3:05 P.M., TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2012
BY JUSTIN CANGE
Fresh off Baylor's school record ninth win, the Bears re-entered the AP top 25 this week. They do so with a 3-0 record, a lot of uncertainty and a chance to shock the college football landscape Saturday in Morgantown.
For Baylor, the big time is now.
The Bears finished off Louisiana-Monroe Friday night just about the same time many of us finished off our second pack of antacids as a 47-42 triumph was anything but comfortable to sit through.
Then again, BU at no point panicked Friday. They did this despite digging themselves a two touchdown hole, committing two turnovers early and allowing a record hostile crowd truly believe that a special night deep somewhere in Louisiana was unfolding.
Fortunately, the good guys had plenty of answers. We knew this. Seeing them blitzkrieg their way to a 24 point second quarter and a halftime lead reminded a lot of us of last year's Alamo Bowl, I'm sure.
Unfortunately, watching a football game turn into a ping pong back-and-forth match of whose offense can find its way on to the field last is no way for Baylor to show improvement, much less stability this year.
So is the case when a game against a Sun Belt opponent produces over 1100 yards of total offense. ULM is by no means a typical Sun Belt team, however.
What awaits Baylor now is a shiny new conference foe in West Virginia, a team picked by many to storm through our league in their inaugural year with its new family. A team with a heralded quarterback and an offense that appears to be clicking on all cylinders.
Why would the Mountaineers start their new era against anyone else?
For the second straight year, BU heads into their conference opener without a blemish and does so on the road against another undefeated, ranked team. Last year, Baylor came up one point short against a Kansas State team that went on to win ten games and played in the Cotton Bowl.
With all-world quarterback Geno Smith ready to officially enter the Heisman race, this year's conference opener promises to be just as entertaining and important.
Truthfully, the Bears have nothing to lose come Saturday. They are heavy underdogs against a team that is notoriously dangerous at home. Few think Baylor's defense will put up much resistance against WV, even less will tell you that, despite this, the Mountaineers should be ready for a four quarter battle against a top-ten offense in Baylor.
We've been in this position before.
Though the season is only four weeks old, the conference contenders and pretenders seem to be sorting things out. OU has already lost at home, TCU has not earned their high ranking, Texas has plenty to still prove despite three wins and Kansas State, again, appears to be among the very best-coached teams in the country.
Under the radar once again comes Baylor. In the top 25 for a third straight season, showing no signs of slowing down offensively and finding new ways to win games each week.
The new season starts Saturday at 11 am. By 3:00 that afternoon, Baylor will not only know if this team is for real, but also if this team is much better than anyone could have ever guessed. That list of naysayers includes our new brothers in Appalachia.
Big time starts now.
4:15 P.M., TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2012
BY JUSTIN CANGE
Let's start with the good news this week: Baylor won its eighth consecutive game Saturday night, defeating Sam Houston State 48-23. The Bears are 2-0 for the third straight year.
Unfortunately, the Bears looked shaky, sloppy and, perhaps understandably, rusty in a game that was still in doubt in the 4th quarter against an FCS opponent.
However, a win is just that and while the Bears have much to improve upon heading into week four, there is still plenty of reason to believe the team got stronger on Saturday and is good enough to once again run the table in the non-conference portion of their season.
This week, I feel it bares mention that this team, once again, appears to be opportunistic and well-coached.
Coming off a bye, we certainly hoped to see nothing less than a dominant encore following a resounding opening night thrashing of SMU. The Bearkats had other intentions though and took a 10 point lead into halftime in front of another huge crowd at Floyd Casey Stadium.
What was said, shared or likely, destroyed in the Baylor locker room is anyone's guess. What matters more is that Baylor quickly and emphatically answered the call and regained momentum after the intermission and outscored SHSU 38-3 the rest of the way.
That's the sign of a good coach.
Art Briles' job last week and for most of the week before was not easy. Briles and his staff were given 13 days to prepare a team that was probably looking ahead to games later in the season while at the same time very likely riding a bit too high after only one victory.
The first half was beyond ugly and having an opponent gaining momentum and confidence as a huge underdog was something our coaching staff didn't have scripted.
Winning ugly is a part of building a successful program. Knowing how to win is something this team is equipped with. Saturday was a not-so-subtle reminder of this.
Baylor's defensive effort in the second half is another sign that the team did more than eat orange slices during the intermission.
The Bears forced three instrumental turnovers late along with a game changing turnover on downs that opened the door for Florence and The Machine to do what we knew was only a matter of time.
Some things in college football are hard to explain. How does a team like Louisiana-Monroe win at Arkansas? Why does Texas A&M not have cheerleaders? What is a Bearkat?
Others are a bit easier. Teams that win the turnover battle rarely lose. Teams that establish the run rarely have a problem moving the ball. The team that makes the most adjustments at halftime are more often the not the team with the most points at the end of the night.
After two games, Baylor fans know that we can play up to our opponent and come out like gangbusters from the first whistle. We also know that this team isn't immune to a few hiccups along the way.
With a short week to prepare now for a team that nearly won consecutive road games against SEC opponents, you can bet that Baylor won't be able to overcome these hiccups if they're going to win their school record ninth straight.
You can bet that our coach knows this too.
REMEMBER THE NAME
3:40 P.M., TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 2012
BY JUSTIN CANGE
Baylor football was afforded a bye week this past Saturday, offering the team a few more days to revel in their resounding season-opening win in preparation for Sam Houston State on Saturday. The Bears, like most of us, watched as many of their future opponents stormed to wins, including a shocking upset of Arkansas by Sept 21 opponent Louisiana-Monroe.
