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Signs point to Baylor's national title aspirations

Courtesy of Max Olson

WACO, Texas -- Baylor wants a national title and isn’t afraid to say so.

The No. 5 Bears roll into Big 12 play buoyed by a resilient belief they’re ready for a College Football Playoff bid and a chance to win the whole darn thing.

“We’re tired of the Big 12 trophies,” Baylor defensive end Jamal Palmer said. “We want to get on the national championship scene.”

Art Briles knows that’ll require going undefeated. His players know they can do it, because they made that goal impossible to ignore this offseason. The signs were all over the place this summer.

Baylor players’ black summer workout tees had an image of a Big 12 title trophy and “HISTOR1C” printed on the front. On the back, a silver outline of the College Football Playoff title trophy and the message “ALWAYS DELIVER.”

In conditioning drills and weight room sessions, they served as a constant reminder of the Bears’ lofty ambitions.

“If you don’t speak of the national championship, you’re not gonna get it,” defensive end Shawn Oakman said this summer. “You’ve got to speak everything you want into existence. So that’s what we’re doing. If we put it on the shirt, we’re gonna say every day that we want it. Ain’t got no choice but to have it.”

The “Always Deliver” line was also printed on a banner inside the Bears’ practice field. To receiver Corey Coleman, the meaning is simple: If your number gets called, you had better be at your best.

“When we wear all that stuff, that’s what you believe in,” Palmer said. “That’s your goal. Nothing less than that.”

When players hit the weight room this offseason, they were greeted by a bold reminder of where they’ve been and where they’re trying to go. The doors to the weight room had a new look.

On the left door, images of their back-to-back Big 12 championship trophies. On the right, another College Football Playoff trophy. The line “CHAMPIONSHIP LEVEL HABITS” ran above those prizes.

That’s the standard, and there’s no use in shying away from it.

“If you’re going to say that and preach it,” Coleman said, “you’ve gotta make sure you work that way too.”

Inside the weight room, Baylor sneaked its emphasis on being No. 1 into messages on overhead TVs with buzzwords like “HAB1TS” and “CHO1CES.” Nothing subtle about that.

Before the Bears step onto the practice field, they first reach out and smack a white sign hung on the green chain-link fences. That’s not a new tradition. The sign used to implore them to “be the most physical team.” Their new motto: “Championships are won daily.”

For Baylor players, buying in on those motivational lines, images and tactics has been easy. They know what’s expected of this program now. They get it.

“If you set small goals, that’s not good,” Coleman said. “If you’re going to set a goal, make sure it’s big and you go all-out.”

For seniors like Drango, the progression toward talking about national titles feels natural. They didn’t act this way before the 2013 season, because they didn’t know it was attainable.

“The first year it was just winning the Big 12 championship,” Drango said. “Then it was winning it again to prove it wasn’t a fluke. Now it’s a standard we have.”

The only thing these last two years have been missing? The final chapter.

There was the 52-42 upset loss to Blake Bortles and UCF in the Fiesta Bowl. A year later, no playoff bid and a stunning 42-41 AT&T Cotton Bowl loss to Michigan State. Dream seasons ended in bitter disappointment.

They didn’t deliver. The memories of those misses drove Baylor to push harder this offseason. This team is determined to write a better ending.

One month into the season, Briles has gone back and forth on whether embracing national title talk was the right move. Maybe such a lofty aim was “a little premature,” he said. What’s important is players understanding how much it’ll take to make good on the vow.

“I think part of our deal on that was understanding how close you can be and not be there,” Briles said. “We've done the close stuff a couple times. Now we've got to finish.”

As Drango put it: “You get to a certain point where talk’s cheap. You have to go prove it.”

Still, the senior leader can’t help but bring up a coincidence he finds intriguing.

AT&T Stadium, the site of Baylor’s loss to Michigan State, is hosting a College Football Playoff semifinal this year. The national title game? Same stadium where Baylor fell to UCF.

“So it could be redemption for us,” Drango said. “We’re hoping it is.”