McLane Stadium is indeed the House Robert Griffin III Built. A bronze statue of 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Griffin is set to debut on Aug. 31, per Fox Sports Southwest’s David Ubben, the same weekend Baylor christens its new home against SMU.
The opening of Baylor’s new stadium is a landmark moment in the program’s history. McLane Stadium is the manifestation of a meteoric rise for a program that went nearly 20 years between postseason appearances; a program that some lamented only clung to power-conference designation because of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards’ insistence.
Baylor’s 10-win 2011 campaign was integral in establishing support for the new venue. The university and builders broke ground on the project 10 months after Griffin’s proverbial Heisman moment, a game-winning touchdown strike to upset longtime Big 12 powerhouse Oklahoma.
Floyd Casey Stadium hosted few moments like that. The former home of Baylor football was known more for its seat-covering tarp than historic moments, and the venue itself exemplified the old Bears: dark and dilapidated.
McLane Stadium is indicative of the new Bears: cutting-edge and built to last.
It’s the House Robert Griffin III Built, and Art Briles set the foundation. The Baylor head coach, entering his seventh season there, mapped out a blueprint for the program’s long-term stability.
Baylor could have very well plummeted back to obscurity after Robert Griffin III departed for the NFL. Along with the quarterback, the Bears lost Kendall Wright and offensive lineman Robert Griffin to the 2012 NFL draft.
But Briles’ innovative offense adjusted with Nick Florence quarterbacking it. Florence went for 33 passing touchdowns and 10 on the ground in 2012–just four scores fewer than Robert Griffin III recorded in 2011.
The Bears were about as multidimensional as it gets. Along with Florence’s 4,309 yards through the air, the quarterback was one of four ball-carriers to accrue 464 yards rushing or more (Florence had 568). Lache Seastrunk broke the 1,000-yard to pace a three-man backfield that also included Glasco Martin’s 886 yards and Jarred Salubi’s 464.
In a column appropriately entitled “How the hell do you stop Baylor?” Football Study Hall’s Ian Boyd examined the cat-and-mouse game Art Briles plays with opposition.
He’ll line up multiple wide receivers and force defenses into nickel and dime coverage, then counterattack with a potent run game. Boyd’s quintessential example: a 252-yard rushing performance against Oklahoma.
The Sooners won a shootout that day, 42-34, but the Bears returned the favor with a 41-12 drubbing last November. That rout was central to Baylor’s Big 12 Conference championship and berth in the Fiesta Bowl. Quite the transformation for a program that just three years earlier was celebrating its first bowl bid since 1994.
Last year’s Oklahoma win was also indicative of another important step in the progression of Baylor’s program under Art Briles. While Bryce Petty emerged as a stat sheet-stuffing quarterback in much the same fashion as predecessors Nick Florence and Robert Griffin III, defensive coordinator Phil Bennett established the Bears on the other side of the ball.
The 2013 Baylor defense was a far cry from the 2012 unit that surrendered 70 points to West Virginia.
Bennett has another challenge on his hand in 2014, losing seven starters from last year’s group. Coming off a disappointing finish in the Fiesta Bowl, in which Baylor yielded 52 points to UCF, the Bears obviously still have a lot of defensive ground to cover before they’re national championship caliber.
The offense, on the other hand, is College Football Playoff-worthy. In Petty, Briles has a returning starting quarterback for the first time since Griffin in 2011. That produced a historic record and Heisman Trophy.
Petty is again throwing to his favorite receiver, Antwan Goodley. The big-play specialist caught 13 touchdowns and exceeded 1,300 yards while leading the nation in plays over 25 yards.
That potent rushing attack is also in good hands with Shock Linwood equipped for a monster season. Linwood averaged just shy of 7 yards per game in 2013.
And when it comes to Art Briles, statistics only tell so much of the story. The architect who transformed a perennial laughingstock into a program harboring Heisman and championship aspirations always has hidden surprises.
Fittingly, another showdown with Oklahoma could determine the success of Baylor’s first season at McLane Stadium, in a contest away from the new venue.
For Baylor, front-running status in the Big 12 is new. For Oklahoma, it’s old hat. The Sooners are back in that familiar position after beating Alabama in January’s Sugar Bowl. Oklahoma also returns the primary competitor to Bryce Petty for Big 12 quarterbacking supremacy, Trevor Knight.
The Bears’ Nov. 8 visit to Norman is their final road game of 2014. Three straight games at McLane Stadium close out the season. Because of the work Art Briles has done to add onto his foundation, Baylor could cap its first year in the House Robert Griffin III Built with another conference championship and invitation to the College Football Playoff.