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Bowl Bound

Dec. 16, 2010

By Jeff Brown, BA '00


In just head coach Art Briles' third season at Baylor, the Bears broke a decade-and-a-half bowl drought when they were selected to play in the Texas Bowl against Illinois, to be held Dec. 29 at Houston's Reliant Stadium. (Baylor's last bowl game came in 1994, when the Bears lost to Washington State, 10-3, at the Alamo Bowl.)

The bowl appearance is only one of many Baylor team firsts and "not since" achievements this season:

  • First seven-win season since 1995;
  • Longest conference winning streak since 1992;
  • Ranked in the AP poll in consecutive weeks for the first time since 1991;
  • More conference wins than any other Baylor team in the Big 12 era; and
  • Tied for the highest-scoring offense in the program's 109-year history (32.6 points per game).

Plenty of individual records have also been shattered this year, including the single-season records for passing yards and rushing yards. To sum up this historic season, Baylor Magazine is taking a look at seven individuals - one for each win - who have helped the team get to where it is today.


Contribution: In 2009 and 2010, Briles brought in Baylor's two best signing classes of the Big 12 era as judged by Rivals.com. That recruiting is already paying off, as seen in the Bears' sharply improved win total. For his efforts, Briles received honorable mention recognition as Big 12 Coach of the Year and was named the American Football Coaches Association's Regional Coach of the Year.

Key stats: Baylor finished the regular season ranked among the nation's leaders in total offense (12th) and scoring offense (29th); the year before Briles' arrival, the Bears finished 90th in total offense and 110th in scoring offense (out of 119 teams).

How he got here: Briles came to Baylor in Nov. 2007 after leading Houston to four bowl games in his five years as head coach. He first made a name as head coach at Stephenville [TX] High School, where he led the Yellowjackets to the playoffs 11 times in 12 years, including four state titles; he was inducted into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

Did you know? In the last four NFL drafts, Briles protégés include the third quarterback selected in 2007 (Kevin Kolb), the first receiver selected in 2008 (Donnie Avery), the first lineman selected in 2009 (Jason Smith) and the second center selected in 2010 (J.D. Walton).


Robert Griffin III
Quarterback
Sophomore
Copperas Cove, Texas

Contribution: Baylor's first Heisman contender in decades, more than any other individual player, Griffin has helped put Baylor football back on the national radar. Big 12 coaches voted him the league's second-best quarterback, and he was one of three selections for honorable mention Offensive Player of the Year. His performance also made him a semifinalist for the Walter Camp Award and the Maxwell Award (each recognizing the nation's top player) and the Davey O'Brien Award (top quarterback) and earned him a spot on the Manning Award watch list (top quarterback).

Key stats: Though known as much for his legs as his arm, RG3 in 2010 became the first Bear ever to top 3,000 yards passing in a season, and his 20 touchdowns through the air are second on the single-season chart. Overall, Griffin was third in the Big 12 and seventh nationally in total offense, averaging 315.5 yards per game (266 passing/49 rushing). Though not quite finished with his sophomore season, he has already accounted for more career touchdowns than any other player in Baylor history. Griffin also ranks among BU's career leaders in passing touchdowns (1st), passing efficiency (1st), completion percentage (1st), touchdown-to-interception ratio (1st), total offense (1st), passing yards (2nd) and rushing touchdowns (4th).

How he got here: Rated the nation's No. 3 dual-threat QB by Rivals.com as a high school senior, most schools still preferred Griffin at another position. Briles was among the few who saw a standout quarterback in Griffin, and the Central Texas native committed to play for Briles at Houston. When Briles took the job at Baylor, Griffin quickly followed

Did you know? Griffin graduated high school a semester early (No. 7 in his class) to enroll at Baylor and will receive his degree in political science this December, finishing in just three years. He will begin graduate school at Baylor this spring.


Jay Finley
Running back
Senior
Corsicana, Texas

Contribution: An honorable mention All-Big 12 selection by the league's coaches and the Associated Press, Finley has provided the ground complement to Griffin's passing, enjoying a breakout season as a fifth-year senior -- one of the best for a running back in Baylor history.

