commitment worthy of Baylor tradition. Rhule must prove a football program with tenets regarding player behavior can also win. And that makes the hill higher to climb in 2017.