2012 Baylor Preview - Life After RG3
Baylor WR Terrance Williams
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Obviously Robert Griffin III will forever be Mr. Baylor with the transcendent talent and personality to take a woebegone program from miserable to must-see, and it didn't hurt to have a slew of other NFL talents around him, but Baylor football might now be more than one franchise quarterback.
Head coach: Art Briles
5th year: 25-25
9th year overall: 59-53b
Ten Best Baylor Players
1. WR Terrence Williams, Sr.
2. RB Lache Seastrunk, Soph.
3. WR Tevin Reese, Jr.
4. S Sam Holl, Jr.
5. NB Ahmad Dixon, Jr.
6. C Ivory Wade, Sr.
7. OG Cyril Richardson, Jr.
8. RB Jarred Salubi, Sr.
9. CB K.J. Morton, Jr.
10. WR Lanear Sampson, Sr.
Sep. 1 SMU
Sep. 8 OPEN DATE
Sep. 15 Sam Houston St.
Sep. 22 at ULM
Sep. 29 at West Virginia
Oct. 6 OPEN DATE
Oct. 13 TCU
Oct. 20 at Texas
Oct. 27 at Iowa State
Nov. 3 Kansas
Nov. 10 at Oklahoma
Nov. 17 Kansas State
Nov. 24 Texas Tech (in Arlington)
Dec. 1 Oklahoma State
At least that's the hope.
It was only a few years ago when a Big 12 team losing to Baylor brought the ultimate shame and indignity. It was just 2010 it seemed like the Bears were making big strides with a 7-6 campaign and a stunningly-good four-win conference season, but with only one win over a team that finished with a winning record - Kansas State squad that went 7-6.
But last year was different. Yeah, going 10-3 and getting a Heisman season is good for anyone, but Baylor was beating real, live teams like TCU and Oklahoma. Throw in the near-miss against Kansas State and victories over Missouri, Iowa State, and Texas – who all went bowling – and the success was more than RG3. Of course, the Bears wouldn't have beaten the Horned Frogs or the Sooners without Griffin's magic, but as good as he might have been he was also put in a position to succeed because of the terrific Art Briles offensive scheme.
One of the biggest knocks on Griffin in the scouting process for the NFL draft was the offense. He was able to bomb away deep – coming up with the most efficient year in college football history – and he always seemed to have wide open targets streaking in the clear. The running backs always had huge holes to run through, and the offense was able to move the ball at will, just like it did at Houston when Briles was turning the Cougars into a Conference USA power.
And that's what Bear fans have to count on going forward. Briles could've taken other jobs, but he was a true believer that Baylor football could succeed, and while Griffin obviously was special, so was Kevin Kolb at Houston and so was Nick Florence when he had to step in for RG3 in the shocking win over Missouri in 2009 and when he needed to pick up the slack against Texas Tech last year.
Florence isn't Griffin, but he's a smart veteran who knows how to make the right read and hit the open man. If a quarterback can do that he can succeed in the Briles system. The offense will be fine.
If wasn't just RG3. With receiver Kendall Wright, running back Terrance Ganaway and some key offensive linemen, the parts were there for the nation's second-best offense to shine. It all came together in a phenomenal year, but this year's receiving corps is loaded – Wright is the only main target who's gone – and despite the tremendous production from Ganaway, the running backs are more talented now with Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk in the mix. The line should be solid and Florence will be more than capable of directing the show.
The defense's job last year was to not be a liability, and that was far easier said than done. It wasn't just that the D was bad; it's that the talent wasn't in place to come close to matching up with the offense. Five players were drafted from the Baylor offense, but it's no coincidence that just one of the last 12 Bears drafted came from the defense - and Mikel Baker was a seventh-rounder.
Briles isn't going to recruit with Texas and Oklahoma on defense, but BU sent more offensive players to the NFL last year than the Sooners did in the last two drafts, while the Longhorns have sent just eight to the big league since the Vince Young 2006 draft and none since Colt McCoy went in the third round of the 2010 draft. This year, there are more talents in Waco where last year's stars came from and the defense has the experience to make up for the lack of superstars.
The offense is going to work and the defense will probably be better, but Robert Griffin III was Robert Griffin III. Even so, Baylor isn't going to go back to being Baylor just because Griffin went off to be a Redskin. Briles has proven to be too good a coach to let that happen.
