Baylor’s bid for a third consecutive Big 12 title is over. The No. 12 Bears are still in line for a pretty sweet reward if they get to 10 wins again.
Already assured of a bowl game for the sixth consecutive season, the Bears could play on New Year’s Day for the third year in a row.
With No. 3 Oklahoma winning the Big 12 title and likely headed into the four-team College Football Playoff, the league’s second-place team would go to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl against an SEC team. That could be the Bears (9-2, 6-2) if they win their regular-season finale Saturday at home against Texas.
"That’s something to give you motivation," receiver Corey Coleman said Monday.
"Our season is still alive. We have a ton to play for," standout senior left tackle Spencer Drango said. "A Sugar Bowl berth would be awesome. A New Year’s Six game, it’s still a huge game."
The Bears play at home for the first time since their Nov. 14 loss against Oklahoma. They then won at then-undefeated Oklahoma State before their rain-drenched 28-21 double-overtime loss at No. 11 TCU on Friday.
Even if Baylor had beaten the Horned Frogs, the Sooners – the only team to win three consecutive Big 12 titles – would have still clinched their ninth Big 12 championship with their overwhelming victory at Oklahoma State on Saturday.
"The only thing we lost with that game was bragging rights," Drango said.
Baylor’s only Sugar Bowl appearance came at the end of the 1956 season, a 13-7 win over Tennessee. The Bears played in their first Cotton Bowl since Jan. 1, 1981 in January, losing 42-41 to Michigan State.
When coach Art Briles was asked Monday about potentially playing in the Sugar Bowl, he responded, "Well, I’d be running as fast as I could to get that berth, because it’s worth chasing."
The coach quickly added that the focus has to be on taking care of business against the Longhorns (4-7, 3-5), but also noted what a great accomplishment it would be to win 10 games again with another high finish in the Big 12.
"If you’re not going to finish first, then finish second. I think that would show a lot of consistency over the years," he said during his weekly availability on the Waco campus.
Briles has talked with team leaders since the loss at TCU and described them as being obviously frustrated and disappointed. He wanted to make sure they were focused on what is ahead of them, not what happened in the rain.
"If you’re alive, you can have hope, you can have goals, and you can have purpose. That’s where we are," Briles said. "We have a bunch of that in front of us. We can have a tremendously fulfilling season by taking care of the business at hand. … Let’s handle what we can handle – what’s in front of us. We can’t change what’s behind us."
Texas is essentially left playing for pride, though with an upset it could be one of the 5-7 teams that sneaks into a bowl game because there are too few teams at 6-6 or better to qualify.
"Let’s go beat Baylor," senior fullback Alex de la Torre said Monday. "It would be nice."
It would also be quite an upset, considering Texas is 0-4 in true road games this season, with each loss by 18 or more points. The Longhorns have also lost four of the last five to the Bears, falling 28-7 last October.
Second-year coach Charlie Strong now has to motivate a Texas team that will be without at least four injured starters, and at least two more who will be evaluated this week and could miss the game.
Among the injured is starting quarterback Jerrod Heard, who suffered a concussion in last week’s 48-45 loss to Texas Tech.
He’ll be replaced by Tyrone Swoopes, who started most of 2014 and the first game of this season but was replaced by Heard after a blowout loss at Notre Dame in the opener. The junior has 386 passing yards and three touchdowns.
"I think our guys will go out and compete," Strong said. "They don’t want to get embarrassed."
That’s happened enough already. In road games, Texas has been outscored 150-30. Each time the Longhorns returned home, the players faced the same questions about why they have been so bad away from Austin.
"I still don’t have an answer for you," junior safety Dylan Haines said. "We’ve got to change something."
Texas thought it had found the answers when the Longhorns upset Oklahoma 24-17 in Dallas. That game came just a week after Texas was beaten by TCU 50-7 and seemed to calm the questions about Strong’s future with the Longhorns.
Texas is 2-3 since that game. The Sooners, meanwhile, have stormed their way to the Big 12 title and positioned themselves for a possible playoff spot.
Everyone expected Texas to "take off" after that game, Strong said.