Baylor ready to make statement in new stadium

Posted Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Baylor vs. SMU

6:30 p.m. Sunday

TV: FS1

Radio: KCLE/1460 AM; KSKY/660 AM; KTCK/1310 AM and 96.7 FM

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Few individuals have seen more Baylor football games than Dave Campbell, the founder of Texas Football magazine who began a six-decade career with the Waco Tribune-Herald in 1942.

Campbell, a Baylor graduate, served as sports editor for the newspaper from 1953-93. The press box at Floyd Casey Stadium was named in his honor. But Campbell said during a recent tour of the Bears’ new home, McLane Stadium, that he’s never seen the Baylor football program tackle a facilities upgrade like the one that will be unveiled Sunday against SMU (6:30 p.m., FS1).

Campbell reflected on the Bears’ first season under former coach Bill Beall (1969-71), when Beall touted a fresh paint job at the football stadium as a notable off-season upgrade. As he surveyed the team’s glistening $260 million home along the banks of the Brazos River, Campbell found it difficult to express how far the program has come since that day.

“There’s just no comparison. You can’t make one,” Cambell said. “It’s two different worlds.”

The Bears’ new, 45,000-seat venue offers boat slips for “sailgaters” and parking spots for tailgaters. A pedestrian bridge spans the Brazos, connecting the stadium to the Baylor campus. Along the walk, fans are greeted by statues of Grant Teaff, the winningest coach in school history, and quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Bears’ 2011 Heisman Trophy winner.

But the large sign that reads “2013 Big 12 champions” is the most important feature of facility, in the estimation of Bears coach Art Briles.

“It’s an unbelievable facility and we have to protect it,” said Briles, whose Bears are No. 10 in The Associated Press poll, Baylor’s loftiest preseason perch since 1957. “We have some national respect now and it’s our job, as this year’s team, to maintain that and climb on it. We have a good opportunity in front of us to start high and finish high.”

After posting an 11-2 record last season, the Bears’ goal is to repeat as Big 12 champs and land one of the four berths in the inaugural College Football Playoff. A nationally televised triumph over SMU, a 5-7 team last season, would be a good first step in that direction in Baylor’s first on-campus football game since the 1935 season.

The Bears’ former on-campus facility, long-defunct Carroll Field, predates even Campbell’s association with the school. For most Baylor fans taking their seats Sunday in McLane Stadium, the SMU contest will mark the first taste of on-campus football in their lifetimes.

“Getting excitement on campus is huge. I know the student body is just as excited as we are,” said quarterback Bryce Petty, a candidate for the 2014 Heisman Trophy. “There’s a big buzz around what we’re doing. It’s our job to make sure that place is excited, and I think we’re going to do that. We’ve got a great stadium and now we’ve got to defend it.”

To receiver Antwan Goodley, than means more than merely maintaining a Top 10 spot in the college football rankings.

“We’re excited to be noticed and start in the Top 10. But you don’t get that one year and get complacent,” Goodley said. “We’re working to try to be No. 1. That’s the main focus now.”

Briles, starting his seventh season as the Bears’ coach, reflected on the journey the program has taken during his tenure at the school. In past years, he often avoided taking recruits to aging Floyd Casey Stadium during official visits. Now, the new stadium is a focal point for any prospect. And it’s already paying dividends on the recruiting front, in Briles’ estimation.

“That’s just a reality,” Briles said. “We sold hope, vision and faith prior to this. Now, we’re selling reality and production. We’re Big 12 champs. We have a great stadium. We have a team that plays at a high energy and a high rate of speed that everybody’s looking at and thinking, ‘I wish we could do that.’ We’re not having to catch vapor any more.”

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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