You might expect a program that had struggled to make a bowl game just five years ago to be thrilled about being bowl-eligible through six games in the 2015 season. However, for No. 2 ranked Baylor, qualifying to play a thirteenth game is just a part of the master plan.
“We’ve achieved the first goal to become bowl-eligible, so the next goal is to win the Big 12, and after that it’s to win whatever bowl we get into and make it to the national championship. It’s just that first step of making history,” junior quarterback Seth Russell said.
The Bears’ changing of the guard has brought about a new mindset. Players expect bowl games and set their sights on loftier expectations of playing for a national championship.
Being bowl-eligible is expected for Baylor, especially after having done it for six years in a row, Russell said. The Garland native recognized the achievement and said the team is thankful for the post-season berth, though.
Yet somehow, an appreciation for where the school used to be is lacking. Prior to the Briles era, Baylor was the doormat of the Big 12, fighting to clinch a six win season, year in and year out.
Head coach Art Briles changed all of that.
In his eight seasons as the Bears head coach, Briles has taken Baylor to six bowls. He has turned “Sic ‘Em” into a national brand and helped the school garner respect from perennial powerhouses.
Briles’ own quarterback, Seth Russell, even admitted that he was unaware of Baylor’s existence until the head coach showed up and made the program prominent.
One player, who appreciates the national rise, has been around for the majority of Briles’ tenure at Baylor. Senior left tackle Spencer Drango said that many teams respect Baylor and it’s most evident by teams giving their best shot each week, in an attempt to knock off the Bears.
Drango is mindful of what was once celebrated and how things have changed under the head coach. The native of Cedar Park said becoming bowl-eligible used to be a big deal for the team from Waco.
“A couple years ago, we’d celebrate in the locker room, and chant ‘we’re going bowling’ type stuff,” Drango said. “This year it was kind of like ‘you got six wins, good job.’ We expect it now. It’s interesting to see how the program’s changed and how the mentality of getting bowl-eligible [has changed]. It’s really cool to see how far we’ve come.”
The left tackle mentioned that it’s strange seeing incoming players and underclassmen who fail to realize the strides that have been made in the program.
“Last year whenever McLane [Stadium] opened, somebody made the comment that there will be a class of Baylor Bears that doesn’t appreciate McLane,” Drango said. “And I was just like, ‘wait, what?’”
Drango said as Baylor continues to receive national recognition and build state-of-the-art facilities; he won’t ever forget what the program used to be.
Now that the No. 2 Bears have the respect of many expert analysts from around the nation, it’s up to Baylor to continue justifying its position. Drango said the team isn’t worried about being ranked high and just wants to focus on taking care of business.
“Personally I’ve never worried about [being ranked high] in the rankings,” Drango said. “It just puts a bigger target on your back. It makes you have to execute even better. The only ranking that matters is the one at the end of the year.”