The last game played at Floyd Casey Stadium became a signature event signaling the rise of Baylor into a Big 12 football power.
With a 30-10 victory against Texas, coupled with Oklahoma State's loss to Oklahoma earlier on Dec. 7, the Bears captured their first Big 12 title outright and first berth into the BCS with a bid to the Fiesta Bowl where they will face Central Florida.
Afterward, sixth-year coach Art Briles was left to reflect on the champion he created after the Bears (11-1) posted the first 11-win season in their history.
"It's a defining moment for our program," Briles said. "The problem with people, it's not that they aim too high and miss. It's that they aim too low and they hit. That's kind of the way that you have to think and feel.
"When I first came to Baylor, I didn't look at it as a great opportunity. I looked at it as a great place for accomplishment. You can find opportunity anywhere. It's hard to find places where you can accomplish something. That's what our players have done."
Those players needed the structure and direction Briles provided. The longtime Texas high school coach used his connections to secure top-flight talent after previously succeeded at Houston.
Among those players was Robert Griffin III, whose run to the Heisman Trophy in 2011 helped Baylor obtain funding needed to construct a new $260 million stadium, which will open in 2014. Yet since Griffin left for the NFL to quarterback the Washington Redskins, the Bears continued to improve.
"We always believed with him," said Cyril Richardson, a guard who has served as a mainstay along the offensive line. "We weren't going to disappoint him."
They didn't, recovering from their only loss, a 49-17 thumping at Oklahoma State, to edge TCU on Nov. 30 before overcoming a 3-3 halftime tie to thump Texas. Quarterback Bryce Petty led the explosive Baylor attack all season, while a veteran defense was usually solid behind the hard-hitting leadership of safety Ahmad Dixon.
Although players were aware of the strides that turned Baylor into a Big 12 contender, they could not conceal their emotions after beating the Longhorns. Twice, Petty kneeled down in the victory formation and realized the significance.
"I just started crying uncontrollably," he conceded.
Briles was actually the last person representing eight eras of Baylor football to turn off the last of eight light standards at 63-year-old Floyd Casey Stadium during a postgame ceremony in which the Bears were awarded the Big 12 trophy.
Briles could not help but cry too.
"The dream became reality," Dixon said. "This is one of the greatest things I've ever been a part of in my life."
BAYLOR (11-1, 8-1)
Game: Baylor 30, Texas 10. QB Bryce Petty passed for 287 yards and two touchdowns as the Bears claimed the Big 12 title outright and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl. The outright conference title was the first for Baylor since 1980, when Mike Singletary was in the program. The Bears overcame a sluggish first half and a 3-3 tie at the break to explode for touchdowns on their first two second-half possessions. Their defense was solid throughout, holding Texas to 217 yards.
Takeaway: The offensive numbers were essentially achieved with a strong second half as Petty led the Bears to 508 yards of total offense. RB Glasco Martin bounced back from injuries to rush for 102 yards, while RB Lache Seastrunk added 78 yards and became the first Baylor back with two 1,000-yard seasons.
Still, it was the defense that won the game, and the Big 12 crown, for the Bears. They limited Texas QB Case McCoy to 12 completions on 34 attempts for 54 yards. CB K.J. Morton snagged two interceptions.
"We felt we hadn't performed like we wanted in the first half, and had self-destructed," Baylor coach Art Briles said. "Our defense had played well enough to keep us in the game. We thought if we could get a spark offensively, we could use the energy and emotion of the crowd. That's what a home crowd can do for you."
That, and an underrated defense that atoned for a poor performance two weeks earlier in the Bears' only loss, at Oklahoma State, as well as a shaky effort in a three-point win at TCU on Nov. 30.
"We knew what they were going to do before they did it," Morton said. "We put them in third-and-long situations and made them predictable."
Next: vs. Central Florida, Fiesta Bowl. Jan. 1.
IOWA STATE (3-9, 2-7)
Next: Season completed.
