WACO, Texas (AP) — The shiny new stadium on the edge of the Baylor campus along the Brazos River is ready for its big debut.
As for the shiny Big 12 championship trophy the 10th-ranked Bears won last year, that wasn’t even on public display Monday.
It is time for a new season that finally starts this week.
“We know we’re really going to have to be at our best, because this is 2014. All that stuff that happened last year, that’s gone. It’s gone,” coach Art Briles said during his first weekly news conference. “This is when we start our football team, this Sunday night, for this year. And that’s all that matters.”
A sellout crowd of 45,000, which will include people arriving by boat, will be there when the Bears open McLane Stadium against SMU.
“We’ve got a stadium because of what we’ve done in the past, and I don’t think it’s changed our mentality at all,” quarterback Bryce Petty said. “We want to make sure that the game we play on the field is Baylorfootball. It goes back to that’s the reason we’re there.”
There were initial discussions about a new stadium during the 2011 season. When Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy that year, the first time the Bears won 10 games since their 1980 Southwest Conference title, the idea really took off and the donations starting pouring in to make a campus facility a reality.
“It’s reality. It’s not a hope, it’s not a vapor, not a vision. It’s real,” Briles said. “The thing that I’ve got to do as a coach and we have to do as a football team is understand that we’ve got a job to do. Our job is to take care of all the people that cared enough to make all this happen. So, we’re very intentionally focusing on winning the football game on Sunday.”
Griffin, now the Washington Redskins quarterback, is scheduled to attend the opener and take part in a pregame ceremony when a statue of Baylor’s only Heisman winner will be dedicated in a plaza just outside the stadium.
The Bears will also still have an outstanding quarterback on the field in Petty, the reigning Big 12 offensive player of the year and an early Heisman Trophy front-runner this season.
Petty, who waited his turn behind Griffin and a record-setting season by Nick Florence, threw for Big 12-leading 4,200 yards with 32 touchdowns and only three interceptions when he finally got his chance last season. He also led the league with 14 rushing TDs.
“I’m excited personally. That’s one of the reasons that I came back, I want to be the best to ever play here,” Petty said. “Experience, everything helps. So I’m feeling really confident right now with what I’m doing personally, with the feel of the offense and the guys that we have out there, and the coaches especially, they instill that in you.”
Petty also has plenty of proven players with him on offense, including the top two receivers from the nation’s productive offense — fellow seniors Antwan Goodley (71 catches, 1,339 yards, 13 TDs) and Levi Norwood (47, 733, eight TDs). Even though Big 12 rushing leader Lache Seastrunk (1,177 yards, 11 TDs) bypassed his senior season, Shock Linwood (881 yards, eight TDs) and Devin Chafin 295, four TDs) were impressive as freshmen last season.
And they all follow Petty.
“He’s going to be pretty good again. He’ll be better,” Norwood said. “The difference now is it’s his team. We know it and everyone has that respect for him and it makes everything a little more comfortable.”