Mon Aug 15 06:11pm EDT
The least you should know about the 2011 Bears. Part of Big 12 Week.
• You down with RG3. As dynamic as he was as a freshman scrambler, quarterback Robert Griffin III successfully chipped away last year at his reputation as a one-dimensional threat — in part out of necessity, coming off a severe knee injury that cost him almost all of his sophomore season in 2009, and in part because he'd developed into one of the more reliable passers in the conference. Griffin put the ball in the air 35 times per game in 2010, distributing it among five different receivers who brought in at least 40 receptions and shattering single-season school records for total completions, completion percentage, total yards and yards per game. He also became Baylor's career leader in passing yards and touchdowns in the process, in essentially his second year as a starter.
Not coincidentally, the offense ignited: The Bears scored at least 30 points in nine different games, averaged more than 30 for the first time since the formation of the Big 12, set a new school record for total offense, beat Texas for the first time since 1994 and snapped a 16-year bowl drought despite continuing to field one of the most porous defenses in a league consisting almost entirely of porous defenses. Oh, and Griffin netted over 600 yards rushing, too, keeping him on pace with the most prolific players in the country in terms of total offense. The Heisman campaign is an exercise in futility, but with apologies to Denard Robinson, there's no more dynamic "dual threat" quarterback in America.
• Yeah, you know me. On paper, there aren't many deeper, more proven receiving corps than the returning targets at Griffin's disposal, either: Kendall Wright, Josh Gordon, Terrance Williams, Tevin Reese and Lanear Sampson combined for just shy of 3,000 yards with 18 touchdowns on 250 grabs between them last year, distributed with eerie egalitarianism via coach Art Briles' short, safe spread passing scheme. Of the five, though, only Josh Gordon qualified as a consistent home run threat — he led the conference in yards per catch, turned a screen pass against Kansas into the longest play in school history and generally cultivated the air of a future draft pick at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds — and he also happens to be the least likely to see the field this year after being indefinitely suspended from the team last month.
Briles has refused to elaborate on Gordon's fate (he told reporters that "indefinitely" "might mean this afternoon" or "might mean 10 years, I don't know"), but considering it's not Gordon's first run-in with the disciplinary process, it could very well mean more than sitting out the first quarter of the season opener. UPDATE, 9:46 p.m. ET: Late news out of Waco today is that Gordon has left the team and may be transferring to Utah.
• Bad News Bears. As good as the offense was most of the time, the defense was equally atrocious against anyone with a pulse, yielding upwards of 36 points on 469 yards per game in Big 12 play; in a four-game losing streak to close the season, it was ripped for 55 points at Oklahoma State, 42 by Texas A&M, 53 by Oklahoma and 38 by Illinois in the bowl game — seven of those coming by virtue of the easiest 55-yard touchdown run in the history of the sport:
It gets worse, if that's possible: With six of the top seven tacklers on their way out, incoming defensive coordinator Phil Bennett inherits a full-blown rebuilding effort that's likely to feature twice as many sophomores as seniors.
• So close, and yet so far away. The late slide was a symptom of a larger, even more sobering truth: As far as the Bears come in three years under Briles, the gap between their hard-earned respectability and the Big 12's actual "Have" programs is still a yawning chasm. In seven tries last year against winning teams, Baylor was outscored by 18 points per game and won only once, in a 47-42 shootout over Kansas State. In four games against ranked teams, they trailed by at least 34 points at some point in three of them.
One of those games was a 45-10 trouncing at the hands of TCU, eventual owner of the nation's No. 1 defense and a perfect record. This time, the Horned Frogs come to Waco for a Friday-night opener on Sept. 2 looking vulnerable with a brand new quarterback and a generally revamped lineup across the board; they also come in riding a 25-game regular season winning streak. One way or another, we'll know how seriously the top half of the Big 12 has to take Baylor as a rising threat by the end of the night.