Big 12: Robert Griffin III
The James story set off a firestorm of other sports-related Rushmores. NFL Rushmores. IndyCar Rushmores. One site even put together its Mount Rushmore of Pro Bass Fishermen.
Not to be outdone, Brandon and I have put together a Mount Rushmore of Big 12 football players.
For those who slept through social studies, the actual Mount Rushmore includes the likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. The four were chosen not only because they were famous presidents. They were chosen because they were transformational figures in American history.
Washington won the Revolutionary War. Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln freed the slaves. Roosevelt changed American diplomacy.
In keeping with the spirit of the real Mount Rushmore, our Big 12 Rushmore wasn’t just about picking the four best players. It was about picking transformational figures whose impact was far-reaching. And it's just from the Big 12 era (1996-present).
Without further ado, the Big 12 football Mount Rushmore:
Texas QB Vince Young
That all changed in 2005, thanks to one of the greatest individual seasons in college football history. Young put the Longhorns on his back, and took them all the way to Pasadena, Calif. The Longhorns destroyed everyone, including the Sooners, with Ohio State being the only regular-season opponent to play Texas within 10 points.
Young was even more spectacular in the national title game against USC. The mighty Trojans had no answer for Young, who threw for 267 yards and rushed for 200. And in the closing seconds on fourth down, he dashed past the pylon for the game-winning touchdown.
Young didn’t win the Heisman Trophy (he should have), but he became the first FBS quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 in the same season. He also finally lifted Texas over the hump, taking the Longhorns from great to elite.
Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson
Just this month, Oklahoma signed one of the best running backs in the country in California native Joe Mixon. Who is Mixon’s idol? Peterson. Who knows how many recruits the Sooners were able to sign the last decade because of Peterson. The number is substantial.
Peterson arrived in 2004 as the Sooners’ most ballyhooed recruit since Marcus Dupree. Texas wanted Peterson badly. And Peterson actually watched the 2003 Red River Rivalry from the Texas sidelines. But even though Peterson dreamed of playing for the Longhorns growing up, he wanted to win more. Peterson’s signing with Oklahoma added insult to injury to its cross-river rival.
After getting to campus, Peterson put together one of the best freshman seasons ever. He rushed for 1,925 yards, leading the Sooners to the national title game. He also finished second in the Heisman voting, even though there was still a stigma against voting for freshmen.
The next two years of Peterson’s career were marred by injuries (even though he still finished with 4,041 career rushing yards). When healthy, he was the single-most dominant force in Big 12 history.
Baylor QB Robert Griffin III
The Bears had not enjoyed a single winning season since before the inception of the league, and had lost 85 of 96 Big 12 games. The facilities were a mess and attendance was so poor, the school rolled a tarp over Floyd Casey Stadium's south end zone bleachers.
But by the time Griffin left, the program had been transformed. He brought the school its first Heisman Trophy and just its second 10-win season.
Griffin’s effect can still be felt in the Big 12. His magical season spurred Baylor to secure the funding for an on-campus, $260-million stadium that will open this fall. The Bears have also been a force ever since, both on the field and on the recruiting trail. In the last three months, Baylor captured its first Big 12 title, then nailed down a top-25 recruiting class. Until Griffin came along, that would have been unthinkable in Waco. It’s now the standard.
Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh
There have been some great defensive players to come through the Big 12. None come close to matching Suh, who was one of the most menacing defensive tackles to ever play college football.
In 2009, Suh captured the Outland, Nagurski and Bednarik national awards as the nation’s most outstanding lineman and defensive player. He also became the first defensive Heisman finalist since Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997.
Spearheaded by Suh, Nebraska also fielded perhaps the greatest defense in Big 12 history. Despite playing in an era of high-flying offenses, the Huskers gave up just 10.4 points per game, the fewest any defense has allowed in Big 12 history.
Facing off against the Big 12’s best offense in the Big 12 championship, Suh and the Huskers imposed their will, and came a controversial call away from toppling the Longhorns. Texas went on to the national championship game, and Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy still finished one spot higher in the Heisman voting than Suh. But in that game, like every other one he played in that season, Suh was the best player on the field.
It’s always fun to think back to the former stars of college football recruiting. The Big 12 had a few players who made an impact during their respective recruiting processes.
Here are five players from the Big 12 who made the top 50 of the ESPN Ultimate 300.
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The on-field impact of the former Louisville coach’s arrival in Austin remains to be seen, but he will undoubtedly change the landscape of the conference. His words during his introductory news conference should put fear into the heart of two Big 12 teams in particular.
