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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
After getting a chance to talk to all of the Big 12's coaches and many of its most important players over the past few days, I'm emboldened to make some predictions on the upcoming season and beyond. Over the next several days, I'll gaze into my crystal ball and make three predictions about each team from some of the observations I gleaned from Big 12 media days.
First up will be Baylor.
1. Baylor will be better than last season, and still might not make a bowl game. The Bears have the most explosive player in the conference in Robert Griffin, an underrated runner in Jay Finley and three of the league's pivotal defensive players in defensive tackle Phil Taylor, linebacker Joe Pawelek and safety Jordan Lake.
And it still might not be enough.
The Bears are facing a brutal schedule and one that has been exacerbated by greed. They have given away a home game and a strong potential victory at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco against Texas Tech, for a game over Thanksgiving weekend at the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. Sure, that big-screen television is nice and that stadium has every bell and whistle known to mankind. But something tells me that if Baylor is sitting at 5-6 heading into that game, Art Briles sure would rather be playing the Red Raiders where the Dr Pepper flows than in some modernistic football palace where soda will be $8 a cup.
And for all of the talk about Baylor being ahead of Texas A&M, people forget the Bears still haven't won in College Station since 1984. Kyle Field at one time was one of the most intimidating locales in all of college football. Even with a talent edge for the Bears, strange things sometimes happen to visiting teams when they visit there. Baylor needs to win there for a bowl berth.
We'll know something after the first two games of the season. The Bears absolutely, positively need at least one victory from their early start against Wake Forest and Connecticut, which for my mind is the toughest start of any Big 12 team. Their bowl hopes would be much better with two triumphs. If they start 0-2, I don't like the Bears' chances of halting the longest bowl drought in the conference.
2. The biggest hole to fill in the Big 12 won't be Brian Orakpo, Michael Crabtree, Graham Harrell or Chase Daniel. I think the toughest replacement will be Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith, the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft. Those other schools have incoming players with much more football experience than the Bears will have for their loss of Smith. The critical job of protecting Griffin's blind side will go to Canadian fireman Danny Watkins, who is set to start at left tackle with minimal American football experience. That's quite a drop, particularly considering that's he's sheltering Baylor's "franchise" on every snap.
3. Griffin will be running for the American track team in the 2012 Olympics in London. I know this sounds like a wild stab. But after hearing Griffin talk and knowing his ability, I'm convinced he can make that can make that jump as a track competitor. If he can maintain his health, nothing is out of the question for this world-class athlete.
And the good thing for Baylor is that it still has a couple of years for him to play quarterback for the Bears.
Coming Friday: Colorado