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Defending Champion Baylor Ready To Contend
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By Wendell Barnhouse | wendell@big12sports.com
Big12Sports.com Correspondent


2013 record: 11-2 overall, 8-1 in Big 12, first place. Lost to UCF, 52-42, in Fiesta Bowl.

Returning starters: 5 on offense, 4 on defense.

Top players returning: Senior QB Bryce Petty, senior WR Antwan Goodley, senior WR Levi Norwood, senior RT Troy Baker, sophomore RB Shock Linwood, junior DE Shawn Oakman, senior LB Bryce Hager.

Key players to replace: RB Lache Seastrunk, DB Ahmad Dixon, LB Eddie Lackey, DB Sam Holl, OG Cyril Richardson, WR Tevin Reese.

Spring review
The spring in the steps of the Baylor football team has nothing to do with the change of seasons. For the first time in 33 years, the Bears are defending conference champions. Baylor had last won a league title in 1980 (the old Southwest Conference).

This year's spring practice was all about making sure that Baylor stays on top of the Big 12 after making the long climb to get there.

"We've got to understand people view us differently now than they did eight months ago," coach Art Briles said. "It's a phase we're going through and something we're working on. Image is not about what you think, image is about what other people think."

Baylor also has incentive produced by a 52-42 loss to Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl. That left a bruise that even a school-record 11 victories couldn't disguise.

"I think we lost our edge," said quarterback Bryce Petty, who in his first season as a starter threw for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns. "I think we lost what got us there. We started believing the hype and believing we would just walk in there and beat them. It was disappointing because that's the only game you remember. I had to be reminded that we won a Big 12 title."

Petty returns for his senior season and will be running an offense that has become of the nation's most explosive and consistent. Baylor's offense plays fast and produces yards by both running and passing. This season, a major challenge will be replacing seven starters on defense including play makers Eddie Lacey and Ahmad Dixon.

"I tell our guys, 'I think we're the best offense in the country. And if you can get to where you can defend our offense reasonably well, then you're going to do some great things,'" defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said.

Quick slants
* McLane Stadium, Baylor's new $260 million football facility that is located just across the Brazos River from the football team's practice facilities, is getting rave reviews. The first game scheduled for the facility is a high school game on Aug. 29. The Bears will face SMU on Aug. 31 in the first college game.

*Baylor welcomes back two starters who missed the last few games of 2013 due to injuries. Left tackle Spencer Drango had to undergo back surgery while middle linebacker Bryce Hager is back after suffering an abdominal tear.

*Those who doubt Baylor's staying power, beware. Of the 53 players listed on the Bears' two-deep chart, only eight are seniors.

Coach Art Briles on ...
Junior defensive end Shawn Oakman:
"We can't block him. And I don't think anybody else will, either. It's what I've been saying all along: Our defensive line is as good as anyone's in America. He's just one of them out of six or seven that is going to be a dynamic player for us in the fall."

Being the defending Big 12 champions:
"What we've got to do is understand people view us different now than they did eight months ago. So, it's a phase we're going through and it's something we're working on. We want to be the team that if you're going to win the Big 12, it's got to go through Waco. We like having one (title0, but we would like to have a lot more."

The offense continuing to evolve and improve:
"Trying to be perfect? Trying to be innovative? We're not trying. We're being perfect, we're being innovative, being fearless, not trying to open the book and play by what the book says. We're willing to think outside the box. That, to me, is the biggest challenge we have. Because the bar is set so high that it's really hard to maintain that level for an extended period of time."

2014 Schedule
Aug. 31 SMU
Sept. 6 Northwestern State
Sept. 12 at Buffalo
Sept. 27 at Iowa State*
Oct. 4 at Texas*
Oct. 11 TCU*
Oct. 18 at West Virginia*
Nov. 1 Kansas*
Nov. 8 at Oklahoma*
Nov. 22 Oklahoma State*
Nov. 29 vs. Texas Tech (AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas)
Dec. 6 Kansas State*
* - Big 12 Conference game.
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