Tensions boil over despite vital win as Baylor ponders potentially missing playoff
WACO, Texas – There on the back of a make-shift stage, set up in the middle of McLane Stadium and surrounded by what felt like half of Central Texas, Baylor football coach Art Briles ran into Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby.
Suddenly this wasn't just another feel-food league trophy presentation.
Briles, 59, began an animated and at times heated conversation with the commissioner, using a pointed finger and waved hands to punctuate a clearly impassioned argument. Bowlsby didn't back down, even as Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett got involved too.
Bowlsby was outmanned and perhaps out-argued though by Briles, a product of the little old West Texas town of Rule, where he long ago learned not to take any crap from anyone.
Depending on whom you ask, Baylor earned either the full league championship or a share of it with TCU on Saturday, courtesy of an excellent 38-27 victory over Kansas State.
Bowlsby is in the co-champion camp. Indeed, just hours earlier he'd presented TCU with their own trophy in a similar ceremony 90 miles up I-35 in Fort Worth. Briles thinks the title should belong fully to Baylor. Both teams are 11-1 overall and 8-1in the league, but Baylor beat TCU head-to-head back in October.
Briles is convinced that Bowlsby's plan to present co-champs to the College Football Playoff selection committee weakens the Bears' case to get into the inaugural four-team event. Considering how close a call it will be between Baylor, TCU and Ohio State, he's concerned some bureaucratic cowardice could be the difference.
So Briles let Bowlsby know his opinion, with everyone watching.
"I wouldn't think I would have to, but apparently I do," Briles said later. "He would present to the committee us as co-champs. That was just my deal. If you're going to slogan around and say there's 'One True Champion,' then all of a sudden you're going to go out the backdoor instead of going out the front? Don't say one thing and do another …
"I'm not obligated to him," Briles continued. "I'm obligated to Baylor University and my football team. They need to be obligated to us because we're helping the Big 12's image in the nation."
This is how heated the chase for the final college football playoff spot got here in Texas.
Meanwhile, at the Gaylord Texan Hotel in the suburbs of the Metroplex, the 12-person committee will name the field of four Sunday at 12:45 p.m. ET. No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon and No. 4 Florida State, thanks to its 13-0 record, are expected to get in.
That leaves one spot for No. 3 TCU, No. 5 Ohio State or No. 6 Baylor. Each believes they deserve it. Only Baylor believes its own conference isn't doing all it can to assist its case.
"Sometimes you have to differentiate between who you present as one and two," Briles said. "That was kind of the gist of the conversation. Don't go public and say we're going to presented as co-champs.
"I certainly [believe it hurts Baylor]," Briles continued. "There's no question about it. It makes it easy on the committee people in there [to choose someone else]."
There was already plenty of fear around these parts that the two programs' lack of traditional success could affect them with the committee. These are regional upstarts, not bluebloods such as Oklahoma or Texas.
Even though everyone agrees the committee system is better than the unwieldy BCS polls, which used about 175 voters who could make up their own criteria, you couldn't walk any of the tailgates here along the Brazos River or up around TCU's scenic campus and not hear concerns of big-program bias.
When the Buckeyes rolled Wisconsin 59-0, it ramped up to paranoia, a famed program with a high-profile head coach making a final statement that might overwhelm what is seen around these parts as an entire season of Big Ten mediocrity.
"My case would be, take the top 10 universities in the nation, put them on the wall, take their names off it, and find four that are better," Briles said, before daring to call out specific committee members.
"Coach [Tom] Osborne, who is a Hall of a Fame coach, if Nebraska had our resume would you have them in the final four? Barry Alvarez, [who coached at] Wisconsin if Wisconsin had our résumé, would you have them in the Final Four? Tyrone Willingham, [who coached at] Stanford, Washington, Notre Dame, if they had our resume, would you vote them in the final four?
"That would be my case. Look at the resumes and make a decision."
The whole thing is so tight that the most influential play of the day in the Big 12 may have actually occurred in the otherwise low-profile game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Late in that one, Sooner coach Bob Stoops made the poor decision to unnecessarily punt the ball to the Cowboys' dangerous return man, Tyreek Hill, who promptly took it 92 yards for a touchdown. OSU eventually won in overtime.
It may cause Oklahoma to slip out of the committee's top-25 rankings and, perhaps, cost both TCU and Baylor a quality-win.
"Oklahoma not winning tonight hurt us," Briles said.
Still, Baylor has a strong argument, even though the committee hasn't been comparatively keen on them this season.
"We're 11-1, Big 12 champions and we have the tiebreaker over TCU," Baylor AD Ian McCaw said. "[We have] a win over a team currently No. 3 [TCU] and a team currently No. 9 [Kansas State]. I don't know anyone with two current top-10 wins … It's going to be very difficult to keep the Baylor Bears out of it."
It's going to be difficult to keep any of the contenders out. Everyone has a good case.
Which is why Briles was so adamant about trying to get every little edge he can, and apoplectic that his own conference wasn't assisting him in that.
Before the private/public spat, the trophy ceremony had been staged. Bowlsby was hit with a barrage of boos from Baylor fans before presenting the hardware. Briles then took the microphone and, surrounded by an adoring throng, Briles didn't stop making his point about who exactly is the champ around here.
"As the Big 12 states, there's 'One True Champion,'" Briles shouted, like a revved up politician. "It's the Baylor Bears! It's the Baylor Bears!"
The crowd down here, sans the commissioner of course, went nuts, roaring their agreement into the crisp, clear Texas night.
Whether anyone up in Grapevine was listening is to be determined.