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January 10, 2012

Griffin's Heisman helps Baylor on recruiting trail

Robert Griffin III gave Baylor excellent quarterback play for three years.

His Heisman Trophy may give the Bears something else: A bright future.

Since the conference's inception in 1996, Baylor was often viewed as the last resort for Big 12 Conference football recruits - recruits went there only if it was the only place they could play.

But the remarkable success Griffin achieved in coach Art Briles' quick-strike offense has helped change the perception of the program overnight.

"The phone calls we're making are getting answered," Briles said.

All because of Griffin winning the Heisman.

"It's honestly been paramount for us," Briles said. "It's unchartered waters for us. And it's not just quarterbacks, it's at every position from receivers to defensive tackles. It's a once-a-year award for one person, not a multiple-player award. There is one Heisman.

"What it's done is given us a national brand. That's never happened at Baylor University before."

Its success was evident at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl last weekend in San Antonio, when four-star outside linebacker Brian Nance picked up a Baylor hat when he announced his intentions.

Conference rivals Texas and Oklahoma are used to such moments, Baylor is not. And the good news for the Bears: Another player from the game may join Nance there.

Four-star defensive end Javonte Magee of San Antonio (Texas) Sam Houston has Baylor among his three finalists, joining Missouri and Texas A&M.

The addition of Magee and others could help the school have its best-ever recruiting class since Rivals.com started tracking such things in 2002.

Baylor's 2012 recruiting class is currently ranked No. 43. That's nothing compared to the Top 10 rankings conference rivals Texas and Oklahoma get almost annually. But it shows progress at Baylor, which did not have a class ranked among the nation's top 50 from 2002 to 2009. (Baylor's best class came in 2010, when it was ranked No. 39)

"There is a lot of excitement for the program, and it's a given some of the excitement is because (Griffin) won the Heisman," Brian Perroni, the Rivals.com analyst who covers Texas, said. "That shows you can go there and do good things."

How much Griffin's success has helped recruiting is tough to gauge - mainly because there are few examples to compare.

The Heisman Trophy usually goes to players from name schools that don't need the extra help getting attention.

The last school on Baylor's level to win a Heisman was the University of Houston, with Andre Ware in 1989.

[ More Baylor: SicEmSports.com ]

At the time, Houston was in the Southwest Conference (along with Baylor). The Cougars, however, got little boost from the award.

Houston, on probation at the time, was strong in 1990 (ranked as high as No. 3 in the country), but 1991 marked the start of more than two-decade run where the school had just two winning seasons.

Baylor - surging in popularity as a sports school with the success of its men's and women's basketball teams along with its baseball team - expects to only get better because of Griffin's honor.

Ironically, its already-impressive recruiting class does not include a quarterback. Not yet, anyway.

The Bears likely starter is now senior-to-be Nick Florence, who played very well when Griffin was injured in a victory over Texas Tech. They also have sophomore Bryce Petty, who was rated a three-star prospect in 2009.

Briles had not planned to pursue a quarterback until Griffin decided to opt for the NFL draft. Now, the Bears are shopping for another passer.

"We've got Nick and Bryce and they're both good quarterbacks and both capable," Briles said. "We have two (prospects) we're looking at."

Baylor's best chance to land a heralded quarterback may be in the 2013 class, when the Bears figure to have a shot at five-star Tyrone Swoopes of Whitewright (Texas) High.

"He'll probably go to Texas or TCU, but Baylor has a chance," Perroni said. "Baylor under Briles has stolen players from Texas A&M, Texas and Oklahoma. He's had players switch from almost all the Big 12 schools, even when Baylor wasn't playing that well."

Briles already has proven to be a coach quarterbacks want to play for.

In 2008, Griffin had committed to Houston, which was then coached by Briles. When Baylor hired Briles, Griffin changed directions and headed for Waco.

Griffin, who threw for 10,355 yards and 78 touchdowns under Briles, isn't the only quarterback that has been drawn to the coach. At Houston, he developed NFL second-round draft choice Kevin Kolb and recruited Case Keenum, who finished 7th in this year's Heisman balloting.

That's an impressive list - one that hasn't gone unnoticed.

"Parents and players understand we have a quarterback-friendly offense," Briles said. "Now, we have a chance to be choosy. We want to take one guy every two years and we can take the right one. Robert, Case and Kevin laid the ground work to give us credibility. Players understand that if they come play in our system they have a great chance for success."

Even win a Heisman Trophy.

Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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