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October 2, 2008

Big 12: Griffin is star in the making

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

Texas, LSU and Texas Tech wanted Baylor freshman Robert Griffin as a wide receiver. Texas A&M wanted him as a safety. But first-year Baylor coach Art Briles promised Griffin a shot at quarterback, and that's why Briles and the Bears have one of the most electric freshman quarterbacks in the country.

"Robert Griffin, someone that everyone is talking about, is an exceptional athlete," said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, whose top-ranked Sooners open Big 12 play in Waco on Saturday against Baylor. "He has great speed and a big arm back there."

Briles and Griffin are facing long odds against OU (4-0). Who are we kidding? Briles and Griffin are facing long odds in bringing respectability back to Baylor (2-2) – a program plagued with defeat since Grant Teaff stepped down as coach in 1992. But they are bonded by the challenge.

"These guys on this team want to win," Griffin said. "They've come up on the wrong side of the table a bunch of times in the past. God brought me here to install a winning attitude around the locker room. I'm not going to accept defeat – whether it's to the No. 1 team in the nation or the last team in the nation. When you step on the field, you're supposed to win."

It didn't take long for college football observers to sense something special about Griffin, whom Briles convinced to go to Baylor after Griffin initially committed to play for Briles at Houston.

Griffin graduated No. 7 in his high school class at Copperas Cove (Texas) High, is majoring in political science and wants to go to law school one day. He enrolled at Baylor in January and won the 400-meter hurdles at the Big 12 outdoor track and field championships in the spring.

On the field, Griffin is completing 60 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and zero interceptions, and also is averaging 83.5 yards per game rushing. It took Griffin all of three games to set the Baylor single-game rushing record with 217 yards in a 45-17 rout of Washington State.

"Robert is a gifted athlete, no doubt," Briles said. "He handles it in a very mature manner. That is the thing I am most proud of about him. He is a really, really good team player."

After becoming the starter after the 41-13 season-opening loss to Wake Forest, Griffin said he and his teammates wouldn't accept defeat. The Bears nearly pulled off an upset at defending co-Big East champion Connecticut two weeks ago.

When asked about the team's mind-set coming off a bye and facing OU, Griffin said, "We can play with anyone who steps on the field with us, and they are in trouble because we're not going to back down. We're going to play the whole game, no matter what the scoreboard says. We believe in ourselves, and that's all that matters."

BIG 12 SCHEDULE
SATURDAY
No. 16 Kansas at Iowa State, 12:30 p.m.
No. 1 Oklahoma at Baylor, 12:30 p.m.
No. 7 Texas Tech at Kansas State, 3:30 p.m.
Texas A&M at No. 21 Oklahoma State, 7 p.m.
No. 5 Texas at Colorado, 7 p.m.
No. 4 Missouri at Nebraska, 9 p.m.

  • BEST MATCHUP
  • Missouri's Chase Daniel vs. Nebraska's pass defense. Daniel feasted on Nebraska's defense last year in a 41-6 rout in which the Tigers rolled up 606 yards. Thing is, that Big Red defense might have been better than this one. The pressure is on the Huskers to somehow slow Daniel as Mizzou tries to win in Lincoln for the first time since 1978. That's a 0-15 span in which the Tigers have lost at Memorial Stadium by an average of 26 points. Nebraska's pass defense, which gave up three big plays through the air against pass-challenged Virginia Tech last week, is ranked 97th nationally, giving up 245.0 yards per game.

  • PLAYER TO WATCH
  • Oklahoma State running back Kendall Hunter. Hunter, a sophomore, is the Big 12's leading rusher, averaging 154.5 yards per game. He is a big reason Oklahoma State is leading the nation in rushing (340.3 ypg). Hunter has topped the 100-yard mark in all four games this season. This week, he faces Texas A&M, which is 116th in the country in rush defense (227.5 ypg).

