In mid-November, Baylor football's immediate future did not look promising. The Bears sat at just 4-5, needing to win at least twice in the final three games to keep the postseason streak alive.
And there were no "gimmes" left on the schedule. All three remaining opponents were ranked, beginning with a team seemingly headed for the national championship game, BCS No. 1 Kansas State, followed by showdowns with No. 23 Texas Tech and No. 24 Oklahoma State -- each of which had won 15 of their last 16 from the Bears.
It was easy for those outside the Baylor family -- and even some Baylor fans -- to begin to write off the season and look to the future. But the team's slogan all year was that "The Future is Now," and head coach Art Briles' Bears weren't afraid to believe.
"What they have accomplished, in my mind, has been a story of heart, belief and attitude, and that's what makes my position so worthwhile, because I get the privilege to hang around people who do extraordinary things and give extraordinary effort," said Briles. "We had a goal, a plan and a mission, and we fulfilled it. ... We do feel like we climbed as the season progressed."
The Bears won all three games, upping their regular-season record to 7-5 and giving the program three straight 7-win seasons for the first time since 1949-50-51. The late-season push also earned Baylor an invitation to the 2012 Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, which was to be played Dec. 27 in San Diego against Pac-12 runner-up UCLA (after this issue went to press).
Briles is now the first coach in Baylor history to lead his team to three straight bowl games. This, even after losing last year's Heisman Trophy winner (Robert Griffin III), the best receiver in program history to that point (Kendall Wright), and the Big 12's leading rusher from 2011 (Terrance Ganaway).
All that firepower gave Baylor the No. 2 offense in the country a year ago. With new starters at quarterback (Nick Florence), running back (Lache Seastrunk, Glasco Martin and Jarred Salubi) and wide receiver (Terrance Williams), the Bears actually improved their offense in 2012, moving up to No. 1 in the nation in total offense at the end of the regular season.
Ably filling RG3's shoes, Florence led all individuals in total offense and put up remarkably similar numbers to Griffin's 2011 totals. Despite splitting carries with Martin and Salubi, Seastrunk entered the bowl season with a shot at giving the Bears their third-straight 1,000-yard rusher (and only the ninth in program history). And Williams? All he did was break most of Wright's Baylor records, lead the country in receiving yards and earn first-team All-America honors.
QB Nick Florence
LB Bryce Hager
LB Eddie Lackey
OL Cyril Richardson
RB Lache Seastrunk
Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year (coaches, AP)
OL Ivory Wade
WR Terrance Williams