Briles gone, but Baylor hopes a lot looks the same on field
With senior quarterback Seth Russell throwing passes during a high-tempo Baylor practice, and the same assistant coaches on the field, so much looks familiar as the Bears get ready for a new season.
That is what acting head coach Jim Grobe has wanted since being put into a difficult situation.
''A key for us is for the kids to start making headlines for touchdowns and tackles, and not all the past stuff,'' Grobe said.
The former Wake Forest coach was brought out of semi-retirement at the end of May following the sudden offseason dismissal of coach Art Briles. The Bears lost their two-time Big 12 champion coach, while the school president was demoted and athletic director resigned, in the wake of a report from an independent review that determined the school mishandled complaints of sexual assault against some players.
Grobe kept the rest of the coaching staff intact, including the offensive coordinator who is Briles' son, citing the importance for players to have continuity for practices and games.
''As far as X's and O's, things aren't broken here,'' Grobe said of the team that has led the nation in scoring and total offense each of the past three years.
Russell was the top-rated FBS passer when he suffered a season-ending neck injury in the seventh game last year. Russell was on a mission trip in Brazil with other Baylor athletes when he found out Briles would no longer be their coach, but the quarterback had no second thoughts about returning to the Bears when he found out Grobe's plan to keep things the same on the field.
''Coach Grobe has done a really good job of showing his leadership and showing us the right way of doing things,'' Russell said. ''We're trying to build the way people view Baylor back up.''
RUNNING BEARS: In their Citrus Bowl victory over North Carolina, the Bears had four different players take snaps and piled up 645 yards rushing. Baylor returns a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in senior Shock Linwood (1,280 yards) and junior Johnny Jefferson, who got 299 of his 1,000 yards in the bowl game. Linwood is the nation's third-leading active rusher with 3,462 yards, only 203 shy of Walter Abercrombie's school record. Linwood's 34 rushing TDs are one shy of Alfred Anderson's school record.
KEY GAMES: After two Friday night non-conference games, Baylor opens Big 12 play at home Sept. 24 against Oklahoma State, which was 10-0 last season before a 10-point home loss to the Bears. On Nov. 5, the Bears host TCU for the first time since their comeback from a 21-point deficit in the final 11 minutes two years ago for an epic 61-58 victory. That game is in the middle of a difficult stretch for the Bears, sandwiched between trips to Texas and Oklahoma.
PREDICTION: The Bears have won 50 games over the past five seasons, but there will be four new starting offensive linemen and no proven backup quarterback after Jarrett Stidham's departure. If Russell can stay healthy, the Bears should be near the top of the Big 12 standings, though a third conference title in four seasons just seems unlikely.
SEASON OPENER: Sept. 2 vs. Northwestern State, an FCS team from Louisiana. The Bears will be the first Big 12 team to kick off the season, with their Friday night opener scheduled to start 90 minutes before Kansas State plays at Stanford. This will be Baylor's fifth game against the Demons, who have lost the previous four by an average margin of 50 points. It was 70-6 two years ago.
Online: AP College football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org