Baylor Bears

Baylor’s plan: Maximize playoff chances by going undefeated

Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman  celebrates after assisting in 2013 on a sack against Iowa State. Oakman says an undefeated season will take care of any worries about qualifying for the College Football Playoff.
Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman celebrates after assisting in 2013 on a sack against Iowa State. Oakman says an undefeated season will take care of any worries about qualifying for the College Football Playoff. AP

A fresh round of preseason rankings surface Sunday, when the Baylor Bears learn whether voters in The Associated Press poll allow them to match or exceed their No. 4 spot in the inaugural 2015 coaches poll.

Regardless of their starting spot, Baylor players say nothing short of a perfect regular-season record will guarantee that the two-time defending Big 12 champions reach what coach Art Briles described as the team’s “No. 1 goal” this season: a berth in the 2015 College Football Playoff bracket.

Baylor finished fifth in last year’s final CFP rankings, one spot short of a playoff berth, and returns 17 starters from an 11-2 team that capped its season with a 42-41 loss to Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.

The Bears enter with plans to be a playoff team this year because of one simple mathematical twist to their body of work submitted for consideration by the CFP selection committee.

“We’re going to go undefeated,” defensive end Shawn Oakman said.

In fact, Oakman characterized it as a requirement after the Bears’ experience with the playoff process last season.

“You don’t want to give the committee a choice,” Oakman said. “You don’t want to give them a choice at all. You want to keep the control in our hands and the only way to do that is to go undefeated.”

Offensive tackle Spencer Drango, who joined Oakman on several preseason All-America lists this summer, described the Bears as “very comfortable” with the idea of having to play it perfect to reach the playoffs.

“That’s one of our goals,” Drango said. “We’ve set high expectations for ourselves and living up to those is doable.

“One of our goals is another Big 12 championship. Then, not just an appearance but a win in the next game [CFP playoff opener]. And not just an appearance but a win in the one after that [CFP title game]. I think to get there you do have to go undefeated. It definitely helps to go undefeated to get there. I think we’re very comfortable with that. But it’s going to take a team effort and a lot of determination to do that.”

TCU, the No. 2 team in the coaches poll, looms as a significant obstacle on the Bears’ path to a perfect season. The Horned Frogs, who return 15 starters from a 12-1 team, shared last year’s Big 12 championship with Baylor, although the Bears won the head-to-head meeting 61-58 in Waco. The rematch comes Nov. 27 in Fort Worth.

Baylor receiver KD Cannon said players will accept whatever ranking they receive in the AP poll as motivation because they anticipate the top spot going to Ohio State, the defending national champs who return 15 starters from a 14-1 team and earned 62 of 64 first-place votes in the coaches poll released earlier this month.

“To us, we should be No. 1,” Cannon said. “But we’re all going to play like we’re in last place. That’s our mindset. They’re always going to talk down on Baylor; that’s just how they are. We’ve just got a lot more stuff to do.”

Regardless of which team tops the final standings, Briles made it clear that he expects this year’s Big 12 champion to land a playoff berth that was denied to both 2014 co-champions. TCU finished sixth in last year’s final CFP rankings, dropping three spots after a season-ending 55-3 rout of Iowa State that helped elevate Ohio State into the playoff field with the No. 4 spot. The Buckeyes went on to win the national championship.

Briles said the Bears “expect to be” a playoff participant this season and envision a third consecutive Big 12 championship as a satisfactory springboard into the four-team bracket.

“If we take care of that, then I don’t think we’ll be the one outside looking in this year. I think we’ll have a seat at the table,” Briles said. “We expect to be there. But we also understand … the process that you have to go through.

“We know it’s a grind. We just happen to have a lot of key elements in place this year that maybe we haven’t had in the past. We’ve walked in with a pretty good hand. Now, we’ve got to play it right.”

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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