Talk about big shoes to fill: New Baylor quarterback Nick Florence might have biggest of all

Mike Huguenin
Yahoo! Sports

You're the new starting quarterback for a Big 12 team that lost the school's single-season rushing leader and the best wide receiver in school history, a guy who was an NFL first-round draft pick after setting school records for yards and receptions in a season last fall.

The two best offensive linemen are gone, too.

Oh, yeah: Did we mention that you're replacing the best player in school history, a living, breathing icon who won the Heisman Trophy last fall?

Welcome to your world, Baylor senior quarterback Nick Florence.

Florence forever will be known as the guy who replaced Robert Griffin III. Besides winning the Heisman – at Baylor, remember – Griffin led the Bears to just their second 10-win season in school history in 2011.

He had help from tailback Terrance Ganaway, who rushed for 1,547 yards and 21 touchdowns, both single-season school rushing records, and was a sixth-round pick. And 108 of Griffin's 291 completions went to speedy wide receiver Kendall Wright, who parlayed his big season into being the 20th pick, by Tennessee, in the first round of the draft. As for those two linemen, both were drafted: center Philip Blake in the fourth round and tackle Robert T. Griffin in the sixth.

That's five starters lost off the offense – with all five drafted.

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Florence, though, looks and sounds unfazed. He was one of the players Baylor brought to the recent Big 12 Media Days event in Dallas, and while teammates Ivory Wade, Terrance Williams and Ahmad Dixon looked either big (Wade) or athletic (Dixon and Williams), Florence sported a scraggly beard and a polo shirt and looked like … well, like an economics student. Maybe that's because he is an economics student. He graduated in December with an economics degree and now is working toward an MBA. He also is married, last May, and he and his wife, Rachel, whom he met at Baylor, wouldn't mind eventually entering the ministry.

Still, as laid back as he appears, Florence knows what's up.

"Things are just different when you know you're the starter," he said. "The reality is I'm facing another level of pressure. … There's a little more weight on my shoulders."

His three teammates in Dallas had his back – Wade, who has moved from tackle to center, says Baylor still is going to have the "same explosive offense" – and Bears coach Art Briles professes not to be worried about his offense. Baylor ranked second nationally in total offense (587.1 ypg) and fourth in scoring offense (45.3 ppg) last season. Briles said his receiving corps is even better this season and that Florence should be fine. Baylor uses a no-huddle attack and ran 1,000 plays last season, 13th-most nationally. Briles said the quarterback change shouldn't affect the pace of the offense.

"The thing he's got to do is stay within himself and not get caught up in listening to anybody else or anything else and staying focused in the moment, focused in the situation," Briles said.

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Florence has some experience in staying focused. He played extensively as a true freshman in 2009, starting seven games when Griffin was injured. Florence completed 62 percent of his passes, throwing for 1,786 yards and six TDs. He also threw nine interceptions, which wasn't surprising considering he was supposed to redshirt.

But that season is the only time he really has gotten on the field with the Bears. He has played in just nine total games in the past two seasons, attempting 24 passes. That was a half's worth of work for Griffin last season.

Coaches were planning to redshirt Florence last season, but when Griffin was injured in the first half of the 11th game, against Texas Tech, Florence was inserted and tossed two TD passes in a 66-42 win. Baylor led just 31-28 at halftime, and Florence went 9-of-12 for 151 yards in the second half. He also rushed for a TD. That was Florence's only action last season.

That Florence has played in some pressure situations eases his burden, Wade said.

"He has a lot of experience that no one knows about," Wade said. "That's a great advantage."

Florence also obviously will be asked to do far less than Griffin. While Florence has some mobility, he won't be asked to run as much as Griffin. Instead, he will be told to spread it around. And he has a bunch of playmakers on his side.

Despite losing Wright, the receiving corps should be better. Tevin Reese, Lanear Sampson and Williams combined for 152 receptions and 21 TDs last season. Reese, a junior, seems primed for a breakout season; he is an incredible athlete with elite football speed. He averaged 17.2 yards on his 51 receptions last season and scored seven TDs. He had six receptions that covered at least 50 yards and four that covered at least 60 yards. Michigan transfer Daryl Stonum and redshirt freshman Jay Lee also should make an impact.

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Ganaway will be tougher to replace, and the Bears seem likely to use a committee approach with Jarred Salubi and Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk, a former five-star prospect expected to provide a big impact.

Florence has fared well in scrimmages during fall camp. This past Saturday, he went 20-of-25 with a TD. In the Bears' first scrimmage, he was 8-of-11 for 223 yards and two TDs. Granted, he was going against Baylor's defense, which seems destined to be one of the worst in the Big 12. Still, the offense should be fine, if not quite as productive as it was last season with Griffin, who has an affinity for Superman and wore socks emblazoned with the super hero when he attended the Heisman ceremony.

One more reason the offense will be fine is that Florence understands the situation and seems extremely unlikely to be overwhelmed by it.

When asked how he would fare this season, Florence said he thought he would do fine.

"I don't need to be Superman out there," he added.

Then he broke into a slight grin because, yes, he knew exactly what he had said.

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