“Let's not get caught up in the five stars; let's not get caught up in the four stars,” Strong said Monday. “Let's get caught up in the football players.”
The Longhorns’ new head coach went on to speak of American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smith, who was a quarterback when Strong recruited him to Louisville, yet recorded 14.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss as a defensive end in 2013. His words should be music to the ears of Longhorns fans, as recruiting has not been the problem in recent years at Texas. Poor evaluation and player development has been one of the biggest contributors to the program’s slide.
The biggest impact on those two teams could come on the recruiting trail. If Strong’s priority is evaluation and development, as he contends, that's a shot across the bow to Oklahoma State and Baylor, two programs that have built their success upon their ability to better evaluate and develop their recruits. Those two schools featured 162 combined players from Texas and combined for 21 victories in 2013.
Running back Kendall Hunter, cornerback Justin Gilbert and tackle Russell Okung are just of few of the overlooked Texans that Oklahoma State pounced on. They had NFL-level talent and built the Cowboys into a Big 12 title contender. We all know about Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and his journey to Baylor, but receiver Kendall Wright -- an NFL first-round pick -- and guard Cyril Richardson -- a 2013 Lombardi Finalist -- have been key contributors to the Bears’ rise. They each were overlooked by the Longhorns.
While Strong’s arrival could make it harder for Oklahoma State and Baylor to repeat their Big 12 championship runs of recent years, both schools have created enough momentum that they could still consistently compete for Big 12 titles regardless of how well Strong does in Austin.
Of all the Big 12 teams, Strong’s hire should have the least impact on Oklahoma. The Sooners are a tradition-rich program with the ability to compete for championships regardless of their surroundings. OU’s 5-5 record against UT since 2005 is second only to Kansas State (5-1 in six meetings). And the Sooners should have no problem recruiting in Texas against Strong’s Longhorns program, particularly with the stability head coach Bob Stoops brings to the program.
The rest of the Big 12 schools are less likely to be dramatically altered.
TCU and Texas Tech have combined to beat Texas once in the past five seasons, with the Horned Frogs’ 20-13 victory in 2012 as the lone triumph. Although both schools are similar to Baylor and Oklahoma State in their ability to turn hidden gems into productive players, they haven’t turned that into consistent on-field success against the Longhorns in a way the other two schools have, although TCU has only played UT twice during that five-year span. The impact on their recruiting will be similar to Oklahoma State and Baylor, but on a lower level as neither school can tout a Big 12 title as proof of their success when trying to land those hidden gems.
Kansas State, Kansas, West Virginia and Iowa State should see their biggest impact on the field, as their brushes with the Longhorns on the recruiting trail are few and far between.
Bryce Petty, in his first season as Baylor’s starting quarterback, has led Baylor to a 5-0 record and a No. 12 ranking in the AP poll. He has posted the second-highest opponent-adjusted QBR (95.1) in the nation. Since the start of the 2004 season, seven quarterbacks have finished with an opponent-adjusted QBR of at least 90 -- three went on to be No. 1 overall picks (Sam Bradford, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck) and one is last season’s Heisman Trophy winner -- Johnny Manziel.
Petty has put up numbers after four games that are comparable to Griffin’s. Petty has posted a Total QBR of at least 90 in four games this season, which already gives him more such games than Griffin had in 13 starts during his Heisman year.
Petty leads all FBS quarterbacks in pass yards per attempt (14.9), as Griffin did in 2011. They also have nearly identical numbers when it comes to completion percentage and pass yards per game.
A key to Griffin’s success in his Heisman season was his downfield passing. On passes thrown 15 yards or longer, Griffin led all AQ quarterbacks in 2011 with 23 touchdowns and had the third-highest completion percentage (minimum 20 attempts). In a smaller sample size this season, Petty is completing a higher percentage of such throws than Griffin and is averaging 28.4 yards per attempt, the highest among all AQ quarterbacks (minimum 10 attempts).
Petty has also performed better than Griffin did on third down. Petty leads the FBS in yards per attempt (17.0) while completing 70 percent of his passes on third down. Petty has converted 55 percent of his third-down pass plays (pass attempts + sacks) into a first down, the sixth-best rate among FBS quarterbacks.
Griffin completed 68 percent of his third-down passes and averaged 9.8 yards per attempt, both of which ranked in the top four of the FBS. Yet he converted on only 38 percent of his third-down pass plays, partially because he was sacked on nine third downs. Petty was sacked on third down for the first time last week against Kansas State.
