Dallas Colleges: Nick Florence

Meet the playcaller behind Baylor's rise

October, 9, 2013
Bryce PettyJerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsPhilip Montgomery's Baylor offense has been something to behold, as quarterback Bryce Petty and company are averaging a mind-boggling 70.5 points and 779.5 yards per game.
Philip Montgomery doesn’t do many interviews.

It’s not a matter of the Baylor offensive coordinator trying to avoid them; he just leaves that responsibility to Art Briles. Makes things easy for him, he says, and they don’t matter much.

“I think that’s definitely his style,” former Baylor quarterback Nick Florence said. “He likes being in the background, doing his part and running the machine.”

Philip Montgomery
Philip Montgomery
He doesn’t seek the fame, Florence said, because Montgomery gets enough satisfaction out of calling games and coaching players. He’s simple like that.

While fame has quickly found Dana Holgorsen, Gus Malzahn, Chad Morris and so many other of college football’s spread offense gurus, Montgomery remains a bit of a mystery man nationally. Maybe that’s what he prefers.

“I don’t know how he hasn’t gotten attention nationally,” Florence said. “But at the same time, I know he doesn’t like it. He’s definitely deserving.”

Perhaps he’s just busy plotting what comes next for perhaps the best offense in college football. For all the reverence Briles receives, Montgomery is the one calling the plays, the guy who decides when it’s time for Lache Seastrunk to carve up a defense and when the time is right for Bryce Petty to go deep to Antwan Goodley or Tevin Reese.

He will take little credit and won’t accept much praise for this offense. Most offensive coordinators -- at any level of football -- can only dream of achieving what Baylor did last week against West Virginia: 73 points and a Big 12-record 872 yards.

Here’s how Montgomery summed it up: Line played well. Skill guys played well. Petty played well. Running backs played well. Went in with a good plan. Good things happened.

“Those guys on the field, they make plays,” Montgomery said.

He’s staying humble, and there’s no doubt the greatest influence on how Montgomery perceives offensive football has been Briles. This is the 15th season they’ve spent coaching together, starting in 1996 when Montgomery joined Briles' coaching staff at Stephenville (Texas) High School.

“I think a lot of that starts with Coach,” Montgomery said. “Even when we were back in Stephenville, we were kind of progressive offensively and started spreading it out before a lot of people did. All of that has really got to lay at his feet.”

But don’t underestimate the third member of this coaching trio. Randy Clements has been coaching with Montgomery for 17 seasons and first began working with Briles at Stephenville in 1990. He’s tasked with overseeing the Baylor run game and offensive line.

Perhaps Montgomery doesn’t take the credit simply because this has always been a team effort, with all three serving as the idea men behind the evolution of their scheme.

“It’s a special bond that we have,” Montgomery said. “When you’ve worked with those guys for as long as we’ve worked together, you kind of have a good feel of what you’re doing in that room when it comes to preparation and starting a game plan. There’s not much that can replace that type of camaraderie and the unit that’s formed there.”

Montgomery coached Baylor receivers coach Kendal Briles, Art’s son, at Stephenville and at the University of Houston. Running backs coach Jeff Lebby is married to Art’s daughter and has been on the staff since 2008.

“When you start putting all those factors together, it’s a tight unit that is pretty special in college football,” Montgomery said.

When Briles landed the head job at Houston in 2003, Montgomery and Clements were two of his first hires. They turned the Cougars offense into one of the nation’s 10 best in passing yards, total yards and explosive plays during their tenure.

And they’ve done it again at Baylor, once again ranking among the top 10 in those same categories since 2008 while averaging a run-pass balance of 55-45.

Having elite quarterbacks has certainly helped. Three of Montgomery’s pupils -- Robert Griffin III, Case Keenum and Kevin Kolb -- are in the NFL. Florence followed Griffin and was the Big 12’s leading passer in 2012. Of course, he’ll take no credit.

“The good Lord has blessed us with good guys,” Montgomery said. “We’ve done a decent job of helping them and making sure we’re giving them a chance to make plays and grow within what we do offensively.

Florence believes it’s Montgomery’s coaching style that has helped beget so much success. He’s a player’s coach, a hands-on mentor who doesn’t chew out his quarterbacks. It’s about being straightforward, honest and open. Plus, he’s pretty good at calling plays.

