Their coach politicked and cried foul, called anyone who was pro-TCU a Commie or a Canadian, and even confronted the conference commissioner for hurting his team’s playoff chances.
Class was badly lacking from Art Briles, plain and simple, before and after his Baylor Bears split the Big 12 title with TCU, despite a three-point home win over the Horned Frogs, and then were bypassed by the College Football Playoff committee.
The class came from Fort Worth, where TCU traveled the high road after an even worse snub by the committee to a convincing bowl win and a clear told-ya-so message to Tom Osborne, Condi Rice, Jeff Long and the rest of the committee members.
By Thursday afternoon, though, Briles couldn’t use 61-58 as his rallying cry, call naysayers un-American, or point fingers, index or middle, at Bob Bowlsby anymore. Briles was too stunned to do much of anything.
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Oh, Art. Oh, Baylor. Oh, no.
In similar fashion to the way Baylor rallied to stun TCU on Oct. 11, Michigan State scored three fourth-quarter TDs, including the game-winner with 17 seconds remaining, to leave AT&T Stadium with a 42-41 victory in the 79th Cotton Bowl Classic.
“It certainly is unpleasant when the outcome is a reality like what happened today,” Briles said. “It’s, quite honestly, an embarrassment to me as a coach. I feel bad for our players. I feel bad for our football team, and I feel bad for our university.”
Gone in a flash was a chance for No. 5 Baylor (11-2) to stake a claim to the best season in program history and a claim to belong in the College Football Playoff. The Bears fell victim to their faulty defense after building a 41-21 lead on a crowd-pleasing TD to 390-pound LaQuan McGowan in the third quarter.
At that point, the Bears were doing whatever they wanted on offense.
“They were good at what they do,” said Tony Lippett, the Spartans’ two-way star as a wide receiver and cornerback.
But a defense that pitched a second-quarter shutout after touchdowns on Michigan State’s opening two drives did little right in the second half.
The No. 8 Spartans (11-2) gained 214 yards in the fourth quarter and gave themselves a chance at the end by blocking a field goal with 1:05 remaining. Connor Cook, whose ill-advised interception nearly stunted the Spartans’ comeback earlier in the fourth, found Keith Mumphery from 10 yards out to win it.
“Just heartbreaking,” said Baylor linebacker Taylor Young, the game’s defensive MVP in a game in which the teams combined for 1,135 yards. “It hurts.”
Even if the Bears had hung on late, their contention that they were better than TCU wouldn’t have held much weight. Three points at home is the narrowest of margins when factoring in the built-in home-field advantage, and it took the worst performance by a Gary Patterson defense, a friendly clock operator and two dicey decisions by the officials for the Bears to prevail.
The Frogs, meanwhile, took apart Mississippi of the supposed big, bad SEC West on Wednesday and outscored their foes 145-16 over their final three games.
Maybe Baylor fans will call the Bears’ Cotton Bowl collapse a fluke, just as they have dismissed the two-touchdown loss at West Virginia. Those fans could very well be right, especially after watching Cook miss frequently early on easy passes, and after seeing Spartans defensive backs exposed for their lack of RPMs.
But if they are right, that TCU loss at McLane Stadium was a fluke, too, and anyone who still doubts that TCU wasn’t the better team at the end of the regular season or isn’t now needs to be medicated.
But it was a lively debate and fun while it lasted. It would have had even more life had Baylor kept piling up the points behind offensive MVP Bryce Petty (550 yards).
Think about it: TCU, at 12-1 after its no-whine 42-3 defensive exhibition in the Peach Bowl, and Baylor, at 12-1 after a 20-point win over Michigan State.
Baylor, though, didn’t hold up its end. In the end, all of Briles’ politicking and smugness backfired in a confetti cloud as Michigan State celebrated the second-greatest comeback in Cotton Bowl history.
“It’s got nothing to do with the playoff,” Briles said. “It’s got nothing to do with the big picture. The small picture right now is letting a game get away from us today. My hat is off to Michigan State.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760