The Baylor Bears have been ascending the Big 12 football mountain for several seasons, and last season they passed everybody on the way to the summit and their first Big 12 title and first undisputed conference championship since 1980.
Now that they’ve had a taste of what it’s like at the top, they are hungry for more.
The man responsible for Baylor’s recent rise from worst to first in the standings is one Art Briles, who has managed to turnaround the football program in Waco from practically nothing and put a whole bunch of formerly unheard of Ws in the win column.
When Briles first arrived at Baylor for the 2008 season, the team had gone winless in the conference the year before and won just three of 12 games overall. In six seasons at the helm, Baylor football has climbed from the bottom of the league to the school’s first-ever 11-win season in 2013 and the Big 12 championship.
Despite producing the country’s highest-scoring offense behind one of the country’s best quarterbacks (Bryce Petty), the Bears were not the preseason pick of the league coaches as the favorite to repeat as conference champions. Needless to say, this didn’t sit well with the Baylor players, who feel they deserve a lot more respect and are better than some people choose to believe.
The truth is, though, Baylor is getting a lot of attention and respect nationally, and the Bears’ top-10 ranking in a number of the preseason college polls is high testament to the fact that the college football experts don’t look upon last year’s Baylor success story as a one-time aberration.
“We have a lot of unfinished business,” Briles told reporters as the Bears began preseason practice sessions a week ago. “And there are a lot of people that we feel like we need to prove ourselves to, ourselves first of all, then our opponents.
“There are a lot of things that we haven’t done.”
Big12Sports.com correspondent Wendall Barnhouse writes this about the Bears in previewing the 2914 Big 12 football season:
“With (newly built) McLane Stadium, the Jewel on the Brazos, slated to open for this season, the next step for the burgeoning (Baylor football) program is as clear as the view of the new facility from I-35. And while the stadium has been built, the Bears are growling and prowling.”
Says preseason All-Big 12 Baylor linebacker Bryce Hager:
“After winning a championship, your goals get bigger. You want to win a national championship. It’s definitely more real now than it was when I got here five years ago.”
There is no question that the Baylor offense will continue to move the ball up and down the field and put up lots of points again in 2014. The real question mark is the defense, which returns only four starters from last season, including Hager.
It’s probably safe to say that Baylor’s championship hopes this season will go as far as the Bears’ defense is able to take them.