Part of the Doc's Big 12 Week.
If you're a college football fan, you're almost certainly aware of Robert Griffin, at least, which is a pretty impressive accomplishment in itself. Even a vague acknowledgement of existence is more than the outside world has given almost any other Baylor player in about 25 years. "Star football player from Baylor" means Mike Singlatary, maybe a highly drafted lineman or two if you've really been paying really close attention. But a quarterback? Anyone who touches the ball on a regular basis? Just a few games into his freshman season in 2008, Griffin – a legit sprinter who passed on more high-profile offers out of high school – already represented the grand sum of "exciting playmakers" in Waco in its current student body's lifetime.
Last year, after guiding the Bears within two touchdowns of a winning season in '08, he was also almost singlehandedly responsible for the most optimistic preseason expectations at Baylor since the Bears joined the Big 12 (that is, they weren't reflexively picked to finish dead last in the South Division). And in a morbid way, his season-ending ACL injury in the third game of the season, a routine blowout of FCS/I-AA patsy Northwestern State, ultimately served to justify the hype:
Yeah, the Ewing Theory doesn't fall this far down the food chain. After Griffin's injury, the Bears dropped seven of eight in Big 12 play (six of them by double digits), and failed to top 14 points in any of the losses. They went down by two touchdowns at Iowa State, a team they'd trounced by 28 with Griffin in the lineup in 2008, and by five touchdowns in 38-3 laugher at Texas A&M, almost exactly a year after rolling up 510 yards and 41 points on the humiliated Aggies in Waco. They combined for 12 yards rushing against Oklahoma and Texas after Griffin had ripped off 100-yard games on the ground against both in '08. Griffin's replacement, senior Blake Szymanski, was benched after being picked off three time in the loss at Iowa State. Freshman Nick Florence proceeded to throw eight interceptions over the next five. Except for an inexplicable outburst in a 40-32 upset over Missouri, it was, you know, Baylor.
Accordingly, the Bears are back in their usual spot in the South Division cellar going into the year, and hitting the reset button on their quest to end a 16-year bowl drought. At full speed, Griffin's presence alone in coach Art Briles' up-tempo offense is a nightmare for any defense not stocked with Oklahoma/Texas-level talent. And the schedule is good: The massive attrition from Oklahoma State and the absence of North Division frontrunners Nebraska and Missouri from the inter-division draw – the Bears get Colorado, Kansas and Kansas State instead – puts four Big 12 wins within reach for the first time, on top of three non-conference patsies. Even with Griffin, .500 is bordering on pie in the sky, but that's better than the relentless darkness that usually hovers over their chances.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.