It’s an odd juxtaposition, really. You build your team around chasing a goal, one that seems impossible at the outset. The impossibility of it is what makes it all so fun in the first place. You’re a dog sprinting after a speeding car. Well, what happens when you catch it?
That’s the reality in which Baylor lives now. After winning the 2013 Big 12 title, Baylor is now an underdog in no one’s eyes but their own. “We see ourselves as a guy fighting hard, scratching hard, trying to get some recognition and respect,” Briles said Monday at Big 12 Media Days in Dallas. “That’s something a little different. We have to learn how to prepare as the hunted rather than as the hunter. That’s something we’re working hard to prepare for. We certainly don’t feel like (a heavyweight) as a program.”
In April, Baylor staff members admitted one factor contributing to their upset loss to Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl was the simple fact of being such a heavy favorite. It wasn’t as if they sought out their own press clippings, it was a simple fact of life in 2013. When ESPN’s BottomLine scroll reports for a solid month that more than 90 percent of America picks you to win your bowl, it’s hard to shield that from your subconscious.
The Bears have now had seven months to prepare for life as a favorite beyond September games with Buffalo and Louisiana-Monroe.
“Our guys have learned how to win at the highest level and have worked diligently on and off the field to keep our name good. How can you defend and protect something that nobody will ever take? 2013 is over and gone,” Briles said. “No one can ever take that from us. We’re attacking 2014 just like everybody else.”
Briles’ success as a player and coach originates from the chip surgically implanted into both his shoulders, which isn’t something that goes away just because someone hands you a trophy. Picked second in the conference to start 2014 (the program’s highest preseason-Big 12 rank since the conference’s inaugural season of 1996), Briles can’t credibly play the “no one respects us” card, so now he’s out looking for slights. Briles is still ticked his quarterback Bryce Petty wasn’t invited to New York for the Heisman Tropy ceremony last December.
While the intrinsic benefits of life as the overlooked are now gone, Briles appreciates the immediate perks that his newfound favorite status offers.
“It’s entirely different,” he said. “The thing that’s really good about it. The advantage of that, last year I don’t think we started in the top 25, if you get on a hot streak and you start at 8 to 12 and win eight in a row, next thing you know you’re number 2. You may be number 1. If you start at 27 and win eight in a row, you’re number 13. The advantage is we have the chance to get there faster. That gives us a better opportunity to get there (to the College Football Playoff).”
“It’s like I tell our players, ‘If you want to be heard, produce,'” Briles added. Baylor can be heard now.