This story is part of the KU Edition, a special section that runs in the Lawrence Journal-World.
Bears at a glance
Coach: Art Briles
Coach Year at school: 3rd
2010 record: 7-6, 4-4 Big 12.
Last year vs. KU: The Bears set all kinds of school records — some of which came in the first half — in a 55-7 rout of the Jayhawks in Waco, Texas.
Returning starters: 12
Impact newcomers: Jordan Najvar 6-6, 260, TE.
Key games: vs. TCU, Sept. 2; vs. Oklahoma, Nov. 19; vs. Texas, Dec. 3
Vs. Kansas: Nov. 12 in Lawrence.
Baylor University’s football team had suffered long enough.
In 2010, Art Briles made sure Bears fans finally had something to cheer about.
After countless finishes in the basement of the Big 12 South division, Briles, currently entering his fourth year as BU’s coach, led the Bears to a 7-6 record and their first bowl appearance since 1994. Baylor fell, 38-14, to Illinois in the Texas Bowl in Dallas.
“I’m telling you, I remember thinking the game when we became bowl-eligible (47-42 victory over Kansas State on Oct. 23, 2010, in Waco, Texas) we had an hour (lightning) delay … and I was thinking, ‘Boy, it’s hard to get bowl-eligible at Baylor. They’re making it hard on us,’” Briles joked at Big 12 media days in Dallas. “But that was big. It was big from a recruiting standpoint, and then just from a belief standpoint for our fans, our players and everybody that loves Baylor University. Now we need to keep growing from it, learn from it, which we have and will.”
There’s a decent chance the Bears, who were a respectable 4-4 in Big 12 play last season, will earn back-to-back postseason berths.
All-purpose, dual-threat quarterback Robert Griffin III returns for his junior season, and, perhaps most importantly, he’s healthy. The NCAA granted Griffin a medical red-shirt after he tore his ACL in the third game of the 2009 season.
Any questions about his health were answered last season, when he passed for 3,501 yards and 22 touchdowns, along with eight interceptions. The fleet-footed Griffin also rushed for 635 yards and an additional eight scores on the ground. It’s pretty simple: If Griffin is healthy, the Bears have a good chance to go bowling again.
“I think it takes an ACL a full year to really feel comfortable about what you’re doing,” Briles said. “So this year starting out we know where he’s at. We know what he can do on the field.”
The good news for Griffin: Baylor returns four of five offensive linemen, and they’re all upperclassmen. The Bears of late might as well be called “O-Line U” for the NFL products they’ve produced. Jason Smith (2009 draft, second overall pick, St. Louis), J.D. Walton (2010 draft, third round, Denver) and Danny Watkins (2011 draft, 23rd overall pick, Philadelphia) are earning Sunday paychecks. Griffin should also have plenty of time in the pocket to find senior receiver Kendall Wright, who caught 78 passes for 952 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
Baylor will have a new look on defense, and that’s a good thing, considering the Bears finished ninth or worse in the Big 12 last season in scoring, rushing, passing and total defense. First-year defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, who previously held the same position at Pittsburgh, was a popular, respected hire, but he has a tough task ahead.
“I’m really excited about Phil Bennett,” Briles said. “That man is a football coach. He and I coincide so much on philosophy and belief in how to treat people, how to make people accountable, that I’m really excited about that side of the ball.”
BU won’t waste any time facing cupcakes. On the first weekend of the season, the Bears will play host to TCU, fresh off an undefeated 12-0 season and a Rose Bowl victory, on Sept. 2 in Waco. TCU waxed Baylor, 45-10, last season in Fort Worth, Texas.