By Shehan Jeyarajah
DALLAS — As if the national stage itself isn’t enough, No. 5 Baylor football has plenty of motivation heading into Thursday’s Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. While missing the inaugural College Football Playoff is at the forefront of the national conversation, none might be bigger than what happened last New Year’s Day against UCF in the Fiesta Bowl.
Coming off of the program’s first Big 12 Championship and heading to a first BCS bowl appearance, Baylor was riding high headed to Glendale, Ariz. However, the Bears’ magical season came to a screeching halt with a 52-42 beat down at the hands of UCF.
“Last year, we didn’t finish,” senior quarterback Bryce Petty said. “That’s a long time, six months of a bad taste in your mouth. It was hard to be told that we would be champions last year and lose.”
After the loss, Baylor fell considerably in the minds of national fans. A program that looked to be top five in college football for most of 2013 quickly fell out of favor, and entered the 2014 season behind the likes of Oklahoma, Auburn and South Carolina.
While Baylor finished the season at No. 5, it still fought a perception issue all season long. Now is a prime opportunity to reverse it.
“It’s a great chance to give our university and our football program a national stage to elevate its status to the perception nationally, which is what you’re always doing,” head coach Art Briles said. “You’re in the proving business. Every week you step on the field, you’ve got to prove yourself.”
While last year’s Fiesta Bowl was a crushing defeat, Briles sees positives that the team can take away heading into this year’s game.
“I have always said, if you have all the money in the world, you can’t buy experience,” Briles said. “We experience things differently than we had a year ago at this time. Hopefully, that will carry over against a really good Michigan State football team.”
The experience already seems to be paying off already. Several players have noted a different mindset during the Cotton Bowl trip.
“I think we kind of let the fact that it was our first big bowl game, and listened to how good people were telling us we were,” Petty said. “We lost that chip on our shoulder, really that motivation that got us to the game. This has been a much different drive to the game.”
Several starters are back from the Fiesta Bowl team, and they have changed the team’s perspective towards the bowl trip.
“Last year, we seemed just happy to be here, but this year feels like a business trip,” junior left tackle Spencer Drango said.
While Baylor can win plenty of national headlines with a victory, Petty only has one goal: be the best team in Baylor history. With a win on Thursday, the 2014 Baylor Bears can do just that.