COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2011 PRESEASON TOP 25
Big 12 PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Art Briles, 25-25 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Philip Montgomery | DEF. COORDINATOR: Phil Bennett
All Nick Florence is being asked to do is follow in the footsteps of Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. But just as important, coach Art Briles has to find replacements for center Philip Blake, All-America receiver Kendall Wright and record-setting running back Terrance Ganaway.
“You’re talking about (replacing) the guy that was the best player in college football last year,” Briles says of Griffin III, taken with the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft after throwing for over 10,000 yards in his phenomenal career. “We’re going to have to have people become more accountable, become different playmakers, and we’re going to have to scheme differently.”
Florence started seven of the last nine games in 2009, when RG3 was out with a knee injury, and then burned a redshirt in the 11th game last season when he threw for 151 yards and two touchdowns in the second half of a 66–42 win over Texas Tech.
Even after losing Wright, the Bears’ all-time leading receiver, there are plenty of options with returning starters Terrance Williams and Lanear Sampson on the outside and speedy junior Tevin Reese at the other inside spot. Senior Jarred Salubi gets first shot at Ganaway’s job, but he could share the backfield load with junior Glasco Martin and sophomore Lache Seastrunk, a transfer from Oregon who had to sit out last year.
On the offensive line, senior Ivory Wade has moved from tackle to replace Blake at center and is flanked by returning starters Cyril Richardson and Cameron Kaufhold at guard.
Phil Bennett wasn’t even close to satisfied with his unit giving up a school-record 6,350 yards and 37.2 points per game. “Oh, the defense will be a lot better. That’s a promise,” says junior cornerback K.J. Morton, who had a team-high four interceptions last year. “The coaches, they’re going to get everybody ready and put us in better places this season to make big plays.”
It will help that the secondary returns intact and has some much-needed depth after losing four corners to injuries last season. Joe Williams developed into a solid corner opposite Morton, while Sam Holl and Mike Hicks are two-year starters at the safeties.
Senior nose guard Kaeron Johnson was a part-time starter at fullback two years ago, but Briles says he has the ability to be “one of the most dominant players in America.” There’s also a rotation of quality ends in Gary Mason Jr., Terrance Lloyd and Chris McAllister.
Bryce Hager, the son of former Texas All-American and Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Britt Hager, moves into the middle spot in a linebacking corps that could be as fast a unit as the Bears have ever had.
Kicker Aaron “Stork” Jones hit a game-winner against TCU in the season opener and six of his last seven field goal attempts. But much like sophomore punter Spencer Roth (40.5-yard average), he’s got to be more consistent on both his kicks and kickoffs.
While Briles is “eager to sustain” and build on the momentum of back-to-back bowl berths, at least a small drop-off is expected after losing many of the most dynamic offensive players in school history. The schedule is also demanding with eight bowl teams and 2011 FCS runner-up Sam Houston State. Contending for a Big 12 championship might be the goal, but a berth in another bowl game seems much more realistic.