June 14, 2012

The Baylor Blitz

With 2011-12 athletic season now history, it wouldn't be right if we let it go without some reflection. The SicEmSports.com staff went through the Top 5 events that defined the year. While picking them wasn't an issue, determining the order was. Agree or disagree, that's what makes these rankings water cooler talk.

So here they are:

1. Robert Griffin wins Heisman Trophy; Selected 2nd overall in NFL Draft

"This is unbelievably believable. It's unbelievable because in the moment we're all amazed when great things happen. But it's believable because great things don't happen without hard work. The great coach Art Briles always says great things only come with great effort, and we've certainly worked for this.
That's right, everybody associated with Baylor University has reason to celebrate tonight. To my teammates, I'd like to say thank you. As we say, the hotter the heat, the harder the steel. No pressure, no diamonds. We compete, we win. We are Baylor. Baylor we are, Baylor we'll always be, but it's up to us to define what that means, and this Heisman Trophy is only the beginning of that process."

-- Robert Griffin III, Heisman Trophy Acceptance Speech, Dec. 10, 2011 New York Downtown Athletic Club

When the Heisman Trophy campaign began last summer, it seemed to be nothing more than just extra publicity for the football program. The substance was questionable.

But when Baylor's junior quarterback led his team to a come-from-behind 50-48 victory over TCU in the season opener, the campaign instantly had the energy it needed.

A dramatic come-from-behind victory at Kansas saved the campaign. The game-winning last-second touchdown pass against Oklahoma turned into the Heisman moment. The electrifying performance against Texas sealed it.

Griffin became the first winner of the coveted award in Baylor history and the 77th annual winner. He finished ahead of Stanford quarterback Oliver Luck. RG3 finished his record-setting season with 4,293 yards and 37 TDs and rushing for 699 yards and 10 scores.

But the two weren't done either when it came to the NFL draft. Both then-juniors declared and pundits debated who was better. Most believed Luck would go first to Indianapolis. Griffin's fate was unknown until early March when Washington traded up to the get the No. 2 overall pick owned by the St. Louis Rams. It then became a formality. Luck went first. RG3 went second with the Redskins hoping he would become the franchise player.

2. 40-0
The expectations for Kim Mulkey's Lady Bears were to win a national championship. Going undefeated probably wasn't on the radar, was it?

With a non-conference schedule that included such powers as Notre Dame, Connecticut, Tennessee and three games against defending national champion Texas A&M, you would have figured this team would slip once.

But that didn't happen. With all-everything performer post Brittney Griner and zig zag guard Odyssey Sims, this team faced down all challengers. In fact, it was hard to know when this ballclub was really pushed. In its 40 games, only five were decided by 10 points or less. Baylor won the Big 12 championship by seven games. The Lady Bears went 18-0. Texas A&M and Oklahoma tied for second at 11-7. At the Big 12 tournament, they crushed Texas Tech, Kansas State and Texas A&M by an average of 22 points to win the title.

In the NCAA tournamet, it didn't change very much. The Lady Bears defeated UC-Santa Barbara, Florida, Georgia Tech, Tennessee and Stanford by double digits. They then went on to win the national title with an 80-61 victory over the Fighting Irish and become the first program in history to go 40-0.

It was Mulkey's second national title with the first coming in 2005.

3. Football's resurgence
Getting to a bowl game in 2010 was important for Art Briles' program. It broke a 16-year drought. The challenge for this program was to duplicate or even exceed in 2011 what it did in 2010.

The theme of the season was the record-setting offense overcoming a new defense which was going to have its problems. It did. RG3 had plenty of targets including Kendall Wright, Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese. Terrance Ganaway led the way on the ground.

Following the gut-wrenching win over TCU, the Bears started quickly at 5-0. Then came the slide with three losses in the next four games including blowouts at Texas A&M and at Oklahoma State. And the season hung in the balance in Lawrence, KS. Against the listless Jayhawks, Baylor trailed 24-3 going into the fourth quarter. But RG3 rescued his team with three touchdowns to tie the game, send it to overtime and pull out a 31-30 victory. The Bears stopped the Jayhawks' two-point attempt.

The dramatic 45-38 win over Oklahoma marked the first victory for the Bears over the Sooners ever. From there, Baylor dominated Texas Tech, Texas and Washington in the Alamo Bowl. The Bears won that Arena-Football style game, 67-56. For the season, the offense eclipsed 600 yards seven times including 777 against Washington.
Finishing 10-3 -- the second 10-win season in school history to tie a record -- it was the beginning of the big four programs - football, men's basketball, women's basketball and baseball - winning a record 128 games.