“I think he’s got good schemes, and him and Coach Briles together is dynamite,” Florence said. “Coach Montgomery is an outstanding playcaller. He’s always looking out for the QB and takes shots when it’s good to take shots. He has great balance with playcalling, and you can see that on the field. It’s not a science -- he has a great feel for the game.”

[+] EnlargeTevin Reese
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsTevin Reese set a Baylor record with 21 career touchdowns of 40-plus yards.
Good luck engaging Montgomery in a discussion on what makes this offense so successful, or why the Baylor spread is unlike most offensive attacks in college football. He’s not sharing the recipe.

“Well, there’s some things you talk about, and then there’s some things you don’t,” he said with a chuckle.

He’s proud of how far his offense has come and the product the Bears are putting on the field today. Montgomery was the lead recruiter for Petty and Goodley, the two breakout stars of this year’s Baylor offense. He knew how good they could eventually become, but this is just the start.

Baylor running back Glasco Martin said Saturday this is the best and most dangerous BU offense he’s been a part of in four seasons. Montgomery isn’t ready to go that far.

“As far as the best one, you know, it’s still real early in this season,” Montgomery said. “So as the paint keeps getting painted, we’ll see what it comes out to.

“The offense we had in 2011 with Robert was pretty dang special. Last year with Nick, it was pretty dang special. There are some standards that have been set that those guys are striving to make sure we try to exceed those every year.”

If they pull that off, the nation just might start figuring out who Montgomery is -- whether he likes it or not.

Big 12 power rankings superlatives

May, 9, 2013
Last week, I unveiled my post-spring Big 12 power rankings, but let's take a closer look at a few superlatives for Big 12 teams this fall.

Most complete roster: Oklahoma State

Texas has a good case here, but I buy Oklahoma State big time. The Cowboys have three quarterbacks on the roster who could win a Big 12 title, solid running backs and a really good group of receivers. That group includes Josh Stewart and Blake Jackson, and OSU has recruited the position well. OSU has been solid on the offensive line for a long time, and I don't expect that to change under Joe Wickline. The safeties are some of the best in the Big 12, and the cornerbacks should bounce back. Justin Gilbert is gifted, and the linebackers are some of the Big 12's best. The only weakness is along the defensive line. I could see that catching up to the Cowboys, but there is a reason the Big 12 won't have a top 10 team to begin the season.

Biggest upside: Texas.

Texas still has a lot to prove and needs some big-time wins this season, but is the Big 12's only team with the upside necessary to make a run for the national title. The defense fell apart last year, but has the personnel to be the Big 12's best again this season. The running game will continue to be solid, but the Longhorns will go as far as quarterback David Ash takes them. If he is consistent and doesn't have a game like he did against Kansas, Oklahoma or TCU, the Longhorns might finish the season in the top five.

Most likely to disappoint: TCU

The Frogs return tons of talent and showed a lot of promise last season, but this is still a seven-win team from 2012 and a team that has yet to prove it can win big in a major conference. Its biggest question is at quarterback, too. If Casey Pachall isn't close to his old self, the Frogs won't get very close to a Big 12 title. A possibly elite defense will keep TCU in most games, and an eight-win season is definitely in play for the Frogs.

Most likely to finish higher than I picked: Texas Tech

My gut tells me Tech should be better than the Big 12's No. 7 team, but I couldn't justify putting them above teams like Baylor and Kansas State. This definitely is not a top-four team in the Big 12 to start the season, but there is no reason Tech can't move into the top half of the league by the end of the season. The Red Raiders are good enough, and might even be in the Big 12 title hunt late in the season. They are experienced and talented. Can the coaching staff take them there?

Most likely to change your mind about them: Baylor

For all of Baylor's recent successes, its past failures still prevent it from getting major respect from Big 12 fans. Might that change this season? The defense has struggled for much of the past three years, but I buy this defense, which finally turned a corner late last season. Robert Griffin III is long gone, but Baylor is continuing to prove it is more than just a one-player program. Quarterback Bryce Petty will be better than last season's starter Nick Florence, and running back Lache Seastrunk might be in the Heisman hunt. A top-three finish in the Big 12 might lie ahead, and if doing that without the program's greatest player ever doesn't turn heads in the Big 12, those not paying attention are choosing not to do so.

