During his seven seasons as the Baylor football coach, Art Briles has allowed Bears’ fans to place check marks beside several significant items on their Big 12 bucket lists.
Conference championship? Won it last season.
Heisman Trophy? The school’s copy of RG3’s hardware is on permanent display in the Baylor football complex.
New stadium? Opened Aug. 31.
But amid the bowl berths and offensive records, there’s a significant void that can only be filled Saturday in Norman, Okla. No. 13 Baylor (7-1, 4-1 in Big 12) never has defeated No. 18 Oklahoma (6-2, 3-2) in the Sooners’ home stadium.
The teams have met 11 times north of the Red River. Baylor’s closest brush with victory came in 2005 when the Bears took the Sooners to double overtime before falling 37-30.
Most of those encounters have been lopsided, just like the series. OU leads 21-2, but Baylor won the past two matchups in Waco (2011, 2013).
Those results provide confidence to Baylor players, who are more than aware of the historic burden they will carry into Saturday’s game. In addition to being 0-11 in games played at OU, the Bears have lost their past 22 games played against Big 12 rivals in the state of Oklahoma, with the last triumph coming at Oklahoma State in 1939.
“I don’t doubt that we can win. I know we can,” Baylor left tackle Spencer Drango said at Monday’s news conference. “We’ve heard a lot that we haven’t won up there and Oklahoma’s not a very good state for Baylor. But we’re looking to change that this week.”
If they can, these Bears will be able to thrive in a similar setting to the one that produced their greatest failure last season. In a championship season, Baylor dropped its lone league game to Oklahoma State 49-17 on Nov. 23, 2013 in Stillwater, Okla. It marked the Bears’ 11th consecutive loss in games played at OSU, matching the team’s current stretch of futility when playing in Norman.
Just don’t try to sell Briles on the idea of a Red River Curse.
“We don’t feel like there’s a monkey on our back,” Briles said. “We’re just trying to go play for 60 minutes and win the football game. It’s our job to win if we’re playing in McLane Stadium or we’re playing in Norman, Okla.”
But it is a task that has eluded every Baylor football team that has ventured north to play the Sooners. The first trip, in 1974, resulted in a 28-11 setback. The biggest trouncing, in 2003, ended 41-3. The most recent visit, one of two in the Briles’ era, resulted in OU’s 42-34 triumph in 2012.
The Bears’ lack of success at OU apparently played a role in Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty’s decision to summon his inner Bill Belichick after Saturday’s 60-14 rout of Kansas. In responding to six different questions, Petty replied that he was “just ready for OU” regardless of whether the question dealt with the Sooners.
During Monday’s news conference, Petty said he “didn’t mean to come off as rude or obnoxious” or diminish the significance of beating Kansas. But he did re-emphasize his primary point from Saturday.
“I’m really excited about this week,” Petty said. “It’s a big opportunity for us, a big opportunity for them. There’s a lot of hype around it. This is why you play football, to go into a hostile environment and play the game you love. Every game is a statement game, every time you get out there.”
Asked about the Bears’ winless record in Norman, Petty said: “I know about it. But all we want is an opportunity to get a Big 12 win here, there or wherever. It just happens to be in Norman and we need to take care of business.”
As he left the dais, a smiling Petty added: “And I’m ready for OU.”
Is that enough? The Bears were thumped in their last road game 41-27 by No. 20 West Virginia. In the team’s last seven games played outside of Waco, Baylor is 4-3.
Veteran players recalled answering similar questions to the ones that surfaced Monday before last year’s lopsided loss at OSU. Asked if the Bears brought back any lessons from that setback in Stillwater that can be applied this week, receiver Levi Norwood nodded.
“A little bit,” Norwood said. “It really comes down to starting the game off right. Other than that, it’s a different team and a different year. The environment’s going to be tough but we’ll have a little extra motivation. No one on this team has won a game in Oklahoma at all. For us, it’s motivation to be the first one to do it.”
Without question, the Bears’ combined 22-game losing streak in games played at OU and OSU has brought a fresh wave of Baylor doubters this week. Drango, for one, welcomes them as part of his mental preparations.
“We feed off of it,” Drango said. “We know that everyone kind of looks at us as a blip on the radar screen. We’re just trying to prove that we’re better and we’re here to stay.”
At this juncture, the best way for the Bears to reinforce that message is to win a game in the state of Oklahoma. Finally.