While the highlight for the team was likely getting the chance to enjoy a fall Saturday in an easy chair, I had the rare chance to catch up with my former boss in Baylor's athletic department in an extended phone visit.
Heath Nielsen, Baylor's Assistant AD of Communications has been in the press box for every BU football game since my arrival in Waco. To say he's been a part of some highs and lows would be an understatement. To say he didn't imagine Art Briles' success would be inaccurate and to say he, like all of us, is not enjoying the comprehensive resurgence and overhaul of our school's entire athletic identity would be...well, unnecessary.
Nielsen is a tireless worker, more often that not the vast majority of his 'weekend' is spent preparing the media for the upcoming game with game notes, interview requests, social media adherence and a number of duties most people would not even imagine. He, of course, is not alone in this endeavor as Baylor's Athletic Media Relations staff has grown immensely over the years.
So, given the rare chance to catch up with Nielsen is always a treat.
We talked at length about this season's expectations, sure. We discussed how the entire scene at Floyd Casey Stadium has undergone a massive face lift. We even laughed about how the sport itself has changed since my time as a student.
And then we talked about how the events of last season, in particular, those of last December served as the quintessential arrival of our school's premiere sport in to 'the big time.'
Seeing as last week wasn't only our bye week but also the debut of RG3 with the Washington Redskins seemed fitting.
The work of many in this athletic department launched Griffin's Heisman campaign last fall. Promoting not only his football prowess, but also the incredible character and leadership attributes Griffin still possesses was something the entire nation caught word of because of people like Nielsen.
To accomplish this at Baylor was a landmark achievement, not just for our Heisman winner.
Last year, the department branded the school's litany of accomplishments as 'The Year of The Bear,' trumpeting the Lady Bears' second national championship, men's hoops return to the Elite Eight and a record number of program's appearance in post-season play. The initiative landed a countless number of articles in essentially every national publication. It helped catch the eye of talking heads on sports talk TV and radio everywhere. It helped change the way the rest of the country viewed Baylor athletics.
Yet the conversation always came back to Griff, or as Nielsen still calls him, 'Rob.'
Obviously, Nielsen was there in New York that night last December as the official announcement was finally made. As we recollected on over a decade of BU sports memories, from the much-celebrated Big Monday win over Kansas in 2001, to the unspeakable hardship the events of Patrick Dennehy's death caused the entire Baylor family, to our men's hoops return to the big dance in 2008, we relived it all.
But, everything changed last December 10, we agreed.
I'm not sure we'll ever experience a single moment of such overdue joy and euphoria as Baylor fans. Like the rest of our fanbase, my reaction to the news that night still produces a lump in my throat. We remember where we were. We remember who we were with. We remember who we called first, we remember pumping our chests because years and years of torment, embarrassment and heartbreak had, in one moment, been erased.
RG3 is now an icon. He will never be forgotten. His face is everywhere now and to see him make a sensational debut in the NFL on Sunday was a surprise to nobody.
Job well done, friend.
NOW THAT WE FOUND LOVE
1:45 P.M., TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 2012
BY JUSTIN CANGE
Under the lights and once again on a national TV stage, Baylor football returned Sunday night with a complete pummeling of SMU. The Bears wasted no time in picking up where their every meaningful record-breaking 2011 season left off, scoring on their first two drives and again amassing over 600 yards of offense in a 35 point rout.
In other words, for those hoping Sunday night would play out like a sequel to 2011, the Bears released The Godfather and not The Hangover despite a much different looking cast.
Thus, for Baylor fans, the message was simple; it's okay to once again love this team and its quarterback
For one night at least, Baylor fans were able to forget about the aura and mystique of RG3 as Senior QB Nick Florence and the machine stepped out from his shadow and looked every bit as formidable as their 2011 selves. Baylor did so while dusting off a team as good (if not better) than any in the Big 12 Conference faced on the season's opening weekend.
The much maligned defense showed significant improvement too. The Bears D caused three game-changing turnovers, tackled solidly and did not allow a touchdown until the outcome had been well decided.
For those that waited all summer for opening night, there was plenty to smile about, plenty to be optimistic about and plenty of reason to believe that last year may have just been 'only the beginning.'
The chip on this team's shoulder is quite apparent.
Perhaps fueled by modest preseason prognostications and the constant mentioning of our Heisman winner's departure was enough for the Bears to come out of the tunnel like gang busters Sunday night.
Whatever the reason, SMU, a team coming off its third straight bowl appearance, caught the Bears at a bad time and was handed its biggest beat down in four years. Baylor now has 12 days to prepare for Sam Houston State and vie for the program's eighth straight victory.
Anybody else get the sense that this team has a better feel of its capabilities and potential than anybody with a web cam, pen or dare I say, online column?
The fact is, Florence has four years of experience not just at Baylor, but also with Briles' system. We've heard that word a lot lately, but it's quite apparent to many that the Baylor coach has built, implemented and improved on a strategy that works. Sunday night we saw a lot of plays executed just like last year. The zone read, the bubble screen, the use of the tight end near the goal line; these components will not change from 2011 to 2012. Only some of the names will.
So, for as reassuring as the pounding was for Baylor faithful, I have a tough time believing the team was as surprised or even relieved with the effort and outcome.
Added to that, it seems perfectly logical to be wide-eyed about the possibilities for a team with a fine-tuned offense paired with an opportunistic defense and very strong special teams.
All this optimism for a program just one year removed from the Griffin years?
You don't have to believe it, you won't be alone. Many think simply a return to a bowl game would make this season a success and that a handful of games on the BU schedule are inevitable losses this year.
After the season's opening weekend, I can't help but wonder how many of those teams are licking their chops to play BU. Chances are, they have more question marks to answer than Baylor does.
Think Florence and the Bears are loving that?