Waco, Texas (CBS DFW)- When Matt Rhule took over the Baylor job two years ago, the university and the team was embroiled in a scandal over the handling of sexual assault allegations made against members of the team during the tenure of previous head coach Art Briles. While the program did not receive any sanctions from the NCAA, from a pure rebuild standpoint both on the football field and culture wise, Rhule had a tall task ahead of him.

Year 1 saw a lot of younger players taking the field and learning the system and culture leading to a 1-11 record. Last season, the Bears made a giant step forward, winning seven games including a 45-38 victory over Vanderbilt in the Texas Bowl.

Now entering his third year with the program it’s fair to say that Rhule appears to have the program on the right track on the field and according to CBS Sports college football analyst Houston Nutt, it all comes down to the staff that Rhule has put together.

“He has done a great job recruiting. He has a good staff. Texas is rich with players and when you have relationships and connections, the staff that he has put together has done a really good job,” said Nutt in a phone interview. “You may not get the guys that Texas wants of course, but that is okay because on a given year there are about 334 young men that sign a Division I scholarship and you have to pick the right ones. They have done a good job of evaluation and bringing the program back.”

The Bears 2019 recruiting class ranked 4th in the Big 12 (35th overall FBS) and follows last year’s 2018 class which checked in even higher nationally (29th) and was 4th in the conference. The talent shows on the football field and entering the 2019 season, Rhule’s group looks like they could make another step forward.

The preseason media poll had the Bears picked 6th in the conference, but Nutt believes that they could make a push at the top of the Big 12 this season.

“I think they can make a big push this year. I don’t think they can win the conference but they can take a big step,” said Nutt. “And again that is what winning does. When you turn around like that, recruiting gets better, your players are better recruiters, they are better ambassadors. Then, you are hoping that your quarterback, Charlie Brewer, takes another step. Everybody works a little harder in the weight room trying to get a little stronger and a little faster and then all of a sudden, it’s contagious.”

One of the big reasons for that potential is the return of junior quarterback Charlie Brewer who is fresh off of a 3,100-yard 19-touchdown season in just his first year as a full time starter. While his top target, Jalen Hurd, moved on to the NFL, senior Denzel Mims and grad student Chris Platt return. In the backfield, the trio of John Lovett, Trestan Ebner and JaMycal Hasty is back.

The offense, however, is not the question for the Bears entering the season. The biggest question mark and potential speed bump in the hopes of a leap forward in Year 3 comes on the defensive side of the ball. While the Big 12 is offense heavy, Baylor’s defense struggled even by the standards of the conference last season. According to ESPN’s Bill Connelly, the Bears gave up a conference-worst 26 gains of 40+ yards last season. The group also didn’t provide much in the way of forcing offenses out of rhythm as they ranked 109th in stuff rate and 82nd in sack rate last season according to Connelly.

On the positive side, the Bears do get to host three of their biggest conference tests this season as #21 Iowa State, #4 Oklahoma and #10 Texas all have to visit McLane Stadium this season. That provides big opportunities in front of the home fans for the Bears to make their mark on the conference outlook.

8/31 vs. Stephen F. Austin, 6:00 p.m. CT

9/7 vs. UT-San Antonio, 3:00 p.m. CT

9/21 @ Rice, 6:00 p.m. CT

9/28 vs. #21 Iowa State, TBD

10/5 @ Kansas State, TBD

10/12 vs. Texas Tech, TBD

10/19 @ Oklahoma State, TBD

10/31 (Thursday) vs. West Virginia, 7:00 p.m. CT

11/9 @ TCU, TBD

11/16 vs. #4 Oklahoma, TBD

11/23 vs. #10 Texas, TBD

11/30 @ Kansas, TBD