KANSAS (3-9, 1-8)
Next: Season completed.
KANSAS STATE (7-5, 5-4)
Next: vs. Michigan, Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Dec. 28.
OKLAHOMA (10-2, 7-2)
Game: Oklahoma 33, Oklahoma State 24. QB Blake Bell replaced injured Trevor Knight and completed a 7-yard touchdown pass to WR Jalen Saunders with 19 seconds remaining. During the game-winning drive, Bell went 5-of-8 for 57 yards as the Sooners covered 66 yards. Eric Striker ended the game with a touchdown off a fumble recovery. Striker scored after Oklahoma State tried a desperate succession of laterals on the final play.
Takeaway: Bell was not even the first choice to take over after Knight suffered a shoulder injury. Oklahoma instead inserted sophomore QB Kendal Thompson, the son of former Sooners quarterback Charles Thompson. But on the first play of the second half, Thompson was intercepted, leading to a rotation between him and Bell.
Neither was effective as the Sooners went three-and-out on three straight possessions following the interception. Bell eventually settled in, however, completing 10 of 16 passes for 140 yards, including the late touchdown, in frosty conditions.
Bell did not figure to get his opportunity. Center Gabe Ikard disclosed that the former starter only took five practice reps during the two-week preparation for the road trip to Oklahoma State. Yet the late drive he engineered put the Sooners into consideration for a BCS berth. He simply let Saunders do his thing to get enough clearance before firing the TD strike into the end zone.
"He did a great job kind of getting that guy off him a little bit and I just put it out there for him," Bell said of the pass into the back right corner.
Although the victory hardly followed a script, especially since the Sooners scored touchdowns on a fake field goal, as well as a 64-yard punt return by Saunders, Bell remembered what he didn't practice.
"You love a guy that is just a team guy," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "(Bell) saw the game plan for the last two weeks and all of the zone-read option and things we were doing with it. He was good with it. When we get in there with him, there's a little less of that. We have some of it, but not as much ? Just to see a competitor like that, who's sitting on the bench for a good part of the game, come in and play so well -- he was great."
Next: vs. Alabama, Sugar Bowl, Jan. 2.
OKLAHOMA STATE (10-2, 7-2)
Game: Oklahoma 33, Oklahoma State 24. QB Clint Chelf passed for a game-high 200 yards and RB Desmond Roland added a game-high 144 yards rushing, but the Cowboys could not overcome two returns for touchdowns and a fake field goal for another score by Oklahoma. The Cowboys were in position for a second Big 12 title in three years. Instead, they allowed the Sooners a go-ahead touchdown with 19 seconds remaining as their seven-game win streak was snapped.
Takeaway: The disappointment Mike Gundy felt was excruciating given that Oklahoma rallied in the final seconds to snuff Oklahoma State's bid for a BCS berth. The loss happened to be the eighth in nine Bedlam matchups against his OU counterpart, Bob Stoops.
"I'm just disappointed for (the Cowboys) because they've been a really good group for us," Gundy said. "They've been so much fun to coach and to be around and just to see how they've developed as a team. Unfortunately, we just came up a little bit short."
One of the bigger surprises was that the defense could not make a crucial stop at the end after coming up big so many times throughout the season. They were even up against a quarterback Oklahoma demoted to third-team, though Blake Bell still used his experience to drive the Sooners 66 yards for the decisive touchdown with 19 seconds left.
"For the most part, the clock should be on your side," Gundy said of the eight-play drive Oklahoma capped with a TD pass from Bell to Jalen Saunders. "When we look back at it, we'll probably realize we gave up too many middle-range chunk plays to allow them to move down the field quicker than what we anticipated."
It was a rough blow for a defense that allowed a respectable 358 yards to the Sooners, who converted more fourth downs (three) than third downs (two). One of those conversions, of course, came on the fake field goal, which tied the game at 17 late in the third quarter.
Next: vs. Missouri, Cotton Bowl, Jan. 3.