4. Men's Basketball is Elite
The 2011-12 calendar proved something was up when Scott Drew's team started out quickly at 17-0. In fact, at one point Baylor had not lost a game between men's and women's basketball and football from Oct. 29, 2011-Jan. 16. The Bears were ranked as high as No. 4 in major polls.

The Bears wound up finishing tied for third with Iowa State in the Big 12 behind Kansas and Missouri. But the likes of point guard Pierre Jackson, Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller, the team ran all the way to the conference tournament championship game.

In the NCAA tournament, Brady Heslip was relentless shooting the Bears to second and third-round victories over South Dakota State and Colorado in Albuquerque. Against the Buffaloss, Heslip drained 9 3-pointers. Baylor then handled Xavier in its Sweet 16 game in Atlanta. However, the school-record 30-8 campaign ended in an 82-70 loss to eventual national champion Kentucky.

Weeks later, the program lost PJ3 and Miller to the NBA draft. However, the staff was well prepared for those departures when a big recruiting class led by Arlington Grace Prep standout Isaih Austin and Ricardo Gathers

5. Baseball Bounces Back.
It was hard to let go for the baseball team after last year's frustrating finish in the NCAA tournament. A 31-28 season and blown chance to host the Super Regional gave Steve Smith's program plenty to consider.

No one was really sure how this group would handle the season. But right-hander Trent Blank and left-hander Josh Turley established the precedent. Couple that with Big 12 player of the year in Josh Ludy and first baseman Max Muncy and the the program ripped off a school-record 24-game winning streak and won the Big 12 regular season title by sweeping six series.

Seeded No. 4 nationally in the NCAA tournament, the team won its regional in Waco. But it did it the hard way. The Bears los the opener against Oral Roberts and then had to win the final four games by beating UT-Arlington, Oral Roberts and Dallas Baptist twice.

Then they hosted Arkansas in the Super Regional at Baylor Ballpark. But the team was denied a chance to advance to the College World Series when the Razorbacks rallied to win the final two games of the series. It still didn't take away from the second-best season in school history at 49-17.

Admittedly, Deon Hollins Jr. understood that his commitment to UCLA might have been a touch early.

When he committed to the Bruins back in March, he did it sight unseen. When a Houston-area player is committed to a school beyond state lines, there's a chance to keep him home. Baylor knows that.

Baylor assistant Kendal Briles has been tracking the Fort Bend Marshall outside linebacker within the last two months and offered him in late May.

"They were here for my last day of practice,'' Hollins said. "They are an attractive school and one thing that's going to be important to me in my decision is my family. They are heavy in my life and I want them going to see my games.''

Hollins said he is being recruited as an outside linebacker but also as a defensive end in certain situations. With 4.5 speed, he has been hard to contain. In his first two years to start, he's collected 25 sacks. He said he wants to take an unofficial visit when teammate Maurice Porter visits. That could be within the next several weeks.

So where is this thing going with Ricky Seals-Jones? Well, that all depends on who you talk to.

As of now, it looks like the three programs making a run at the Texas de-commitment are Baylor, LSU and Texas A&M. And that's in no particular order.

One side says the Aggies are leading because of the long standing connection between Sealy and Texas A&M. But we are hearing that Seals-Jones really likes Baylor and that everything could swing if he can get to Waco to take an unofficial visit.

From what we know, it looks like the Rivals No. 18 player in the country and No. 1 prospect in Texas will be taking a visit within the next 2-3 weeks.

The key for Baylor is that the football coaching staff needed to be careful in how it handled this because it wanted to ensure it locked down Fort Worth Southwest wide receiver Robbie Rhodes.

The basketball angle is in this and it's no secret that Baylor coach Scott Drew and his staff have been tracking him and are impressed.

Of course, the week got off to a great start when Rhodes gave his verbal commitment to the Bears on Sunday.

Much has been made of the relationship Art Briles and his son Kendal established with Rhodes father, Reggie. There were some reports out there that suggested this was one of the primary reasons Rhodes committed.

All three are University of Houston alums. Reggie played wide receiver and defensive back for the Cougars from 1983-88 and played with Andre Ware, Jason Phillips and Chuck Weatherspoon. That was after Briles. Still, the elder Rhodes downplayed the connection.

"I believe Robbie's commitment was something that sold itself,'' Reggie said. "I knew some of the people Art knew with UH alumni. It put some things at ease. But this decision was Robbie's. He was very private to himself about that. There were times when me and my wife would ask him what he's doing, and he'd say he's open.
"We made trips. When we were at Baylor, he felt loose. When he was at TCU, it was like he was there but didn't feel it. We felt good at Texas Tech. He just wanted to stay in Texas.''