Most likely to make me look dumb: Kansas State

Let me remind you that while "the media" picked Kansas State sixth in the Big 12 last season, I had the Wildcats finishing in a tie for second. That said, I picked Kansas State to finish eighth back in 2011, and the Wildcats won 10 games, reached the Cotton Bowl and were No. 8 in the final BCS poll of the regular season. I've got the Wildcats sixth in 2013. The Wildcats return just eight starters and will fill out the depth chart with a lot of guys you have never heard of, but it seems like coach Bill Snyder does some of his best work in situations like these.
WACO, Texas -- Art Briles can think back on all the quarterbacks he's pushed and prodded to greatness and recall countless great moments.

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.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsProjected starter Bryce Petty is the next quarterback project for Baylor coach Art Briles.
Now, it's 2013, and Briles is getting ready to groom another quarterback, his third in three seasons at Baylor. His name is Bryce Petty, and you might see him zooming around Baylor's Waco campus on a moped, hunching his NFL-quarterback frame over the handlebars.

"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.

Baylor figuring out its new identity

March, 25, 2013
Baylor coach Art Briles' track record gives any bystander reason to have faith that despite losing talented receivers like Lanear Sampson and Terrance Williams, the Bears will find others on their roster to fill the void.

If Saturday's scrimmage is any indication, Briles is getting ready to reward that faith.

Quarterback Bryce Petty, the likely heir to Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence's throne -- both set the school record for passing yards in consecutive seasons -- completed 22 of 32 passes for 326 yards and a pair of touchdowns with an interception.

He's not officially the starter, and Seth Russell completed 20 of 29 passes for 220 yards.

Still, a pair of receivers had strong days, and the safe bet is you haven't heard of either of them. Sophomore Jay Lee had seven grabs for 111 yards, highlighted by a 50-yard score from Petty.

"It kind of translates from the way he's been working out," Briles told reporters. "He's been exceptional in workouts, exceptional all winter in the weight room in strength and conditioning, and he was exceptional today. It just shows that if you do things right for a long time, pretty soon it pays off for you."

Lee didn't have a catch last season and redshirted in 2011, and Brandon Brown is still looking for his first career catch, too. The former minor league baseball player is a walk-on but caught a game-high eight balls for 116 yards.

Running back Lache Seastrunk broke loose for a 28-yard touchdown run but finished with just 24 yards on six carries.

Ultimately, you've got to be pleased with Petty's progress, and his completion percentage and production have to be encouraging moving forward.

"Every time I get out here, my confidence is growing," Petty told reporters. "Every day is something new, something to get better at, something to grow on. I'm starting from the bottom and trying to work my way up."

Penn State transfer Shawn Oakman, a 6-foot-8, 250-pound sophomore, had two sacks to lead all defenders.

The offense gave up eight sacks, which could mean one of two things: The quarterbacks don't quite feel comfortable making decisions quickly enough just yet, or the pass rush is improving. I'm betting it's a little bit of both, but there's only so much stock you can put in a spring scrimmage.

Earlier in the week, the Bears debuted some pretty sharp-looking uniforms, too. I'm loving these. Here's a look:
I love everything about those, and I'm glad to finally see the terrible bear claw mark gone from the pants, replaced by a more tasteful, subtle bear paw on the shoulder.

Gotta love what's in store for Baylor next season.

Just missed: 2012's best individual games

February, 27, 2013
We wrapped up our countdown of the Big 12's best individual games of 2012 earlier this week, but just like our top 25 players, let's take a look at a few games that just missed the list, in no particular order.

Baylor LB Bryce Hager vs. Kansas State: Hager was everywhere for Baylor's defense in the Bears' breakout game. Every snap it seemed like he was in Collin Klein's face, even though a lot of his play didn't show up in the stat sheet. He made 10 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. He's on this list for his disruption, though. He's a huge reason why K-State's offense had its worst outing of the year in this game.

Texas Tech QB Seth Doege vs. TCU: Doege was on the money against the Big 12's best defense, throwing for 318 yards and seven touchdowns on 30-of-42 passing, helping the Red Raiders knock off the Frogs, 56-53, in triple overtime. His toss to Alex Torres won the game, but he was on the money in the three overtimes, and helped Tech score 15 more points on TCU than any team this season.

Baylor QB Nick Florence vs. West Virginia: Florence is yet another strong performance in a legendary Big 12 debut from West Virginia. It was in a losing effort, but you can't just shrug at 581 passing yards and five touchdowns on 29-of-47 passing yards.

Kansas State CB Allen Chapman vs. Oklahoma State: Chapman was one of three K-State defenders to log five interceptions last season, but he nabbed three of them in a 44-30 win over Oklahoma State. Better yet, he returned one off of Wes Lunt 29 yards for a touchdown. He also had two pass breakups in the game, along with five tackles.