Before anointing Petty the next RG III, there are two things to keep in mind:
1. Baylor’s first five games have been against FCS Wofford, Buffalo (85th-ranked pass defense), UL-Monroe (68th-ranked pass defense), West Virginia (58th-ranked pass defense) and Kansas State (62nd-ranked pass defense). Petty will have opportunities against better defenses because Baylor plays three of its last seven games against teams with a top-40 pass defense.
2. Petty is not utilized as much in the running game, averaging 44.8 fewer rush yards per game and 9.2 fewer rush attempts than Griffin did. Petty does have four rushing touchdowns, which puts him on pace to equal Griffin’s 10 touchdowns in 2011.
WACO, Texas -- Art Briles was on the sidelines of a Terrell High School game last month when a pack of eighth-graders spotted his Baylor shirt.
"Coach!" one shouted. "Baylor!"
"What you know about Baylor?" Briles playfully asked.
They all returned the same response: "RG III!"
Briles calls it "instant name recognition." Acknowledgment of a program quickly becoming one of college football's coolest. A program on the cutting edge of blistering offense, big points and brash uniforms. A program Briles rebuilt -- and RG III expedited -- into a Big 12 title contender, perhaps perennially.
"Our style of play, our mentality, our location, and then you throw in an icon like RG III in there," Briles said. "Then being somewhere people look at as a great place to get a great education, and, oh by the way, them suckers play some good ball. I think that's it. Throw in all those factors, and you have a chance to have a good football program."
Before Briles and his star quarterback arrived, Baylor was anything but a good football program. In fact, it was a program in shambles.
Baylor was respectable during the 21-year era of Grant Teaff in the Southwest Conference. But after Teaff retired in 1992, Baylor fell into rapid decline. After Baylor moved to the Big 12 in 1996, the Bears endured a dozen consecutive losing seasons and four coaching changes, with a miserable conference record of 11-85.
During that time, Baylor had the seventh-longest active bowl drought in the country and hadn't been bowling since the 1994 Alamo Bowl. The Bears hadn't been ranked in the AP poll since 1993. They hadn't won in Austin since 1991, and had never defeated Oklahoma.
To read the rest of the story from Jake Trotter, click here.
What’s the most critical position in the Big 12? It depends on who you talk to. In a conference that rides its offensive reputation, some coaches are hoping to land players that will help them score points, while others are looking for the prospects to prevent points.
As official visits become finalized and uncommitted players get closer to announcing their commitments, here is a look at some of the most critical positions in recruiting for the Big 12 teams.
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Want a few examples, even from just the past few seasons? I'm glad you asked.
Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech, 2007: A position switch and transcript issues meant a redshirt season in 2006, but Crabtree had one of the greatest debut seasons in Big 12 history. He caught three touchdowns in his first game ever, and finished the season with 1,962 yards and 22 touchdowns on 134 catches. No Big 12 receiver has had more yards since, and he took home the Biletnikoff Award after leading the nation in receiving yards by 356 yards. His closest competition caught just 16 touchdowns, too.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor, 2008: Griffin committed to Houston first, but followed Art Briles to Baylor and electrified the crowd with early runs in a loss to Wake Forest. He eventually broke the FBS record for passes without an interception, and didn't throw his first until the ninth game of the season. It was clear he was the future of the program, and he finished the season with almost 3,000 yards of offense, accounting for 28 touchdowns.
Daniel Thomas, RB, Kansas State, 2009: Thomas joined the long line of junior college stars under Bill Snyder at Kansas State. Thomas arrived in Manhattan as an unknown and led the Big 12 with 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns, showcasing great vision and toughness on the way to an eventual NFL draft selection. He led the Big 12 in rushing again in 2010, too.
Devonte Fields, DE, TCU, 2012: Fields was the Frogs' top recruit in 2012 as the nation's No. 73 overall player and the No. 11 defensive end. By the first week of October, he had 9.5 tackles for loss and cruised to earning the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska, 2010: He's one of the many Blackshirts' greats over the years, and made adjusting to life in the Big 12 from junior college look easy. He led the league with an eye-popping 152 tackles, and anybody who watched the Huskers every week might have sworn it was more. He was everywhere. He added 12.5 tackles for loss and six sacks, as well as eight pass breakups.
Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor, 2012: Seastrunk didn't get much time on the field for the first two months of the season, but once November arrived, he broke out in a huge way. The Oregon transfer was stuck behind Glasco Martin and Jarred Salubi on the depth chart, but earned the nod as the featured back heading into November, and rushed for 831 yards in Baylor's final six games, including an upset of No. 1 Kansas State in the Bears' 5-1 run to close the season.
