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September 27, 2009

Where does Baylor go from here?

The Injury

Previously thought to be a strained meniscus that could keep him out for up to three weeks, Robert Griffin's injury status has taken a turn for the worse. Baylor released a press release on Sunday announcing that Griffin will be forced to sit out the rest of the season due to an isolated tear to his ACL in his right knee.

The initial injury happened during the first quarter of Baylor's 68-13 win over Northwestern State. Believing the injury to be less serious than it was, Griffin returned to the game during the next drive and finished out the half.

Up 41-10, former starter Blake Szymanski took over for the Bears after halftime and likewise went down with an injury to his right shoulder on a 17 yard run late in the third quarter. X-rays turned out negative, but MRI tests revealed a contusion to Szymanski's right shoulder. As it stands, Baylor's new starting quarterback is listed as "day-to-day" by the Baylor training staff.

What Griffin has meant to the Bears so far

More so than anything else, Robert Griffin gave Bears fans hope. After the debacle that was the Kevin Steele era of Baylor football (one conference win in 36 games), Guy Morris took a less-than-talented Bears team and engineered an upset win over No. 16 Texas A&M in 2004 and a 5-6 record (Baylor's best since 1995) in 2005.

What he didn't have, though, was a ringer.

Enter Art Briles - and by association, Robert Griffin. As an under-recruited four star prospect coming in, Griffin followed Briles from Houston and gained national attention after graduating early and earning Track & Field All-American honors by finishing third nationally in the 400-meter hurdles.

Over 2,000 passing yards, 800 rushing yards, and 28 total touchdowns later, the 2008 Big 12 Freshman of the Year was crowned and because of it, Baylor football received more national buzz than they had in the last decade.

A smart decision-maker through the air - shown by his NCAA record 209 passes without an interception to start a career - and simply electric on the ground, Robert Griffin brought a dynamic to the Baylor program that Bears fans hadn't seen in decades, but more so than anything else - he brought them hope.

Where do they go from here

Unlike many of the top programs in the Big 12, coming into the 2009 season Baylor had the luxury of having one of the most experienced backup quarterbacks in the conference. Senior Blake Szymanski was the team's full time starter in 2007 before losing his job to Kirby Freeman and eventually Robert Griffin the following season. In his one year as a starter, Szymanski passed for more than 2,800 yards and 22 touchdowns with three games of over 400 yards. All three are school records.

The Bears finished the season 3-7 in 2007 with him as the starting quarterback, but this is a different team and he's a different player. When he came in for Griffin in the second half of Saturday's game against Northwestern State, Szymanski completed 3-5 passes for 58 yards and a score, and led the Bears on two scoring drives in the two series that he was in the game for.

What could make a very bad situation even worse is that Szymanski's status for next week's game against Kent State is still up in the air. After coming in the game in relief of Griffin, he left the game with an injury as well after hurting his shoulder diving towards the end zone.

If Szymanski isn't able to play for the Bears, then they will likely turn to true freshman Nick Florence. Florence was asked to greyshirt during the 2008 season, so he did spend the entire spring and fall practicing with the team. The 6-1, 180lb freshman was a Rivals three star recruit from South Garland high school in Garland, Tx and the 22nd ranked dual-threat quarterback.

Regardless of whom the quarterback is, the talent around him will still be better than it has been in previous years. The offense will rely on the trio of talented running backs Jay Finley, Jared Salubi, and Terrance Ganaway. Finley missed Saturday's game with an injury of his own, but he isn't expected to miss many more games, if any at all. In his place Salubi ran for 131 on seven carries including a 76 yard touchdown run, and Ganaway scored three times on the ground as well.

The silver lining in this situation is that the Bears don't have to play a conference opponent next week. Baylor has a home games against Kent State before having to travel to Norman, Oklahoma October tenth. Baylor will be able to use the next week to bring their new quarterback up to speed, or if Szymanski's injury keeps him out a couple weeks, then the Bears will have a game against a team that they will be favored in while waiting for him to recover.


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