WACO, Texas -- And all of a sudden, Baylor is the glamour program in Texas.
The Bears enter the season with a prominent national ranking and a snazzy stats-explosion quarterback in Bryce Petty who could chase down a Heisman Trophy if everything breaks just right in the Big 12.
Baylor has more than bragging rights in the state, complete with a Big 12 championship in the trophy case and a beautiful new stadium on the north bank of the Brazos River. Take a look around the college football landscape and you won't find another bunch of fans more rabid for the start of the season than the Bears.
But Baylor coach Art Briles is stressing this point: the Bears haven't graduated to frontrunner. At least not in his mind.
"We certainly don't perceive ourselves (as heavyweights)," Briles said. "We still see ourselves, me, personally, our team, we see ourselves as the guy fighting hard, scratching hard to try and get some recognition and some respect."
Despite its reputation as an offensive juggernaut, Baylor has shown the ability to win the fight in the trenches and that will be a good place for the Bears to start the battle this season. Losses in the secondary and at wide receiver put the burden on the offensive and defensive lines to keep Baylor rolling.
Bears defensive end Shawn Oakman tallied 12.5 tackles for loss last season, but Baylor needs him to make more of those stops in critical junctures of games.
On the offensive front, Baylor returns NFL prototypes in tackles Spencer Drango and Troy Baker, but have to fill the massive hole left by guard Cyril Richardson.
However, don't expect the Baylor scoring machine to skip a beat. In fact, since Robert Griffin III left with the Heisman Trophy under his arm, every time we expected to see the Bears slow down, they speed up instead.
Bears at a glance
HEAD COACH: Art Briles, seventh year at Baylor, 44-32 record at Baylor.
DRAFT PROSPECTS (includes 2015 NFLDraftScout.com rating as applicable):
QB Bryce Petty (No. 5 quarterback, 89th overall) -- Petty proved up to the task in his first season as a starter in 2013. He threw for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns in driving an amazing Bears offensive machine. He has decent size and agility, but needs to show the ability to make the long throws with pinpoint accuracy.
WR Antwan Goodley (No. 16 wide receiver, 106th overall) -- Goodley had a breakout season as a junior, leading the Bears with 71 receptions for 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns. Goodley has a unique combination of bulk and speed at 5-11, 225.
OL Troy Baker (No. 63 offensive tackle, 886th overall) -- The 6-7, 305 tackle is the next in the line of highly regarded Baylor senior linemen. He overcame a knee injury to play in 10 of 13 games last season and started twice toward the end of the season.
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: QB Bryce Petty gives Baylor the surest thing at quarterback since Robert Griffin III's junior season. Even more so as Petty proved ultra-productive and durable as a junior, passing for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns and leading Baylor to its first Big 12 championship in 2013. But Petty wasn't brilliant in losses against Oklahoma State and Central Florida. He needs to be better in the biggest games.