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Not too long ago the Baylor Bears had posted 12 straight losing seasons and hadn't been to a bowl game since 1994. However, head coach Art Briles has whipped this program into shape, guiding the team last year to its first Big 12 conference championship and within a sniff or two of the BCS title game.

But as great as last season was, it ended on a couple of bad notes, with losses to Oklahoma State and in the Fiesta Bowl to Central Florida. This year the Bears go looking for more, with a Heisman candidate at quarterback leading one of the most dynamic offenses in the land.

Baylor Odds to Win Big 12: 11/4 at Bovada
Baylor Odds to Win College Football Championship: 33/1 at Bovada
Baylor Regular Season Win Total: 9.5 at Bovada
Baylor Betting Props: Bryce Petty to Win Heisman 12/1 at Bovada

Baylor began last year with solid bowl hopes, but most experts still figured the Bears would finish somewhere in the middle of the pack in the Big 12. Instead, Baylor started 9-0, piling up huge numbers on the scoreboards and stat sheets, beating the likes of Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech along the way. But with dreams of a BCS berth dancing in their heads the Bears laid an egg at Oklahoma State. Wins over TCU and Texas followed, but Baylor then got upset by Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl to finish at 11-2 SU, 9-4 ATS.

The Bears are now 26-12 ATS over the last three seasons, but bettors could assume those ATS outcomes will begin to balance out over the course of the next season or three.

This year Baylor has some holes to fill. Six starters are back on an offense that averaged 620 yards and 52 points per game last season, led by senior QB Bryce Petty, who threw just three interceptions in 400   attempts. He'll be throwing to what might be the best set of receivers in college football. But the Bears have to replace last year's leading rusher, three starters along the offensive line, and five of the defensive back seven.

One thing this team must do this year is cut down on the penalties, after “leading” the nation in yellow flags last year at over nine per game.

Baylor opens this season with three very winnable non-conference games, then begins Big 12 play with road dates at Iowa State and Texas. The Bears also later have a trip to Oklahoma, but get TCU, Oklahoma State and Kansas State all in Waco. Baylor should be 4-0 headed into Austin, and could be 8-0 headed into Norman.

After tasting the big time last year, the goal for Baylor this year is to repeat as conference champions. And pulling that off would give the Bears a shot at a spot in the four-team College Football Playoff.

Big 12 Championship Odds at Bovada as of August 5

Oklahoma 2/3
Baylor 11/4
Texas 15/2
Kansas State 10/1
Oklahoma State 10/1
TCU 14/1
Texas Tech 20/1
West Virginia 66/1
Iowa State 100/1
Kansas 100/1

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The Art Briles offense continued to excel last season even without Robert Griffin III, leading the Baylor Bears to a respectable 7-5 SU and 8-4 ATS season. Baylor finished the season red-hot including a blowout bowl win over UCLA, and will look to carry that momentum into the new season.

Odds to Win Big 12: +1500 at 5Dimes
Regular Season Win Total: 8 at Bovada

Baylor was extremely impressive over the final six games of 2012, going 5-1 SU and 6-0 ATS with outright upset wins over Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and UCLA. The Bears have plenty of reason to be positive coming into the new season.

Baylor had arguably the best offense in the country last year, racking up more total yards per game than any other team with 578.8 yards per game and finishing fifth in scoring with 44.1 yards per game. QB Nick Florence filled in brilliantly for the departed Robert Griffin III, leading the Bears to the fourth most potent passing attack in the country. Florence’s graduation means the torch will be handed to Bryce Petty this year, who in Art Briles’ fast-paced offense should continue the trend of putting up huge numbers.

Even if Petty can’t match Florence’s production, he likely won’t have to. Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin make up a thunder and lightning combo at running back that combined for 1,901 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. Both return this year and should keep the offense rolling with the best of them.

So which version of the Baylor defense will we see this year? The Bears’ defense was the team’s Achilles heel during the first half of the season, but it stepped up huge in upset wins over Kansas State and UCLA; two of the nation’s most potent offenses. Still, the big performances can’t hide the 502 yards per game surrendered, which was second worse in the nation. This offense can score with anyone, but the defense needs to be consistently better in the offense-driven Big 12 for the team to have any shot at a conference title.

Big 12 Conference Odds at 5Dimes as of August 10

Oklahoma State +260
Texas +295
Oklahoma +390
TCU +395
Baylor +1500
Kansas State +1600
Texas Tech +2500
West Virginia +2500
Iowa State +4500
Kansas +10000