Baylor LB Eddie Lackey vs. Texas Tech: I love guys with a knack for big plays, and Lackey showed the potential in a huge spot for the Bears. Lackey made just five tackles, but he gave Baylor its first lead of the game on a 55-yard interception returned for a touchdown in the eventual shootout win in Cowboys Stadium. He hopped on a fumble in the red zone earlier in the game and ended Tech's comeback attempt by sealing the game with a second interception off Doege.

Iowa State LB Jake Knott vs. Baylor: This game goes on the list because of the pure guts from Knott, and performance in a tough spot. It doesn't hurt that the win over the Bears all but clinched a bowl berth for the Cyclones. Knott knew it would be the last game of his career, and he badly needed shoulder surgery, but he convinced trainers to let him suit up one last time. He made 11 stops and forced a fumble while Iowa State's defense stymied Baylor's offense, holding the Bears to just 21 points. When I think back on Knott's career, this game might be the one I remember most.

Offseason to-do list: Baylor Bears

February, 13, 2013
Each season, there's lots of turnover and change for every college program. What do the Big 12 teams need to do before next fall? Let's close the series with the Bears down in Waco.

1. Shore up the defense. Baylor saw some major growth late in the season, beginning with an eye-popping dominant performance against Kansas State. Phil Bennett's defense brings back a lot of talent from last year's team in linebackers Eddie Lackey and Bryce Hager, as well as talented safety Ahmad Dixon and defensive lineman Chris McAllister. The pieces are in place for some growth that would help Baylor make a lot more noise than it did in last year's eight-win season. You know about the offense, but developing and improving the defense over the offseason will be huge for this team's hopes in 2013.

2. Figure out what it has at quarterback. I think there's tons of promise ahead of Bryce Petty, but you never quite know for sure. You can't quite count out Seth Russell, who hailed from the same town as Nick Florence, but I'd be very surprised if Petty isn't clearly the guy once spring hits full speed. The bar is really high, though, after the last two seasons have seen Baylor's school record for passing yards fall. What can Petty do? What in this offense suits him best? How much do Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin need to carry the load while the junior gets used to handling this high-powered offense? Baylor needs to get a feel for that during the spring.

3. Find some help for Tevin Reese. Baylor's never had a shortage of weapons in this offense, but it needs to find some guys to fill in. The receivers aren't quite ready-made to step into a prime role like Terrance Williams was from 2011 to 2012. Reese is speedy, but he needs more help from the receivers underneath and in the intermediate routes in this offense. Baylor needs to find weapons, but incoming freshman Robbie Rhodes may make an impact come fall, too.

More offseason to-do lists:

Nick Florence says he's done with football

February, 7, 2013
Baylor quarterback Nick Florence stepped in for Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and led the Big 12 in passing yards and finished second nationally in total offense while leading the Bears to an eight-win season as a senior.

After all that, though, he's not going to pursue a future in the NFL. His career is over, he told the Waco Tribune-Herald.

"I’ve decided to hang up my cleats and finish my master’s in December," Florence told the paper. "My wife and I have spent the last 1 1/2 months talking about it, and it all came down to what we wanted in life, and it didn’t include playing football."

Florence, a native of Garland, Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, threw for 4,309 yards, 33 touchdowns and ran for 568 yards with 10 scores for the Bears this past season, breaking Griffin's school record for passing yards.

He says he wants to do something in sports and business after finishing up his degree with a pair of 13-hour semesters through December.

"Oh yeah, I’m going to miss it," Florence said. "I’ve been doing it my whole life. I don’t know whether I would have been drafted, but I have no doubt that I could have made a team. But I’ll look back and have a lot of great memories."

Postseason position rankings: Quarterback

January, 29, 2013
Every year, we rank the top 10 players at positions across the Big 12 before the season and after. We'll kick off our list with the glamour position in the Big 12: Quarterback.

A quick note on the rankings: Only one player per team was allowed. I picked the best QB on the teams that shuffled throughout the season, and didn't include players who left the team or were ineligible to end the season.

1. Collin Klein, Kansas State: Klein is not your traditional quarterback and not the kind of guy the Big 12 has made its offensive reputation behind. What he is, though? A leader who showcases his toughness and a good enough passer to make K-State one of the nation's most efficient offenses and forces defenses to respect him on deep and intermediate throws. He completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,646 yards and rushed for 925 yards, accounting for 39 touchdowns.

