The Kickoff: Baylor’s Griffin ready to be a top QB

There might be no better day of the year than the Friday before college football’s opening weekend. Call me crazy, but I’ll take it over Thanksgiving, July 4th and the first night of Shark Week. You put me in a fantasy league and tell me I’ve got the first pick in a “Days of the Year” draft and I’m taking the Friday before the first weekend of college football. No question.

Second round? Give me Flag Day. I’ve always loved that one.

And with that, let’s dig right into this season’s first edition of The Kickoff.

1. We might as well start this season’s first column off with a bold proclamation: If given the choice between the two, I’d take Baylor’s sophomore quarterback over Ohio State’s.

Bam!

Think I’m crazy? Well, then you clearly haven’t seen Robert Griffin III yet. In the overlapping chatter about Big 12 quarterbacks that includes household names Sam Bradford, Zac Robinson, Todd Reesing and Colt McCoy, it’s Griffin who could be the show stealer in ’09.

Blown away by Terrelle Pryor’s speed? Griffin won the Big 12 400-meter hurdles championship in spring 2008 while the rest of his current college classmates were preparing for their high school senior proms. In March, ESPN.com’s Bruce Feldman called Griffin “the fastest man ever to play quarterback in college.” He runs a 4.40 40. He puts that speed to good use. In ’08, Griffin rushed 173 times for 843 yards (4.9 yards a carry) and scored 13 touchdowns.

Love Pryor’s arm? Griffin has probably got him there, too. Starting as a true freshman for much of the ’08 season, the Copperas Cove, Texas, native set an NCAA record for most passes without an interception to start a career (205). Working out of Art Briles’ offense, Griffin threw for 2,091 yards, tossed 15 touchdowns and completed 60 percent of his passes last season. He did all of this in a BCS conference without a star-studded cast of future NFL wide-outs.

And, oh yeah, the dude was 18 years old.

Not sure about his big-game ability? In Baylor’s final contest of the season, Griffin almost single-handedly knocked off one-loss Texas Tech. In a nationally televised game with BCS implications, Griffin outplayed Tech’s all-world senior Graham Harrell, completing 12 of 15 passes for 91 yards and rushing 18 times for 99 and two scores. If the 217 rushing yards in September against Washington State wasn’t a coming-out party, the Texas Tech game certainly was.

And yet, with names like McCoy, Bradford, Tebow, Snead, Pryor and even Barkley dominating the national conversation on quarterbacks this summer, Griffin’s almost slid under the radar.

Be certain Jim Grobe’s boys are well aware of the guy wearing No. 10 and have been preparing night and day for their meeting with him on Saturday.

Wake Forest blew Baylor out in last season’s opening weekend. The Deacons scored on their first three possessions and finished off the Bears, 41-13, with relative ease.

But that wasn’t Griffin’s team. Not yet, at least.

Baylor coach Briles started experienced Miami transfer Kirby Freeman in last year’s opener. The plan was to be patient with Griffin — to unleash him only when he was ready. That plan lasted for about 15 minutes. After Wake Forest jumped out to the 17-0 lead, Griffin entered the contest and the speed of the game changed.

“He was pretty impressive,” Grobe told reporters after that September victory. “For a young kid to get out there and do some of the things that he did tonight, he got my attention. They gave us fits tonight.”

There are no questions as to who will be starting under center (or out of the shotgun) for the Bears in Winston-Salem on Saturday. With 11 college starts now under his belt, Griffin is set to take college football by storm.

Baylor hasn’t played in a bowl since 1994. In the program’s 13 years in the Big 12, the Bears have never finished in the top half of the conference. But there are high hopes in Waco for this year. Beating a strong Wake Forest team on the road on opening weekend would be the perfect start.

As it will be every week this season, it’ll be on their quarterback’s shoulders to get the job done.

I have no doubts he can. After all, the guy is the best sophomore quarterback in the country.

Gimme Baylor in the upset, 31-23.

2. It has been a long week for Michigan football fans. There has been national media attention, Joe Schad and his Twitter feed camped out in Ann Arbor and news conferences loaded with a bit of everything from players confirming their love of their coach to tears from, yes, said head coach. To be certain, Saturday will serve as a nice break from all the drama off the field.

Or will it?

