Baylor fans pack Floyd Casey Stadium for the 2011 regular season finale against UT.
The Baylor Bears and Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III are one win away from Baylor's first 10-win football season in 31 years.
Now all the Bears have to do is show up to what is being touted as yet another home game in San Antonio against a Washington team many pundits are already declaring the loser and play with the explosive offense they have been known for this season.
Yet, will Baylor football be able to sustain this success into next season? The following is a list of the six improvements that need to be made, or the gains that need to be held, in order to, quite possibly, contend for the Big XII title in the 2012 season and a shot at a BCS bowl.
Texas WR Jaxon Shipley breaks the Baylor secondary to set the offense up on the 3-yard line.
At one point this season, many Baylor fans felt yet another season of disappointment looming on the horizon and all anyone could blame was the defense.
RG3 and company had the offense on a roll, for even in the three losses against top 25 teams, the Bears averaged over 500 total yards per game and a combined 87 points.
However, as the cliche goes, "defense wins championships." Now, even though the rushing defense was nothing to gloat about this season, it was better than the sorry secondary Baylor fielded this year.
Rewind to the Baylor-UT game in which Griffin locked up his Heisman trophy and the defense stepped up big post-halftime.
Well, in the first half, the Baylor secondary allowed two huge pass plays to cut right through its defense; a 78 yard pass to Jaxon Shipley that set the UT offense up on the 3-yard line and, on its next possession, an 80 yard pass to Luke Poehlmann, both of which were shot on a crossing route in the middle of the secondary.
To top if off, Poehlmann ran into the end zone untouched! Had the secondary been able to stop these two momentum-swinging plays, UT would have been out of the game long before they actually were.
That being said, the Baylor defense improved its overall game following the blowout loss to OSU. However, if Baylor plans to break the top ten before the bowl announcements next season, they have to learn to stop the deep pass and, when it inevitably happens, prevent the six points from opening day on.
Terrance Ganaway shares a personal moment after running in a touchdown against Oklahoma.
The most unfortunate aspect of college sports is that, after three to five years, fans and teammates must bid farewell to their favorite players. For Baylor, the end of the 2011 season means the exit of another effective and fantastic running back: Terrance Ganaway.
Running in the shadow of RG3 and the passing game, Ganaway was an indispensable part of the Bears' balanced play calling. Following the departure of Jay Finley last season, Ganaway stepped up big for the Bears, leading them to an average of 215.1 rushing yards per game and a ranking of 18th in the nation for rushing the football.
In order to keep Baylor a viable dual threat, it is an absolute necessity to find a replacement for Ganaway. Yet, as it turns out, Baylor already has plans to mark this item off the checklist.
Before the beginning of the 2011 season, Oregon running back Lache Seastrunk decided to transfer to Baylor University after the investigation of Oregon's use of a Houston-based scouting service and Coach Briles and Baylor nation welcomed him with open arms.
By the way, he just so happens to have been a 5-star recruit and No. 3 running back prospect according to rivals.com for his recruiting class.
Seastrunk will be running only 35 miles north of his hometown of Temple, Texas, next season and Baylor has to ensure that they get his run game off the ground fast, because fans are now used to witnessing an impressive run game.
Baylor Head Coach Art Briles
Even though the Baylor-Oklahoma game will forever go down in college football folklore as the game in which Baylor University pushed its way out of the muck, there is one play that will forever haunt the memories of all Baylor fans who watched or attended.
Griffin and the offense were not able to convert a somewhat critical third down, leaving them with only inches on the chain. After a discussion with the coaches and nerves throughout Floyd Casey Stadium, the offense walked back onto the field in the form of an obvious draw play to Ganaway.
Even before the ball was snapped, fans had given up hope and started calling on Head Coach Art Briles to alter his play calling.
Come to find out, a good portion of the plays are actually called by the co-offensive coordinators with the help of Griffin; but, the fact of the matter is the Head Coach, regardless of team, will always be held responsible for that one bad play call that could have changed the game.
This was not the first time Baylor fans festered in their frustration with the play calling. In fact, when talking with students regarding Coach Briles earlier this year, the consensus was that he needed to stop calling (or allowing) plays like a high school coach would.
In the end, with respect to the coaching staff, do not shy away from that which works, especially in critical situations: a balanced run and an extremely effective pass game.
Baylor students performing a "sic 'em" hand chant.
Most devoted football fans refer to themselves as a part of their team, usually making a "we" statement when discussing their favorite organizations. Baylor football does not have a history of extremely devoted fans.
Not so long ago, students wanted to distance themselves from their school when the topic of football came up.
Now, however, the campus has been set ablaze with football fever, packing the Student Union Building with over 1,000 people for the Heisman announcement and exhausting all supplied tickets for the Alamo Bowl just days after they went on sale, forcing the Alamodome to open up restricted view-only seating.
With an explosive offense and an improved defense, the last piece of a top 10 team is a dedicated fanbase. Baylor has to find a way to stoke this fire throughout the offseason in order to have a strong and effective home-field advantage next season and, finally, a base that will travel to away games.
Perhaps the football department should start some new traditions like some of the bigger football programs in the nation. There is no greater time than now to create a dedicated and tradition-driven fanbase, especially when one of your biggest rivals (TCU) will be joining the Big XII next year.
Heisman Trophy Winner Robert Griffin III at a Heisman Press Conference
Okay, so this may seem more like a necessity for the 2011 season; but, that does not mean that it is not extremely critical to Baylor's success in 2012. Robert Griffin III is, without a doubt, the best and most exciting thing to ever grace the Baylor sports atmosphere.
When RG3 takes the field, he is in command of not only his own team, but arguably the defense as well. He threw at ease on every secondary he faced, including the Top 10-ranked UT defense, and could even run on most just as well. By now, every college football fan should know of the athletic ability and skill level of this exciting player.
Yet, it is not only his athleticism that Baylor needs to retain. After winning the 2011 Heisman trophy, Griffin has become must-see TV and that prime-time television spot is something that Baylor cannot pass up, especially for recruiting purposes.
Yes, winning a bowl game in the next couple of weeks, having a double-digit win season and claiming the most "outstanding college football player" on your team is a great recruiting tool; but, so is guaranteeing top prospects national television time.
Backup QB Nick Florence Faces Texas Tech After Griffin is Injured.
Baylor Nation sat stock still as Griffin laid motionless on the Texas Tech sidelines after tucking the ball and running for the goal line. Tech's Cornelius Douglas was flagged with a personal-foul penalty for his aggressive hit on Griffin which left the star quarterback with a mild concussion.
When Baylor took the field in the second half, the unmistakable No. 10 jersey was standing on the sidelines and the somewhat familiar No. 11 backup QB Nick Florence was standing in Griffin's hard-to-fill shoes.
In the end, Florence was able to roll over Tech's defense, leading the Bears with two Griffin-esque passing touchdowns.
The best part of this game was not the final score, but the comfort in knowing that if Griffin did in fact leave following this season, Baylor could very well be in good hands with Nick Florence.
RG3 has yet to announce his intentions for next year officially, but, if the news is not good for Baylor nation, the Bears must be ready to train Florence into the next big quarterback for Baylor during the offseason.
However, Florence's time is quickly coming to a close at Baylor, as he likely only has one season left. As a result, Baylor Athletics and their recruiting team has to start an aggressive recruiting campaign for a top-prospect quarterback.
Baylor cannot afford to build a team around an uncertain position at this point without having a guaranteed backup plan for the now-backup quarterback.