Bears done with sour offseason

Published 12:11 am Friday, September 4, 2015

DALLAS (AP) — Art Briles and the Baylor Bears have been through a long, long offseason since winning a share of their second consecutive Big 12 Conference title.

After being the first team left out of the initial College Football Playoff, the Bears led by 20 points in the fourth quarter on New Year’s Day before losing to Michigan State.

“We’re still in pain from the Cotton Bowl. We’ve lived with a really bad taste in our mouths,” said Briles, going into his eighth season as Baylor’s coach. “This is an opportunity to let food taste good and music sound good again, because it hasn’t.”

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Now with their highest preseason ranking ever, the No. 4 Bears open the season tonight at SMU, their former Southwest Conference rival playing its first game under new coach and Texas native Chad Morris.

The opener comes two days after Baylor hired a Philadelphia law firm to do an independent investigation into the university’s handling of sexual assault complaints, including one against former transfer Sam Ukwuachu. Ukwuachu, a defensive end who never played for Bears, was sentenced last month to six months in jail and 10 years of probation for assaulting a former Baylor women’s soccer player.

New starting quarterback Seth Russell said the Bears are keeping their focus on the start of the most anticipated season in school history.

“Everybody here is ready to play football,” Russell said. “You can’t control what goes on outside the team.”

Morris, Clemson’s offensive coordinator the past four seasons, took over an SMU team coming off a 1-11 season.

Like Briles, Morris has a resume with championships as a Texas high school coach. Morris’ 16 prep seasons were capped by consecutive 16-0 state titles at Lake Travis in 2008 and 2009, before one season as Tulsa’s offensive coordinator and then to Clemson.

Briles won four state titles from 1988-99 at Stephenville, where Morris coached from 2003-07. Briles went from high school to Texas Tech as an assistant before Houston as head coach and then Baylor, which at the time was coming off 12 consecutive losing seasons.

With a similar path, Morris now faces his own challenge at SMU, a private church-affiliated school in Texas — just like Baylor.

“[Briles] has done an outstanding job in Waco, Texas, of capturing the energy of the community, the energy of the alumni, the university itself,” Morris said. “We hope to do that here in Dallas, Texas, too.”