Baylor season review

It had all the makings of a special season for Baylor.

A season-opening victory at Wake Forest convinced long-suffering Bears fans they really could go to a bowl game for the first time since 1994. Even a home loss to Connecticut didn’t diminish that excitement.

But in the following week the Bears’ hopes of stopping the Big 12’s longest bowl drought were snuffed out when standout sophomore quarterback Robert Griffin suffered a season-ending knee injury. It took the luster from an otherwise memorable 68-13 victory over Northwestern State.

Without Griffin, the Bears offense predictably struggled. Backup Blake Szymanski was also injured in the Northwestern State game, paving the way for freshman starter Nick Florence.

Despite his inexperience, Florence kept the offense humming and even threw for a school-record 427 yards and three touchdowns to pace a 40-32 upset victory over Missouri.

Efforts like those were few and far between for a Baylor offense that sputtered most of the time. The Bears ranked 103rd in scoring and 108th in rushing.

Other than the Missouri game, the Bears had trouble scoring against Big 12 opponents. They scored less than 14 points in seven of their eight conference games and produced an average of 10 points per game in the last three games.

The defense struggled as well, particularly late in the season. The Bears were blistered for 468 passing yards by Missouri and two weeks later yielded 375 rushing yards against Texas A&M. During the final four games of the season, the Bears allowed an average of 446.5 yards per game and 5.83 yards per play.

And with key defenders like Joe Pawelek and Jordan Lake leaving, the Bears defense now becomes its biggest question.

Offensive MVP IR Kendall Wright

There’s a tendency to still pick Griffin because he means so much to the Bears. But as far as an actual production his season, inside receiver Kendall Wright was a key player no matter who was throwing him the ball. Wright led Baylor with 66 receptions, 740 receptions and produced four touchdowns. He caught at least one pass in every game, extending his streak to 24 games. And his numbers should pick up next season when Griffin is healthy.

Defensive MVP Joe Pawelek

He finished his career as one of the top defensive players in Baylor history, producing 422 tackles -- a total greater than any other active FBS player. Pawelek finished his career with 45 consecutive starts, capping his career with a 12-tackle effort against Texas Tech in his final game. He led the Bears with 109 tackles and also notched 14 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.

Turning point: Sept 26 vs. Northwestern State

Robert Griffin’s injury changed everything about Baylor this season. The Bears' bowl hopes were iffy as soon as Griffin limped off the field after a tackle by Northwestern State’s Gary Riggs. An MRI later revealed he tore his ACL in his right knee causing him to miss the rest of the season. After that injury, the Bears lost seven of their last nine games to again fall out of bowl eligibility.

What’s next?

Griffin apparently is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation after the surgery and should be ready to participate in spring practice. The Bears return most of their offensive weapons, but will miss center J.D. Walton, James Barnard and receivers Ernest Smith and David Gettys. The defense is where the big losses will be found as Pawelek, Jordan Lake and three starters along the defensive front all will be gone. It won’t be easy to rebuild on the fly -- especially in the Big 12 South.