Big 12 Media Days kicked off Monday in Dallas, and the marquee team was Baylor.
Big 12 history clearly would define a hierarchy of teams. Texas and Oklahoma. Then Nebraska and Texas A&M. Then some order of Oklahoma State and Kansas State, maybe Texas Tech in the Mike Leach days. Colorado when the Gary Barnett had the Buffs riding high. West Virginia when the Mountaineers entered the league.
But never Baylor. Not until Monday.
And then the Big 12 coaches invaded Bristol, Conn., for ESPN interviews later in the week, and again, Baylor and coach Art Briles were all the rage. Briles did most of the big radio shows and studio shows.
The old days of little ol’ Baylor, trying to win a game and get noticed, long are gone. The Bears won a Heisman Trophy in 2011 (Robert Griffin III) and a Big 12 title in 2013 and open a glittering new stadium hard by the Brazos River in 2014.
Baylor has gone from opening act to main attraction. From featherweight to heavyweight.
PHOTOS: Baylor's new stadium is looking spectacular
“You know, I appreciate that perception,” Briles said. “And that’s something that we’re working on, because we certainly don’t perceive ourselves that way. We still see ourselves, me, personally, our team, we see ourselves as the guy fighting hard, scratching hard to try to get some recognition and some respect. And so that’s something we’re having to deal with a little bit as perception, image of Baylor football, it’s a little different than what it has been in the past thanks to our players.
“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 and that’s something that we’re working hard to maintain. So heavyweight, you know what I mean, I try to eat as healthy as possible, so I don’t know about all that. But we certainly don’t feel that way as a program.”
The highest Baylor ever was picked in the Big 12 preseason poll was fourth in the South Division, way back in 1996, Year 1 of the Big 12. Now the Bears are picked second, behind OU.
“Yeah, it’s entirely different, and the thing that’s really good about it is I don’t know what the preseason polls have been,” Briles said. “I haven’t looked. I did notice we were picked second in the Big 12. As far as national polls, I haven’t seen anything. I don’t know if they’ve come out yet. But the advantage of that is that like last year, I don’t think we started the top 25. I could be wrong. But I don’t think we did.
“But you get on a hot streak and you start No. 8 to 12 in America. And you win your first eight games, you’re a hot football team. You’re hot as anybody in the United States of America. The next thing you know you’re No. 2. Might be No. 1. If you’re a hot football team and you start at 27 and you’re as hot as anybody in America after eight or nine weeks, you’re No. 12 or 13. So the advantage with our perception, our image nationally, is we have a chance to fulfill faster, to get to where we want to get faster, which is getting in the Final Four this year. I think if you ask any coach in America what would be a pretty good starting place, that would be getting in the Final Four. So that gives us a better opportunity to get there because of our national image today as opposed to four, five years ago.”
Of course, Baylor’s breakout season in 2013 was marred by a Fiesta Bowl loss to Central Florida.
“Appreciate you bringing that up,” Briles said. “But I guess truth hurts. That was actually ’14. So that’s still with us. No, I mean, it was a definite out. We played a good football team. That’s the thing that is paramount over anything else. But I think what we got to see is maybe how we got viewed when we weren’t viewing ourselves that way. And so we’ve talked about it. We certainly hope that we’ve learned from it. And like I said, the only way to get experience is to go out there, feel it, touch it, have a taste for it. And that taste wasn’t very good. So it’s been very motivating for us all spring and summer.”