WACO, Texas (AP) — Nick Florence was impressive filling in for eventual Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III last season.
The Baylor Bears now need Florence for more than a half.
With RG3 gone after a record-setting career at Baylor that included 10 wins and a bowl victory last season, Florence is set to take over as the starting quarterback.
“We’re not saying, ‘Nick, we need you to be Robert.’... We wouldn’t say that to anybody,” coach Art Briles said. “We’re going to let Nick be Nick, and Nick being Nick is good enough.”
In his only game last season, after halftime against Texas Tech with Griffin sidelined with an apparent concussion, Florence completed 9 of 11 passes for 151 yards and two TDs. He also ran for a touchdown while the Bears scored 31 points to turn a tight game into a 66-42 victory.
That cost Florence a redshirt year. So instead of this year and next as Briles originally planned, Florence has only this season to be the starter.
Yet the senior quarterback, also the primary starter in 2009 as a freshman when Griffin tore ligaments in his knee, has no regrets about burning a full season of eligibility for that one half of football.
“I had the funnest half of football you could have,” said Florence, who is in graduate school. “I have one year, all I can ask for is an opportunity to play, and I’m going to get that opportunity and I’m going to have fun with it, and take advantage of it.”
Florence isn’t alone in trying to prove that Baylor can keep winning without Griffin, now starting for the Washington Redskins after bypassing his senior season and being the second overall draft pick.
“This year I feel is the statement year,” junior linebacker Ahmad Dixon said. “I understand that last year we made a statement, but this year, we have to prove to people that Baylor is never defined by one guy on the team, one star on the team. It’s a team thing, and we applaud Robert for everything he did. But it’s time now that we show people that we’re not just a one-hit wonder.”
Baylor plays its first game in the post-RG3 era Sept. 2 at home against SMU.
The Bears go into the season with a six-game winning streak. Northern Illinois (nine games) and new Big 12 foe TCU (eight games) are the only FBS teams with longer active streaks.
“They have us picked to finish seventh (in the Big 12). ... That’s just more motivation,” senior receiver Terrance Williams said. “We just see that we can show them better than we can tell them. So that’s basically what we’re trying to do.”
Griffin was one of five offensive starters drafted by NFL teams last spring. The others were big-play receiver Kendall Wright (108 catches, 1,663 yards and 14 TDs), running back Terrance Ganaway (1,547 yards rushing and 21 TDs), center Philip Blake and offensive lineman Robert T. Griffin. The Bears set 101 offensive records last season, when they averaged 587 total yards and 45 points a game.
In 2010, the Bears won seven games and ended a 16-year bowl drought with their first winning season as a Big 12 team. They followed that by matching the team record of 10 wins set during Mike Singletary’s senior season in 1980, and got their first bowl victory in 19 years.
“Can they maintain what they did last year was actually asked of us last year after we got to a bowl game for the first time in a long time,” Briles said. “They were saying can (Baylor) sustain again and win in ‘11. The answer was yes.”
And they expect to have the same answer when this season is done.
Williams, who had the game-winning touchdown catch in the closing seconds last November in Baylor’s first-ever victory over Oklahoma, is the top returning receiver (59 catches, 957 yards, 11 TDs). The Bears also have playmakers Tevin Reese (51-877-7) and Lanear Sampson (42-572-3).
After different 1,000-yard rushers each of the last two seasons, Jarred Salubi gets his chance as Baylor’s primary back. Glasco Martin also has experience with the Bears, and Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk is eligible to play after having to sit out last season.
“This isn’t a one-man show, and it wasn’t last year either,” Florence said. “We’ve got a lot of guys returning and we’ve got a lot of weapons on offense. So I’m just going to get the ball in their hands, and I’ll make plays when I need to make plays, but I’m going to let them to do their thing.”