Bruce Irvin, DE, West Virginia, 2010: Irvin's road was incredible, using junior college to turn his life around and earn his way to WVU after dropping out of high school. In his first season as a Mountaineer, he finished second nationally with 14 sacks, and forced a pair of fumbles.
Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma, 2008: Lewis redshirted his first season in Norman, but led the Big 12 with 144 tackles as a redshirt freshman, making 12 tackles for loss and intercepting four passes. It was the start of an incredible career. He led the Sooners in tackles for each of the next four seasons.
With the help of ESPN 300 prospects announcing their verbal commitments, two Big 12 schools saw a slight rise in the latest ESPN class rankings. Because of one Big 12 school’s rise, another Big 12 school took a slight fall in the rankings. Here’s a closer look at the rankings as it pertains to the conference.
Trending up: Oklahoma State saw the biggest rise of the conference -- and of the nation -- by jumping from No. 33 to No. 28. Only Oklahoma State and Florida saw ranking spikes of that caliber during the week. The Cowboys’ success stemmed from landing ESPN 300 CB Chris Hardeman (Houston/Alief Taylor) and three-star WR and high school teammate Keenen Brown. Both committed on Aug. 11. Hardeman, a former LSU commit, is a top-25 cornerback nationally, and Brown, at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, can be used as a reliable outside threat in Mike Gundy’s potent offense.
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So who will accomplish the most in the next three years? Here's how I rank the Big 12.
1. Texas: Mack Brown has a lot to prove this year and in the ones that follow, but the Longhorns are deep all over the field and have recruited well. The Big 12 is more competitive than ever, but the Longhorns look like they've moved on from the past three years of struggle. Even if the Longhorns make a change at coach, the new guy would inherit a stacked roster.
2. Oklahoma: There's lots of talk about sliding recruiting rankings and staleness in the Sooner program, but they've still got tradition, talent and a man with a strong case as the Big 12's best coach. Even though the Sooners have won "just" 10 games the past two seasons, there's no reason to believe the Sooners will fall out of the conference's top two over the next three years. OU's 32 wins in those three years lead the Big 12.
3. Oklahoma State: OSU has won 31 games over the past three years and is finally seeing some recruiting payoff for that stretch. But what's keeping them at No. 3? When Oklahoma and Texas reload with strong rosters like OSU did last season, they win more than eight games. OSU proved it can get over the hump, but its valleys have been lower than Oklahoma's and Texas' over the past decade.
4. TCU: The Frogs may have to wait more than three years to see the Big 12 membership dividends really pay off on the recruiting trail. How the 2013 season goes could have a big impact there, but the Frogs already have a lot of talent on the depth chart. Recruiting depth is their main challenge now.
5. Baylor: The Bears are building -- on and off the field. They've seen recruiting take off after Robert Griffin III's Heisman Trophy campaign, and a new riverside stadium should provide another boost. This is the most talented team at Baylor in Big 12 history, and as long as it holds on to coach Art Briles, it'll be in good shape. He's recruited the quarterback position well, and you're going to be just fine in the Big 12 as long as you do that.
6. Kansas State: The middle of the Big 12 is crowded, so no need to take offense here. Bill Snyder worked his magic with Collin Klein over the past two seasons, but doing it over and over again isn't easy. K-State doesn't have quite as much talent in the wings as it did over the past two seasons, especially on defense, but juco newcomers Nate Jackson and Jake Waters could make the next few seasons interesting.
7. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are a wild card who could skyrocket into the top 3-4 under Kliff Kingsbury. For now, it's hard to make an argument for them over more accomplished programs. Recruiting to Lubbock is never easy, but Tommy Tuberville established a little momentum with some of the best classes in school history.
8. West Virginia: It feels a little odd to have WVU this low. But the Mountaineers flopped in 2012, despite having one of the best offenses in school history, and they haven't caught on to recruiting in Texas. Continuing to recruit in Florida might get a little tougher in the Big 12 instead of the Big East, but WVU has to keep its defensive depth. I need more convincing that the Big 12 transition will turn around.
9. Iowa State: The Cyclones begin their rebuilding project this year with a young defense and an offense lacking any reliable players in the passing game. Strong running back depth and talent is ISU's biggest strength, but you have to be able to score lots of points (and preferably fast, with apologies to Kansas State) to win consistently in the Big 12.