  • WHO'S HOT
  • Oklahoma sophomore QB Sam Bradford threw for a career-high 411 yards – third-most in OU history – and helped WR Manual Johnson set a school record with 206 receiving yards on just five receptions in a 35-10 win over TCU. Johnson scored three touchdowns, on receptions of 79, 55 and 63 yards. … Texas QB Colt McCoy was 17-of-19 for 185 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for two more scores in a 52-10 wipeout of Arkansas. McCoy, who has run and passed for touchdowns in three of four games this season, has 14 touchdown passes and one interception. … Oklahoma State's 11 possessions against Troy resulted in nine scoring drives last week. … Kansas State QB Josh Freeman and WR Brandon Banks are lighting it up. Freeman, a junior, became K-State's leading career passer last week with 6,238 yards while accounting for five touchdowns in a 45-37 win over Louisiana-Lafayette. His favorite target this season has been Banks, a junior college transfer who leads the nation in receiving yards per game (115.8). Banks has caught six touchdown passes this season; all have covered at least 30 yards. … Texas A&M freshman free safety Trent Hunter earned his first start and responded with a team-high 17 tackles in the Aggies' 21-17 victory over Army. Eleven of his tackles were solo stops, including a 2-yard loss on an Army third-down play.

  • WHO'S NOT
  • Oklahoma ran 36 times for 25 yards against TCU, the nation's top-ranked rushing defense. TCU had four sacks for minus-36 yards, which comes off the rushing total, and Stoops said he wasn't concerned. … The Sooners are ranked 104th in kickoff-return yardage defense, giving up 24.9 yards per return. … Against a Virginia Tech offense that had been having trouble throwing the ball, Nebraska's defense couldn't stop the run. The Huskers gave up 206 rushing yards as the Hokies held on for a 35-30 victory in Lincoln. Coach Bo Pelini was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty during Tech's game-clinching touchdown drive. … Despite averaging 205.3 rushing yards per game, Texas still is  looking for an every-down back. Starting tailback Vondrell McGee struggled again, averaging just 3.0 yards per carry (16 rushes for 48 yards) against Arkansas. Coaches are hoping for the return this week of redshirt freshman Foswhitt Whittaker from a knee injury. … Texas A&M QB Stephen McGee is day-to-day after aggravating an injury to his throwing shoulder.

  • WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
  • ""I think a lot of guys weren't really aware of it until the last couple of days, when it was hyped up so much that they haven't won up here since (1978). It's pressure on our plate, but I don't think it's going to affect us. … They haven't been able to play as well here, I guess. We hope that continues on this weekend, and if we do everything we want to do, it probably should." – Nebraska senior DE Zach Potter on Missouri, which hasn't won in Lincoln since 1978.

    "If you're going to outrun someone, outrun someone that can run." – Baylor coach Art Briles on the challenge of starting Big 12 play against top-ranked Oklahoma.

    "Whereas most programs are promoting one individual, we have two worthy candidates for consideration. Choosing one over the other to promote is not an option. Therefore, we are leaving that decision up to the voters. We will present the information and platforms as they unfold." – Texas Tech sports information director Chris Cook on Monday in announcing the school's Heisman campaigns for QB Graham Harrell and WR Michael Crabtree.

  • ETC.
  • Baylor is 0-17 against Oklahoma and 0-10-1 against top-ranked teams. … Kansas State's offense against Texas Tech's defense will be an intriguing matchup. K-State is No. 8 nationally in scoring offense, averaging 47 points per game, and has yet to allow a sack of Josh Freeman (the nation's No. 8 passer) this season. But the competition has been North Texas, Montana State, Louisville and Louisiana-Lafayette. Texas Tech is giving up only 16 points per game, but the competition has been Eastern Washington, Nevada, SMU and Massachusetts. … Colorado has lost its third offensive lineman to a season-ending injury. Sophomore right tackle Ryan Miller fractured his left leg in the Buffaloes' 39-21 loss to Florida State in Jacksonville last weekend. … In its past two games, Colorado has given up 311 yards rushing to West Virginia and 259 yards rushing to Florida State. … Kansas and Iowa State, which open Big 12 play in Ames on Saturday, are coming off bye weeks. … Kansas' Kerry Meier leads the nation in receptions per game (9.25). … Nebraska WR Nate Swift's 88-yard punt return for a touchdown against Virginia Tech means the Huskers have returned a punt, kickoff and interception for a score this season.

    MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

    Chip Brown is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at cbrown@rivals.com.



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