By Cody Soto
When head coach Art Briles arrived in Waco six years ago, the Baylor football team hadn’t gone anywhere in the Big 12 conference. Briles’ first season as the Bears’ leader was dismal, and the team went 2-6 in conference play.
The Bears have come a long way since then. Last season marked a milestone in school history when Baylor won its first Big 12 championship with a memorable final game at Floyd Casey Stadium.
Now, the Bears are on the verge of making history again for the second year in a row. Baylor faces Kansas State in their second Top 10 matchup at the brand new McLane Stadium on Saturday night.
If Baylor wins, it will have the opportunity to lift up the Big 12 trophy in its own house for the second straight year. The program is trying to create consistency and not make this a trend that will quickly go away. Briles wants this promising program to last.
“We made history last year, but it’s about winning football games now,” Briles said. “We’ve already made history, so we’re winning games and trying to create consistency in a program and trying to prove that we belong with the nation’s elite in college football and we can win on a consistent basis and it’s not easy to do.”
The team needs to be commended for helping the program reach a promising peak since the “Year of the Bear” in 2011-2012, but things aren’t official until the final second expires on the scoreboard Saturday night.
“We haven’t done anything yet; we haven’t won anything championship-wise, but we’ve certainly set ourselves up to do that,” Briles said.
If Baylor were to win the Big 12 title Saturday night, it would be the first back-to-back title won by a team since Oklahoma in 2008. The Sooners are the only team to accomplish this honor in the history of the Big 12.
“Great credit goes to Coach Briles. We feel like he has led one of the greatest turnarounds in college football history,” Director of Athletics Ian McCaw said. “To be in a position where Baylor is playing for back-to-back Big 12 championships, it speaks to the incredible job he has done and the quality of our football program. Baylor will be a force to be reckoned within the Big 12 and nationally for years to come.”
The level of competition will be high on Saturday as both teams only have one loss in conference play. The situation is similar to one year ago where Baylor and Texas faced off in Waco for the conference title after Oklahoma beat one-loss Oklahoma State in the regular season finale.
The fact that the Bears have competed at a similar stage in the final game of the season will help on Saturday, senior quarterback Bryce Petty said.
“Our guys have been through it, and we know what is going on,” Petty said. “You don’t have to really be motivated for this game. We know that it’s out there and it is ours for the taking.”
Since Aug. 4, the Bears have worked to repeat as back-to-back Big 12 champions, and with only one loss in the season, the dream is still very much alive for Briles and his crew.
“Everything we have worked for all off-season, this summer and all season is for right now,” Petty said. “We put ourselves in a position to have the best chance to be successful and we have done that up into this point.”
With the installation of the new college playoff system, eyes have shifted on the importance of making the four-team postseason playoff, but for Baylor, it’s been another conference title all along.
“Coming in, it was always a Big 12 Championship. That is a huge motivation in itself,” Petty said. “This is a tough conference to play in week in and week out, so coming back to win again is a great accomplishment in itself. Now, we just have to capitalize on it and make the best of it.”
As Baylor takes the field on Saturday night, they have a lot riding on their success. A 15-game home winning streak, a Big 12 title and a possible college playoff spot. The mindset for this game in its own is big.
The Bears are back in the same position, and it’s their time to use last year’s experience to finish the season with another 11-1 record. Baylor football controls its own destiny, and that will come down to a win over Kansas State.
“Last year we hadn’t been there, but this year we knew that we were going to be the hunted. It is a little bit of a different mindset, but at the same time we’re hungry and extremely motivated,” senior defensive back Collin Brence said. “The Big 12 Championship is a big deal to us. We are playing for something that means a lot to this team, school and community. We’re excited for the opportunity to go play.”