Key stats: Finley has stamped his name all over the Baylor record books this season. First, he set the Baylor single-game record with 250 yards rushing during this year's Homecoming game against Kansas State. With 1,155 yards rushing this year, he needs only 33 more yards to break the single-season mark, and his 11 rushing touchdowns this season are the most by a BU running back since 1974. He's moved into third place among Baylor's all-time career leaders with 2,597 yards on the ground and fifth all-time with 21 career rushing touchdowns.

How he got here: Ranked the nation's No. 49 running back in high school, Finley signed with Baylor in 2006 in part so that his family in Corsicana, just an hour northeast of Waco, could regularly watch him play.

Did you know? On his way up the Bears' single-season rushing yards list this season, Finley has passed the best totals put up at Baylor by Dennis Gentry, Alfred Anderson and Cleveland Franklin -- all multi-year NFL veterans. Up next: former Pittsburgh Steeler and Philadelphia Eagle Walter Abercrombie, who today serves as executive director of the Baylor "B" Association for former letterwinners.


Kendall Wright
Wide receiver
Junior
Pittsburg, Texas

Contribution: As Robert Griffin's top target each of the past three seasons, Wright's athleticism allows him to turn short passes into long gains or beat the defense to catch the deep ball.

Key stats: With another full season to go, Wright already ranks second in Baylor history in career receptions (182) and third in career receiving yards (2,214). This season, he ranked fifth in the Big 12 in receiving yards per game; only two Big 12 receivers had more 100-yard receiving games than Wright.

How he got here: A three-sport standout at Pittsburg High School, Wright immediately established a gameday connection with quarterback Robert Griffin III in 2008. Working in tandem with his fellow true freshman, Wright set BU freshman records for receptions and receiving yards.

Did you know? Wright has recorded at least one reception in all 36 games of his career, tied for eighth-best nationally among all Division I FBS (formerly Division I-A) receivers.


Phil Taylor
Defensive Tackle
Senior
Clinton, MD.

Contribution: The 6-foot-4, 340-pound defensive lineman, rated the No. 10 defensive tackle by Phil Steele Magazine prior to this season, has anchored the Baylor line on defense. Taylor was named second team all-Big 12 by league coaches and the Associated Press.

Key stats: Taylor's 52 tackles (with one game remaining) are the most by a Baylor d-lineman since Jason Lamb's 53 in 2007 and the most by an interior lineman since Ethan Kelley (an eventual NFL player) made 76 in 2002.

How he got here: Taylor played in 18 games in two seasons at Penn State before following Baylor defensive coordinator Brian Norwood from PSU to Baylor in 2008.

Did you know? ESPN has Taylor as the No. 14 defensive tackle available in this year's NFL Draft. In May 2010, Taylor joined a group of Baylor student-athletes on a mission trip to Kenya.


Aaron Jones
Kicker
Freshman
Crowley, Texas

Contribution: A walk-on last year, as a redshirt freshman Jones has amped up the Bears' kicking game, earning a spot as one of 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Collegiate Place-Kicker Award. He has twice hit from 50 yards out, the most in a season by any Baylor kicker since (current Miami Dolphins GM) Jeff Ireland in 1991.

Key stats: Jones ranks third in the Big 12 and 10th nationally in made field goals per game. His 19 field goals this season broke another of Ireland's records, set in 1989, and his 73 percent completion rate (19 of 26) is ninth best in Baylor history.

How he got here: Jones was kicker on Crowley High School's varsity team for two years and was asked by Baylor assistant Larry Hoefer to walk on at BU. After spending last fall on the practice squad, Jones' reliability and power earned him the starting spot during spring drills.

Did you know? Briles gave Jones the nickname "Stork" because of his lanky frame (6-foot-3, 185 pounds) and because "storks don't panic."


Byron Landor
Safety
Senior
Lake Charles, La.

Contribution: The hard-hitting safety, nicknamed "Crash," led the Baylor defense in tackles and fumble recoveries. Landor earned first-team All-Big 12 honors from the Associated Press, just the fourth Baylor defensive player ever to make the AP's first team.

Key stats: With 115 tackles, Landor ranks fourth in the Big 12 and 24th nationally; that total ranks second in the nation among non-linebackers.

How he got here: Ranked as a top-100 junior college prospect at Blinn College, Landor stepped in to appear in 11 of the Bears' 12 games as a junior last fall and started all 12 games for BU this season.

Did you know? Landor is the first player in program history to be named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week twice in the same season, picking up the honor two times in a span of three games earlier this year.

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