COLUMBIA — Art Briles knew it would take time. When he was introduced as Baylor's coach last November, he inherited a difficult situation. He was chosen to construct a contender in the Big 12 South — something that eluded his predecessors.
No. 14 Missouri (6-3, 2-2 Big 12) at Baylor (3-5, 1-3)
WHEN: 2 p.m.
WHERE: Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco, Texa
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM, KBXR/102.3 FM
They all failed. Gone were Baylor's glory years when legendary linebacker Mike Singletary ravaged offenses in the now-defunct Southwest Conference from 1977 to 1980. Starting in 1997, Dave Roberts won four games in two years. Kevin Steele won nine in four. Guy Morriss won 18 in five.
The Bears had become a Big 12 Conference whoopie cushion.
"You instill confidence through results," Briles said. "That's what we're striving to accomplish. I think any team at any level is subject to learning how to win.
"I certainly think we are. I think we're capable of winning every time we step on the field."
Briles is trying to instill a winning attitude at a program where victories have become elusive. Since 1996, the Bears are 14-46 in conference play. They last appeared in a bowl game in 1994 (a loss in the Alamo Bowl).
Briles understands the challenge. He arrived from Houston, where he finished 34-28 in five seasons and led the Cougars to three bowl appearances. From 2000 to 2002, he served as running backs coach at Texas Tech under current coach Mike Leach.
So far, Briles has struggled to translate a vision into success. In arguably the Big 12 South's strongest season, Baylor (3-5, 1-3 Big 12 Conference) stands three games behind leaders Texas and Texas Tech. Four South teams: Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State all rank No. 9 or higher in the BCS standings.
Despite the program's hardship, quarterback Robert Griffin has proven to be a pleasant discovery. This year, he has passed for 1,405 yards and nine touchdowns. Most impressively, the 6-foot-3 freshman has yet to throw an interception.
"His age is not anything we need to reference," Briles said. "He's our quarterback, and he's doing a really good job for us. That's the part about playing the position. It doesn't matter his class. It matters what your results are. His results have been good."
Throughout the week, Griffin has been likened to former Missouri quarterback Brad Smith, who played from 2002 to 2005 and became the first player in NCAA history to pass for more than 8,000 yards and run for more than 4,000.
Like Smith, Griffin has a lean, elusive build that allows him to avoid pass rushes and create sizable gains on scrambling opportunities. This season, Griffin has compiled 554 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns. He enhances Baylor's offensive threat with a dual-threat option that could present problems for aggressive, over-pursuing defenses.
This past Saturday against Nebraska, Griffin was unable to lift Baylor to victory even though he ran for one touchdown and a team-high 121 yards. But after holding a 20-17 halftime lead, the Bears were shutout in the second half and lost 32-20.
"You always have to put a loss behind you," Griffin said. "Obviously we played a great first half but couldn't finish the game. I don't know what the reasons were for that but each guy has to take responsibility for what happens on the field and reevaluate, then move on."
Said defensive tackle Vincent Rhodes: "Last week we had a let down at the end of the game, but there are some things that we can take from last week to bring against Missouri. If we can cut down those mistakes and get on all cylinders, we can conquer the impossible."
Such an accomplishment on Saturday afternoon would represent a giant leap toward Baylor's quest for respectability.
"If you're going to run in this pack, you've got to be a mad dog because if you're not, you're going to get left behind," Briles said of the competition within the Big 12 Conference. "That is our goal as a program. We can't stand around and watch everyone else get good while we're not. We have to maintain where we are and continue to grow. These other teams are not slowing down, and we don't want to get left behind."