SAN ANTONIO — The Baylor University football team is ranked 15th in the AP poll, and has the Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback.
Baylor’s men’s basketball team is ranked seventh.
Baylor’s women’s basketball team is ranked first, with perhaps the women’s best player ever, 6-8 forward Brittney Griner.
All this sports success may be surprising to Seattle fans, whose only association with Baylor was Elgin. It takes some white hair to remember the basketball great’s two-year stay at Seattle University in the late 1950s. And, um, there’s no relation.
Yet even Texas sports fans have a hard time recognizing Baylor as sports powerhouse. Last year was the football team’s first bowl appearance in 15 years. If there was any profile for Baylor sports nationally, it was heavy with infamy — the 2003 murder of player Patrick Dennehy and subsequent NCAA rules scandal that tore apart the program.
And the school’s hometown, Waco, a couple of hours north of here, is best known nationally for tragedy — the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound and leader David Koresh, which resulted in 87 deaths.
So this abrupt burst of athletic success is a most welcome salve for an abused populace.
As the Bears’ defensive coordinator, Phil Bennett, mused Tuesday, “Like the old saying, “‘It’s a good time to be a Bear.'”
And who should walk into this party but the guys with maybe the worst defense in the college bowl season. The occasion should be enough that the Bears have the Heisman quarterback, Robert Griffin III, but to supply him with the gun, the barrel and the water in which to shoot fish seems a little absurd.
“It’s going to be very difficult stopping these guys,” said the man in charge of stopping these guys, UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt. “We’re working very hard to get that done.”
Uh-huh. As if they weren’t working hard during a season when they gave up 33 points and 426 yards a game. But since nobody really knows what schemes Holt may have concocted for Griffin — practices here have been off-limits to fans, reporters and recruits — we have nothing to go on but past performance. Or non-performance.
One obvious strategy was offered by none other than Bennett. In his first season at Waco, but with 33 years in the business, Bennett has spent the fall defending against Griffin, at least in practice.
“(The Huskies’) best defense,” said Bennett, “might be a good offense.”
This guy must have been all over the UW game film.
It’s the only chance the Huskies have — keeping the nation’s second-most productive offense on the Alamodome sidelines for as much time as possible. If there were such a thing in football as basketball’s old four-corners offense deployed by North Carolina’s Dean Smith, Thursday would be the time to play keep-away.
Making that game plan a little more difficult is that only 9,500 of the Alamodome’s 66,000 seats are dedicated to Washington rooters. Not only was Baylor issued 12,500, the rest of the barn will fill up with non-Baylornian Texans curious to see the Griffin spectacle, and likely to heckle the outlanders from Alaska.
“As we look at it, we’re essentially playing on the road,” said UW offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. “That’s the way we prepared when we found out who we were playing.”
The presumption is that the Huskies will give the ball to running back Chris Polk until the mediocre Bears’ defense bleeds from the ears, a notion supported Tuesday by quarterback Keith Price.
“We just feed the rock to the beast and let him roll with it,” he said, grinning. “It opens me up.”
Well, Seattle already has a running back in beast mode, the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch. Besides, the guess is here the Huskies aren’t going to repeat the 34 carries Polk had a year ago in the Holiday Bowl against Nebraska. Too obvious.
They have to control the clock with a short, safe air game starting with play action and ending with lots of throws to tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins. In the Big 12 Conference, Bennett admitted they don’t see a lot of big pass catchers like him, nor do they see quarterbacks as potentially as agile on the bootleg as Price.
Price claimed Tuesday to be healthy, and was backed by Nussmeier and Polk. It was hard to tell if they all were sincere. If Price hasn’t recovered from his knee and ankle sprains, the last place they would reveal it is a press conference.
So, as the only game on TV Thursday night, the football world win join the Huskies in finding out whether Price is healthy and whether Griffin is human, or perhaps an advanced species placed by the mother ship for testing purposes.
It isn’t required that aliens be imported to prevail against the Huskies defense. Humans have done quite nicely this year. But Huskies fans would like to see Price at full speed if he is to save the planet from Optimus Prime, or whatever Transformers name they give Griffin.
It’s been a long time since Waco and Baylor had such a good time. That means a hard time for the Huskies in a place where it’s good to be a Bear.