WACO, Texas -- The Baylor edge is a lot like the Baylor offense. When deconstructed, both have elements that others try to emulate and emphasize. But it's the unique way the ingredients blend together that yields uncommon results.
What is the edge? Many struggle to fully explain it, perhaps because the philosophy that drives Art Briles' program appears to be a collection of contradictions. It's inward focus fueled by outside doubt, at least in part. It's uncompromising competitiveness shrouded in fun and positivity. It's keeping the pedal down without exhausting the players. It's supreme confidence with constant reminders that nothing has been achieved (despite back-to-back Big 12 championships).
It's a chip planted atop your shoulder and a smile tattooed on your face.
"That's why he's so different," Bowling Green coach Dino Babers, a Baylor assistant from 2008-11, said of Briles. "How can you be super nice to people, yet just blow people out on the football field? Think about that."
The contrast seems perfect for a season like this, where reasonable doubt lingers about Baylor despite its dominance. Baylor has outscored its opponents 459-200 and has outgained them by more than 2,000 yards in its eight victories. The Bears are No. 2 nationally in ESPN's Football Power Index and No. 2 in game control, the lightning-rod metric cited often by the College Football Playoff selection committee in its first go-round in 2014.
But the same committee ranks Baylor at No. 6 -- behind two 1-loss teams (No. 2 Alabama and No. 4 Notre Dame) -- heading into Saturday's clash with No. 12 Oklahoma at McLane Stadium. Baylor's flimsy competition has many pegging Saturday as the true start to the Bears' season.
The situation plays right into Briles' hands.
"Our edge is this: We haven't proven anything yet," Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said. "We went to the Fiesta Bowl [in January 2014] and got our ass kicked. We go [to the 2015 Cotton Bowl against Michigan State] and get upset. To me, our edge is to prove that we're an ultra-level program. You don't say you are. Art won't say, 'We're the best.' Every day he tells the kids, 'It's a prove-it day.'
"You have to prove you belong."
Everyone in Baylor's program knows where the prove-it mentality originates.
"Three doors down," said running backs coach Jeff Lebby, whose office is three doors down from the head coach's. "He's got a mentality of, [he] still hasn't made it. That's every single day in his life."
It creates a connection between Briles and the players, especially the veterans who came to Baylor when the program had little national relevance outside of a certain acronym-stamped quarterback. It makes it easier to inspire a team that has 30 wins since the start of 2013, most by Texas-sized margins.
"Everybody that's here now didn't come to an Alabama," junior nose tackle Andrew Billings said. "We didn't come to an established football powerhouse. The attitude is, that's what we're doing right now, making that."
The coach obsessed with proving something conjures up a certain stereotype. You can picture him: drill-sergeant type with a buzz cut, tube socks and hiked-up shorts, removing the whistle from his mouth only to bark at his players, messaging through fear and fury.
That's everything Briles is not.
"Art Briles is one of the most competitive people I've ever been around -- don't let that smile and the accent fool you," Babers said. "But he comes about it a different way. It's not anger, it's not volume, it's not profanity, it's not outburst, it's not ego.
"It's just pure competitiveness, and I mean to the highest level."
Baylor players are taught that their best competition comes from within the program. They've heard the adage, preached mainly by the strength and conditioning staff, that the only one who can beat Baylor is Baylor. Players believe they train harder, practice faster and play faster than anyone they'll face Saturday.
Senior offensive tackle Spencer Drango heard the only-Baylor-can-beat-Baylor phrase when he first arrived and thought coaches "wanted to say it just to get in your head." Over time, as the victories increased, Drango and his teammates grew to believe in the concept.
They were in control of their outcome.
"You never know if it's a reality, but it's a doggone good belief," Briles said. "It's about us, it's about what we do. If you do what you're supposed to do, you should be able to be happy after every game."
Confidence runs high around Baylor. So do expectations. But no one sets the standard but the Bears.
"We want to be dominant," Lebby said. "We want to beat the dog out of people, we really do. A championship-level mindset, that's the way he's got everybody in this building thinking. Again, it doesn't have to do with anybody else. That's cliché for a lot of people."
The idea isn't novel. A lot of coaches want to keep the focus inward. Block out the noise, they say. To borrow a Briles-ism: Talk's vapor. Product is reality.
But Briles uses talk or the outside view, real or perceived, in a unique way. He recognizes Baylor's recent success has made the Bears a target, and he welcomes it. According to Billings, Briles often starts speeches by telling the team that Baylor's opponents aren't invited to play them. They choose to play Baylor because they think they can beat Baylor. "You have to prove that no, you can't," Billings said.
"It's always like somebody's trying to take something from you," said Tulsa co-defensive coordinator Brian Norwood, a Baylor assistant from 2008-14. "That approach is the one to keep driving them. It's not a deal where you're upset or anything like that. You've got to prove it because that's what you do.
"That's why there's no complacency."
When Briles arrived at Baylor in 2007, the thought of an Oklahoma team itching to exact revenge on Baylor was absurd. But it's exactly what the Sooners hope to do Saturday after losing their past two games to the Bears by a combined score of 89-26.
They're not alone, either. Baylor leads the nation in average victory margin (32.4 points). Since opening McLane Stadium in 2014, the Bears are 10-0 with an average victory margin of 31.7 points.
"People would like to beat us," Briles said. "We're somebody that somebody's looking at. There's some pregame hollers. But that's what you want. It's all good stuff."
Baylor's offense is known for operating in fifth gear, but Briles wants the whole program to operate that way. The energy level can't dip, whether it's in games, practices, lifting sessions or even at the training table.
Briles has no lulls and asks the same of his assistants and his players, but not in a taxing way.
"It's fun, fast, energy, positive," Norwood said. "Everything they do, from strength to endurance, nutrition, everything is built on being fast. There's nothing that pulls away from what the mission is. You're always going. It's just the way it is.
"But it wasn't a grind where it's wearing on you. It's more like a fun, energetic approach to everything you do."
Briles' positive outlook permeates throughout the program. He reinforces players by constantly being around them -- eating with them, working out with them, getting on their level. There's no confusion about roles, but conversations with Briles are different -- "like you're talking to a buddy," Babers said.
The one uncompromising demand at Baylor is to compete. Those who resist are repelled. Briles wants nothing to do with those folks.
"When you walk through the doors for practice," Billings said, "you need to get to the level Art Briles is on, or else it's just not going to mix right."
For many, the Baylor edge might seem like a tangled thorn of opposing thoughts. But it's the right mix for this team, this coach and this season.
"We know we have enough of the proper ingredients," Briles said, "to challenge anybody out there."