This past April, we watched as LaceDarius Dunn and Ekpe Udoh helped carry a Baylor Bear basketball program, which just seven years ago was facing national scandal and ridicule following the murder of Patrick Denehy, to its first Elite Eight appearance in school history.
The Bears’ tournament success, which can be attributed to the hard work and perseverance of head coach Scott Drew, marked the high point of a seven-year rebuilding effort which has seen the team become a contender in the Big 12.
Drew has done a terrific job bringing in game changers like Dunn and Udoh, and that has allowed the team to compete with the best of the best in the tough conference.
We’ve seen something similar going on in the Baylor football program this season, as sophomore quarterback Robert Griffin, who seems to be the definition of a game changer, has elevated his play and become the X-factor many thought he had the potential to be when he arrived in Waco three years ago.
Griffin has paced the Bears to a 7-2 record and their first bowl eligible season since 1994. After their impressive victory over the Texas Longhorns in Austin this past weekend, the Bears currently rank No. 21 in the BCS Standings, the first time the school has ever been recognized by the BCS.
Griffin seems fully recovered from an ACL injury that cut his promising 2009 season short to just three games, delaying his breakout until this year.
It was expected that Griffin’s introduction to the college football nation would come last season, considering his many dazzling performances as a freshman in 2008, but the knee injury derailed those hopes.
Griffin, a Texas track superstar in high school, signed with the Bears out of Copperas Cove High School, rated as one of the top football recruits in the country. His blinding speed, which helped him set numerous high school state track records, was going to be a valuable asset to Baylor’s esteemed track team as well as a source of hope for long-suffering Baylor football fans.
As just a freshman, Griffin stepped into the starting quarterback role and looked like a seasoned veteran, throwing for over 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns while adding over 800 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. The Bears only finished 4-8 that season, but the sensational performance of Griffin gave first-year coach Art Briles along with every Baylor fan in the country reason to be excited.
That rug was pulled out from under them in 2009 when Griffin’s right knee bent awkwardly during the first series of the team’s game with Northwestern State. Griffin had suffered an isolated tear in his ACL, but continued to play on the knee for the remainder of the half, leading his team to 41-10 halftime lead.
It was only after the game when Baylor fans learned that their budding superstar quarterback would miss the remaining nine games of the season, meaning they needed to cancel their December bowl plans.
Now, the 6’2", 210 lb. dual threat dynamo has returned to the fray as a more accomplished passer and a true team leader.
Griffin, who has thrown for 20 TDs and rushed for seven, is the face of this surging Baylor team and is putting in the type of season that could be worthy of an invitation to New York if things break right down the stretch.
For the first time ever, the Bears are serious contenders in the Big 12 South division behind the play of Griffin and an improved defense led by Byron Landor, Phil Taylor and Chris Francis.
With three games remaining against division foes Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Oklahoma, this Baylor team and Griffin have a bright enough stage to really make a name for themselves.
While other dual threat quarterbacks like Michigan’s Denard Robinson and Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor have been fading from the Heisman picture as the season goes along, Griffin’s case has only gotten stronger.
If the sophomore superstar were somehow able to carry Baylor to an appearance in the Big 12 Championship game, there would be no conceivable way that the powers that be could keep him from making the trip to New York.
With his electric performances this year, Griffin, or RGIII as Bears fans have dubbed him, has helped put Baylor back on the college football map and in the process established himself as one of college football's brightest rising stars.