Robert Griffin III has one year of eligibility remaining, but it’s quite possible Thursday’s Alamo Bowl against Washington will be the final celebration of a brilliant collegiate career.
Most sports books monitored by the SportsOptions odds product have installed Baylor as 9 1/2-point favorites, with the total set at 79.
Baylor also hopes it will be the school’s first bowl victory in nearly 20 years.
The star quarterback – fresh off winning the program’s first Heisman Trophy – seems likely to summon one final prolific performance as the 15th-ranked Bears play a virtual home game Dec. 29 in San Antonio against Washington.
The man known as “RG3” has carried Baylor back to college football relevance, setting 46 school records in the process, and he was rewarded with one of the most recognizable trophies in sports earlier this month.
“This is unbelievably believable,” Griffin said in his Heisman acceptance speech. “It’s unbelievable because in the moment we’re all amazed when great things happen. But it’s believable because great things don’t happen without hard work.
“Everybody associated with Baylor has a reason to celebrate,” he added.
Griffin put up a dizzying array of statistics with his arm and his legs. He led the nation with a 192.3 passer rating, throwing 36 touchdowns and just six interceptions – and added 644 rushing yards and nine more TDs on the ground.
His first three passing yards against the Huskies will put him over 4,000, and he already surpassed 10,000 for his career during a 48-24 rout of Texas on Dec. 3.
Griffin is only a junior in terms of eligibility, but he’s already earned his degree in political science. Although Heisman runner-up Andrew Luck is projected by most as the top overall pick, Griffin’s NFL stock has been rising and he may not be far behind should he choose to enter the draft.
He said he’ll wait until after the Alamo Bowl to announce his plans.
“I know a lot of people have (Luck) locked in as the No. 1 guy,” Griffin said. “I’m not really worried about that and it won’t really affect my decision to come our or not.”
First, he’ll spend at least one more game directing an offense that has been all but unstoppable during Baylor’s five-game winning streak. The team has averaged 46.4 points and 587.0 total yards during the run, which included the program’s first victory over Oklahoma.
The Bears have nearly twice as many touchdowns (31) as punts (16) in that stretch.
“If anybody is going to play us right now, it’s going to be a tough matchup,” Griffin said. “If we go out and be us, then no one can beat us.”
If Washington can’t, Baylor (9-3) would have its first 10-win season since 1980, when it was unbeaten in the Southwest Conference and 10-2 overall.
The Bears are also seeking their first bowl win since defeating Arizona in the 1992 Sun Bowl. They’re playing in a bowl for the second straight season after losing 38-14 to Illinois in the Texas Bowl last year, but coach Art Briles said there’s a far different feeling this time.
“We were coming off three tough losses and we were excited about being in a bowl game because it was the first time in 16 years,” Briles said about last season. “We’re coming off of five victories where it’s not ‘Who’s next? What’s going to happen?’ We have a real good idea how we’re going to perform. So that is very comforting going into this bowl as opposed to a year ago.”
Washington’s defense doesn’t appear equipped to slow down Griffin. The Huskies (7-5) rank 116th out of 120 FBS schools against the pass, allowing 283.8 yards per game.
When facing two other elite quarterbacks this season, Washington has actually been gouged by the opponent’s running game. Luck had just 169 passing yards in Stanford’s 65-21 win over the Huskies on Oct. 22, but the Cardinal put up 446 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
USC’s Matt Barkley had 174 passing yards versus Washington while the Trojans’ 252 yards on the ground powered their 40-17 win Nov. 12.
Griffin can hurt opponents both ways, but he’ll surely be looking for senior Kendall Wright, who has rewritten the receiving section of Baylor’s record books. Washington’s trend may also mean a big day for senior Terrance Ganaway, who leads the Bears with 1,347 rushing yards and 17 total TDs.
Keith Price and Chris Polk will try to help the Huskies keep up, and they could turn this game into a shootout against Baylor’s 114th-ranked overall defense.
Price has already set a single-season school record with 29 touchdown passes, including three in a 38-21 Apple Cup win over Washington State on Nov. 26.
“He’s an absolute stud,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. “He’s a warrior, an amazing competitor. He wasn’t healthy, and you could probably see that watching the game. … It was an amazing season for a young man for whom there were so many expectations of ‘Who’s going to replace Jake (Locker)’ and all of that pressure.”
Polk, a junior running back, caught four of Price’s TD tosses and also scored 11 times on the ground, ranking third in the Pac-12 with 1,341 rushing yards. He needs 75 to surpass his career high from last season.
Polk was a major factor in Washington’s bowl victory last year, running for 177 yards and a touchdown in a 19-7 win over then-No. 17 Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
This is the first meeting between these programs since 1965, when Baylor improved to 3-1 against Washington with a 17-14 win in Waco.