By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Baylor faithful had hoped 2009 was going to be the year their beloved Bears would finally become relevant in the Big 12, but it wasn't meant to be as a serious knee injury to starting QB Robert Griffin derailed the team before it even got started. As a result, a second straight
4-8 season relegated Baylor to yet another in a long string of last-place
finishes in the Big 12 South.
Having to play a pair of solid non-conference foes (Wake Forest and
Connecticut) right out of the chute last season was hopefully going to propel
the Bears to the lofty heights many expected. They knocked off the Demon
Deacons in the opener, but dropped a narrow decision to the Huskies. Wins over
Northwestern State and Kent State had the team at 3-1 heading into league
play, but unfortunately, without the explosive Griffin running the offense, BU
stumbled to a 1-7 conference mark.
Head coach Art Briles knows a healthy Griffin gives his team the chance to not
only compete week in and week out, but to challenge the upper echelon in the
He spoke at length about Griffin's progress at the Big 12 media event this
summer, "He's really done exactly what we thought he would do. When you get
something taken away from you, you respond two different ways. You pout,
complain, sulk, cry, and fall into a shell, or you fight, you grind, you have
vision, you have hope, and you work harder than you've ever worked in your
life. That's what Robert has done, and that's what we knew he would do."
OFFENSE: Without Griffin, the BU offense spun its wheels to the tune of 342.9
yards and 20.8 points per game, ranking the team 10th and 11th in the Big 12,
respectively. Freshman Nick Florence did his best to fill in under center, but
it was actually the run game which failed to make the biggest mark, netting a
mere 100.6 ypg (108th nationally).
In addition to the athletically-gifted Griffin, Briles has high hopes for RB
Jay Finley, who after undergoing off-season ankle surgery should be healthy
enough to elevate the anemic rushing attack. Junior Kendall Wright was the
team's leading receiver last season (66 receptions, 740 yards, four TDs), and
he is back to hopefully join with sophomore Lanear Sampson and senior TE Brad
Taylor to give Griffin more than a few viable targets down field.
The offensive line boasts the return of three starters, including senior
tackle Danny Watkins and junior center Philip Blake.
It's no secret that this Baylor team will sink or swim depending on the health
and production of Griffin, and Briles is optimistic that his field general
will be up to the challenge. "I think he's [Griffin] where he needs to be
right now. I think he's healthy. I think he's ready. He'll be an integral part
of any successes that we have this year."
DEFENSE: With little support coming from the offense, the Baylor defense
struggled to get off the field in '09, yielding an average of 405.6 yards and
27.3 points per contest. After a 2008 season in which they allowed 137.9
rushing ypg, the Bears took a step backward in their effort against the run
last year by permitting 178.8 ypg to finish last in the conference and 98th in
The return of three-fourths of the defensive line should help round them back
into form, as will the fact that playmaking LB Antonio Johnson is back for his
senior campaign. Johnson, who has amassed 149 tackles over the past two
seasons, will have to be even more aggressive as he is now the "man in the
middle of the BU defense" following the departure of All-America LB Joe
Briles loves the way Johnson plays the game, saying, "Antonio has been a very
complete player since I've been at Baylor the last two years. He brings a lot
of passion, a lot of energy, a lot of athleticism to the field."
In addition to Johnson, Baylor has an impressive array of linebackers, who
despite their relative inexperience, will give their all from an effort
All-Big 12 FS Jordan Lake has moved on, but the hope is senior Tim Atchison
can make a seamless transition from corner to fill the void, while sophomore
Chance Casey and senior Clifton Odom man the corners in an effort to lower the
226.8 ypg the team allowed through the air last season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Derek Epperson is one of the top punters in the nation, and he
will look to continue his mastery of the craft after being named a two-time
Ray Guy Award semifinalist. As for the kicking duties, they fall to freshman
Aaron Jones, who impressed enough in spring practice to earn the job.
OUTLOOK: Unlike last season when the Bears faced a pair of tough opponents to
open things up, the 2010 slate offers two winnable home games against San
Houston State and Buffalo. A trip to TCU in week three will be a major test,
but that is followed by another winnable game at Rice. The Big 12 schedule
gets underway on October 2nd at home against Kansas, and the rest of docket
certainly offers more than its share of pitfalls.
As mentioned repeatedly, any success the Bears achieve this year will likely
come as a result of Griffin's ability to stay on the field. That said,
improvement on the defensive side of the ball will also be crucial.
Can Baylor win enough games to earn it first bowl invite in 17 years? That
remains to be seen. But Briles is an exceptional coach, and if some of the
question marks surrounding the team get answered sooner rather than later, it
is a distinct possibility.