With the season drawing near, we are counting down the 20 most important players on the 2009 Baylor football team. Each member of the SicEmSports staff turned in a ballot of their top players in the program, basing their decisions on pure talent and how important their play this year will be to the Baylor program. Opinions differed and some great players were left just outside the cut, but at the end of the day, these were the 20 Bears at the top.
2006 All-District first-team
2007 All-State honorable mention
2007 All-District first-team
2007 Gatorade Texas Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year
2008 Freshman All-American first-team
2008 Big 12 Freshman of the Year
2008 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year
2008 Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year
2008 Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year
2008 Baylor Offensive MVP
Highest Ranking: 1
Lowest Ranking: 1
2008 Stats: 160 of 267 for 2,091 passing yards, 15 touchdowns, 3 interceptions; 173 carries for 843 yards and 13 TDs
Prep accolades: Even as the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in the nation, Robert Griffin was only offered by a handful of schools - most of which wanted him at receiver. During his junior and senior seasons combined, the Copperas Cove product passed for 3,357 yards, 41 touchdowns, and just nine interceptions to go along with his 2,161 yards and 32 touchdowns on the ground. All told, Griffin finished his days as a Bulldawg with a 25-4 record and one appearance in the 4A state championship to go along with his state records in both the 110 (13.55) and 300 (35.33) meter hurdles.
"I knew he could run," said Art Briles on finding Griffin. "That was a given. When he started going through passing drills, we knew we needed to put this guy in hibernation for six months."
This time last year: Griffin was the loser in a three-way battle for the starting nod at quarterback and was known for being an elite hurdler more than anything else. After Kirby Freeman couldn't get anything going against Wake Forest, though, Griffin was given the reins in the second quarter and hasn't looked back since.
"Last year was very uncomfortable," Griffin said. "There were a lot of unknowns, a new quarterback, a new coach, just a whole new philosophy and system. We're a lot more confident going into this game; we know the quarterback and we know the philosophy and we know what the other team is going to try and do to us so we're hoping to go out there and get the win."
Biggest performance in 2008: Against Washington State, Griffin ran for a school-record 217 yards and two TDs while throwing for 129 yards and a score. While impressive, Griffin's real breakout game of the season came in the finale against No. 7 Texas Tech. In a nationally televised game that had BCS implications, Griffin outplayed NCAA-career-touchdown-leader Graham Harrell by going 12 of 15 for 91 yards and rushing for 99 yards and two touchdowns in a game the Baylor was one off-sides penalty away from winning.
"That quarterback makes everybody look slow," said Cougars coach Paul Wulff after being beaten by the Bears in Griffin's second career start.
Most eye-popping stat: Known on the national stage more for his weekly highlight reels on the ground than anything else, the most amazing thing about Griffin's career thus far is that his passing is what has put him in the record books. Last year, Griffin threw 209 passes without an interception to start his career - an NCAA all-time record.
"He's got a plan," Briles said of Griffin's daily work ethic. "He doesn't wake up and wonder, 'what am I going to do today?"
Biggest question mark for 2009: Whether new tackles Danny Watkins and Philip Blake can give Griffin time to make plays. The coaches have liked what they've seen from Watkins so far, but Blake is still a big question mark going into Wake Forest. Even if Danny Watkins plays the best game of his life, though, it's still a downgrade from Jason Smith's blindside protection from a year ago.
"We're really excited about Danny," Briles told reporters earlier this month. "We love his demeanor, mentality and work ethic. He's the real deal."
2009 outlook: Having eschewed track for spring football, Griffin put on 10 pounds of muscle that might come in handy in case the offensive line struggles early. Teams now have film on the 19-year-old Griffin, but Griffin also has one year of experience under Art Briles' playbook and one more year to fine tune his connection with true sophomore Kendall Wright. The coaching staff has no worries about the possibility of a sophomore slump for Griffin, and if anything, they think that he's improved his passing from one year ago. Although he'll need the rest of the team to do it, the responsibility of ending Baylor's bowl drought ultimately rests on his shoulders.
"My arm has gotten stronger," Griffin said of his off-season progress. "I'm not going to go out there and kill my receivers with the ball. It's one of those things. I assess the situation. I analyze the situation. If I need to drill it in there, I'll drill it in there. If I can throw it in there easy, then I'll throw it in there nice and easy."
Blair: Griffin is a once-in-a-generation type of athlete, and it's not just because he could be in the Olympics come 2012. He can also stop and start on a dime, break through arm tackles, and throw the ball harder than most quarterbacks in the league could ever dream of. You couldn't ask for a better pick to help turn a program around.
Fletcher: Easy choice. He'd probably be number one for more than half the teams in the country.
Todd: Simply put, Robert Griffin is the franchise. He has a chance to be one of the top five players in the Big 12. His arm strength is the biggest surprise for me after seeing him in person.
20. Tim Atchison
18. Antareis Bryan
17. Antonio Jones
16. Derek Epperson
15. Earl Patin
14. Jarred Salubi
13. James Barnard
12. Trey Bryant
11. Antonio Johnson
10. David Gettis
8. J.D. Walton
7. Jay Finley
4. Jordan Lake
3. Phil Taylor
2. Joe Pawelek
1. Robert Griffin III