10. Kansas: KU is employing a risky reboot strategy with a mix-and-match group of junior college transfers. Chris Martin's exit from the program has the project off to a rough start. He might have been KU's best defender next season. The Jayhawks have a long way to go to catch even Iowa State, which has played in three bowl games in the past four years.
"Like Mike Davis said, he has a swagger about him now," the running back said of the quarterback.Only now it might be time to believe in the rising junior. Not because of some huge personality shift in Ash, but because this time –-- the junior season following a multiyear starter's sophomore season -- is typically when said actions start to speak louder than words.
Looking back at eight Big 12 multiyear starting quarterbacks -- Texas’ Colt McCoy, Texas’ Vince Young, Missouri’s Chase Daniel, Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell, Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Kansas’ Todd Reesing -- all but one had a dramatic leap in every statistical category from their sophomore to junior years. (Jones was the exception. In the six categories measured, he only increased his stats in one category, average yards per game.)
So the odds are Ash, who started 12 games in 2012, should follow suit. Maybe not to the extreme of Young, who topped the other seven aforementioned quarterbacks when it came to overall production increase. But there should at least be a measure of improvement to Ash’s stats. How much is up for debate for the next several months.
But if he follows the statistical average presented by those eight quarterbacks who have gone before him, Ash could see his passing efficiency rating rise by 17.10 points, completion percentage by 5 percent, touchdowns by 5.8, interceptions shrink by a nominal 0.25, overall yards move up 581.8 and yards per game to increase by 45.6.
Of course, there are mitigating factors that could shape whether or not Ash has a rise or fall in his stats in 2013.One of which is that Ash already experienced a dramatic rise in his stats from 2011 to 2012. In his sophomore season, Ash finished in the top 25 in passer efficiency rating and increased that rating 45.9 points. He had 15 more touchdown passes as a sophomore, threw for 1,620 yards and completed 10.4 percent more of his passes. (He also had 144 more attempts as a sophomore than as a freshman.) The point being that quite possibly a ceiling, if not already hit, is at least within arm’s length.
A counterargument could be that a shift in offensive philosophy, from traditional sets to spread, should serve to bolster his stats. In addition, the Big 12’s defenses -- at least that of top teams Oklahoma and Kansas State -- have experienced huge losses on their side of the ball. Add that fact to the unavoidable truth that the Big 12 is not exactly chock full of top defenses -- only TCU and Texas Tech finished in the top 40 in total defense in 2012 -- and it sets up for Ash to have at least a nominal rise in his statistical production in his junior season.
If all that is not enough to make a decision, there are still the words of Ash’s teammates to go by as well:
"Now that he has it down, he’s a lot more comfortable," Brown said. "He’s loosened up with us and he talks more now because he knows what he’s doing."
Given that this is Ash’s junior year and that history is on his side, it might just be time to believe those words.
See more on my criteria here.
Let's move on with the list:
No. 7: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor (2008-11)
Why he's on the list: Griffin made his grand debut in Art Briles' first game as Baylor coach, stepping in to relieve Kirby Freeman and immediately looked special. His numbers weren't eye-popping, but he gave Baylor one big thing: Hope. He gave them a lot more than hope over the next four years, surging back from a knee injury in 2009 to take the Bears to their first bowl game since 1994 in 2010. He tossed 22 touchdowns and just eight picks while running for 635 yards and eight more scores. But his greatest work came in 2011. He put Baylor on the map with big-time upset wins over TCU and Oklahoma at home, keying off a pair of field stormings. The latter upset thrust him back into the Heisman Trophy race, and he won it on the way to a 10-win season and a win in the Alamo Bowl. No player in Big 12 history has changed a program the way Griffin changed Baylor, and that makes him an easy selection for the top 10. His quick wit and thoughtful words with a microphone in his face made him one of the league's most memorable personalities. His Heisman speech will go down as one of the best ever.
His speed made him dangerous, but there was never any doubt that he was a throw-first quarterback. He grew into that role even more after his knee injury. Even with those skill sets, his gigantic third-down reception on a trick play against TCU, that's one of the plays I'll remember him most for. He was drafted No. 2 overall in the 2012 NFL draft and threw one of the prettiest deep balls in college football history.
The rest of the list:
2012 Big 12 record: 4-5
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 1
Top returners: OL Cyril Richardson, RB Lache Seastrunk, S Ahmad Dixon, WR Tevin Reese, LB Eddie Lackey, DE Chris McAllister, LB Bryce Hager, K Aaron Jones
Key losses: WR Terrance Williams, QB Nick Florence, WR Lanear Sampson, S Mike Hicks, C Ivory Wade, DT Gary Mason Jr.
