With fellow College Football Playoff hopefuls losing or struggling in other venues, No. 7 Baylor took care of business Saturday by taking down Texas Tech 48-46 at AT&T Stadium.
But the Bears (10-1, 7-1 in Big 12) looked ragged as often as they appeared rugged during an uneven performance that ended with two key offensive players, including quarterback Bryce Petty, watching from the sideline with injuries. It also ended with Tech (4-8, 2-7) racking up 712 yards but trumping that production with four game-turning turnovers in front of an announced crowd of 54,179.
The effort kept Baylor on pace to meet No. 12 Kansas State (9-2, 7-1) for at least a share of the Big 12 championship in next week’s contest. In all likelihood, the winner in Waco will share the crown with No. 5 TCU, which can secure its title claim if the Horned Frogs (10-1, 7-1) beat Iowa State (2-9, 0-8) in their regular-season finale.
But in terms of furthering its playoff pedigree, Baylor did itself no favors Saturday. The Bears allowed 598 passing yards to Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes, a Big 12 freshman record, and needed a defensive stop on a 2-point conversion attempt with 1:42 remaining to avert disaster after holding a 42-17 lead late in the third quarter.
Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman acknowledged the empty feeling that accompanied the narrow escape.
“A win’s a win. But at the end of the day, we play to a certain standard. And we didn’t meet that standard today,” Oakman said. “We didn’t finish the way we’re supposed to finish.”
“We got lackadaisical,” Oakman said.
The late lull, which coincided with Petty’s third-quarter departure with a concussion, came at a terrible time for Baylor’s playoff push. The Bears struggled against a Tech team that TCU manhandled 82-27. It happened two days after the Frogs’ 48-10 rout of Texas marked the Longhorns’ most lopsided home loss since falling to UCLA 66-3 in 1997.
In terms of gaining ground on No. 5 TCU with members of the CFP selection committee, Baylor can forget about closing that gap when the updated rankings are revealed Tuesday. But the Bears, along with TCU, can expect to benefit from No. 19 Ole Miss’ 31-17 victory over No. 4 Mississippi State (10-2). That should open a spot in the projected playoff bracket when the fresh rankings are revealed Tuesday.
Saturday struggles during victories by No. 3 Florida State (12-0) and No. 6 Ohio State (11-1) also will impact the playoff picture. But Baylor missed a chance to maximize its move with Saturday’s lackluster effort against Tech. Baylor also will enter the K-State game with questions about the availability of Petty (concussion) and running back Devin Chafin, who dislocated his right elbow in the first half. Coach Art Briles said Chafin is expected to miss three weeks.
Petty, who departed with a 35-17 lead on a play that drew a late-hit penalty from Tech linebacker Sam Eguavoen, had no issue with the tackle and made it clear he expects to play against K-State.
“The guy made a good play and my head just got in the way,” said Petty, who admitted he “went blank for a second” but felt fine after the game. Asked if he might miss the K-State contest, Petty said: “Hell, no. I’m going to play, no doubt. I’ll pass all the tests.”
Without Petty, the Bears struggled to protect a 42-17 lead after backup quarterback Seth Russell’s 27-yard scoring strike to Levi Norwood with 6:44 remaining in the third quarter. That is because Mahomes (598 yards, six TDs) riddled the Baylor defense throughout the second half. Tech scored on its final five possessions (one field goal, four TDs), with Mahomes’ 40-yard strike to Bradley Marquez pulling the Red Raiders within two points with 1:42 remaning.
But Tech, which failed on a 2-point try after cutting the deficit to 45-40, failed again with a chance to tie when Mahomes was sacked on the final conversion attempt. In retrospect, Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said he did not regret attempting the earlier 2-point try, at 45-40, because he liked the play, but “we just didn’t hit it.”
Nor did Kingsbury choose to make an issue about Oakman’s knee to the head of Mahomes as the two unpiled after a second-quarter sack. The play went unflagged but the incident was caught on replay.
“I did see it. They did not see it,” Kingsbury said of game officials. “So I will just leave it at that.”
Asked about his intent on the play, Oakman said: “No message. That’s football.”
The bottom line showed Baylor played good enough football to remain in control of its Big 12 destiny but not good enough to enhance its playoff hopes. For Briles, that was enough Saturday.
“It’s hard to repeat as champions,” said Briles, whose team won the 2013 Big 12 title. “That’s the deal. I can’t control [playoff projections].”
But Petty tried. Despite the narrow escape, he said Baylor deserves a playoff berth if the Bears finish 11-1 and earn at least a share of the Big 12 title.
“No doubt,” Petty said. “It’s hard to say anything else but ‘yes.’ ”
After Saturday, don’t look for CFP committee members to agree. Baylor won a game but missed its opportunity to generate some playoff momentum on Rivalry Weekend.