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Summer Series Installment #1: Baylor Bears

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Football - Healed up redshirt sophomore qb RG3 and company started off 2010 with a 4-1 record and pushed it to 7-2 after wins over Kansas State and the struggling Texas Longhorns before running out of steam and finishing 7-6 including a loss to Illinois in the 2010 Texas bowl in Reliant Stadium. It was a disappointing end to a promising season-a promise kept by RG3 to get them to their first bowl in Big 12 history.

It seemed if only Briles and company could plug some holes on their Titanic Ship of a defense, they could only go up from 2010 moving into last season. After all the dynamic QB RG3 was starting to share some spot light, as out came names such as Kendall Wright and Terrance Gannaway. So Briles threw a life-saver out to Coach Phil Bennet in the tumultuous waters of the Pitt program debacle following the firing of Dave Wannstedt.

As 2011 moved on, it appeared Bennett to say the least will need some time more time to start to resemble defenses K-state fans associate with his name. The dynamic Bears rolled into MHK undefeated. ESPN was gushing left and right over Heisman hopefully RG3 who had yet to throw an interception all year…but he did and they left 3-1, and from there the media jets began to cool a bit. However that didn’t mean fortune doesn’t have a way of making up for itself, as the bears continued to surge and find their groove later in the season in part by knocking off #5 OU. Those efforts went a long way in them pulling off a 10 win season including the defense is optional, makes Mike Leach offense look anemic, 67-54 win over the poor 6-6 Washington Huskies in the Alamo bowl.

Long story short, the Baylor football team is almost likely trending downward with the departure of RG3, but I think it’s easy to see Art Briles found him a nice landing spot and inversely Baylor found their guy. I believe the 2012 Bears have a 9 wins ceiling regardless, as Briles + qb development seem to equal success. The remaining aura around the program has to be trending upward though. In the last two years the Baylor football program is 17-9 with an Alamo Bowl trophy in the trophy case as well as a Heisman trophy. And that folks is impressive; in fact so impressive the Baptists are opening up their wallets faster than late registration at a Billy Graham convention. The recent success has been enough to move along a concept of throwing an “on-campus” brand spanking new stadium on the other side of the Brazos with schnazzy walking bridge to connect the two. Oh and if I get the chance to go down, I got to figure out a way to sailgate!

Men's Basketball - Head coach Scott Drew is a polarizing figure; either you hate the guy, or you hate him just a little bit less than Pan. I kid, I kid, but every now and then you find a guy like Rob Cassidy who tends to enjoy Drew’s “you have my permission to do whatever on the hardwood” style of coaching. Well whatever bizarre camp you fall into, you can’t deny that he’s made the Bears visible in the world of MBB, and I think we can relate as Wildcat fans, coming from where the Bears came from I don’t think their fans care about how they achieve success. I know that for a fact because Drew texted me that to put it into my piece, you see they’re going paperless, otherwise I would have found it in the trash. I personally view Drew as the poor man’s John Calipari.

In 2010-11, Baylor’s basketball team finished the year 18-13, 7-9 in the league of 12=12 teams. It was a little bit of a dip in success as they were coming off of the heals of an elite 8 run in March of 2010. Even Lace-Dunn cooled off as the teams leading scorer from 704 down to 546. An early first round loss at the hands of OU in the big 12 tournament, the Bears were a bit of a head scratcher given the success in the year prior, but then again we all know that will be the subtitle to the coach’s biography: Scott Drew, head scratcher.

Riding the downs into 2011, the Bears’ roster looked a little more intimidating, and the team on paper almost had to be worth more than 18 wins. As time would unfold itself, they nearly did that in their first 19 games as they started 17-0. However, things began to unravel as usually is the case after facing the Kansas Jayhawks for the first time in a season, and the new 18 game conference schedule proved as weary as it sounds as the bears ended up 12-6 in conference play good enough for a 4th out of 10. Say what you will, but they still made their way to the championship game in Kansas City getting their efforts highlighted in media outlets across the country. Needless to say I didn’t know I needed to bring a welding helmet with me when I walked the 4 blocks from my job to watch them manhandle the ‘Cats at the Sprint Center last March. But they didn’t stop there as they made their second Elite Eight appearance in 3 years.