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Passing: Nick Florence (4,309 yards)
Rushing: Lache Seastrunk* (1,012 yards)
Receiving: Terrance Williams (1,832 yards)
Tackles: Bryce Hager* (124)
Sacks: Chris McAllister* (6)
Interceptions: Eddie Lackey* (4)
1. Bryce is the guy. It was going to take a lot for Bryce Petty to lose his starting spot, but he looked like a guy who suited up for his fourth spring this year and cemented his status as the heir apparent to a crazy-good quarterback tradition under Art Briles. He'll follow Robert Griffin III and Florence, who both set school records for passing yards.
2. Defense changes its identity. The Bears didn't have a ton of speed in the secondary last season, and as a result, relied heavily on zone and didn't play a lot of tight coverage. To start fixing the problem, Dixon moved back to traditional safety, and as the defense's most physically skilled talent, that was a wise decision. Baylor wants to play more man and play tighter this year, and we'll see if it pays off in the fall.
3. Offense finds its playmakers. Williams is gone and so is Sampson, two of the team's top three receivers. Reese returns, but Antwan Goodley and Jay Lee emerged to win starting spots this spring, and both look like big-time targets for one of college football's best offenses. Count on those guys and Clay Fuller to keep the tradition going.
1. Can the defense prove itself? The Bears were definitely one of the best defenses in the Big 12 over the last month of the season. The same unit, however, was also a big reason why Baylor limped to an 0-5 start in conference 12 play before ripping off four wins to end the season. The defensive line should be improved and young talents like Javonte Magee and Shawn Oakman could make names for themselves this fall.
2. Is the offensive line deep enough? Baylor's history under Briles at this position makes me pretty confident, and the Bears have a solid starting five. But losing Troy Baker this spring is a big knock, and the Bears only had 10 healthy offensive linemen this spring. Come fall, more injuries could force the Bears to force inexperienced players into the rotation. This was probably the biggest concern for Briles all spring.
3. Just how good is Petty? He looks good for now, and was productive and impressive during the spring. That's also the spring. RG3 and Florence broke school records for passing yards in consecutive seasons, though, so the bar is sky-high. There's every reason to believe in Petty, but expectations are high and reaching them won't be easy. The good news is he has a huge talent in Seastrunk and a solid receiving corps around him to support his efforts.
Dave in Baton Rouge, La., writes: David, I am normally a big fan, but I took issue with your "black tax" lunch link. The article says that it happened to RG3, but it didn't. A dumb pundit anonymously said something bad about Robert [Griffin III]. Within a day, tons of outlets with white and black hosts were saying how kind and gracious RG3 is/was to them. On the other hand, Geno [Smith] is getting some wayward looks, not because he is black, but because he lost six games in a row [actually five]. Blame the defense all you want, but losing is losing. And Geno, last year, was a loser. NFL teams can see that. Don't try to create a problem where there isn't one, man. It's not about race, it's about talent.
David Ubben: Totally disagree with you on this one, Dave. Fact is, there are still folks around and in scouting who are uncomfortable with black quarterbacks and grade them on a different scale than their white counterparts. It's a minority, but they're out there.
Last year, the book on RG III was that he was somehow a "me-first" kind of player because of his flamboyant, animated personality on the field and in front of the microphone. Any Baylor coach or teammate could have told you that perception could not be further from the truth. That kind of criticism definitely had a racial tinge to it.
This year, the scouting report that article referenced on Smith doesn't talk at all about the losing streak, which, by the way, only featured what I'd call one poor performance from the West Virginia quarterback. What it does talk about is his "marginal work ethic" and need to be coddled, with an inability to handle hard coaching.
You can choose not to see it if you'd like, but there are definitely some racial undertones in there, and you have to factor in the writer's history with Cam Newton, as well.
Anybody who has talked to West Virginia's coaching staff or Smith himself and heard about what he's like around the facilities would know Smith works as hard or harder than anybody on the team and his work ethic stacks up with any of the greats we've seen come through the Big 12. Dana Holgorsen even went on national radio Thursday to talk about that. You're welcome to say it's not a racial issue, but I would call that being ignorant.
I'm not saying he's racist, but I'm saying there are some lazy comparisons and some people operating with preconceived notions that are sometimes rooted in racial stereotypes in scouting, and those kinds of evaluations are too easily listened to and passed on without enough skepticism or double-checking some of those assertions.
