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Star-Telegram.com

Big 12 Insider: Baylor fans have chance to show team they care

Posted Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011

By Jimmy Burch

jburch@ star-telegram.com

With or without Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III in Saturday's lineup -- and all signs suggest he will play, after being declared "probable" Sunday by team trainers -- something unique needs to happen in Waco for the Baylor-Texas game.

Baylor fans need to spin the turnstiles at Floyd Casey Stadium to the point that school officials are forced to remove the green tarp that usually covers the seats in the south end zone.

These Bears (8-3, 5-3 in Big 12), who climbed Sunday to No. 17 in the BCS standings, deserve to play before a full house in Waco at least once while the three most instrumental pieces in Baylor's rebuilding puzzle -- Griffin, receiver Kendall Wright and coach Art Briles -- are still together to see it.

And Saturday is your last chance, Baylor fans, because Wright is a senior. He will be playing his final home game. Griffin, a fourth-year junior, could be making his farewell appearance in Waco as well, although that will not be determined until January.

Baylor trainers announced Sunday that Griffin suffered a concussion during the Bears' 66-42 victory over Texas Tech in Cowboys Stadium but is expected to practice this week and is considered "probable" for the Bears' regular-season finale against No. 22 Texas (7-4, 4-4).

Briles? He'll soon be a hot commodity for high-profile FBS coaching vacancies. But expect him to return in 2012, with a contract extension and a raise, once school officials figure out the appropriate numbers needed to keep him working in Waco.

A good starting number to get Briles' attention: 50,000. That is the listed capacity of Floyd Casey Stadium, which has not seen that many fans on game day at any point in Briles' four seasons at the school.

Baylor's last sellout came in 2006, when 51,385 showed for a 31-21 loss to Texas A&M. That game marked the last time the green tarp had to be removed from the seats in the south end zone.

The tarp should disappear Saturday, too, to make room for fans excited by the prospect of seeing the school's most prolific pass-and-catch combination -- Griffin to Wright -- at work for the final time in Waco. But will that be necessary? As of Sunday night, school officials said they anticipated a crowd of 45,000 and would make a decision by Wednesday in regard to lifting the tarp.

Baylor's largest home crowd this season (43,753) came in its opener, a 50-48 victory over TCU. The Bears' season-defining, 45-38 upset of then-No. 5 Oklahoma drew only 40,281 on Nov. 19, with many of them wearing crimson and rooting for the visitors.

Now, Bears' fans get one last opportunity to get things right -- and to show proper appreciation for Wright, Griffin, Briles and the rest of the 2011 roster -- in a finale that could give Baylor a 7-0 home record.

To find Baylor's last undefeated home campaign in Waco, you have to backtrack to 1985, when the team went 5-0 during a 9-3 season.

Which begs the question: Baylor fans, what are you waiting for?

You haven't had a season this compelling in a quarter-century. It's time to overrun the ticket office this week and give this team and its Heisman Trophy candidate the type of sendoff it deserves. If you fail to do so, don't be among the whiners if Briles becomes tempted by an opportunity to jump to another BCS program where fans actually fill the stands in support of a successful team.

After Saturday's victory over Tech, both Briles and Griffin stressed that the Bears quarterback sat out the second half primarily as a precaution. Briles said all indications suggest Griffin is "going to be fine" and Griffin made it clear that he wants to extend the team's four-game winning streak in what projects as a winner-to-the-Alamo-Bowl matchup against Texas.

"You learn from your mistakes in life and we're definitely doing that," Griffin said, contrasting this year's 4-0 closing stretch to the Bears' 0-4 stumble to the finish line last season. "We're looking forward to going out against Texas and finishing strong."

The lingering question, at this point, is whether Baylor fans are passionate enough about seeing that to make the end zone tarp disappear for the first time in the Briles era.

Follow Jimmy Burch on Twitter @Jimmy_Burch.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

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