Baylor - no longer the good-news Bears:
They're no longer the good-news Bears
At 4-1, Baylor baring its teeth in the Big 12 for first time
By JOSEPH DUARTE
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle
WACO - The old Baylor Bears spent nine years as Big 12 pushovers, never won more than three games in a season and had little in common with the rest of the league by mid-October.
The new and improved Baylor Bears are off to their best start since 1995, need two victories to qualify for a bowl and enter this weekend only one game out of first place in the same Big 12 South Division that has treated them like outcasts the past decade.
The new Baylor Bears are loose and relaxed, confident but not cocky — and no longer an automatic "W" for their opponents.
Just ask Iowa State, which became the first conference team to lose at home to Baylor dating to the old Southwest Conference with a 23-13 loss at Ames, Iowa, on Saturday.
Just ask Texas A&M, which needed overtime at College Station to avoid a second consecutive loss to the Bears.
"We feel like anybody — and I mean anybody — that steps on the field has to deal with us and not us having to deal with them," junior cornerback C.J. Wilson said. "Our confidence has been growing so much since two-a-days. I've looked at USC on TV a couple of times and said, 'Lord, please just let us to get to this game where we can play against these guys.' In the past, you wouldn't have heard that coming from a Baylor team.
"We're not backing down from anybody ... USC, Texas, it really doesn't matter. We want to go against the best."
This isn't the same Bears team that lost 37 consecutive Big 12 road games. It's not the same team that has endured nine consecutive losing seasons. It's not the same team that has gone through four coaches in 10 seasons. Nor is it the same team that has not gone bowling outside Waco Lanes since 1994.
"Those thoughts pop up about every 10 minutes," senior linebacker Tyler Lindstrom said. "It's nice to daydream. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. It's a good feeling. We haven't played this well in a long time, so why not?"
If anything has surprised third-year coach Guy Morriss about the 4-1 start it's that he thought the Bears would be undefeated after five games. That's why Morriss, not shy about speaking his mind, calls Saturday's conference game against Nebraska at Floyd Casey Stadium "the most significant game we have played since I've been here."
Yes, the same Nebraska Cornhuskers who have averaged 52.8 points in their last five meetings with Baylor, including a 59-27 win last year at Lincoln.
Last year, Nebraska was favored by 23 points; this year, the Cornhuskers are favored by two.
"I think Nebraska has lost a lot of its mystique and its intimidation," senior linebacker Colin Allred said. "It's not just Nebraska. We're better, so we don't have to be in awe."
Asked if he knew what a Blackshirt was, Wilson said, "I have a few of those in my closest," a slight — unintentional or not — of the Nebraska tradition that involves first-team defensive starters wearing black practice jerseys.
Iowa State coach Dan McCarney said this is the best Baylor team he has seen in 11 seasons with the Cyclones.
"It's no fluke they're 4-1," McCarney said. "Their team speed is better. They play with poise, and they're playing good defense. That's a good football team."
The Bears' turnaround can be traced to improvement on both sides of the football, particularly on defense. Baylor has forced 12 turnovers in five games (they had only nine all of last season). Since allowing 23 points to SMU in the season opener, the Bears have not allowed more than 16 since.
"I've been hearing since I got here about how we were in the past and what we're doing now," Allred said. "We definitely want to live up to that (defensive) reputation and get the tradition restarted. We definitely had a dead period. We just want to start over."
Is Baylor bowl-worthy?
The remaining schedule includes home games against the Cornhuskers on Saturday, Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma State. The Bears visit Oklahoma and Missouri.
And if they qualify for the postseason, Morriss and his players won't be surprised.
"The Baylor faithful has been waiting for an opportunity to say, 'That's my university; that's my school,' and look what they're doing," Wilson said.
BEARING DOWN ON RESPECT
Notable accomplishments for Baylor this season:
• The 4-1 start is the Bears' best since 1995.
• Won a Big 12 road game for the first time in the league's 10-year history last week, beating Iowa State 23-13. The Bears had been 0-37 on the road in the Big 12.
• The three road victories are Baylor's most since it had four in 1995.
• With four victories, the Bears need to win only two of their final six games to become bowl eligible. Baylor hasn't been to the postseason since losing to Washington State 10-3 in the 1994 Alamo Bowl.
• Defensively, the Bears have held opponents to 23 or fewer points in five consec-utive games to open a season for the first time since 1991.
• Has already forced more turnovers (12) through five games than in 11 games (nine) last season.
Yes, we lost to OU this weekend - but they had to go to two overtimes to do it. No, we aren't winning all our games - but we're playing them to the end, not quitting in the first half. No, we may not make a bowl game this season - but I'll bet we do next season.
It's been a long, long time since Baylor had a team worth cheering for. I'm always a fan, not just in fair weather, but it sure did hurt to see Baylor take beating after beating after beating. I am so glad to see my school get to a point where the team can walk into any game feeling like they can win it, rather than just hoping to keep from losing by an embarrassing amount. I'm glad to see we're no longer an "easy win" for Big XII opponents, but that they might want to take us a bit more seriously than they have in the past. Should J play football and be good enough to play at the college level, and should he choose to go to Baylor (and wouldn't I be one proud mama if he did!), I would love for Baylor to have a team he could be excited and proud to play for. And it looks like we're headed in that direction.
SIC 'EM BEARS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!