Baylor has arrived.
Or have they?
The Bears will kick off the 2014 season as the reigning Big 12 champions with their success under Art Briles impossible to ignore. Yet there remains an undercurrent in Big 12 country that leaves the impression that Baylor still has plenty to prove.
The comments earlier this year from Texas linebacker Steve Edmond, who said Baylor was “still trash,” then apologized for his statement, is a glimpse into the minds of those who aren’t believers in Briles’ Bears quite yet. Even with the success, Baylor players and their families still hear the noise coming from the naysayers who think they could be short-term placeholders at the top of the conference standings.
“They don’t matter and they never did,” Baylor receiver Antwan Goodley said of detractors. “We know what we’re capable of; we know what we’re capable of doing. We’re just trying bring a trophy to Waco, Texas.”
It’s nothing new for Goodley, who heard the questions when he initially picked the Bears out of Midland (Texas) High School.
“Before I even came here it was, 'You’re going to Baylor? Why Baylor?' ” Goodley said. “A couple of years ago, hearing Baylor won the Big 12 wouldn’t even sound right. We’ve changed it around a lot, we’ve got a lot of people ridin’ with us and a lot of people against us. That’s just how it goes.”
Baylor rose to the forefront of college football in 2013 with its high-scoring offense earning nationwide attention as it averaged 64.7 points per game during the first six games of the season. But none of that matters now as their 2013 conference title run is in the rearview mirror.
“2013 is gone forever; that title is ours,” Briles said. “We're attacking 2014 just like everybody else. That's our mindset with our players, and that's the way they've been approaching everything. We see ourselves as the guy fighting hard, scratching hard to try to get some recognition and some respect.”
The perception has changed, however. Baylor’s No. 2 ranking in the Big 12 preseason poll shows just how far Briles’ program has progressed.
“We have to learn how to prepare as the hunted as opposed to the hunter,” Briles said. “We've always been the hunter. And I don't want to lose that edge and that attitude and that's something that we're working hard to maintain.”
But does Baylor have the staying power to cement themselves at the top of the Big 12?
“That’s the next step for us,” quarterback Bryce Petty said. “We have to become relevant and we have to stay relevant. That’s the goal for anyone coming in and myself, leave it better than I found it.”
Petty and company insist that’s the goal and point to the new home of the Bears as one of the reasons everyone should get used to seeing Baylor among the Big 12’s best for years to come.
“Having them build that stadium is a huge sign that Baylor is here to stay,” linebacker Bryce Hager said. “They wouldn’t have spent that type of money if it was a one or two-year thing.”
McLane Stadium, Baylor’s brand-new $266 million, 45,140-seat stadium, is set to open on Aug. 31 when the Bears host SMU. Much like the Bears’ football program, McLane Stadium is striving to be ahead of the curve with “state-of-the-art” technology and exceptional amenities for fans and players.
“We have the toys, no doubt,” quarterback Bryce Petty said. “It’s huge for Baylor to be relevant to have everything everyone else has and also set the standard of having things other people don’t. We want to be that school that when you come in you say, ‘Man, this is different.’”
Sitting alongside Interstate 35, the on-campus stadium is impossible to miss. Briles hopes it can plant a seed in the mind of every youngster who lays eyes on it for years to come when they’re told McLane Stadium is a centerpiece of Baylor University and the Bears’ football program.
“Then, for the rest of their lives they're going to associate Baylor with excellence,” Briles said. “And that's hard to come by.”