Baylor’s bullet-train ride to uncharted BCS territory finally jumped the tracks in Stillwater, Okla., forcing some Monday soul-searching among players and coaches.
Across the board, the highest-profile Bears agreed No. 9 Baylor (9-1, 6-1 in Big 12) still has plenty of potential milestones to maximize players’ focus despite surrendering any realistic chance to reach the BCS National Championship Game with Saturday’s 49-17 loss to Oklahoma State.
The Bears, who play Saturday in Fort Worth against TCU (4-7, 2-6), control their destiny in efforts to share the Big 12 title with No. 7 Oklahoma State (10-1, 7-1) and break the school’s single-season mark for victories (10). An at-large berth in a BCS bowl, most likely a Sugar Bowl date opposite No. 4 Auburn (10-1) or No. 10 South Carolina (9-2), is possible if the Bears finish the regular season with an 11-1 record.
But the big topic Monday involved moving past a lopsided loss to OSU that left a mark on the Bears’ psyche, as well as their won-loss record.
“There’s a little bit of somberness,” coach Art Briles said during Monday’s Big 12 conference call. “Disappointment, I think, is the right word. I certainly don’t think we’re discouraged at all. We hit a bump in the road and we’ve got to learn from it, get better and move on.”
The best way to do that, safety Ahmad Dixon said, involves rebounding with a vengeance against a TCU team that pounded Baylor, 49-21, last year in Waco. Baylor has not won in Fort Worth since the 1994 season, a streak Dixon vows to end Saturday (2:30 p.m., ESPN2).
“Our chances of still winning the Big 12 aren’t over, but we wanted something bigger than that,” Dixon said. “We wanted something that’s never, ever been done before and that was go to a national championship. That dream came down. I promise this next one won’t crash down on us.”
Despite last week’s season-low totals for points (17) and total yards (453), Baylor will bring the nation’s highest-scoring team (56.8 avg.) and top-rated offense (661.6 yards per game) to Amon G. Carter Stadium. Veteran players said they will be fully motivated against the Horned Frogs, who have won two of the teams’ meetings the past three seasons, as well as four of the past five.
“We’re not holding our heads down,” quarterback Bryce Petty said. “This is a special team. It’s about what you do after the loss that makes you a great team.”
These Bears still consider themselves on a collision course with greatness, as judged by program history. And they are motivated to finish the journey.
By winning their remaining games against TCU and Texas (7-3, 6-1), Baylor would earn at least a share of the school’s first conference title since 1980, when the Bears ruled the Southwest Conference. If Baylor wins out and OSU falls Dec. 7 to No. 18 Oklahoma (9-2, 6-2), the Bears would emerge as solo champs in the Big 12 and would play in the Fiesta Bowl.
There’s also the potential to become the first 12-win team in school history, blowing away the 10-win standard set in 1980 (10-2) and matched in 2011 (10-3). A career-best finish in the postseason rankings is possible, topping the 1951 Baylor team that finished No. 9 in both the AP and coaches polls.
“We still have a lot to play for. There are still goals and ambitions that we can achieve,” Petty said. “It goes to show that we can get better. We, as a team, didn’t do well against OSU. We have to watch the film, get better and beat TCU.”
Briles said he is hopeful Saturday’s game will mark the return of at least one veteran running back sidelined by injury the past two weeks, Lache Seastrunk (groin) or Glasco Martin (knee). Either way, he wants players to hone in on a goal of avenging last year’s lopsided loss to TCU, not focusing on the finish line or potential bowl ramifications.
“We’ve still got a lot of things out there. But we’re trying not to focus so much on the big picture,” Briles said. “We want to get after a team that got after us for 60 minutes at our place last year. We just need to focus on that. It’s a great chance to show our resolve, our toughness and what our direction is. We’re a work in progress.”
Despite Monday’s soul-searching session, the Bears understand getting their train back on the tracks in Fort Worth can lead to milestones worth celebrating in Baylor football history.