Proximity was important. Because of an undisclosed family situation, Rhodes wanted to be close to home but not within a 10-15-minute drive.

As a former receiver, Reggie appreciates the ability his son has. He believes the future work the Baylor coaching staff will put in will make a difference.

"He's operating off of God given talent,'' Reggie said. "But he will get better when he gets there. I can remember in the opener last year against Everman, he just emerged last year (Rhodes caught 7 passes for 236 yards and had TD receptions of 74, 56 and 27 yards). He separates like no other. He has a destiny for the end zone.''

Explosive and Electrifying are two of the words Denton Guyer 2014 quarterback Jerrod Heard used when he was asked about Baylor's offense.

And count him among those who really like Baylor's camp scene. The budding prospect, who attended the camp in Waco last week, also netted an offer from the Baylor coaching staff. Unlike most camps that are run like a combine, Baylor's camp prides itself on repetitions through many drills.

"It was great,'' Heard said. "I really liked it when we went outside and worked on our form. We could square down. For a dual quarterback like me, they helped me position my feet and be quicker with my hips so I could turn and release the ball faster.

With offers from Baylor, LSU, Nebraska, Arizona State and Arizona, Heard's stock will only continue to rise.

He took over the Guyer offense last year for J.W. Walsh who went to Oklahoma State. What's intriguing, he called his sophomore year a learning year. But most quarterbacks would wish their sophomore years would result in completing 58 percent of their passes for 2,286 yards and 28 TDs and rushing for 650 yards and 10 TDs.

There is a Baylor connection here. Heard said he has a couple of extended family members who graduated from there.

"I'm really taking it in and learning from this,'' Heard said of his recruiting. "Baylor is a very beautiful campus.''

Basketball Bits
• Baylor appears to be no longer in the running for the Fort Bend Travis twins, Andrew and Aaron Harrison. In a radio interview earlier this week, Andrew said he has eliminated Baylor. That would appear to impact Aaron since those two are on record saying they want to play together.
Apparently, SMU and new coach Larry Brown have moved his program into consideration. The twins visited SMU about three weeks ago. However, it has long been speculated that this recruitment is really between Kentucky and Maryland.

• On Friday, Drew and his staff can start sending unlimited text messages and phone calls to players who have completed their sophomore year.

• And keep in mind we told you that starting this summer basketball coaches could hold workouts with their players each week.

• The 2012-13 schedule will be released at the end of July. A couple of things to point out is that there should be return games with BYU and Northwestern. The return game with Gonzaga will be Dec. 28 in Washington. Also, the Kentucky series replaces the series with Mississippi State. The Bulldogs canceled the remainder of the series with the Bears when there was the coaching change. Also, there doesn't look like there will be a game played at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

Here is the latest with recruits across the Rivals network:

Justin Webster, Ath, Northland Christian - Iowa State offered

George Baltimore, DB, Mansfield - Committed to TCU

Sam Kronshage, OL, The Woodlands - Committed to Colorado

Jonathan Huckins, OL, The Woodlands - Committed to Colorado

Cody Hays, OL, FW Eastern Hills - Texas Tech offered

Forrest Reedy, OL, Hunstville - Iowa State and New Mexico offered

Steve Wesley, DB, Arlington Bowie - Committed to TCU

Trevor Walker, DB, Mansfield Timberview - Arizona offered

Brandon Simmons, DB, Mansfield Timberview - LSU offered (2014)

Chris Hardeman, DB, Alief Taylor - Houston offered (2014)

Ty Barrett, OL, Dallas Skyline - Texas Tech offered (2014)

Jowan Davis, RB, Sealy - Rice offered

Alex Leslie, TE, New Braunfels - Iowa State, Wake Forest, Fla. Atl., Memphis offered

Reggie Chevis, LB, Houston Sharpstown - Committed to Texas A&M

Bryson Henderson, DE, Mansfield Summit - Committed to TCU

Caleb Benenoch, OL, Katy Seven Lakes - de-committed from Michigan State. Oklahoma and Texas offered. Will visit Baylor and Texas A&M and Oklahoma in the coming weeks

Victor Evans, DE, Dallas Skyline - SMU offered (2014)

Justin Phillips, LB, Pearland - Oklahoma State offered (2014)

Daniel McCarty, OL, San Antonio Alamo Heights - Committed to SMU

Dylan Sumer-Gardner, S, West Mesquite - Committed to Clemson (2014)

Demarcus Ayers, Ath, Lancaster - Committed to Washington State

Kamari Syrie, S, Hurst L.D. Bell - Committed to Iowa State

Justin Chavez, S, Irving MacArthur - UTSA offered

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