Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
WACO, Texas -- There are no more "Bad News Bears" jokes floating around the Baylor program anymore.
The Bears might have the longest bowl drought in the Big 12 and have struggled with losing records every season in the conference's history.
But the group of Bears that began practice Thursday appear intent on changing that culture from the beginning of preseason practice.
A talented group of starters keyed by quarterback Robert Griffin has provided a nucleus of talent that is providing hope for the Bears' first bowl appearance since a 1994 trip to the Alamo Bowl.
"You can tell just by going out that people can't wait for football," senior linebacker Joe Pawelek said. "That's the first time it's been like that since I've been here."
Some of the confidence comes from the second season of working with coach Art Briles, who directed them to a 4-8 record last season. Three of the losses were by seven points or fewer, including a 35-28 loss at Texas Tech in Baylor's regular-season finale.
Griffin said he is much more comfortable starting his second season with the Bears. That familiarity with Briles' offense should make him and the team better prepared from the beginning of camp, he said.
"It's not as stressful this season," said Griffin, who earned the Bears' starting quarterback job by his second game and finished with 2,934 total yards as a freshman. "Last year, everybody didn't know what to do or expect. But we're more relaxed, comfortable and confident in what we're doing. We're just ready to go out and play."
The change from last season also is noticeable to Briles, who spoke about how far his team has come with Thursday's opening of practice compared to last season.
"It's a completely different feeling," Briles said. "We feel like we know what we'll get, when we'll get it and why we'll get it that way."
Their chances also look bright because of the return of nine offensive and nine defensive starters. That array of players is topped by Pawelek, a preseason All-Big 12 selection, and Griffin, who might be the Big 12's most electrifying player.
Despite that returning talent, Briles is trying to hammer home that much more development is necessary as the Bears prepare for their Sept. 5 opener at Wake Forest.
Before the Bears can win consistently in the Big 12 South Division, Briles knows more improvement will be needed.
"Potential is a dangerous word," Briles said. "We've got to turn hype into happen and potential into production. And what we have to do is be a better football team than we were the last time we played. That's our first and foremost aim."