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March 3, 2009

Baylor optimistic bowl drought can end in 2009

BAYLOR AT-A-GLANCE
Robert Griffin stepped in as a true freshman last season and immediately provided the Bears a big-play threat at quarterback.
THE BASICS
Coach: Art Briles
Last season: 4-8, 2-6 Big 12
Spring dates: March 3-April 4
RETURNING STARTERS
Offense (8): G James Barnard, RB Jay Finley, WR David Gettis, QB Robert Griffin, G Jordan Hearvey, WR Ernest Smith, C J.D. Walton, WR Kendall Wright.
Defense (8): CB Krys Buerck, NT Trey Bryant, LB Antonio Johnson, LB Antonio Jones, FS Jordan Lake, E Jason Lamb, MLB Joe Pawelek, SS Jeremy Williams.
Special teams (2): P Derek Epperson, K Ben Parks.

Positions of strength

Quarterback Robert Griffin stepped in as a true freshman last season and immediately provided the Bears a big-play threat something they've desperately lacked. He rushed for more than 800 yards, passed for more than 2,000 and threw 15 touchdown passes against just three interceptions. In the dreadful event that he's injured, Baylor can turn to former starter Blake Szymanski, who holds the school record for single-season passing yards and touchdown passes. Defensively, All-Big 12 selection Joe Pawelek heads a list of three returning starters at linebacker. The depth is good there, too.

Help is needed

Three-year starters Jason Smith, a projected NFL first-round draft choice, and Dan Gay completed their eligibility and left a void at offensive tackle. To fill it, coaches signed three junior college transfers. Cornerback also needs to be upgraded, and the hope is junior Tim Atchison can make a successful transition from safety.

Keep an eye on

CB Trentson Hill: Hill started the last five games of 2008 as a freshman and held his own with 30 tackles and an interception. With a year of growth (physically and mentally), he projects to make a bigger impact this season.

LB Earl Patin: Patin, a junior, posted a respectable 52 tackles last season. However, it could be argued that he underachieved. He has great ability and could break into the starting lineup. In that case, look for his tackle total to increase. It might anyway.

DT Phil Taylor: The Bears need a big boost at defensive tackle and Taylor a 6-foot-4, 335-pound junior could provide it. Once a four-star prospect, he transferred to Baylor after being booted off the team at Penn State for off-field problems. He was a part-time starter for the Nittany Lions.

His time is now

Stardom keeps eluding wide receiver David Gettis' grasp because his hands are so unreliable. Pettis (6-4/210) has good size, great speed and runs sharp routes. But in three seasons, he's managed just 64 catches for 880 and one touchdown. If it all comes together, he could match or exceed those totals this fall. If not, well, sometimes opportunity just slips through your fingers.

The buzz

Fourteen seasons have passed since Baylor has appeared in a bowl, but there is optimism in Waco that drought may end in '09. Coach Art Briles did a commendable job in his first season and returns an experienced team led by Griffin. The Bears went 4-8 last season, with three losses by a touchdown or less. There figures to be more intensity than in recent springs because of the possibilities that await in the fall.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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