New QB at Baylor, similar results

  • Article by: CHRIS FOSTER
  • Los Angeles Times
  • December 26, 2012 - 5:51 PM

SAN DIEGO - Nick Florence didn't need this.

The Baylor quarterback already had his degree in economics. He was a fall semester from earning his MBA. Life could have been so simple.

Instead, he embraced a difficult job. A really difficult job.

A year ago, Robert Griffin III was the first player from Baylor to win the Heisman Trophy. There are weekly reminders, with Griffin having an exceptional rookie season with the Washington Redskins.

"I never told [Florence] that he shouldn't expect to be Robert," Baylor coach Art Briles said. "But I put it out there that everyone else shouldn't expect that. I think, arguably, he had the toughest position to fill in America, following a guy who won the Heisman and is as dynamic as Robert is on and off the field."

The thing is, Florence has come close to matching that.

There was no trip to New York for this year's award ceremony, but Florence has put up Griffin-like numbers. He has passed for 4,121 yards and 31 touchdowns, and run for 531 yards and nine touchdowns.

Florence didn't get a Big 12 Conference title for the Bears -- neither did Griffin -- but he did engineer an upset of then-No. 1 Kansas State. The victory started a three-game winning streak that closed the season and put Baylor in the Holiday Bowl against No. 17 UCLA on Thursday.

"For me, I looked at it as, 'Hey, I get the opportunity to play college football,'" Florence said. "I had waited a long time to get the job. A lot of people don't get the opportunity."

And even fewer have to replace a Heisman Trophy winner when they do get it. Not a week has passed this season without the topic coming up.

"I happened to follow a Heisman Trophy winner," Florence said. "That had nothing to do with who I am."

Florence knew what he faced when he came to Waco from South Garland (Texas) High School in 2009. Griffin, considered one of the nation's top high school quarterbacks the previous year, was the Big 12 Conference freshman of the year.

Florence anticipated a waiting period.

"Football is a huge part of my life, but it is not my entire life," said Florence, who has been named to the dean's list three times. "I felt this is where I was supposed to be. Faith is a big part of who I am. The education was good, the community would challenge my faith and I would still get to play football."

Florence had 300 or more yards passing in five of the first six games. He and All-America receiver Terrance Williams were rolling up numbers but not victories. The emergence of Lache Seastrunk took the pressure off. Seastrunk had 693 yards rushing in the past five games, four of which were Baylor victories.

Baylor "makes you defend every blade of grass," UCLA coach Jim Mora said.

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