By Shehan Jeyarajah
There was a different feeling in the air during Monday’s Big 12 media day than in the past for Baylor football. In years past, Baylor was an afterthought, simply a formality. However on Monday, Baylor’s chance to repeat as Big 12 Champions and send a Heisman finalist to New York stole the show.
For the first time in program history, the Bears showed up with the target on their back as defending Big 12 Champions. Despite the success, Baylor coach Art Briles has not budged an inch on his underdog mentality.
“We certainly don’t perceive ourselves as heavyweights,” Briles said in the introductory press conference. “We still see ourselves as the guy scratching hard to try to get some recognition and some respect.”
Despite returning as Big 12 Champions and one of the two favorites to win the 2014 title according to the preseason Big 12 poll, earning respect was a running theme from the Baylor camp on Monday.
“The perception [of Baylor] really hasn’t changed that much,” senior defensive end Shawn Oakman said. “We’re still not No. 1.”
Last year, Baylor was picked to finish fifth in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas. Out of 43 first-place votes, Baylor got only two.
This year, Baylor was picked second in the Big 12, behind defending Sugar Bowl champion Oklahoma. The rankings had Baylor 40 points behind Oklahoma, but 131 ahead of third place Kansas State.
Second is the highest Baylor has ever been ranked in the history of the Big 12; the previous high was fourth in 1996. Oakman was displeased with the result.
“No. 2 is nothing for us; nothing,” Oakman said. “You don’t win the Big 12 Championship and get ranked No. 2; if OU had won the Big 12, they’d be ranked No. 1. We don’t get the respect we earn, but we’re ready to earn it.”
Much of Baylor’s success will ride on senior quarterback Bryce Petty, who was available to take questions. The sixth-year quarterback was right on the cusp of being named a Heisman finalist in 2013; he finished seventh.
“I’m a little upset about the way it all transpired last year,” Briles said. “I certainly feel like [Petty] should have been in New York without question.”
This year could be his opportunity to do it. Petty did not give a definitive answer on whether he could win the Heisman Trophy in 2014, but senior receiver Antwan Goodley did not shy away.
“[Bryce] is going to win the Heisman,” Goodley said. “I think he can, I think he can get it done. And I’m going to do everything I can to help him win it too.”
Petty put up insane numbers across the board in 2013, throwing for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns. Over 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns were to Goodley. If the duo put up better numbers than that this season, Petty is virtually assured a spot in New York.
Baylor opens its fall camp on Aug. 5 and will host its annual “Meet the Bears” even on Aug. 9 at the Allison Indoor Practice Facility in Waco. Baylor then opens the season against SMU on Aug. 31 at the new McLane Stadium on the Brazos.