WACO, Texas –
is a nationally-known and respected columnist who has spent over 20 years covering collegiate athletics. He has reported from 24 Final Fours and more than three dozen bowl games and has written about the Big 12 and its schools since the conference's beginning. Barnhouse will be updating the Big 12 Insider on happenings and behind-the-scenes information about the conference.
Call it an edge, call it swagger, call it confidence. Whatever the description, Baylor believes it has put itself in a position to make a run at the Big 12 Conference championship. And why stop there?
Asked what it would mean if the Bears' defense maintains the level it reached during the last five games of 2012 and the explosive offense continues to shred opponents' defenses, junior quarterback Bryce Petty had a simple answer.
That would be Pasadena, Calif., home of the Rose Bowl and the location of this season's BCS national championship game.
Baylor's players and coaching staff don't consider themselves teddy Bears. They believe they're the type of Bears that can win championships.
Baylor's offense maintained its explosive production in 2012 as it transitioned from Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III to Nick Florence, who as a senior set a school record for passing yards and was second in the nation in total offense.
Petty, who is 6-3 and weighs 230 pounds, steps in to run an attack that features two outstanding running backs, a veteran offensive line and plenty of skill at wide receiver.
"I wasn't able to sleep last night just because I am so excited," Petty said before Monday's first practice. "I just want to go out and play. It's nice to finally be that guy knowing it's my time. I'm ready to explode, really."
Baylor's 2012 season appeared to unravel during a four-game losing streak that saw the defense allow an average of 58.3 points and 613.7 yards per game. The Bears turned their season around when the defense started forcing turnovers. Baylor averaged 2.6 takeaways per game as it won five of its last six, knocking off undefeated Kansas State and pummeling UCLA in the Holiday Bowl.
"We know for a fact our offense will score," said senior Ahmad Dixon, who is moving from nickel back to safety. "We know nobody in the nation can stop our offense. If you think you can, we're willing to let you try.
"It's a matter of us doing what we have to do on the defense side of the ball to help those guys out. … "We're about to shock the nation. I won't hold that back."
Briles was asked what to expect if the offense is typical and the defense plays like it did during the second half of last season.
"W-A-T-C-H O-U-T," Briles said Monday. "That's what it means to me. You better watch out. … We'll be ready."Offensive Line Shuffle
One of the few negatives to come out of spring practice was Troy Baker tearing his ACL. Baker started 13 games at right tackle last season; he might return to the team in October or he might spend the season as a redshirt.
Baker's injury led to an offensive line shuffle. Kelvin Palmer moved from center to right tackle, Stefan Huber moved from right guard to center and Desmine Hilliard stepped in at right guard. All-America left guard Cyril Richardson and left tackle Spencer Drango remained at their positions.
"Troy (Baker) will be back when he gets back. Let him take his time and recover," Richardson said. "We are pretty deep this year, probably the deepest I've ever seen us. I'm not too worried because we have a lot of guys out there who can perform."United Nations
Baylor has had success with players from Canada, most notably offensive lineman Danny Watkins who developed into an NFL first-round draft pick.
Jason Osei, a redshirt freshman from England, was moved from the defensive line to the offensive line in the spring. And there are three Australians on the roster. Brothers Blake and Sean Muir are both offensive linemen; Blake is a 6-5, 295-pound sophomore while Sean is a 6-2, 280-pound freshman. Peni Tagive is a 6-4, 220-pound redshirt freshman defensive end. Tagive is 24 years old and a former rugby player.
"We've had success with international kids, no question," Briles said. "It's not like we're trying to bring other countries in, but if they can play football we like them."Quick Slants
Baylor closes out its history at Floyd Casey Stadium by playing Texas on Dec. 7. The school announced Monday that all single-game tickets for that game have been sold. The only way to see the final game at The Case is to by a season ticket.
Last season in the USA Today/coaches preseason poll, Baylor received 23 votes which placed it No. 31. This year's preseason poll has the Bears at No. 29 with 80 votes.
Senior running back Glasco Martin, who had 889 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns injured an ankle in a pickup basketball game in May. He has yet to fully recover from that injury.Coach SpeakArt Briles on his talented roster:
"That's the first thing we noticed when we came out this spring is depth of our team. We have Big 12 quality depth. We're not getting there; we're there. We have good people across the board, at least in the two-deep."Art Briles on his team's mind set and attitude:
"We're a confident football team and we certainly feel we're up there with anybody in the United States. These guys have all lived it and felt it and been a part of it. We're not playing for second, we're playing to win it all."Art Briles on junior quarterback Bryce Petty, who goes into his fourth season with the program:
"It's his fourth year and it's time to turn potential into reality. He's getting that chance and is taking full advantage of it because he's mature and hungry and is very able. He wants to make himself into a good football player and win games, and that's the way we all are."