The job-related question, unlike others that preceded it, came with a positive spin.
But Texas football coach Mack Brown avoided it like an open-field tackler despite being given an opportunity to explain why he should be named Big 12 coach of the year if the Longhorns claim an outright league championship at the conclusion of Saturday’s dramatic doubleheader with title implications.
“I don’t even go there,” said Brown, whose Longhorns (8-3, 7-1 in Big 12) can clinch at least a share of a Big 12 title by defeating No. 9 Baylor (10-1, 7-1) at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco. “What I’ve learned is this place helps you focus on your job and not worry about all the stuff around it. Because that gets you in trouble.”
Among the three coaches with opportunities to secure the Fiesta Bowl berth reserved for the Big 12 champion, only Brown will do so against a backdrop of whether he will be presiding over his final regular-season contest at the school if No. 25 Texas falls short.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy does not face such speculation, and Baylor coach Art Briles already has agreed to a raise and lengthy extension heading into the final game to be played at “The Case,” the Bears’ 64-year-old home venue (2:30 p.m., KDFW/Ch. 4).
The Baylor-Texas winner will become the outright conference champion if No. 17 Oklahoma (9-2, 6-2) knocks off No. 6 Oklahoma State (10-1, 7-1) in the first half of the dramatic doubleheader in Stillwater, Okla. (11 a.m., WFAA/Ch. 8). If the Cowboys prevail, OSU will share the Big 12 title with the Baylor-Texas winner. But OSU will advance to the Fiesta Bowl because of head-to-head victories over both the Bears and Longhorns.
That will not lessen the buzz in Waco, where players from the winning team will receive Big 12 championship rings. Texas quarterback Case McCoy described Saturday as a one-day referendum on whether the Longhorns’ up-and-down season can be considered a success.
“I would fully agree that this will determine if our season is a success,” McCoy said. “All the marbles are on the table and we understand the situation. That’s big words to say, and we’ve got to go back up those words and play that way.”
For Baylor coaches and players, unlike their counterparts from Texas, the stuff around the game is significant. Anticipation of a stadium-record crowd in the final contest played at the facility that opened in 1950 adds luster to the Bears’ title hopes.
“You couldn’t ask for a better scenario, other than winning the game,” Briles said.
To most Baylor fans, who last saw their team share a conference title in 1994, the showdown with Texas marks the most-anticipated game in 64 seasons at Floyd Casey Stadium. Baylor last won an outright league title in 1980 as a Southwest Conference member. A victory Saturday would set a school record for most wins in a season, topping the mark (10) established in 1980 and duplicated in 2011 and 2013.
Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty said the high-stakes atmosphere inspires him and his teammates, who have ended every practice session since spring drills by chanting, “Big 12 champs.”
“It’s going to be hard to treat this game like any other game,” Petty said. “This is what we’ve been playing for. This is our time that we get to do that. Everybody’s got to be focused, and I think we are. Everybody’s real hyped for this game.”
The challenge of playing a team with an identical title opportunity adds to the buzz for Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk, the team’s leading rusher (982 yards, 11 TDs).
“It’s hard to express the full extent of how much this game means because they’re in the same position that we’re in,” Seastrunk said. “We’ve got to take care of business. We’ve got to do what Baylor does.”
That means defending “The Case,” where the Bears are 6-0 this season and have won their past nine games dating to a 49-21 loss to TCU on Oct. 13, 2012. Texas, on the other hand, has rebounded from a 1-2 start that triggered speculation about Brown’s ouster, with Alabama coach Nick Saban considered the primary replacement candidate.
Brown said he has not discussed his job status with players. But a must-win mindset has become a weekly habit for these Longhorns throughout Big 12 play, with the team gaining confidence after its 36-20 victory over then-undefeated Oklahoma on Oct. 12. After that victory, left tackle Donald Hawkins said the mindset has been, “If you can beat OU, you can beat anybody. That’s what we believe.”
Although Texas’ opportunity to sweep its Big 12 peers disappeared with a 38-13 loss to Oklahoma State, the hard-edged mindset remains. Players said they embrace the challenge in Waco.
“These are the games you live for, with everything on the line and one game to finish out the season,” Texas defensive back Quandre Diggs said. “It’s a one-game playoff. Whatever happens this week, our fate is in our hands. If we get that win, it will do big things for us.”
It might even bring back their coach for the 2014 season.