WACO, Texas (AP) – Baylor coach Art Briles quickly dismisses the idea of his Bears defending their Big 12 championship.
The trophy they got for winning their first Big 12 title last season is theirs to keep.
As for trying to repeat as champions and get another trophy this year, the Bears are all in for that.
“Our guys have learned how to win at the highest level and have worked diligently on and off the football field to keep our name good,” Briles said. “We have to learn how to prepare as the hunted as opposed to the hunter. We’ve always been the hunter. And I don’t want to lose that edge and that attitude.”
Once the league’s perennial last-place team, Baylor has four consecutive winning seasons for the first since 1985-88, with four consecutive bowls after 16 seasons in a row without a postgame game. Robert Griffin III became the school’s only Heisman Trophy winner three years ago, and the Bears move into a new campus stadium this season.
Quarterback Bryce Petty, now a legitimate Heisman candidate, and a talented group of receivers led by Antwan Goodley (1,339 yards receiving with Big 12-high 13 TDs) are back on an offense that led the nation with 619 total yards and an NCAA-record 52.4 points per game last season.
Petty, who waited his turn behind Griffin and a record-setting season by Nick Florence, threw for Big 12-leading 4,200 yards with 32 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He also led the league with 14 rushing TDs.
“We already knew what to expect from Bryce Petty. We already knew he was a great athlete, he just had to wait his turn,” Goodley said. “He was a hidden secret for a while, but I think he got his time and he got his chance and he showed it.”
Here are five things to watch as Baylor
BACK ON CAMPUS: For the first time since 1935, the Bears will play home games on their Waco campus when they move into the new $260 million McLane Stadium along Interstate 35 on the banks of the Brazos River. Baylor won its last 10 games at Floyd Casey Stadium, the venue about 4 miles from campus that was home since 1950. The finale was a title-clinching win over Texas on a bitterly cold Saturday last December.
CATCH AND RUN: Five of the Bears’ top six receivers are back from last season, including four who had at least 500 yards with multiple touchdowns. All-purpose threat Levi Norwood, a senior like Goodley, and Clay Fuller, had 47 catches for 733 yards and eight TDs. Big 12 rushing leader Lache Seastrunk (1,177 yards and 11 TDs) bypassed his senior season, but the Bears return sophomores Shock Linwood (881 yards, eight TDs) and Devin Chafin (295 yards, four TDs). And look out for dynamic freshman Johnny Jefferson.
SOLID OAK: DE Shawn Oakman has already made quite an impact, even without starting a game. The former Penn State transfer had 12 1/2 tackles for loss last season after having to sit out 2012. The 6-foot-9, 280-pounder has been steadily working to get better in a starting role. “It’s not a finished product,” he said. “We’re going to see how much better I got when the season comes around.”
SOUR ENDING: The first 11-win season in Baylor history ended with a loss to UCF in the Fiesta Bowl, the Bears’ only BCS game. “It definitely left a bad taste in our mouth,” Goodley said. “We’re excited and trying to get back into that national stage.”
3 IN 13: The Bears play their first three games in a 13-day span, all on different days of the week. The Sunday night opener Aug. 30 is against SMU in the McLane Stadium debut, before Baylor plays Northwestern State at home the following Saturday and then goes to Buffalo for a Friday night game. An open date follows before playing three of the first four Big 12 games on the road.
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