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Matt Rhule constructing a new brand of offense at Baylor

WACO, Texas -- The era of #AmericasTopOffense at Baylor might be over, but it was undoubtedly fun while it lasted.

Baylor started throwing around that title early on in the 2013 season and rolled with the humble hashtag for three full years. And it was true. The Bears led the nation in scoring and total offense in 2013, 2014 and 2015. They won back-to-back Big 12 titles with speed, tempo, wide splits, speed, confident gunslingers, skill players galore, well-built lines and more speed.

How is new head coach Matt Rhule supposed to top that? He's not. The offense he's constructing in Waco this offseason is going to be different-- maybe a lot different. It's hard to say right now in the early stages of the spring install.

Based on the staff he put together, Rhule is attempting an intriguing philosophical merger. He's pairing the physical pro-style attack he ran at Temple with the Chip Kelly-spread principles that offensive coordinator Jeff Nixon learned while working for Kelly with the San Francisco 49ers last season.

Nixon's co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach is Glenn Thomas, who served as Temple's OC in 2016. Offensive line coach George DeLeone also came from Temple. But when Baylor's initial co-OC Matt Lubick abruptly bailed for a job at Washington last month, Rhule brought in another 49ers staffer in Bob Bicknell to coach the receivers.

The blueprint they're all preparing together is some sort of hybrid of those two offenses. "Multiple" sure seems like the keyword right now, based on the way quarterback Zach Smith tried to sum it up to reporters after a spring practice last week.

"It's kind of an NFL, pro-style offense," Smith said. "Spread stuff, tempo stuff. An all-around great offense. I've had fun learning it. I'm enjoying it every day."

Rhule was asked earlier this month how he intends to tweak his system to fit in with the Big 12. He paid his respects to the conference's high-flying offenses but certainly doesn't sound interested in reinventing what he does best.

"I've not really spent too much time worrying about the Big 12 itself," Rhule said. "We've watched everybody, we've studied everybody. There's obviously a lot of great offensive minds. There's really a lot of great offensive players in the Big 12. The quarterback play is ridiculous. You watch what certain kids do and it's really, really impressive.

"I think our focus is always on what we do, what we think we can do really well."

At Temple, the brand was big sets and body blows. Two backs, two tight ends and a wear-you-out mentality. Back in October 2015, Rhule actually made this comment to Temple reporters while describing his relatively old-school system: "I would love the day when we look like Baylor -- we go out there early on and we're scoring 30 points in the first quarter. But that's not us."

A different comparison seems obvious here, and the numbers back it up: Temple played a lot like Kansas State on offense.

Both teams averaged 32 points per game and 2.5 points per drive last season. Both teams ran fewer than 70 plays per game. Both were among the nation’s slowest in time of possession per play, a measure of tempo. Under Rhule, the Owls ran the ball on 58 percent of their plays last season. K-State was a 62-percent run team. And clearly it works for both programs.

Scheme-wise, Rhule is certainly going to be a departure from the previous regime. And yet, Baylor actually does seem to possess the personnel to deliver on Rhule's vision.

Tight ends Jordan Feuerbacher and Sam Tecklenburg developed nicely last season. Terence Williams could be one of the Big 12's best running backs, and JaMycal Hasty is a handful.

Blake Lynch and Chris Platt can step up to lead a receiving corps that lost KD Cannon and Ishmael Zamora. The quarterback spot is a question mark and the offensive line needs more bodies, but the new staff is inheriting some nice pieces.

Rhule says this spring is all about figuring out that personnel and installing a basic scheme, then growing it in whatever direction it needs to go. Nixon is stressing fundamentals for now as the Bears get started with spring ball. The rest will come in due time.

"For me, it doesn't matter what offensive system you run, we have to be fundamentally sound and guys have to be able to go out and perform fundamentally first before anything else scheme-wise," Nixon said.

One guarantee at the start of this next offensive era at Baylor: We won't really know how the new-look Bears intend to operate until they take the field on Sept. 2. No matter what identity they settle on, they’ve got plenty of time to figure it out and more than enough talent to make it work.