We're going to go back and grade each Big 12 team's season in the coming weeks, and we'll start at the top of the alphabet with the Big 12's hottest team: The Baylor Bears.
OFFENSE: Art Briles and the Bears maintained all spring that the offense wouldn't lose a step without Robert Griffin III. It sounded far-fetched, and though it didn't translate to wins, Baylor wasn't blowing smoke. The Bears finished the season No. 2 in total offense, the same spot as last year, and averaged more than 572 yards a game, about 15 fewer than a year ago.
The Bears averaged 45 points a game last year, and this year, it was about 44. Nick Florence turned the ball over more than the Bears would want him to, but he finished second in the nation in total offense. Receiver Terrance Williams led the nation in receiving yards and was a Biletnikoff Award finalist. Fellow receiver Tevin Reese proved himself as a deep threat and the offensive line was one of the Big 12's best, led by Cyril Richardson. The Bears would have gotten an A-plus if they'd ridden Lache Seastrunk from the start of the season, and their record might be a little better, too. Still, his big finish makes 2013 very, very exciting for this offense. GRADE: A
DEFENSE: Just like last year, the story of the Bears defense was a surge in turnover margin that led to big wins and a great finish to the season. Baylor was minus-11 in turnover margin in its first four Big 12 games and lost them all, forcing zero turnovers in three of those games. In the 4-1 finish in Big 12 play, the Bears were plus-10 in turnover margin, forcing at least two turnovers in every game.
Baylor's defense really turned heads with fantastic performances against Kansas State and UCLA, holding both teams to just 362 yards of total offense, the two lowest totals all season. Those were the Bears' two biggest wins of the year, and the defense was the catalyst for both. You can't hide from giving up 800 yards to West Virginia, more than 550 in a loss to Iowa State and 560 in a narrow win over Louisiana-Monroe. But this unit showed some potential, despite more rough games than memorable ones. GRADE: C-
OVERALL: If we're grading the first half of the season, the Bears looked like they might not beat anybody and a bowl berth looked like an uphill battle. If we're grading the second half of the season, Baylor might have been the Big 12's best team. Ultimately, it's got to come somewhere in the middle. Still, though, relative to expectations, Baylor overachieved. It won 10 games a year ago and looked like a fringe bowl team to begin the year. Winning eight games and closing with a bowl win over a ranked, favored Pac-12 team was impressive. GRADE: B+