A sour taste lingers in the mouths of the Baylor Bears after last week’s water-logged, double-overtime loss to TCU eliminated hopes for a third consecutive Big 12 title.
But the Bears could wind up in one of college football’s sweetest postseason destinations if No. 7 Baylor takes down Texas in Saturday’s regular-season finale at McLane Stadium (11 a.m., ESPN). Based on Big 12 tiebreakers, the Bears (9-2, 6-2 in Big 12) would secure a berth in New Orleans to face an SEC opponent in the Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl if they can knock off the Longhorns (4-7, 3-5) and No. 3 Oklahoma (11-1, 8-1) uses its Big 12 championship as a springboard into the College Football Playoff.
That potential double-dip during the final weekend of the regular season offers a Sugary-sweet reality that Baylor players and coach Art Briles readily embraced at Monday’s news conference.
“That’s still big for us. That’s what we’re aiming for going into the game this week,” quarterback Chris Johnson said. “We can still compete in one of the top bowls this year. That’s the mentality we have.”
Briles, in particular, relishes the opportunity to cap this season with an opportunity to boost the school’s 1-5 record in traditional New Year’s Day bowls. Baylor’s lone win in that setting came 59 years ago with a 13-7 triumph over Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl played on Jan. 1, 1957.
Asked how motivated he is to pour some Sugar on the Bears’ postseason, Briles said: “I’d be running as fast as I could to get it. I’m not saying how fast that’s going to be. But it’s worth chasing.”
How is Baylor in the driver’s seat for a Sugar Bowl berth?
Under Big 12 tie-breaking procedures, which will be applied to the league’s postseason pecking order, a Baylor victory and an OU playoff berth would mean a three-way tie for second place in the league standings between the Bears (10-2, 7-2 in Big 12), TCU (10-2, 7-2) and Oklahoma State (10-2, 7-2).
With the tied teams holding a 1-1 record against one another in head-to-head matchups, a scoring differential tiebreaker would be applied. TCU would be eliminated because it has the worst scoring differential in the head-to-head meetings, a minus-13 based on a 49-29 loss to Oklahoma State (minus-20) and a 28-21 victory over Baylor (plus-7).
With TCU out of the picture, that places OSU and Baylor in a two-team tie for the Sugar Bowl spot, with the Bears heading to New Orleans on the strength of a 45-35 victory over the Cowboys. If Baylor falls to Texas, the Sugar Bowl berth would go to Oklahoma State based on the Cowboys’ head-to-head victory over TCU.
The Bears, at that juncture, probably would wind up in the Russell Athletic Bowl (former Citrus Bowl) with a 9-3 record. That postseason destination would not offer the same opportunity to post a top-10 finish in the postseason polls as a trip to the Sugar Bowl to try and secure a third consecutive 11-2 finish by taking down an SEC opponent in New Orleans.
That is why the Bears spent Monday envisioning a Jan. 1 date in New Orleans (7:30 p.m., ESPN) and embracing the opportunity to defeat Texas and make it a reality. Baylor last played in the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 1956 season and a return this season probably would entail a matchup against No. 18 Ole Miss (9-3).
But there will be no trip to New Orleans, Briles acknowledged Monday, if the Bears cannot cut back on the five turnovers they had in last week’s loss to TCU. Baylor also would be advised to accumulate more than the 62 passing yards they posted in rainy Fort Worth, the lowest passing output by any Baylor team since 2002 under former coach Kevin Steele.
Johnson, who completed just 7 of 24 attempts in his first career start at the college level, acknowledged the adverse weather conditions contributed to his struggles. He also threw an interception and lost two fumbles on a night when Johnson likened gripping to football to “trying to play with a wet bar of soap with the weight of a bowling ball.”
“It was pretty hard to handle,” Johnson said. “But TCU was playing in the same conditions. There’s no excuse for it.”
Johnson said teammates have helped him boost his confidence in recent days after his initial reaction was to “put the whole thing on me” following the loss. Receiver Corey Coleman, a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, said he urged Johnson to relax and lean more heavily on his teammates Saturday.
Briles indicated that could be a prescription for a bowl trip to New Orleans.
“We’ve got a job to do Saturday,” Briles said. “And then, that [Sugar Bowl berth] would be a great accomplishment for our football team.”
It certainly would sweeten Monday’s sour mood for a disappointed team seeking to maximize its postseason experience after a gut-wrenching loss ended its College Football Playoff and Big 12 championship hopes.
Texas at Baylor
11 a.m., ESPN