Gil LeBreton

Baylor Bears find their slice of heaven

As the Baylor Bears showed us Saturday, nothing can beat the first time.

First time to win the Big 12 Conference football championship.

First time to earn a trip to a BCS bowl.

First time with an 11-win season.

First time to play in front of shirtless fraternity dudes in a wind chill of 12 degrees.

First time to close a stadium while going absolutely bonkers.

When the Big 12 was formed 17 years ago, the Tom Osbornes and DeLoss Doddses of the world probably thought it would take a cold day in hell for Baylor to ever win the league’s football title.

Baylor, as the proud Baptist university it is, preferred to work the brighter side of the street. With a 30-10 win over Texas, the Bears made Waco feel Saturday night like a little slice of heaven.

Case closed, in more ways than one.

It was the Bears’ last game at Floyd Casey Stadium, which opened its concrete aisles 63 years ago.

It was a much fouler day, meanwhile, for another Case — Longhorns quarterback Case McCoy, who struggled to complete 12 of 34 passes for only 54 yards, while throwing two interceptions.

And as the Baylor fans said goodbye to the old stadium, UT fans may well have seen coach Mack Brown on a regular season sideline for the final time.

As fate would have it, Brown had his day pegged from the start. He had semi-joked last week that he was the only coach in the country who could be playing for both his job and a conference title on the same day.

Help came from an expected ally. The Oklahoma Sooners found a way to snatch victory away from No. 6 Oklahoma State in the final minute 33-24.

Though both the Bears and Longhorns were soundly beaten by Oklahoma State in recent weeks, the Baylor-Texas finale suddenly became a matter of winner-take-all.

The Bears didn’t need to be asked twice.

Even in less-frigid conditions and without Oklahoma’s help, Texas was destined to be in for an uphill afternoon. The Bears simply have too many weapons, too many options and the bravado to use all of them.

From the last weekend in August until the first Saturday in December, Baylor was the league’s most entertaining show. Too bad the Bears likely won’t get to prove their prowess against a Southeastern Conference or a Pac-12 team.

Instead, they’re headed to the Fiesta Bowl.

And when they convene in Waco again next August, the Bears are scheduled to play in a new $260 million home on the banks of the Brazos River. It’s just a few miles from “The Case” — but a world away from Baylor’s humble beginnings in the Big 12.

Coach Art Briles has a new contract. The Bears have a new way to ring in the New Year.

For Brown, there seems to be a tolling bell around the corner. A victory Saturday would have meant an unexpected conference championship and, likely, a messy farewell.

His fate appeared to be sealed, however, when Dodds’ departure as UT athletic director was announced in September. Mack declined to publicly comment on his job status Saturday, and that can be construed as an ominous sign.

Call it college football’s circle of life. While one head coach appears to be at the end of his 15-year reign, another led his team Saturday to a litany of firsts.

First time to storm the field at Floyd Casey Stadium and hoist the Big 12’s championship trophy.

First time to be invited to the BCS party.

Hell freeze over?

They had Waco mistaken for some other place.

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