TCU (4-8, 2-7)
Next: Season completed.
TEXAS (8-4, 7-2)
Game: Baylor 30, Texas 10. Quarterback Case McCoy had a forgettable performance as the senior completed just 12 of 34 passes for 54 yards, with two interceptions, as the Longhorns blew an opportunity to claim a share of the Big 12 title and gain a BCS bid to the Fiesta Bowl. Texas generated just 217 yards of total offense, more than half of it from RB Malcolm Brown, who gained 131 yards rushing on 25 attempts.
Takeaway: The four-loss season is the fourth straight for Texas, yet was not decided until the second half after the teams settled for a 3-3 tie at halftime.
McCoy was poised to ignite the Longhorns to an upset after directing stirring comebacks over his career against West Virginia, Kansas and Texas A&M. Yet the opportunities that were presented went awry, the last on an interception with slightly more than four minutes remaining and the Longhorns down by 13.
"I flat out missed a couple," McCoy said. "There's a couple we'd like to get back."
He was referencing passes he attempted, though he could have just easily been talking of the losses that quickly derailed Texas from the national championship aspirations coach Mack Brown cited before the season. The Longhorns showed some resolve, bouncing back to where it was in position to be Big 12 champions, but in the end they simply could not move the ball on Baylor and were limited to 12 first downs.
"We're sitting there in a position to win it," Brown said. "We got here, and we didn't finish."
Next: vs. Oregon, Alamo Bowl, Dec. 30.
TEXAS TECH (7-5, 4-5)
Next: vs. Arizona State, Holiday Bowl, Dec. 30.
WEST VIRGINIA (4-8, 2-7)
Next: Season completed.
--Baylor projected a keen sense of timing with the postgame celebration that followed its win against Texas.
Safety Ahmad Dixon, a frequent spokesman on team matters produced a couple bags of Tostitos to reflect the Fiesta Bowl bid the Bears will receive for claiming the conference title outright. The BCS berth is the first for Baylor.
"Anyone want a snack," Dixon joked while displaying the chips.
The destination was secured with both a victory by the Bears and Oklahoma State's loss earlier in the day to Oklahoma.
"It's just unbelievable," exclaimed Baylor coach Art Briles. "The thing we wanted to do as a team is determine where we were going to go bowling tonight. We're not going to be on pins and needles. We've got our destination, and we're just so proud to be able to represent that bowl and Baylor. There were some Tostitos thrown around in the dressing room there, I can tell you that."
The conference crown was just the sixth in Baylor history. Previous titles were all captured in the Southwest Conference in 1922, '24, '74, '80 and 1994, when Texas A&M posted the best record in the league but was on probation and ineligible to claim the crown.
--Oklahoma was in position to put seemingly easy points on the board in the third quarter when it lined up for a 25-yard field goal against Oklahoma State. For Sooners coach Bob Stoops, however, it became the perfect time to try something unexpected.
Rather than place the snap on the ground, holder Grant Bothun rolled to his left and PK Michael Hunnicutt went the same way. Bothun tossed the ball to his kicker and Hunnicutt produced a tying touchdown, holding on despite a wallop from Cowboys LB Caleb Lavey.
"I just thought a field goal wasn't going to be good enough," Stoops said. "I knew we were going to need more than that, we had a numbers advantage out to that side with the way they were lining up and it worked out."
The fake field goal, the first the Sooners used with success since surprising Missouri for a 2002 touchdown, was installed just two days prior to the game by special teams coordinator Jay Boulware. Bothun could still audible out of the fake, but the holder liked what he saw from Oklahoma State's defensive alignment.
Not only did the Sooners pull off that fake, which tied the game at 17, they also scored on a 64-yard punt return by Jalen Saunders. Those first two touchdowns kept Oklahoma in the game while its offense sputtered behind three different quarterbacks. The Sooners also tacked on a TD on the last play off a fumble recovery.