2. Geno Smith, West Virginia: One would think if you win the Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year honor, throw 42 touchdowns to just six picks and rack up almost 4,200 yards passing, you'd win it easily in the postseason. Not the case. Smith was fantastic this year and might be the first quarterback taken in the NFL draft. Smith is clearly the Big 12's best "passer," but he's not quite the Big 12's best quarterback.

3. Landry Jones, Oklahoma: Jones' experience is unmatched in this league, but he never quite got over the top as the Big 12's best quarterback. He was always solid, even if he might be vulnerable to a big mistake. He threw an interception in each of his final seven games at OU, but he also racked up 30 touchdowns and 4,272 yards. He threw for at least 3,000 yards in each of the past four seasons and leaves as the No. 3 all-time passer in FBS history.

4. Nick Florence, Baylor: Florence led the Big 12 in total offense by almost 40 full yards per game. Not only did he lead the league in passing yards with 4,309, he added almost 600 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. He filled in admirably for RG III, and it's a shame he had to burn his redshirt in 2011 after Griffin suffered a head injury.

5. Seth Doege, Texas Tech: Doege was second nationally with 39 touchdown passes and had a solid senior season. There were some rough games, sure, but he was third in the Big 12 with 4,205 yards. The biggest negative for Doege that bumped him down this list? A Big 12-high 16 interceptions.

6. Clint Chelf, Oklahoma State: Only took one Oklahoma State quarterback for this list, but Chelf was the steadiest this season for the Pokes, and the only one who didn't get hurt. Chelf threw for 15 touchdowns and just six picks and averaged just under 200 passing yards a game. He also ran for 162 yards on just 31 carries.

7. David Ash, Texas: Ash had a really strong start and looked like one of the Big 12's best quarterbacks early in the season. He flirted with the FBS lead in passer rating before coming to Earth a bit late in the year and getting benched against KU and suffering a rib injury late in the year. He still threw for almost 2,700 yards, 19 touchdowns and eight picks.

8. Trevone Boykin, TCU: Boykin had to fill in for the Frogs' Casey Pachall, but had his biggest successes in two situations: Broken plays that required him to scramble and deep balls. The rest of the offense seemed to struggle at times, but Boykin definitely made it interesting. He completed just 57 percent of his passes and had 10 interceptions to his 15 scores, but he hung in there and helped carry the Frogs to a seven-win season.

9. Sam Richardson, Iowa State: Richardson emerged from nowhere to win the Cyclones' quarterback job in the final weeks of the season and prompt a transfer from 2011's season hero: Jared Barnett. Richardson is a prototypical passer who also has wheels and threw eight touchdowns to just one pick in the Cyclones' final three games.

10. Michael Cummings, Kansas: Cummings stepped in for a struggling Dayne Crist, but didn't offer much after doing so and couldn't get KU over the hump to get a Big 12 win. BYU transfer Jake Heaps is likely to slide in front of Cummings on the depth chart next year after Cummings completed just 45 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and four interceptions. He did make some plays with his feet, though it was hard for the yardage to show that was the case because there were so many sacks.

Ranking the Big 12's top 25 players: No. 24

January, 23, 2013
We're continuing our countdown of the Big 12's top 25 players from the 2012 season. Here's more on my criteria for the list. You can take a look at how the preseason list looked here.

The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we'll be revealing one player a day moving forward.

Let's keep this train rolling.

No. 24: Nick Florence, QB, Baylor

2012 numbers: Completed 286 of 464 (61.6 percent) passes for 4,309 yards, 33 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Ran 139 times for 568 yards and 10 touchdowns. Also punted twice for an average of 46.5 yards.

Most recent ranking: Florence was unranked in our preseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Florence: It feels a little wrong to have the Big 12's leading passer this low on the list, a guy who averaged over 9.0 yards a pass attempt this season. He had tons of help in the form of the Big 12's best two deep threats, Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese, but Baylor needed someone to fill the shoes of Robert Griffin III. Florence was outstanding. He struggled at times early in the conference season, but he was a big part of Baylor's late-season surge and four-game winning streak to close the season. His questionable decision-making at times kept him from finishing higher on this list, but it's clear that Art Briles did it again: He found, developed and started a fantastic quarterback to make his high-flying offense run. Florence finished second nationally in total offense, at over 375 yards a game. Only Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M averaged more, but last year RG III averaged only nine more per game. This season, Florence even broke Griffin's school record for passing yards, topping RG III by 16 yards with a strong performance in the Bears' bowl win over UCLA.

