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Early Exits: Robert Griffin III, Baylor’s shooting star

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

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At this point, there's not much to be said about Robert Griffin III's rise to college football royalty that hasn't been said, and then repeated, and then condensed onto the scrolling ticker at the bottom of the television screen, and then emblazoned into Baylor press materials for eternity. He smashed every school record. He was a consensus All-American. He won that one trophy they give out at the end of the year, whatever it's called, and a few more awards on top of that. He piloted the winning offense in the highest-scoring bowl game of all-time.

He's also a legitimate student who graduated in three years with a degree in political science, made the honor roll in six straight semesters and plans to attend law school. As a freshman, he was also an All-American in track and competed in the Olympic trials in the 400-meter hurdles. He also likes to wear goofy socks to formal occasions, because he's kind of a nerd like that.

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As of this afternoon, he's also  giving up his final year of eligibility for the NFL, where he'll be selected among the top five or ten picks in April's draft and made an instant multimillionaire by a terrible team desperate for a franchise quarterback. And still, short of curing Alzheimer's or solving world hunger, he may never achieve anything quite as incredible as making Baylor football relevant again.

When Griffin started his first game as a true freshman in 2008, Baylor was more than a decade removed from its last winning season and more than two decades removed from its last finish in the final polls. Four years later, the Bears have won more Big 12 games with Griffin as their starting quarterback (12) than they won in their first 12 years in the conference combined (11) from 1996-2007. This year, they scored 45 points to beat Oklahoma for the first time ever, ruining the Sooners' BCS hopes in the process. They scored 48 to beat Texas for the second year in a row. They scored 66 to beat Texas Tech, 42 to beat Missouri and 50 to beat TCU in the opener, against a vaunted Horned Frog defense that had led the nation in total defense three years in a row. Their 67-point, 777-yard outburst in the Alamo Bowl resulted in the swift sacking of Washington's entire defensive coaching staff.

Baylor finished the regular season in the top 10 nationally in total offense, scoring offense, passing offense and pass efficiency. It finished in the top 15 of every major poll for the first time since 1986, and won ten games for the first time since 1980, a full decade before its star quarterback was born in Okinawa, Japan.

This on a team that finished with the nation's 116th-ranked total defense. At Baylor. Which is, again, Baylor.

Already, the Bears are seeing a slight uptick in recruiting in the wake of Griffin's Heisman win, the fruit of a national profile that won't last very long if they go tumbling back into the Big 12 basement. If Baylor's rise from the grave lasts beyond RG3's eligibility, it will still be with its most high-wattage star as a cornerstone and ambassador. If it doesn't, the myth of a fleeting, dreadlocked beacon who came and went in the middle of the night will only grow. Either way, no player has ever meant more to the program, and if it doesn't cash in on his emergence now, it may be another 80 years before it finds another one who can come close.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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