Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It was a debut that couldn’t have gone much worse.
Robert Griffin hoped to lead Baylor’s first game last season against Wake Forest. Instead, he sat helplessly on the bench watching his team fall into a huge early deficit before he was ever inserted into his first college game.
After battling Kirby Freeman all summer long for playing time, Coach Art Briles went with experience with the safe choice of starting Freeman against the Demon Deacons in his first game coaching the Bears.
“Last year was very uncomfortable,” Griffin said. “There were a lot of unknowns for us. We had a new quarterback, a new coach, just a whole new philosophy and system. It was pretty tough.”
By the time Griffin entered early in the second quarter, the Demon Deacons had charged to a 17-0 lead. The freshman had a credible appearance with flashes of productivity, but it was too late as Wake claimed a decisive 41-13 victory.
Only a year later, those bad memories are in the past for the Bears as they come into the season a fashionable pick as one of the nation’s surprise teams.
Before any of that comes about, Baylor and Griffin will face an immediate challenge. Their first task in trying to change the culture of a program with the Big 12's longest bowl streak will come Saturday at Wake Forest.
The difference between now and last year’s opener is stunning, Griffin said.
“We’re a lot more confident going into this game,” Griffin said. “We know the quarterback. We know the philosophy. We know what the other team is going to try and do so we’re hoping to go out there and get a win.”
The Bears made strong progress under Griffin as the season went on. Their offense perked up as they rushed for at least 200 yards in four of the last five games in the season.
And they should be able to build on that late surge with an improved cast of surrounding players on offense with their sophomore quarterback.
Leading rusher Jay Finley is back at I-back after rushing for a team-best 865 yards, capped by back-to-back 100-yard games to finish the season. He’ll be supported in the backfield by transfer running back Terrance Ganaway and redshirt freshman Jarred Salubi.
Kendall Wright led the Bears with 50 catches last seasons, but coaches have been raving about the progress of 6-foot-6 freshman Willie Jefferson throughout fall camp.
The biggest question for the Bears’ offensive success remains their offensive line and in particularly their new pair of starting tackles to replace Jason Smith and Dan Gay. How well they protect Griffin, who accounted for a school-record 28 touchdowns last season, could determine if the Bears will go bowling.
“Last year, I had confidence but not really experience,” Griffin said. “And that wasn’t only myself but the rest of the team. That’s something we’ve been building. There's a big difference when we go out now with all of the weapons I have around me.”
The Bears repeatedly came close last season, losing three games by a touchdown or less in a 4-8 season that could have turned on a couple of plays.
After those close finishes, the Bears are hopeful of being better prepared during Griffin’s second season as a starter.
“We might have opened some eyes and turned heads, but we didn’t finish many people off,” Briles said. “To have total respect, you have to win some of those games. People will pat you on the back and say you played well if you play somebody close. We don’t want that. We just want to win.”