The rest of the list:

The biggest Big 12 offseason storylines

January, 17, 2013
The offseason is under way, but offseasons are fun, too. Here are the storylines to keep an eye on until the teams are back on the field in 2013.

1. Can Casey Pachall get back on track? TCU's quarterback is officially back with the team after leaving school to go to an in-patient drug and alcohol treatment facility. Most people want to know if he'll be the same player, but what's even more important is whether he can avoid the same pitfalls and get his life back on track.

2. Expansion junction, what's your function? The odds seem strongly against it, but you know we're not getting through a college football offseason without talking expansion at some point. How much will it heat up? Will Florida State re-emerge as a Big 12 candidate?

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin and Art Briles
AP Photo/Darren AbateArt Briles, left, has done a great job developing quarterbacks at Houston and at Baylor.
3. Will the 'Quarterback Whisperer' do it again? Baylor coach Art Briles' last four quarterbacks have been absurd. Kevin Kolb and Case Keenum got it done at Houston, and Robert Griffin III won a Heisman as the best of the bunch at Baylor. Nick Florence led the Big 12 in passing yards last year. What does Briles have in store this season? Bryce Petty has better measurables than Florence, but can the redshirt junior show off his experience in the system and make good decisions?

4. Striking the fear back in Lubbock. Kliff Kingsbury is looking to bring swagger back to Lubbock. He's still piecing together his staff, but the 33-year-old has the pieces to put together a solid team on the field, too. Can Texas Tech break the string of late-season collapses the past two years?

5. Charlie Weis' juco revolution. Weis has made it clear that he wants quick fixes and to win now at KU. Will his juco recruiting haul do it? Defensive lineman Marquel Combs was the nation's No. 1 juco recruit, and Weis has done a heck of a job selling immediate playing time to these guys. The current recruiting class has 17 juco transfers among 25 commits. Will it pay off, and how will these guys look once they get on campus? Are wins just around the corner?

6. A quarterback competition for the ages. Was Oklahoma State the first team ever to have three 1,000-yard passers? Two of them were freshmen, too. The QB derby last spring was good. This year's will be even better, with all three showing they could win games in Big 12 play. Clint Chelf will have the inside track, but Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh will try to swipe it away. Could one transfer be imminent after the spring?

7. Are the Longhorns finally, officially, certifiably back? Texas looked like it was back after going up to Stillwater and winning a dramatic game that helped the Longhorns ascend to No. 11 in the polls. Then consecutive losses capped by a Red River Blowout made it obvious the Horns weren't quite back yet. David Ash's development and fixing Manny Diaz's surprisingly vulnerable defense will decide whether 2013 is the season Texas returns to the BCS stage.

8. What about the championship game? Bob Bowlsby turned some heads when he inquired with the NCAA about a waiver to hold a championship game with just 10 teams. I don't think there's much fire around that smoke, but how serious will any talk of a return of the Big 12 title game get? The coaches would hate it.

Season report card: Baylor Bears

January, 9, 2013
We're going to go back and grade each Big 12 team's season in the coming weeks, and we'll start at the top of the alphabet with the Big 12's hottest team: The Baylor Bears.

OFFENSE: Art Briles and the Bears maintained all spring that the offense wouldn't lose a step without Robert Griffin III. It sounded far-fetched, and though it didn't translate to wins, Baylor wasn't blowing smoke. The Bears finished the season No. 2 in total offense, the same spot as last year, and averaged more than 572 yards a game, about 15 fewer than a year ago.

The Bears averaged 45 points a game last year, and this year, it was about 44. Nick Florence turned the ball over more than the Bears would want him to, but he finished second in the nation in total offense. Receiver Terrance Williams led the nation in receiving yards and was a Biletnikoff Award finalist. Fellow receiver Tevin Reese proved himself as a deep threat and the offensive line was one of the Big 12's best, led by Cyril Richardson. The Bears would have gotten an A-plus if they'd ridden Lache Seastrunk from the start of the season, and their record might be a little better, too. Still, his big finish makes 2013 very, very exciting for this offense. GRADE: A

DEFENSE: Just like last year, the story of the Bears defense was a surge in turnover margin that led to big wins and a great finish to the season. Baylor was minus-11 in turnover margin in its first four Big 12 games and lost them all, forcing zero turnovers in three of those games. In the 4-1 finish in Big 12 play, the Bears were plus-10 in turnover margin, forcing at least two turnovers in every game.

