Long ago, in a football galaxy far away, former Baylor coach Grant Teaff made a habit of downgrading Texas’ postseason plans with recurring, late-season victories over the Longhorns.
Teaff’s teams occasionally pulled those upsets in years when the Bears did not win enough games to reach the postseason themselves. Late-season triumphs in 1976, 1978, 1984, 1988 and 1989 testify to that. Other times, those victories vaulted the Bears into a bowl game and shifted the dynamics of Texas’ bowl hopes.
Either way, they happened often enough to define Teaff’s tenure in a Hall of Fame coaching career.
That was then. This is now: In an ironic twist to long-term series history, Bears coach Art Briles will be the guy seeking to avoid a season-altering upset when No. 12 Baylor (9-2, 6-2 Big 12) meets Texas (4-7, 3-5) in Saturday’s regular-season finale for both schools at McLane Stadium (11 a.m., ESPN).
The matchup marks a role reversal in a series Texas leads 74-26-4. The Longhorns, under second-year coach Charlie Strong, cannot make it to a bowl with a victory. But they can keep Baylor out of the Sugar Bowl, the Bears’ most likely postseason destination, with an upset.
For Baylor, the situation is similar to last year’s game against Texas Tech in the Red Raiders’ regular-season finale. Tech entered with a 4-7 record and fell behind by 25 points before rallying in the fourth quarter. A Baylor team headed to a share of the 2014 Big 12 title squeezed out a 48-46 escape only because Tech failed on a 2-point conversion with 1:42 remaining.
Briles said he anticipates the same emotional, this-is-our-bowl-game effort from Texas players that Baylor saw last year from the Red Raiders.
“It’s dangerous to face any team. But when you face a team that’s talented in their situation, that’s always something to take note of,” Briles said. “That’s a very good football team. Look down Oklahoma’s ‘W-L’ column, and when you get to the ‘L,’ you’ll see who that came against. So they’re very capable, very talented, as a team.”
But outside of the Longhorns’ 24-17 upset of No. 3 Oklahoma on Oct. 10 in Dallas, that talent has not translated to games played away from Austin. Texas’ most lopsided losses came in road games at TCU (50-7), Notre Dame (38-3), Iowa State (24-0) and West Virginia (38-20). Unless the Longhorns can win as a 20-point underdog in Waco, Texas will lose eight or more games in a season for the first time since the 1956 team posted a 1-9 record: a span of 59 years.
To put that into perspective, the Longhorns hired Darrell Royal to oversee the program in 1957. The school did not have another losing season until 1986, when Fred Akers was fired after a 5-6 mark.
Once again, that was then. This is now: Strong heads to Waco without the services of Texas’ top tackler (linebacker Peter Jinkens) and leading rusher (running back D’Onta Foreman), who will miss the game because of injuries. He plans to start backup quarterback Tyrone Swoopes because starter Jerrod Heard sustained a concussion Nov. 26 against Texas Tech but could be cleared to play by game time.
Strong also understands the recruiting ramifications of trying to sell a program coming off a 4-8 record, if Texas falls Saturday, as opposed to a 5-7 mark with victories over rivals that won or shared three consecutive Big 12 titles: OU (2015) and Baylor (2014, 2013).
“It’s our final game and we need to go out and play well,” Strong said. “We have to make sure that we don’t go out there and just … go through the motions. I think our guys will compete, because they don’t want to get embarrassed. Some of the seniors, they may not ever put on another uniform. So you’d like to see us go out and represent them the right way.”
For the Baylor seniors, it will be their final home game in Waco. But the bigger motivation is the opportunity to lock up a berth in the Sugar Bowl, under Big 12 tiebreakers, if Baylor wins and OU is selected Sunday to be part of the College Football Playoff.
“That’s a huge bowl. It’s still part of the New Year’s Six,” said offensive tackle Spencer Drango, a fifth-year senior who is a finalist for the Outland Trophy. “I don’t think we’re going to … be in the playoffs, but a New Year’s Six bowl is still really, really good. I’m looking forward to that. But we do have to take care of business first.”
No. 12 Baylor vs. Texas
11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN