If college football had a March Madness-style 48-team tournament, Baylor would have been the proverbial lower-seeded team no one wants to see in their bracket. “We probably would have been the Wichita State,” said defensive coordinator Phil Bennett.
After a 3-4 start, the Bears closed the year with a 41-14 drubbing of Kansas, a 42-34 loss at Oklahoma and a season-ending four-game winning streak with wins over then-No. 1 Kansas State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, capped by a 49-26 blitzkrieg of UCLA in the Holiday Bowl in which Baylor jumped out to a two-touchdown lead before UCLA achieved a first down. “We felt threatened,” head coach Art Briles said from his office, “we were going into their backyard.”
“I told my older brother, ‘This is what we want to be tonight,'” Bennett added.
The first coach in school history to lead Baylor to three straight bowl games, as Briles stands in his office inside the three-year old Simpson Center housing the Baylor athletic offices, he can look to his right and see the three-year old Allison Indoor Practice Facility. In the distance to the left sits the construction of Baylor’s new stadium, boxed in by Interstate 35 and the Brazos River, the crown jewel of Baylor’s athletic renaissance. (Once the football stadium is complete, the only Baylor athletic facility more than 15 years old will be basketball’s Ferrell Center.)
Considering where the program sat when he took over in 2008, does Briles view the new stadium as Baylor’s official arrival in the landscape of college football? “No,” he replies, “just the tip of the iceberg.” With a Heisman Trophy on his mantle, a 10-win season and a 28-point take down of the nation’s top-ranked team, the next question Briles now faces is how much further he can take the program. Can you win a national championship at Baylor? “Yes,” Briles responded immediately. “You win the conference championship, you can win the national championship.”
Among the keys to Baylor’s late-season resurgence were the emergence of running back Lache Seastrunk, 102 carries for 831 yards (8.14 yards per carry) and six touchdowns over Baylor’s final six games, and a defense that forced 12 turnovers over those six games. Although life as a defensive coordinator in the Big 12 can at times feel like that of a survivor in “The Walking Dead”, Bennett diplomatically states “I have enjoyed the challenge.”
Offenses have become so fast in the Big 12, Bennett notes, “(the players) almost have to call the defense themselves.” But, with eight starters returning from the much-improved unit including linebackers Bryce Hager and Eddie Lackey and nickel back Ahmad Dixon, the Bears expect to start the upcoming season the way the finished the previous one.
A 35-year coaching veteran at his 13th stop in a well-traveled career, Bennett has bought in to Baylor because Baylor has bought in to Briles. “Art oozes confidence,” Bennett said. “The one thing I know, I know Art can get it done.”
“This is a gem, people are starting to realize,” Bennett continued. “Our journey is not just respectability, it’s to win a championship.”
The HD screens hold the weight room record books for each Baylor sport.
The team room.
A slightly smaller version of what the the stadium will eventually look like.
Sources tell us each of these looks will indeed see the field this year. For their opponents’ sake, let’s hope they don’t wear the gold helmets on a sunny afternoon.
RG3’s locker remains intact.
The wall visitors see upon entering the Simpson Center.
Inside the Bears’ players lounge.
The Allison Indoor Practice Facility.
Reminders of Baylor’s recent success in the NFL Draft appear in nearly every room of Baylors’ facilities.
The Holiday Bowl trophy sits inside Art Briles’ office.
The view from Briles’ office with the Allison Indoor Practice Facility to the right.
The new stadium will be beyond the tree line to the right.
Bears aren’t the only animals inside Briles’ office.
The future. Coming in 2014.
We’d like thank the entire Baylor program for their hospitality, with special thanks to Assistant AD for Football Operations Colin Shillinglaw.