In the past four seasons, the Baylor Bears have risen to a level not thought to be possible in Waco, TX. Grant Teaff was able to lead the Bears to some pretty decent seasons in the 80’s, even accumulating 10 wins in 1980. But the fact remained; no one expected Baylor to continually field competitive teams.
Head coach Art Briles has made the Bears the cool place to play in the Big 12. Briles commands an offense that averaged over 40 points a game in 2011 and 2012, even racking up over 50 points per game last season.
In 2013, the ridiculous offensive numbers came against pretty bad defenses. However, the offense did put up over 35 points in games against a few top 30 defenses on their schedule in Oklahoma, Kansas State and TCU.
Bryce Petty seemed unstoppable through the first seven games, only throwing one interception and averaging well over 10 yards per pass attempt. Reality set in when WR Tevin Reese and LT Spencer Drango went down with injuries. Petty would see a decline in his stellar numbers in the final five regular season games, where he didn’t finish a game completing more than 60% of his throws.
There’s enough evidence from 2013 to question just where the Bears will finish this season. Have the seven years under coach Briles been extraordinary? Is Baylor a legit contender in the Big 12? Yes, and of course, but how close is this program to remaining in the conversation every year? Nationally, there are plenty of writers/commentators and college football fans who are not sold on the long term success of the Bears, but that’s because they don’t realize the change in the way the university sees itself, and has invested into creating a consistent national title contender.
Briles is entering his seventh year as the head man in Waco. He bought into the new message Baylor AD Ian McCaw sold, and was actually the only man interviewed for the position. After the complete shift in attitude, appearance of the program, to go along with a Heisman Trophy winner (Robert Griffin III) and a Big 12 championship, it’s blatantly obvious why.
With the Bears’ offense getting plenty of headlines and a great track record from the last three quarterbacks thriving in the system (RG3, Nick Florence & Bryce Petty) there are plenty of recruits who can see the results of the Baylor vision under Briles. This program is at the point now where the coaching staff no longer has to sell kids on the future, they market themselves every week on the scoreboard. Not to mention the offense looks like a lot of fun to be a part of.
Briles and his staff are certainly taking advantage of the recent success on the recruiting trail as well. According to 247 Sports, Baylor has pulled in three straight classes that have ranked third in the conference. Just recruiting talented players doesn’t guarantee anything, but is there really any doubt how well coach Briles and staff can develop the athletes?
Defensively, the change from 2012 to 2013 was astounding. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, with the help of some very talented athletes, turned one of the worst defenses in the nation in 2012, to the No. 27 ranked unit nationally in 2013. The Bears’ defense went from giving up a little over 500 yards a game, allowing 37.2 points per game in 2012, to only giving up 390 yards and 23.5 ppg a game in 2013. Last years’ squad wasn’t always great, giving up over 40 points in losses to Oklahoma State and Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl, but they had come an extremely long way in terms of consistency.
There’s an understandable reason why Baylor is still surrounded in skepticism. They didn’t exactly have a difficult road to a Big 12 title last year. Ten of the Bears’ 11 victories came against unranked teams in the AP Poll, going 1-2 against ranked opponents as well. The Bears will most likely fight an uphill battle in 2014 in terms of perception. It probably isn’t fair to assume how the new College Football Playoff Selection Committee would view a one-loss Baylor, especially with a second Big 12 trophy in their pocket, but it’s still a fair question.
So, here we are less than a couple weeks from the start of the 2014 season, the Bears have received very favorable attention in both the Amway Coaches Poll and AP Top 25; what will the season hold? With a brand new $260 million McLane Stadium, and long term contract extension for Art Briles, the Bears have made all the efforts to remain at the top. This season will be a very telling year in what the future holds.