Baylor, Oklahoma St. eager to build on success
DALLAS — Baylor coach Art Briles was interrupted moments into his turn in front of the print media Tuesday at the Big 12's Media Days. He had placed his microphone in a wrong spot on his shirt and an assistant had to adjust it for him.
"It's hard to earn respect, isn't it?" Briles joked as he was being tidied up. "You've just got to compete for it every day."
The same could be true for Briles' Baylor program, as well as that of Oklahoma State, two schools that had major breakthroughs last season.
Oklahoma State won its first Big 12 title last season and played in its first BCS bowl game. Baylor won 10 games and featured the Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Robert Griffin III.
With new quarterbacks in command and new expectations from energized fan bases, Baylor and Oklahoma State are out to prove that seasons like 2011 can become the norm.
"Five or six years ago when I was at these meetings and saying that our goal was to win a Big 12 championship and play for a national championship, there was a just a small percentage of people that believed that," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. "And probably 99 percent of those people were in orange."
Oklahoma State will be challenged to replace playmakers like quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon. The Cowboys return a preseason All-Big 12 selection in running back Joseph Randle, but a true freshman, Wes Lunt, takes over at quarterback. Replacing Blackmon will probably take a committee effort.
Still, Gundy said the foundation Oklahoma State has established should smooth the transition.
"We've established ourselves as being a quality program," Gundy said, pointing out the Cowboys have won 41 games the last four years and 23 games over the last two years.
Baylor's task is simple, but perhaps even more daunting. The Bears merely have to duplicate the success of the Griffin era, but without Griffin.
"How do you adjust to not having the best football player in the United States of America last year at the collegiate level?" Briles said.
Briles said Baylor has the players to fill the gaps left by Griffin. At the same time, Griffin's legacy will continue to pay dividends.
Briles notes that recruits constantly ask him about Griffin, who conveniently was drafted by the Washington Redskins, a divisional foe of the nearby Dallas Cowboys.
"His name is going to stay hot through this area," Briles said. "And we're going to continue to thrive on that because it's something that he earned and we earned as a university and that players respect."
Nick Florence is Baylor's new/old quarterback. While replacing a legend is never an easy thing, Florence has the advantage of experience -- he's a senior who has started seven games and played in 17.
"The thing he's got to do is stay within himself and not get caught up in listening to anybody else, or anything else, and staying focused in the moment," Briles said.
Florence, echoing his coach's comments, knows there will be comparisons.
"That's what I want to do, is be who I am," Florence said. "I'm not going to try to do too much. If I try to be Robert Griffin, that's not who I am."
It's easy to overlook the fact that Griffin isn't the only significant departure at Baylor. The Bears had five players drafted off the offense, but players like Lache Seastrunk, a highly-touted transfer running back, are waiting in the wings.
"He's got ability, and ability is certainly something that's hard to hide," Briles said of Seastrunk, who transferred from Oregon. "We're going to have him open up the jacket and let it show."
Briles also can't wait to show off the $250 million, on-campus stadium approved by the school's board of regents last week. The stadium will sit on the Brazos River in view of the multitude of cars that pass by on nearby Interstate 35.
"They're going to look over and say, OK, those people at Baylor are doing it right," Briles said.
Oklahoma State already had showpiece facilities, thanks to benefactor T. Boone Pickens. Gundy said those facilities are paying off with the program's success today.
As Gundy was saying that, a group of West Virginia fans broke out into cheers and the fight song just outside the ballroom. Gundy never skipped a beat.
"I handled that pretty well," Gundy joked to the moderator. "I hope Wes Lunt handles it that well."
Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire