Monday, December 30, 2013
Baylor hoping major bowl the first of many
By Jake Trotter
Going back to the advent of the BCS, 18 teams have been to just one BCS bowl without returning for a second.
This week, Baylor and Tostitos Fiesta Bowl opponent UCF will make their BCS debuts.
With a financial commitment, recruiting success and head coach Art Briles leading the way, Big 12 title celebrations could become a frequent occurrence at Baylor.
And the biggest question for the upstart Bears is whether this will be a one-time BCS trip or one of many BCS-level bowls to come.
“We want to build a dynasty,” said Baylor junior quarterback Bryce Petty. “We didn’t come into this for just one season.”
Before head coach Art Briles arrived in 2007, Baylor making a BCS bowl seemed about as likely as zombies taking over the Earth.
But after 14 consecutive losing seasons, the Bears finally broke through in 2010 with Robert Griffin III as quarterback. And in the three seasons since, Baylor has gone a combined 29-9, culminating with this year’s Big 12 championship and BCS bowl berth.
Can the Bears keep it going or will this one year, like it has been for so many other programs, be a flash in the pan?
There are reasons to believe it might be the former.
“I think there are two things that will keep us out of the category of being just a one-time BCS team,” said defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, who has remarkably transformed Baylor’s defense into one of the best in the Big 12. “A lot of people use the word commitment, but you’re not committed if you’re not spending money and building the program.
“There’s a commitment here.”
Indeed, Baylor is putting its money where its mouth is.
Next season, the Bears will play in a new $260 million on-campus stadium, erected on the banks of the Brazos River.
Two weeks ago, Baylor announced plans to build a 14,000-square-foot nutrition center for its athletes that will be adjacent to the athletic academic building and indoor practice facility, which have both been constructed in the last several years. Once the nutrition center is completed later next year, Baylor’s football players will be able to meet with tutors, grab lunch and go to practice in one central vicinity.
“That’s millions and millions of dollars,” Bennett said. “And when you make that kind of commitment, it turns into recruiting assets.”
Which leads to the second reason why Bennett believes Baylor is built to last.
The last five years, the Bears have done a phenomenal job of unearthing hidden gems in recruiting and developing them into quality players. Unanimous All-America guard Cyril Richardson garnered little recruiting interest after relocating to Texas from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey's only other offers out of junior college were from Hawaii and New Mexico State. And standout wide receiver Tevin Reese was just a two-star recruit in high school because he weighed less than 140 pounds.
“Coach Briles does a great job knowing what he wants in recruiting,” said Baylor All-Big 12 wideout Antwan Goodley, who was also lightly recruited. “And getting his guys.”
“We all know it’s a players’ game,” Bennett said. “And our days of not competing for the upper echelon guys are over.”
But as critical as the facility investments are to Baylor’s future success, no investment has been more critical than the one Baylor has made in Briles, who has guided the Bears to the first 11-win season in school history.
Last month, Briles agreed to a 10-year contract extension that will pay him more than $4 million annually. The Bears hope the deal will keep him at Baylor through at least the 2023 season.
Of course, that could be put to the test in the coming weeks.
Both the Austin American-Statesman and Dallas Morning News reported over the weekend that Texas has vetted Briles for its head coaching vacancy and has him on a short list of candidates.
But when asked about Texas before, Briles has said that “the grass is green” at Baylor. And thanks to the massive facility overhaul and uptick in recruiting, it definitely is more so now than ever.
With Petty, the reigning All-Big 12 quarterback, and other key players like Goodley and possibly running back Lache Seastrunk back, Baylor could be loaded for bear again in 2014.
If Briles returns as well, this BCS appearance just might be the first of many big-time bowls for Baylor. Where the grass continues to get greener.
“This is a team that wants more,” Petty said. "We're still hungry."