Robert Griffin III can do it all—but he'd just as soon not have to. As a true freshman in 2008, Baylor's slashing, scrambling quarterback led the Bears with 13 rushing touchdowns and passed or ran for 65% of their yards from scrimmage. But facing a defense designed to contain him last Saturday at Wake Forest, Griffin let his teammates do the work in the Bears' season-opening 24--21 win. Early in the third quarter receiver Kendall Wright took a pitch from Griffin and raced for a 37-yard touchdown that put Baylor up 17--7. On its next possession, receiver Ernest Smith took a lateral pass from Griffin and lobbed a 33-yard touchdown pass to wideout Lanear Sampson. Bottom line: no stats for Griffin, but 14 quick points for the Bears. "I don't have to go crazy for us to win anymore," says Griffin, who completed 15 of 24 passes for 136 yards and ran 13 times for 41 more.
Nobody's going to confuse Baylor's top-to-bottom talent with that of the big shots in the Big 12. But the Bears have enough playmakers on both sides of the ball to make a serious run at their first bowl berth since 1994. On defense senior middle linebacker Joe Pawelek, an all-conference selection last year, set up one score by picking off Demon Deacons quarterback Riley Skinner with a twisting, leaping grab over the middle. And on offense, junior tailback Jay Finley rushed 14 times for 91 yards. "We don't want Robert to carry us," says second-year coach Art Briles. "We want him to make everybody better."
There might be no bigger talent in the nation than the 6'3", 210-pound Griffin. He has world-class speed—he was a semifinalist in the 400-meter hurdles at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials—and a powerful right arm. He was just 4--7 as a starter last year, but he regularly broke off long runs and completed nearly 60% of his throws, with 15 touchdowns and only three interceptions. "We knew he was going to be good," says Briles, "but we didn't know he was going to be ready."
Griffin learned to be disciplined from his parents, Robert and Jacqueline, both of whom were in the Army when he was born in Okinawa, Japan. Stern taskmasters, they wouldn't allow Robert and his two older sisters to attend parties or "hang around at the mall," says Jacqueline. Entertainment came in the form of family trips, first in Japan, then later near subsequent duty stations at Fort Lewis, Wash., and Fort Hood, Texas. In Fort Hood young Robert also found a way to entertain his parents: When he was about eight years old, they say, he would stand in the front yard and throw a football as high as he could over their one-story house, and then race around to the backyard and catch the ball before it hit the ground.
With its homebody quarterback running the show, Baylor has an excellent chance to sweep its nonconference schedule—after an off weekend, the Bears host UConn, Division I-AA Northwestern State and Kent State before beginning conference play at Oklahoma on Oct. 10. The Bears haven't opened 4--0 in 18 years; such a start would raise postseason hopes even higher. That's fine with Griffin, who is aiming for more than just a low-level bowl bid. "I think a lot of people's expectations are lower than ours," he says.
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No BCS conference suffered through a more brutal kickoff weekend than the ACC, beginning with N.C. State's listless 7--3 loss to South Carolina in Raleigh last Thursday night and carrying through to Maryland's 52--13 pasting at Cal on Saturday evening. Overall, the league went 4--6 against nonconference competition, an ugly start made all the worse by a pair of home losses against two Division I-AA teams—Richmond never trailed in beating Duke 24--16, while William & Mary defeated Virginia 26--14, shutting down the new spread offense of embattled coach Al Groh (below). Things might not get any better next weekend, when ACC teams go up against nine nonconference opponents (including UConn, Stanford and TCU) with a combined record of 6--1.
DAVID BERGMAN (GRIFFIN)
GIVE IT UP Griffin had a hand in 65% of Baylor's yards as a true freshman in '08 but was happy to do less against the Deacons.
LEE COLEMAN/ICON SMI