Washington (7-5) vs. Baylor (9-3)
Thursday, December 29th, 9:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 2011 Heisman Trophy winner, Robert Griffin III, leads the Baylor Bears into an Alamo Bowl matchup with the Washington Huskies.
Washington got off to a promising 5-1 start, but a 2-4 record down the stretch saddled the squad with a 7-5 overall record heading into this bowl game. The Huskies finished 1-4 away from home during the regular season, and will play this bowl game in San Antonio, Texas, a site much closer to Baylor's home of Waco than it is to UW's home in Seattle. The Washington program has come a long way since a winless 2008 campaign, and head coach Steve Sarkisian is largely to thank for the turnaround. The Huskies are playing in a bowl game for the second consecutive season, as they upset Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl last December, their first bowl appearance since 2002.
"I'm just going to be happy that Christmas morning I'm going to be waking up in a hotel room," said Sarkisian in reaction to this bowl berth and the ongoing preparation. "That's a good thing."
Griffin's Heisman nod was the first ever for a Baylor player, and the program undoubtedly gets a huge boost from the recognition.
"This is unbelievably believable," Griffin III said in his acceptance speech. "To Baylor nation, I say this is a forever moment, may we be blessed enough to have more of these in the future."
The star quarterback has led his team to a 9-3 record this season, the program's first nine-win campaign since 1986. Head coach Art Briles has brought the Bears from obscurity to national respectability during his tenure, and the team is riding a five-game win streak heading into this bout. Baylor has been ranked in the AP Top-25 for 11 weeks this season, the most since being ranked 12 weeks way back in 1951.
Baylor has won three of its four all-time meetings with Washington, but the two teams haven't met since 1965.
Washington's Keith Price entered this season with the difficult task of replacing Jake Locker, the QB who led the 2010 resurgence and went on to be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft. Just a sophomore, Price has been extremely impressive, completing 67.4 percent of his passes thus year for 2,625 yards and 29 touchdowns with only 11 interceptions. He has some talented skill position players around him, including tailback Chris Polk who has rushed for 1,341 yards and 11 touchdowns. There are three players on the roster with six TD receptions and four with at least 33 catches and 408 receiving yards. Washington is generating 31.5 ppg while gaining 392.3 total ypg.
Defensively, the Huskies have clearly struggled this season, yielding 33.3 ppg to opponents as well as 426.3 total ypg. Stopping the run has proven to be problematic, as foes have posted 24 touchdowns on the ground while pounding out 4.5 yards per rushing attempt. The pass defense has been weak as well, yielding 283.8 ypg with 21 touchdowns and only 10 INTs. Sure, the Huskies have logged 22 takeaways and 24 sacks, but there is obviously a wealth of room for improvement on the defensive side of the ball. Keep an eye on Sean Parker, as he is tops on the roster with four interceptions and second with 76 tackles.
"I can't wait to have fun," said Washington defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu in anticipation of this bowl game. "Two bowl games in three years? After going 0-12? We've come a long way."
Obviously, Ta'amu and company will have their hands full with Griffin, or "RG3" as he has come to be called. The dynamic signal caller is one of only three players in FBS history with 10,000 career passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards, and he has achieved those gaudy stats in only three seasons under center. He has passed for a school-record 3,998 yards and 36 touchdowns with just six interceptions in 2011 and leads the nation with a 192.31 passing efficiency, which is on pace to shatter the NCAA record of 186.0 set by Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan in 2006. Griffin has also rushed for 644 yards and nine touchdowns.
"I couldn't be more happy for Robert," Briles said. "This outcome, in our minds, wasn't by chance - it was by design. Robert has been preparing himself to be the best he can be for four years at Baylor. This award is the result of Robert's dedication and discipline and the support of our team and football program. This is the exclamation point on the direction of Baylor football and Baylor University."
Baylor leads the nation in passing efficiency (194.05) and first downs (28.67), ranks second in total offense (571.25), fifth in passing (356.17), sixth in scoring (43.5) and 18th in rushing (215.08). Griffin isn't the only standout for the Bears, as Terrance Ganaway and Kendall Wright have enjoyed the best seasons in school history by a RB and a WR, respectively. Ganaway has posted 1,347 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground, while Wright has racked up 1,572 yards and 13 scores on 101 catches.
One of the nation's truly elite offenses has overshadowed the poor play of the team's defense, as Baylor is surrendering 35.7 ppg and 477.5 total ypg. The Bears have given up 56 touchdowns to opposing offenses, 32 of which have been passing scores. Opposing runners are gaining 5.2 yards per rush, and there is no doubt that Price and company are licking their chops.
The Huskies will score some points against Baylor, but the Bears will do even more damage offensively. Griffin is the most dynamic player in all of college football, and with the NFL calling he will likely close out his college career with a stellar effort.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Baylor 49, Washington 35
12/26 12:19:58 ET