Baylor's defense really turned heads with fantastic performances against Kansas State and UCLA, holding both teams to just 362 yards of total offense, the two lowest totals all season. Those were the Bears' two biggest wins of the year, and the defense was the catalyst for both. You can't hide from giving up 800 yards to West Virginia, more than 550 in a loss to Iowa State and 560 in a narrow win over Louisiana-Monroe. But this unit showed some potential, despite more rough games than memorable ones. GRADE: C-

OVERALL: If we're grading the first half of the season, the Bears looked like they might not beat anybody and a bowl berth looked like an uphill battle. If we're grading the second half of the season, Baylor might have been the Big 12's best team. Ultimately, it's got to come somewhere in the middle. Still, though, relative to expectations, Baylor overachieved. It won 10 games a year ago and looked like a fringe bowl team to begin the year. Winning eight games and closing with a bowl win over a ranked, favored Pac-12 team was impressive. GRADE: B+

Instant analysis: Baylor 49, UCLA 26

December, 28, 2012

It was billed as a potentially high-scoring, exciting Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl. Baylor got the memo. UCLA didn't. The Bears dominated, making an early statement for the Big 12 in the battle with the Pac-12 for the title of "second best conference."

UCLA was gifted a TD at the end they didn't actually score. The final score should have been 49-19.

It was over when: It was 35-10 at halftime, so there wasn't much tension at any point. Baylor dominated in every way from gun-to-gun, on both sides of the ball. That the Bears' offense was explosive wasn't a surprise. That the Bears' defense crushed UCLA, well, that was.

Turning point: UCLA wanted to blitz and pressure Baylor's offense. It seemed like a good idea. But in the second quarter, on third-and-9 from the Baylor 45, the Bruins blitzed Bears QB Nick Florence, and he connected on a 55-yard TD pass to Tevin Reese. It was a beautiful pass and catch. It made the score 21-zip, and it firmly established the direction of this game.

Baylor game ball goes to: Coordinator Phil Bennett and the Baylor defense. There was this guy who kept calling Baylor's defense "horrible" and "terrible" and "awful." He doesn't feel very smart at this moment. Of course, that was the take on Baylor's defense just about all season from everyone. Still, just as Baylor transformed after a 3-4 start, the defense posted its best game in its final outing of 2012.

UCLA game ball goes to: Let's hear it for the special teams! Bruins kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn was 2-for-2 on field goals, and punter Jeff Locke was his usual outstanding self. Shaquelle Evans had a 43-yard punt return, and Steven Manfro had a 51-yard kick return.

Unsung hero: Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk, who announced his Heisman Trophy candidacy before the game, had a nice performance with 16 carries for 138 yards. But backup running back Glasco Martin had 98 yards and three TDs.

Stat of the game: UCLA was 1-of-17 on third down. That's just horrible. The Bruins were also 3-of-8 on fourth down. Credit to Baylor. Discredit to UCLA.

Stat of the game II: Baylor outrushed UCLA 306 yards to 33. One word: dominant.

What it means: This was the first of three bowl games putting Big 12 and Pac-12 teams. Those conferences are competing for the mythical title of Second Best Conference. This was a decisive win for the Big 12, as a team that went 7-5 overall and 4-5 in Big 12 play whipped a Pac-12 team that went 9-4 overall and 6-3 in conference play. While it's probably silly to read too much into one bowl game, which can be fluid and surprising, the pressure certainly is now on Oregon State in the Valero Alamo Bowl against Texas and Oregon in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State.

Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl keys

December, 27, 2012
Here are three keys for tonight's Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl:

1. Johnathan Franklin versus Lache Seastrunk: Baylor's defense is bad, but it's better against the run than the pass. When we type "better," we mean less terrible. The Bears give up 189 yards rushing per game -- 4.74 yards per rush -- which ranks 89th in the nation. Franklin, who averages 6.3 yards per carry, needs 300 yards to hit the 2,000-yard mark this season. He probably won't get that, but he could cross the two bills mark. Meanwhile, Seastrunk's emergence in the final portion of the season was a key to the Bears' late surge. If he outrushes Franklin, the Bears probably are going to win.