Say what you want about Drew, but he was worth a 48-21 record over the last two years which is pretty salty. Next year the Bears bring in a (Rivals rated) 5-star Center, and two 4 and 3 star kids as well. Whether it takes 1200 phone calls or not, the stalls appear in the stable appear occupied, and I think it’s safe to say at the very least there should be a level of sustainability in the MBB program at Baylor for years to come. We shall see how they weather the NCAA sanctions, and whether or not what smells like SMUt ends up like SMUt after this first go around.

WBB - The last two years of Baylor Women’s basketball have been come to be known as the Chaz Bono era. Wait, is that right? Fact checker?

Oh that was embarrassing. Sorry for getting that wrong. It’s been the Brittney Griner era. This is truly what brought the two gals from TX all the way to KC that day I stood in line at Oklahoma Joe’s with my parents at 3 in the afternoon. It was just happenstance that they could catch the Men’s team too in the championship after sobbing Jayhawk fans made tickets readily available to fans any team who’s mascot isn’t named Truman. Until Sports Science takes a dreadlock of Griner’s hair into a lab to test for testosterone levels, it may be safe to say that she is one top 10 most impressive female skill athletes of our generation.

In the past two years the Lady Bears were able to roll up 74 wins and only 3 losses. I don’t care what sport or what the competition is, that’s flat out impressive. That includes two conference regular season championships, two conference tournament championships and the 2012 national championship including the last three wins over WBB powers Stanford, Tennesse and Notre Dame. This earned Head Coach Kim Mulkey Coach of the year accolades.

From here, without Griner, I don’t see the Bears sustaining that ridiculous 96% winning percentage, but then again WBB is weird like that. Seems like there are about 6 teams that are really good, and everyone else out there doesn’t even match up close.

Baseball - This may be the hardest one to write as the Bears are protecting their 45-15 record in the regional final at their home park as I post this. They’ve dropped one game to Oral Roberts, but bounced back against UT-Arlington yesterday, only to face Oral Roberts at 2pm today in a grudge match. So perhaps I should have sat on this a little longer. Oh well.

Be as it may, we can still quantify 2011. Finishing the year 13-14 in conference games, the Bears added up a total of 31 wins to 28 losses. After a disappointing outing against Oklahoma State and Texas in the Conference tournament, the bears still found their way into the field of 64. Baylor advanced to the finals in the Rice Regional, but fell at the hands of the Cal Bears (must have been a black bear…beets…battlestar galactica) in the Championship game. No dice.

So when 2012 rolled around, the Bears made no apologies to anyone in the greater Chuck Neinas Midwest, wracking up 20 wins and 4 losses in conference play. They were virtually lights out, except for when the Sooner Schooner circled their camp fire. By and large their success has come behind the great bats of the team along with the arm of Jr. right hand pitcher Josh Turley. His 1.63 ERA over 93.1 innings has “please pick up the phone and call, Dayton” written all over it. For whatever reason that was only good enough for 2nd team all American accolades. So whoever was selected 1st team All-American, yikes! 3 other teammates joined him but one heading below as 3rd teamers, tieing familiar name Florida State with most All-American selections.

So as the verdict is still out on what this 2012 team will accomplish, thus far the Baseball Bears are joining the WBB in the 70+ wins club in the last two years, with a current total of 76-43, including a 2012 regular season championship.

Volley – In all honesty this is probably the least public of what I ordained the five most public sports. So I won’t say much here other than the fact that the Lady Bears accounted for a total record of 34-30 over the past two years.

In the end Baylor has set the bar pretty high as far as what an athletic department in this league has accomplished in the past two years. And although a bottom feeder, you have to give credit to Ken Star and his peeps for helping this conference survive its own demise. At the least it has been known as #yearofthebear

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