During the first twelve years of the Big XII, Baylor established themselves as the doormat of the conference in football. Some even suggested that Baylor be removed from the Big XII, feeling it was hopeless for the Bears to ever be able to compete. Certainly it's unclear whether Baylor would have ever been invited to join the Big XII if it wasn't for the efforts former Texas governor (and Baylor alumn) Ann Richards. But a funny thing happened in 2008. Baylor football showed signs of life.
Baylor hired former Houston coach Art Briles to take over for Guy Morriss, and convinced his prized recruit, quarterback Robert Griffin to sign with the Bears. The season started in typical Baylor fashion, losing 41-13 to Baylor. But two weeks later, the Bears caught the notice of the nation by walloping Washington State 45-17 as Robert Griffin ran for 217 yards. Baylor would go on to finish 4-8 and break out of the Big XII doghouse by defeating Iowa State and Texas A&M rather handily. From that squad, the Bears return 18 starters in 2009; a scary proposition for the rest of the conference.
Robert Griffin returns at quarterback after a stellar true freshman season, being named the Big XII offensive freshman of the year. A dual threat wizard, he rushed for 843 yards and 13 touchdowns, and threw for 2091 yards, 15 touchdowns, and only three interceptions. He set an NCAA freshman record by throwing 209 passes in a row without an interception, nearly breaking the Big XII mark of 213. That's downright scary. Then consider his speed: he's a legitimate track star who hopes to run in the 2012 London Olympics.
That's freaky scary. I guess for Nebraska's sake, it's probably better to have Baylor on the schedule for Griffin's freshman and sophomore seasons, as opposed to his junior and senior seasons.
But Baylor isn't a one-trick pony; running back Jay Finley did outrush Griffin last season, adding seven touchdowns to the mix. He'll ensure balance in the Bears offense for his junior season. Griffin's primary targets in the passing game will be sophomore Kendall Wright, with 649 yards and five touchdowns last season, and senior David Gettis, a former track star in his own right.
Up front, the Bears return two starters, senior right guard James Barnard and senior center J.D. Walton. They'll miss all-American left tackle Jason Smith, who was drafted by the St. Louis Rams with the #2 pick this spring. Two junior college transfers will take over at tackle, junior right tackle Marquis Franklin and junior left tackle Danny Watkins. Watkins is a 24 year old Canadian who took up football a couple of years ago and became a junior college all-American.
If you were paying attention to the preseason all-Big XII teams, you might have been surprised that Baylor had more first team selections than Nebraska did. Here's the scary thing: they're all on defense. Up front, the Bears will be led by senior defensive end Jason Lamb and junior defensive tackle Phil Taylor. Taylor, who transferred from Penn State after getting into an on-campus fight, was named preseason newcomer of the year.
All three linebackers return, including all-Big XII senior middle linebacker Joe Pawelek, who had 128 tackles and six interceptions last season. Bookmarking Pawelek are the Antonios: senior Antonio Jones and junior Antonio Johnson.
In the secondary, two part time starters return at cornerback in juniors Antareis Bryan and Tim Atchison, but the star is senior all-Big XII safety Jordan Lake, who merely added 97 tackles and three interceptions last season. Senior Jeremy Williams will man the other safety spot.
Last year's Baylor squad got people's attention by scaring Connecticut, Nebraska, and Missouri last season. Just before Thanksgiving, the Bears beat A&M, thus ensuring that A&M can now be referred to as the "new Baylor" of the Big XII, since the Bears are no longer the conference doormat. This year, they get UConn and the Huskers at home. The schedule sets up a scary Halloween matchup for the Huskers with the Bears, who might finally be shaking the "Bad News Bears" reputation this season.