2. Attack on defense: One of the great secrets this season was that Baylor QB Nick Florence was darned near as good as Robert Griffin III was during his Heisman Trophy campaign in 2011. He's a good runner and scrambler and was sacked only 1.42 times per game. He also only threw two interceptions over the final five games, both coming in the upset win over Kansas State. The Bruins ranked seventh in the nation with 3.31 sacks per game, and outside linebacker Anthony Barr is one of the nation's dominant pass-rushers. The first step is pressuring Florence. The second is hoping that pressure causes him to misfire. Against a spectacular offense that scores quickly, UCLA should be willing to take some chances to potentially create big plays.

3. Turnovers: It's a good bet that whoever wins the turnover battle wins the game, because with two prolific offenses scoring a lot of points, every possession is critical. Baylor's season turned around when it started protecting the football -- it won the turnover battle 13-3 over the final five games. UCLA committed six of its 25 turnovers in one game, its horrid 43-17 loss at California.

Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl keys

December, 27, 2012

Let's take a look at three keys for tonight's Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl.

1. Win the ground battle. Johnathan Franklin is a more established force, but Lache Seastrunk proved he can be plenty productive on the ground late in the season. Simply put, the team that runs the ball more effectively in this game will win. Somebody's likely to break open a double-digit lead at some point, and if you can't run the ball consistently, that lead is going to disappear very quickly. Both of these offenses can hang points in a hurry, so you better be able to do so while also running the clock and minimizing risk.

2. Limit (or exploit) the big plays. Nobody in college football is more effective at throwing the ball downfield than Baylor. The Bears are at their best and very, very hard to beat when Nick Florence is hitting Biletnikoff Award finalist Terrance Williams downfield or finding Tevin Reese. Williams has 26 catches this season longer than 20 yards downfield and 14 grabs longer than 40 yards, both more than any other player in FBS. Florence's 19 touchdown passes longer than 20 yards lead the FBS (Robert Griffin III had 22 last season), and Baylor also had an FBS-best 19 touchdown drives of less than a minute this season. If Baylor can keep that pace, it's going to win. If UCLA slows down those quick strikes, Baylor's penchant for turnovers may surface on lengthy drives.

3. Battle of the UCLA backfield. Penetration and lots of bodies around the line of scrimmage is a good way to cover the zone read, and when Brett Hundley gets that going, the UCLA running game looks nearly impossible to stop. He rushed for a season-high 83 yards in a near upset of Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game. Ultimately, the zone read is all about the backside defensive end, but Baylor needs to slow that package down to keep UCLA's offense in check. Truthfully, I don't like Baylor's chances of slowing down Franklin much, but it's going to be a lot easier if the Bears get some help to that DE and keep UCLA running the ball in more traditional ways.

Pregame: Bridgepoint Holiday Bowl

December, 27, 2012
UCLA (9-4, 6-3 Pac-12) vs. Baylor (7-5, 4-5 Big 12)

Who to watch: Baylor has been ridiculously good on offense all season, but it got even better over the homestretch when running back Lache Seastrunk, an Oregon transfer, asserted himself, eclipsing 100 yards rushing in four of his final five games (and the fifth was a 91 yards, three TD performance at Oklahoma). He's already popped off about winning the Heisman in 2013. With a good running game, life gets even easier for the high-flying pass-catch tandem of QB Nick Florence and receiver Terrance Williams. On the other side of the ball, UCLA QB Brett Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin will be charged with keeping up. Franklin should eclipse 200 yards in this game.

What to watch: As noted, Baylor ranks among the nation's leaders in just about every offensive category. But on the other side of the ball, Baylor is among the nation's worst. The Bears rank 119th in the nation in total defense and 115th in scoring defense. They are really, really bad on defense. Think Colorado bad. UCLA is good on offense and solid-to-mediocre on defense. The question, really, is does the Bruins good-to-solid on both sides of the ball outperform the lopsided Bears, who entirely rely on their ludicrous speed offense to outscore foes.

Why to watch: Isn't it obvious? Do you recall the Baylor-Washington Alamo Bowl from a year ago? This could be a scoring fest. Both teams are talented on offense and like to play fast and both seemed to peak over the latter half of the season. Baylor's chances improved when UCLA safety Tevin McDonald was suspended for breaking team rules. It could come down to turnovers, as wasted possessions could prove critical. It's difficult to look at this matchup and not anticipate a highly-entertaining game.

Prediction: While losing McDonald is a significant blow to the pass defense, UCLA has enough talent on defense to slow the Bears down and perhaps to make any turnovers or miscues critical. The Bruins should get at handful of stops. The question is will it be enough for Franklin and Hundley? We expect this one to go deep into the fourth quarter. UCLA 42, Baylor 40.