What to watch for on offense: The running game. The overall numbers aren't going to be as good as they were last season, but it'll still be an effective attack. Of course the Baylor offense will still put up video game stats through the air with a great receiving corps for Nick Florence to work with, but the ground game could be just as dangerous and even more effective at times from the running backs. Griffin ran for 699 yards and ten scores, but that's not Florence's game. Fortunately, Jarred Salubi is a speed back who can do a little of everything. Lache Seastrunk was a star recruit for Oregon and would've put up LaMichael James-like stats had he still been with the Ducks, and now he'll blow up for the Bears.
What to watch for on defense: The secondary will be better. To be fair to last year's defense, it had to deal with great offense after great offense throwing to keep up the pace with the Baylor offense. Even so, giving up 291 yards per game through the air and 36 touchdowns was still awful. Kansas threw for 108 yards because it was Kansas, and Oklahoma State threw for 274 yards because the ground game went nuts ripping off 327 yards, but the Bears allowed 325 passing yards or more in six of the final eight games with three 400+ yard outings and a 398-yard game against Texas Tech. All five starters are back to the 4-2-5 alignment and there should be a decent rotation in some spots. The production will be better; it can't be any worse.
The team will be far better if … the running game works. The Bears' worst rushing games last year came against Texas A&M – 50 yards – and Kansas State -83 yards – and they lost both. The third loss came to Oklahoma State with 176 rushing yards, its fifth-worst output of the year. The Bears ran for 150 yards in the close call against TCU to open the season and just 131 yards in the classic against Oklahoma. Throw in the 193-yard day in the 31-30 win over an awful Kansas team and almost all of the close calls – with Texas on the low side and Missouri on the high the exceptions - came when the O ran for fewer than 200 yards. When the ground game rumbled for more than 200 the Bears went 6-0 with five blowouts.
The schedule: For a team that has some rebuilding to do it'll be a must to work out all the kinks in the post-RG3 era early on with a slew of nasty road dates over the first half of the season. The Bears have just one home game over a five-game stretch from September 22nd to the end of October, but there's hope at the end with just one true road game in the final five.
The non-conference slate is manageable with three winnable games against SMU, Sam Houston State, and ULM before kicking off the new world of the Big 12 at West Virginia. Getting a week off before facing TCU is a plus, and getting Kansas at home before going to Oklahoma will help, but forget about winning the Big 12 title with road games at OU, Texas, and West Virginia.
Best offensive player: Senior WR Terrance Williams. Kendall Wright was taken with the 20th overall pick by the Tennessee Titans after catching 108 passes for 1,663 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, but Williams has the potential to be more of an NFL No. 1 target with 6-3 size and the deep speed to go along with it. He might not put up Wright's numbers, but he should be a top pro prospect as the season goes on and will be Florence's No. 1 target.
Best defensive player: Junior S Sam Holl. The Bears are loaded with veterans in the defensive backfield, but it's Holl who cleans up the messes left by the leaky front six. While he whiffed on his share of plays, he also came up with 113 stops and showed the potential to be an All-Big 12 performer with a little more attention. The speed and size are there, but now he needs to come up with more game-changing big plays.
Key player to a successful season: Senior QB Nick Florence. It's one thing to step in when there's an emergency, and it's another to become the main man who has to follow in the footsteps of Robert Griffin III. Florence isn't a big passer and he can't move like Griffin – who can? – but he has been around long enough to put up big numbers. He has the receivers, the running game to take the heat off, and the offensive line to provide the time, but he has to get the job done. Like RG3 he'll have to come up with a few special moments for Baylor to have a big season.
The season will be a success if … the Bears go back to a bowl game. They're not going to win the Big 12 title and it'll be a stunner if they get to ten wins again, but a winning season and a post-season appearance would make it the first time they went to a bowl game in three straight years. There have been some good moments in the history of Baylor football, but a bowl would probably make the Briles era truly special.
Key game: Sept. 29 at West Virginia. The Mountaineers are built to bomb away with anyone in the country, and they'll be jacked up considering it's their Big 12 debut. With TCU and a trip to Texas to follow, the Bears can't afford to make any mistakes and could need to come up with a tough road win to avoid a rough start. It'll be one of the wildest shootouts of the conference season and it could be the moment when BU shows that everything is still working after losing so many offensive stars.
2011 Fun Stats:
- Points per game: Baylor 45.3 – Opponents 37.2
- 4th down conversions: Baylor 19-of-27 (70%) – Opponents 13-of-20 (65%)
- Average yards per pass: Baylor 10.8 – Opponents 7.6
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