Smith threw for 42 touchdowns and six interceptions and basically played one really poor game, then didn't handle a snowstorm well in the bowl game. And you want to blame him for going 7-6? That's silliness.
John in Olathe, Kan., writes: When the Sugar Bowl is the host of one of the national semifinal games, where will the new Big 12/SEC bowl game be played? Cotton?
DU: Really good question, John. I went ahead and consulted the Big 12 on this one, and you're mostly correct.
In the seasons that the Sugar Bowl is a semifinal game played around New Year's Eve, the Big 12 and SEC representatives for the Champions Bowl will simply move to one of the other six rotating access-bowl sites. The other five access bowls are:
- Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Atlanta)
- Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, Ariz.)
- Cotton Bowl (Arlington, Texas)
- Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.)
- Orange Bowl (Miami)
Any of the games could host the Champions Bowl participants from the Big 12 and the SEC. So, crisis averted.
Josh Parker in Manhattan, Kan., writes: Ubbs, someone has to win the Big 12 this year right? Seems like everyone is down on every team. (Not that it matters, but same for basketball.) What gives? You know what kind of coaches we have in this confrence, will they not make these programs better throughout the summer?
DU: Well, they've given us reason to be down on them, really. Oklahoma was the preseason No. 1 in 2011 and Texas A&M and Oklahoma State gave the Big 12 three top-10 teams to begin the season. Those were some teams with elite talent on paper to begin the season. Justin Blackmon? Ryan Broyles? This year, the league is largely devoid of a true star, much less an elite team. Might someone surprise us and run the table? That's possible, but nobody looks capable of doing it right now. The Big 12 will likely open the season without a top-10 team for the first time in league history.
That's a pretty good reason to be down on the league, I'd say.
Michael in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., writes: Do you see any way that UConn gets an invite from the Big 12? Four of the major conferences signing the "media rights" deal to detour any conference jumps. The conference only has 10 teams and UConn gives the Big 12 a NY market. I'm just looking for the possibilities that the Huskies don't get left at the kiddie table.
DU: I really hate this idea. It'd be huge for Connecticut (which would have an even larger task in trying to compete in every way in terms of football), but it makes zero sense for the Big 12. Bringing in UConn would be a prime example of expansion for expansion's sake. There's no football history or respect of the kind that WVU and TCU brought into the league, and the idea of UConn delivering the New York media market is laughable. Basketball would obviously be a nice addition, but as we've seen over and over again, basketball's revenues make it an afterthought in matters of realignment.
The ACC's recent grant of rights took the most likely (which is to say, still very unlikely) Big 12 expansion targets basically off the board, and you can pretty much count out any chance of the league expanding in the current environment. There's just not a viable option to make it happen.
Look a bit further, though, and there's a bunch of red dirt with the beginnings of a promising future sprouting from that dirt. Briles will have a front-row seat for the construction of what's now known as Baylor Stadium, the Bears' new 45,000-seat, $250 million home on the banks of the Brazos River.
"It’s a blessing, definitely. And it’s a reality," Briles told ESPN.com in a recent interview.
Fans can see the construction live, too, with the Bears' new construction cam.
The stadium is expected to open in 2014, and the beginning stages of construction already catch the eyes of the 42 million people who annually will pass by the stadium that will tower over the east side of I-35 in Waco.
"It’s a reality that Baylor didn’t need to have, it had to have, for first of all, national perception, regional perception and for recruiting purposes, not only for our athletics, but for our academics, because it certainly changed 42 million people’s view of Baylor University every time they drive down I-35," Briles said. "They look over there and they say, 'Baylor’s doing it right, all the way across the board.'"
The picturesque venue will feature a bridge across the river to the rest of campus, and based on renderings of the stadium, it will be one of the most scenic in all of college football. Like TCU's new rebuild of Amon G. Carter stadium, Baylor Stadium will include six Founder's suites, but also have 39 more suites, 74 boxes and 1,200 outdoor club seats.
"(People) know it’s a great academic university," Briles said. "I think it just upped peoples image of the university as a whole in their minds, no question."
Most importantly, the new stadium will eliminate the Bears' status as the Big 12's only team without an on-campus stadium. The 2013 season will be Baylor's last at Floyd Casey Stadium, located across I-35 and a few miles southwest of campus. Baylor employed Populous, the same company that helped design Busch Stadium (St. Louis Cardinals), Reliant Stadium (Houston Texans) and the new Yankee Stadium in New York.