Western Michigan comes to the Big House with a high-flying offensive attack guided by a future NFL draft pick in quarterback Tim Hiller. As a junior in ’08, he led the Mid-American Conference in both passing and touchdowns. Now a master of Bill Cubit’s offense, Hiller is nothing short of a seasoned vet under center.

In addition to Hiller, the Western offense features several playmakers with game-breaking ability. Running backs Brandon West and Aaron Winchester could cause nightmares for the Michigan D. The Western Michigan offense — with all its looks, formations and playmakers — can at times look almost like Oregon, Utah or even Appalachian State — three teams that have given the Blue fits in the past two Septembers.

Distractions — including Tuesday’s news involving coach Rich Rodriguez’s business partner involved in some allegedly shady business at Clemson in 2000 — abound in the Michigan locker room. Rodriguez has already said multiple quarterbacks will get looks under center. This is a team haunted by losses to Akron and Appalachian State over the past couple years.

The Broncos are 0-4 all-time against their big, bad in-state brethren. They’ve got a quality senior quarterback, the offense to put up points, and absolutely no expectations. If ever there was a time ripe for an upset over Michigan, it’s Saturday.

Hell, I not only think they can do it. I think they will.

Give me Western Michigan in a shocker.

Then again, at this point is Michigan losing a home opener to an unranked, non-BCS opponent even shocking at all?

3. Cal hosts Maryland Saturday night in what should make for an interesting battle. If you recall, Cal made the trip to Maryland last year for a strange 9 a.m. Pacific time affair in which College Park was blanketed in unbearable humidity. To say the Bears came out flat — they were down 21 before they even woke up — would be a vast understatement.

All time and weather excuses aside, Cal forgot to show up. Plain and simple.

Perhaps most glaring from that game was the subpar performance out of Jahvid Best. The Heisman hopeful had his worst game of the season, gaining only 25 yards on 10 carries. To make it worse, Cal fans were treated to a shot replayed over and over that weekend of Best vomiting on the field after getting walloped by Maryland’s Kevin Barnes. The hit left Best on his hands and knees before he finally lost his lunch (or breakfast) for the nation to see.

Cal is 8-0 in home openers under coach Jeff Tedford, the Terps lost several key starters over the offseason and Best has a little something to prove. Factor in the game is being played at 10:30 p.m. Maryland time, and the writing’s on the wall.

Yes, this could get ugly.

Look for Cal to run Maryland out of the building.

And, hopefully, without any vomit.

4. It’s never too early to talk first team All-America. It’s also never too late. Let me sneak mine in while it’s not too late. Here are my picks for ’09. Yep, expecting big things from Mr. Devine in Morgantown:

Offense

QB: Tim Tebow, Florida

RB: Jahvid Best, California

RB: Noel Devine, West Virginia

WR: Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State

WR: Jordan Shipley, Texas

TE: Dennis Pitta, BYU

OL: Sam Young, Notre Dame

OL: Russell Okung, Oklahoma State

OL: Trent Williams, Oklahoma

OL: Bryan Bulaga, Iowa

OL: Sergio Render, Virginia Tech

Defense

DL: George Selvie, South Florida

DL: Marvin Austin, North Carolina

DL: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska

DL: Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma

LB: Rolando McLain, Alabama

LB: Brandon Spikes, Florida

LB: Greg Jones, Michigan State

DB: Eric Berry, Tennessee

DB: Taylor Mays, USC

DB: Ahmad Black, Florida

DB: Morgan Burnett, Georgia Tech

5. Each week, we like to tap into what the blogs are saying. This week’s college football blog post of the week comes courtesy of Florida-focused site Every Day Should Be Saturday.

The blog calls Georgia’s red-headed senior quarterback Joe Cox “The Ginger Ninja.” In the past week, Georgia’s opponent on Saturday, No. 9 Oklahoma State, has endured a strange rash of bad news. The Cowboys have let go a tight end from the team, lost their starting middle linebacker to a season-ending knee injury and heard rumors — since disputed — that star quarterback Zak Robinson was doubtful for Saturday’s game because of an “undisclosed injury.” ESBS says this isn’t mere coincidence.

No, it’s all the work of “The Ginger Ninja.”

“POOF! The Ginger Ninja disappears, leaving only a cloud of smoke and the smell of SPF Eleventybillion Behind … ”

UPSET PICK OF THE WEEK 1: Western Michigan over Michigan

UPSET PICK OF THE WEEK 2: Baylor over Wake Forest