Baylor season review

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

New coach Art Briles wasted little time starting the Robert Griffin era. And for that, Baylor's long-suffering fans should be appreciative.

The Bears finished a 4-8 season with Griffin taking virtually every snap after being inserted early in the first game of the season. The nation's youngest starting quarterback oozed playmaking ability and confidence from the beginning. And most importantly, he provides hope for the future.

Close losses to Connecticut, Nebraska, Missouri and Texas Tech all could have gone the other way with some breaks for the Bears. So Briles really wasn't that far removed from taking his first Baylor team to a bowl trip, which would have snapped a 14-season bowl drought that is tied with Duke for the longest among teams in BCS-affiliated conferences.

Griffin was the starter on an offense that also featured talented skill-position players like wide receiver Kendall Wright and running back Jay Finley. Both will be back with more experience.

Briles' team was physical, ranking 25th nationally in rushing. And it was careful with the football, ranking third nationally in turnover margin.

They finished tied for the Big 12 South cellar, but beat Texas A&M and nearly stunned Texas Tech in Lubbock. The elusive bowl berth may be the next big hurdle to overcome.

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Robert Griffin. The 18-year-old Griffin was everything advertised -- and more -- in his freshman season. He finished by passing for 2,091 yards with 15 touchdowns against three interceptions. And he was the conference's top rushing quarterback, rushing for 843 yards and scoring a school-record 13 touchdowns.

Defensive Player of the Year: LB Joe Pawelek. Briles contends that Pawelek deserved All-America honors and it's hard to argue against it, considering his statistics. He led the conference in average tackles per game (10.67) and interceptions (.50 per game). And he has a knack for big plays, with two of his interceptions coming in the Baylor end zone. In short, he was one of the nation's most underrated defenders.

Turning point: Baylor's rousing 41-21 victory over Texas A&M was more than just a feel-good way to send 21 seniors out for their final home game. Considering that Baylor had a 41-7 lead after three quarters, it was a symbolic indication that the Bears had passed the Aggies and no longer should be considered the South's doormat.

What's next: With continued health for key players like Griffin, Pawelek, Wright and Finley, the Bears should challenge for a bowl berth in the next couple of seasons. It might be wise for Briles to convince Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw to tone down his ambitious nonconference schedule. A more moderate schedule might provide the Bears enough of a window to go bowling next season.