Baylor coach Art Briles was killing it.
The Bears' fifth-year coach was sitting before a ballroom full of Big 12 media and getting big laughs with dry asides and observations about his team. But he was serious, too, making it clear the Bears had no intentions of resting on their laurels after a school-best 10-3 season and first bowl win in 19 years.
The loss of Heisman-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III will be used as inspiration, Briles said, to prove to not only the rest of the Big 12, but the entire nation, that Baylor's program has risen to another level and was not just a one-hit wonder led by "the best player in the United States of America."
"I think our national brand is probably as good as it's ever been and I'm just thankful and happy to be a part of it," Briles said. "What we have to do now is maintain it, and that's where my inspiration, passion, and drive is going to come from. That's the thing that makes our guys come together and fight for each other and work to prove themselves, because we're in the proving business. We're not in the business of getting close and saying 'maybe' and 'gosh, I wish.' Our job is to win football games."
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Senior Nick Florence takes over for Griffin and an offense that is replacing five starters. Florence, who started seven games as a true freshman in 2009 when Griffin injured his knee, was in line for a redshirt season last year but took over in the second half of last year's win over Texas Tech after Griffin suffered a concussion.
"The guy is already a success story," Briles said of Florence. "Regardless what happens on the football field this year, he's going to be successful. The thing I love about him is that he'd take all that and move it over here if he can make a first down against SMU [in the season opener Sept. 2]."
Florence is not surprised by Baylor's rise in national perception and the doubters who claim the Bears are headed back to earth without Griffin.
"There's still people who are going to write us off but that's how it's always going to be," he said. "We get respect now. People aren't going to look at us on the schedule and think 'that's a win.' They're going to be ready to play and that's how we want it."
Even if Florence can keep the offense moving with a deep collection of receivers, including Terrance Williams, the biggest area of concern is the defense.
In defensive coordinator Phil Bennett's first season, the Bears finished 116th out of 120 FBS schools in 2011. But the former SMU head coach returns eight starters this season, led by linebacker Ahmad Dixon.
"He and his staff have done a really good job of getting our personnel where they need to be and just developing a real tough mentality on that side of the football," Briles said after a scrimmage last week. "I'm anxious and excited to see the defensive side of the ball this year."
The Bears could set a program record with a third consecutive bowl appearance this season, but Florence has loftier goals.
"I think it shows where we've come as a program," he said. "But that's not enough. We want a Big 12 championship."