Big 12 thoughts: Week 15
A few thoughts on the final week in the Big 12.
Man, is Baylor’s story fun to watch. Gary Pinkel was first. Mike Gundy was next. As far as Big 12 rebuild projects go, though, it’s hard to top what Art Briles has done at Baylor. Slowly, step by step, the Bears have built the program brick by brick. Robert Griffin III’s Heisman Trophy in 2011 was a cornerstone, but Saturday’s events will go down as the beginning of a special age in Baylor football as long as Art Briles is there. According to his latest contract extension, he’s locked in for the next decade. Lache Seastrunk says he’s leaning toward coming back (even if I’m skeptical) and Bryce Petty says he’ll definitely back. Baylor has a lot to replace on defense, but the Bears are in shape to contend next year and pretty often in the future. Baylor lost a transcendent player in Robert Griffin III and the program continued to grow. That’s a credit to Briles. Seeing the Bears be the undisputed Big 12 champion is hard to believe when you look back on its lean years early on in the Big 12, but this is no Cinderella story. Briles has built a program on speed and talent, and it’s one that will sustain for years to come. He’s recruited too well for it to be any other way, and that recruiting will only be helped by flashing a Big 12 title ring in guys’ living rooms. It doesn’t take very much faith any more to believe Baylor can compete for a Big 12 title, or perhaps more in the future.
Oklahoma State let this one get away. The Cowboys will rightfully be shaking their heads on this one. Oklahoma didn’t have an offensive touchdown until the final minute, but Oklahoma State gave up huge plays in the special teams and failed to make the kinds of plays that win games. I have no idea how Justin Gilbert doesn’t haul in that interception, and a conservative defensive scheme backfired on the game-winning drive. If you give up a fake field goal for a touchdown and a punt return for a touchdown, you’re probably not going to win games. Oklahoma State was the better team in this one, but Oklahoma made the plays when they counted and earned a win without their starting quarterback and despite an average performance. That’s impressive.
It’s hard to see Mack Brown coming back. I really appreciate how much Mack has deflected the attention to his team throughout the highs and lows of this season, and that didn’t change after a 20-point loss to Baylor. “I’m not talking about that tonight,” Brown told reporters. “I’m in the same position I’ve been in the other 15 times I’ve been asked.” If Texas had won on Saturday, Brown may still have walked away, but it would have been very, very difficult to force out a coach who just won an outright Big 12 title by capturing eight of his last nine games. A loss, though, means Texas is 8-4 for a second consecutive regular season, and that’s just not good enough in Austin. He was given a chance to reboot the program after the 2010 disaster. There was no excuse for failing to reach the BCS and failing to improve the regular season record this year. Everybody has injuries. Brown meant a lot to the program and college football at large, and he deserves better than being truly fired. I’d be flabbergasted if we don’t see a resignation. The only question for me is whether it comes before or after the bowl game.
Mike Gundy has a Bob Stoops problem. Stoops improved to 8-1 against Mike Gundy, but that number’s really not fair. OU was far and above OSU for many of those wins. The number I’m concerned with? Gundy is just 1-4 in the last five seasons against OU, but OSU had the better team in at least three of those games. The Pokes famously blew out OU in 2011 to win the Big 12 title at home, but blew a double-digit lead late in the third quarter last year to fall out of the Big 12 title race. In 2009, a beat up Oklahoma team shut out OSU in Norman with a BCS bid on the line for the Cowboys. Zac Robinson played with a badly hurt shoulder that day, but that was embarrassing for OSU. Saturday, OSU outplayed OU and still found a way to lose late with a Big 12 title on the line on its home field. That’s very bad. OSU has built a sustainable program without consistently beating Oklahoma, but lately, it definitely seems like Stoops has had Gundy’s number.
Bowl season could be a rough one for the Big 12. There’s still a lot of moving pieces left to settle, but the Big 12’s lack of bowl depth means it may face some difficult matchups this year. Three Big 12 bowl bids may be left unfilled if the league does indeed put two teams into the BCS, but the Big 12’s six bowl-eligible teams going .500 may be a tall order. More on this as the bowl bids become official.