Baylor had not been to a bowl since 1994, two year's before the Big 12's creation, and in his first two seasons, Briles equaled Baylor's second-highest win total (4) since 1996. By his third season, the Bears were back in a bowl game. Heading into 2013, the Bears have reached three consecutive bowls for the first time in school history, winning the past two. Briles' efforts were aided by Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III -- Baylor's first -- whose 2011 run to the trophy propelled the Bears onto the national stage, a place quite unfamiliar to the program before the arrival of Briles and Griffin.
More than a few folks would love to see Griffin's and/or Briles' name adorning the stadium or the field. Briles could only laugh at the prospect of the latter.
"I’m not one of those people. Now Robert’s name, I’d love to have," Briles said. "Our story hasn’t been written yet. All we’re concerned with is day-to-day operations of trying to be the best we can be every day."
Nick Florence's redemption from a rough start in 2012 to knocking off No. 1 Kansas State followed Robert Griffin III's two nights in 2011 that left a mark on college football: Firing deep balls to knock off TCU and Oklahoma on the way to Baylor's first Heisman trophy.
Before that, he and an NFL-bound Kevin Kolb led Houston from an 0-11 squad to a Conference USA championship. Kolb was the conference's Offensive Player of the Year that season. In 2007, he kickstarted Case Keenum's career with an eight-win season. Keenum developed into the FBS all-time leader in touchdown passes while Briles got to work building Baylor's program.
"His skill set is off the charts," Briles said.
"He’s Tim Tebow," running back Lache Seastrunk added, "He's like 6-foot-5, 245 pounds!"
Well, more like 6-3 and 231 according to Briles, but you might get a similar scouting report from opposing linebackers soon if Petty gets his way, but more on that later. The skill set Briles refers to is an NFL-quality arm and 4.6 speed with four years of experience in an offensive system that has seen Baylor ranked No. 2 nationally in total offense each of the past two seasons, and No. 13 back in 2010.
"Physically, he has a chance to be a very dominant quarterback, but it’s a very mental game, so what you have to do is match it all together, your physicalness and your intellectualness and creativeness and instinctiveness," Briles said. "It all has to come together."
For now, Briles draws a blank when he thinks back on Petty's greatest moments at Baylor. That might change very soon.
"That moment hasn’t come," Briles said. "That chapter hasn’t been written, and that’s good. It hasn’t been his time. It’s his time to prove it’s his time."
Petty's road to Baylor came after a commitment to Tennessee followed by a coaching change by the Vols from Phil Fulmer to the in-and-out tenure of Lane Kiffin, whose arrival spelled trouble for Petty's future in Knoxville. Before long, Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery, who had recruited Petty throughout, came calling with a Baylor logo on his shirt.
"It was so cool, because (Briles) reminded me so much of coach Fulmer in that he’s a player’s coach. He wants to be here with you," Petty said. "Succeed on the field and as a man. That’s huge for me."
Once Petty was at Baylor, he watched Griffin win a Heisman. Then last season Petty watched as another experienced backup like himself, Florence, broke Griffin's school record for passing yards and kept Baylor near the top of the national rankings for offense.
The waiting wasn't easy. It wasn't fun.
"As a competitor, it’s hard to sit and watch. You know you can do it. Griff, he won the Heisman. It’s faith. It’s knowing that God has a plan. That plan is coming through right now," Petty said. "You have to be able to seize your opportunity."
That opportunity brings with it mammoth expectations, too.
"No dropoff from Robert. No dropoff from Nick. We have to stay strong at that position," Briles said of his quarterbacks.
Briles says there was no learning curve -- as expected -- for a passer starting his fourth spring in Waco, even though it was his first spring working almost exclusively with the first team. He's not a new face to anyone on the team, and that has paid off as Petty has tried to cement his status as a leader.
" Getting guys to fight for you, at the end of the day, is what it takes to win. You can be as athletically gifted as Griff, but you’ve got to have guys fight for you. That’s something that I want from my guys," Petty said.
How has he approached that goal?
"Being the first one in and last one out. Always watching film and being on your guard. That just comes with an every-day kind of process," he said. "This whole starting thing and this whole season is not a one-day thing. It’s a process. It’s an every-day thing. I’d like to think of myself as a hard worker. It’s no struggle for me to get up out of bed and work."
We can't know until the fall whether or not Petty will be the next great quarterback under Briles or a forgettable chapter of Bears history. The last season in Floyd Casey Stadium will be Petty's first as the Bears' starter, though that status isn't official yet.
It's not hard to see it being a memorable season in Waco.