There’s being an underrated team, and there’s doing what Baylor was able to accomplish on the gridiron seven years ago.
Expectations were modest for Baylor entering the 2011 season. Fast-forward to January 2012, and the Bears were walking away with a 10-3 mark, a Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Robert Griffin III, and a final AP ranking of No. 13 on their resume.
As noted by SB Nation’s Jason Kirk, that’s exactly what makes the 2011 Baylor football team one of the most underrated teams that the sport has ever seen in any preseason AP poll — no votes to a Heisman Trophy winner and a top-15 finish. The Bears finished with the biggest jump of any team that season between the preseason and final polls.
By that above metric alone, the 2011 Bears are one of the 68 most underrated preseason teams in the AP era of college football, and it’d be wise to put them near the top considering all of the unexpected feats accomplished that fall.
A season of unexpected success
Entering 2011, Baylor just came off a middle-of-the-pack 7-6 finish in 2010, and while that was an improvement from previous years, it didn’t appear that Baylor was poised to make any noise in a Big 12 Conference that had been reduced to 10 teams that fall.
That changed right out of the gate, as the Bears posted a stunning victory of then non-conference foe TCU — ranked No. 14 and coming off an undefeated 2010 season — in Week 1.
Baylor had risen to No. 15 by Week 4 after a 3-0 start, but the team appeared to be heading back to earth when they dropped three of their first four Big 12 games on the season, including back-to-back losses vs. Texas A&M and Oklahoma State by a combined 62 points.
Those two humiliating defeats proved to be final of such for the Bears all season, as they proceeded to win every one of their five remaining regular-season games. For the first-time in program history, Baylor defeated Big 12 rival Oklahoma when a late touchdown drive sent the Bears past the No. 5 Sooners at home in November. Baylor posted one more ranked win, a 48-24 victory over No. 22 Texas Tech, to conclude the regular season later that month before defeating Washington in the Alamo Bowl.
Griffin ended the season with 4,293 passing yards in addition to 699 yards on the ground. His record-shattering numbers were enough to make him the first Heisman Trophy winner in Baylor history. He finished his run at Baylor with 10,071 passing yards and 2,199 rushing yards.
To this day, the 2011 season remains the most magical run that the Bears have put together in recent memory. And Baylor fans can only hope that another season mirroring that campaign will arrive in Waco sooner than later.