"I just think we did what we needed to do to win," said RB Brennan Clay, "and that's all that matters is that we came out on top on that scoreboard."
--Oklahoma State only began to realize the bitterness a contender feels after a loss since its breakthrough ride in 2011 culminated in their first Big 12 championship. With that title accessible again, the Cowboys suffered just their second home defeat in conference play in three seasons by falling to Oklahoma.
"These guys have played so well and have taken this program to a level to where every time they lose now, it's like the end of the world," said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who turned into a postseason lobbyist and stated, "We'll make somebody a pretty good bowl team."
Just not the Fiesta Bowl. That was the BCS prize that would have awaited the Cowboys had they claimed the Big 12 title. Instead, Baylor moved on as outright champions, despite suffering a 49-17 loss at Oklahoma State on Nov. 17. Oklahoma State will play Missouri in the Cotton Bowl.
The Sooners gained just 115 yards on their first nine possessions and even lost their starting quarterback late in the first half when Trevor Knight suffered a shoulder injury. Yet the Cowboys could not put the game away after grabbing a 17-10 lead in the third quarter. They punted four times and also surrendered an interception.
"We never extended the game to more than a one-score lead, which I think really was a big factor," Gundy said.
--Texas coach Mack Brown, in the face of all his detractors, stated that his team still had the goal of a Big 12 championship within reach after back-to-back losses to BYU and Ole Miss early in the season.
Few at the time figured the Longhorns would be contenders after allowing 800-plus yards rushing in the two defeats. Yet there they were at Baylor, stuck in a 3-3 tie at halftime and given every opportunity to become the league's representative in the Fiesta Bowl.
Instead, Baylor was the team energized by the largest home crowd in its history. Texas managed just one touchdown and a paltry 217 yards of total offense. And Brown, who led the revival that put Texas in the title hunt, again fielded questions about his job security.
"I'm not talking about any of that," he said. "I'm in the same position I was when I've been asked the other 15 times."
Well, except that the 16th-year coach has a new athletic director, Steve Patterson. Both he and Texas president Bill Powers were expected to meet with Brown to determine the coach's future with the Longhorns moving on to play Oregon in the Alamo Bowl.
Although Texas suffered a lopsided defeat against Oklahoma State, it remained in control of the tiebreaker that would have been used had the Longhorns toppled the Bears. The inability to generate any offense, coupled with Baylor's second-half fireworks, doused that BCS opportunity.
"It set up great for us," said offensive guard Mason Walters. "It would have been a great story."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Back to old Baylor, just how we started the season. We're here. We're serious. We're at the top now and we're going to continue to stay there." -- Baylor WR Antwan Goodley.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FIVE BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS FROM WEEK 15 IN THE BIG 12:
1. Baylor closed its 63-year-old facility off campus, Floyd Casey Stadium, with a memorable performance, capturing the Big 12 championship with a victory against Texas. The outright conference crown is the first since 1980 for the Bears, who received their first invitation into the BCS.
2. Oklahoma unfurled more Bedlam magic, winning for the 10th time in 11 games against Oklahoma State. Though demoted to third-string, QB Blake Bell engineered the Sooners on a 66-yard touchdown march he capped with 19 seconds left on a touchdown throw to Jalen Saunders.
3. Oklahoma State had the Big 12 championship well within its grasp, but could not stop Oklahoma at the end despite a strong overall performance by the defense. The Cowboys' inconsistent offense failed to expand their margin to more than one score in the second half.
4. Texas was in position to claim the Big 12 title, and a Fiesta Bowl berth, something coach Mack Brown stressed his team could achieve after a 1-2 start. The Longhorns, however, never got untracked against Baylor. The setback stirred more speculation about Brown's future.
5. Kansas State joined Texas Tech as bowl-eligible teams that watched on the last week of the season as the top four teams in the Big 12 battled for the conference title. Both ended up with solid bowl invitations. The Wildcats will face Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl while Tech heads to San Diego to play Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl.
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