Quarterback Robert Griffin III Has Helped Changed View of Baylor Bears
AUSTIN, Texas – Just a few years ago, Baylor sophomore quarterback Robert Griffin III was tagged with the dreaded "athlete" label as he starred at Copperas Cove High School in Texas.
A quarterback he wasn't, most believed. But Griffin was a good enough athlete that either you wanted him for another position or simply recruited him because you didn't want to face him in a few years.
Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns fell into of those categories as an offer letter as an "athlete" showed up in Griffin's high school coach's office seemingly out of nowhere. Or at least from nobody.
There was no smooth talking recruiter. No promises of what he could mean to the Longhorns' future. No rah rah!
Just the offer letter.
"That was that," said Griffin, the 25th-ranked Bears' star quarterback. "I don't look at it as a sign of disrespect. Everybody knows Texas can get talent from wherever they want it. I just happen to not want to be a Longhorn."
Art Briles initially wanted Griffin to play for him at the University of Houston. But when Briles took the Baylor job during Griffin's senior year, Griffin's commitment switched to the Bears.
And in just a few years, Griffin has been instrumental in changing how Baylor is viewed. He had an impressive freshman year two seasons ago and appeared on the brink last year of breaking a 14-year postseason drought for the Bears before tearing his ACL in the second game, thus ending his sophomore season prematurely.
Griffin, however, picked up those expectations this season. The Bears beat Kansas State last Saturday to get to six wins and become bowl eligible for the first time in 15 years. They appear headed to their first bowl game in 16 years.
But the accolades didn't stop there. The Bears (6-2, 3-1 Big 12) sit atop the Big 12 South for the first time ever this late in the season and they entered into the Top 25 this week for the first time since 1993. As brilliant as Briles and his staff have been in assembling talent and coaching on the field, the Bears success seems mostly tied to Griffin.
The coach who once recruited Griffin as an athlete heaped praise on him Monday after Griffin passed for 404 yards and four touchdowns on 26-of-38 passing in the 47-42 victory over the Wildcats. Brown went so far as to say Griffin deserved Heisman Trophy consideration.
"You have to have a trigger guy and Robert Griffin is as good as anybody in the country," said Brown, whose struggling Longhorns will attempt to slow him Saturday night in a key Big 12 South game.
"I can't imagine people not having him in the Heisman race after watching him the last two weekends here. This is unbelievable. He's making plays, he's averaging 344 total offensive yards himself, he threw for over 400 yards last week and he's scored (31) and (47) points two weeks in a row. I think he is as good as anybody out there I've seen. He has changed their program completely. He's got good skill people around him and he's got the good front. But he has made a complete difference in their program. I think he is as good as any quarterback that is playing."
Griffin and the selfless leader he has become wouldn't dare put himself in the Heisman race, but he appreciated hearing that a coach who had underestimated him now thinks so highly of him.
"Coach Mack Brown is a big figure in college football and has been for a while now, so for him to say something like that, it definitely means a lot to somebody around the nation and definitely to a lot of people, but I just try not to worry about the individual awards," said Griffin, who was named a finalist this week for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award. "Those will come as long as we continue to win. So I just worry about what my coach is saying."
But there is no denying what Griffin is accomplishing has been nothing short of remarkable. Griffin could be the best dual-threat quarterback in the nation, though players like Terrelle Pryor at Ohio State, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Michigan's Denard Robinson get far more national press.
Much more quietly, Griffin has led the Bears to places most thought they couldn't go. He leads the Big 12 in total offense with 2,757 yards, and a 344.6 yards-per-game average. But Griffin is becoming even more of a passing threat with a Big 12-best 159.5 efficiency rating and 2,373 passing yards.
"It goes with attitude you can get the ball a lot further throwing it than you can running it, and a lot faster," Griffin said. "For me, it's not about me making 50- or 60-yard runs. I like to see other people do well and when other people are around you, it makes you look good as well."
By all accounts, Briles and his staff have developed talent left over from the previous coaching bunch while also bringing in some highly skilled players in recruiting to improve the play around Griffin. Two years ago, Griffin was almost single-handedly pushing teams to the limit with his ability to take over games.
But this season he has been able to rely more heavily on his teammates. The offensive line has been solid protecting Griffin and opening holes. Senior running back Jay Finley, who is coming off a school-record 250-yard rushing performance against Kansas State, has taken much of the rushing responsibility off Griffin's shoulders. And then he has had a corp of receivers, led by Kendall Wright and Josh Gordon, making big plays down field.
It's all made for a much more confident group.
"The biggest thing is trusting the guys around me," Griffin said. "I trust my offensive line, I trust the receivers that when the ball is in the air, they are going to be the ones who are catching it. They are doing a great job of making plays all year.
"As long as you go into the game with confidence in the people around you and the play-making ability of everybody else, it makes you a better player."
It's that confidence that has the Bears believing they can walk into Memorial Stadium on Saturday and perhaps come away with one of their biggest wins in recent memory. Some might argue timing is everything, with Baylor riding a two-game winning streaking and having won four of its past five.
The Longhorns are coming off a troubling loss at home to Iowa State, which gives them back-to-back home defeats. Texas comes into this showdown having lost three of its past four games.
Suddenly the fourth-placed Longhorns (4-3, 2-2) are occupying the bottom half of the South Division, a place that had been Baylor's permanent home since the inception of the league in 1996.
"We are doing a good job of going out and playing, and Texas is coming off a loss to Iowa State at home which is embarrassing to them, so we know they will be mad," Griffin said. "But it is not our job to focus on them. Mack Brown will have those guys ready, and coach Briles will have us ready."