Thoughts on 11-1, being Big 12 Champs, and Closing the Case

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There is so much going on in my head in the aftermath of today's victory that I have to just get it on the page/screen. Your Baylor Bears the 2013 Big 12 Champions.

Before getting to the game, so much has happened today in the BCS that it's probably worthwhile to take a look at where things stand as of this moment. Or at least try to, I guess.

Going Into Today (after NIU loss):

BCS NCG: Florida St. Seminoles vs. Ohio St. Buckeyes
Fiesta: Oklahoma St. Cowboys vs. Central Florida Knights
Rose: Michigan St. Spartans vs. Stanford Cardinal
Orange: Alabama Crimson Tide (probably) vs. Clemson Tigers
Sugar: Auburn Tigers vs. Baylor Bears / Oregon Ducks

Now (after ... everything):

BCS NCG: Florida State vs. Auburn
Fiesta: Baylor vs. UCF
Rose: Michigan State vs. Stanford
Orange: Ohio State vs. Clemson
Sugar: Alabama vs. Oregon/Oklahoma Sooners

So yeah, a lot changed in the course of a single day. Isn't CFB awesome? Your "Big 5" champions after today are Michigan State, Auburn, Stanford, Baylor, and Florida State. ISN'T CFB AWESOME?

I think, but I don't know, that after winning the Big 12 outright today, we should see a relatively big jump in the BCS. We know the States Oklahoma and Ohio will fall, but we don't know how far. Missouri will, too. I wouldn't be surprised to see us pass two of the three, with Ohio State remaining above us and potentially (though not likely) Stanford. That would put us at #7 in the BCS with a chance to move into the top 5 with a win in the Fiesta Bowl.

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I remember vividly the fear I had as a student and young alumni that everyone around the Big 12 and the country telling us that we would never actually compete for anything worthwhile were right. I remember hoping while I sat in the student section during the Morriss Era that things might get a little better, maybe we'd actually have a winning season every now and again, but too much more than that would probably be impossible. A small private school largely bereft of meaningful tradition and surrounded by giants with every possible advantage didn't really have a place in the upper echelon of the conference, much less the country. Our lot was to be the entree upon which others fattened themselves, an afterthought when it came to Big Time College Football. I certainly never believed that 10 years after I came to Baylor in the wake of perhaps the biggest scandal in college athletics history (we all know the one I'm talking about), we'd be celebrating on the same day a victory in men's basketball over #3 Kentucky, owners of the Greatest Recruiting Class in History, and our school's first Big 12 Conference Championship, the product of an 11-1 season, in football.

That's where we are right now. After an exciting night that saw our men's basketball team pull off a stunner in Arlington in front of a crowd reduced greatly by the effects of winter weather, a record-breaking crowd of over 51,700 Baylor fans braved those same elements to help will our football team to a 30-10 win over the Texas Longhorns and the program's first-ever Big 12 Championship. The team finished 11-1 in what has to be, by any measure, the greatest regular season in school history, earning a BCS bowl game in January and the possibility of a top-5 ranking heading into 2014. Most of the credit for this ascendance should go to our Head Coach Art Briles, architect of one of the most dynamic (and fun) programs in the country. A man of singular indomitable vision, he saw in Baylor a place not for opportunity but accomplishment. In addition to what should be one of the finest stadiums in the country on the banks of the Brazos River in Waco, Briles built for our program and school a future in the world of college football. Where once we were the epitome of lost, now there are arguably few more found.

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I think today might have been the coldest I've ever been in my life, certainly top 5. Despite two pairs of socks designed for cold weather, three layers under my jacket, gloves, and a Carhartt hat I've worn to ski before with no problems, I found myself shivering noticeably at numerous points in today's game. Call me a wuss if you want to; I've lived in Texas my entire life and this isn't something I'm accustomed to. I credit making it through the second half to the hot cocoa we managed to procure at halftime in a concourse that despite being full of people somehow managed to be even colder than the seating bowl itself. Before the game started, the guy next to me in section F intentionally poured water beneath his seat for reasons I still don't entirely understand. By the time I left to search out the cocoa that would sustain me, the water had frozen. That 51,700+ Baylor fans made it to the game through all that, plus the ice and snow still existent in places like the Metroplex, is nothing short of amazing.

They did it for two reasons: 1) They wanted to cheer the best team in modern Baylor history to victory, and 2) They wanted to give Floyd Casey Stadium the send-off she deserved. Both things happened. I don't have much to say about the game itself in terms of X's and O's -- what I do have, I'll say below -- but I know this: today's was without a doubt the greatest game I've ever attended at FCS. There was no better way to leave it behind than to do so in victory, celebrating the conference title so many told us would never come. That celebration, while we're at it, was executed perfectly. After putting up the required show of resistance, Baylor allowed the fans who had suffered so long to take the field and be a part of a trophy presentation and closing ceremony the likes of which not many who were there to see it will soon forget. The whole thing was handled skillfully, safely, and without any major issues that I could see. Baylor and its fans should both be applauded for that.

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Honestly, I don't have many specific things to talk about in this post tonight. I try to keep track during games of issues/events worthy of mention, and I often fail for various reasons. My reasons today are that I was unfathomably cold and ... we won the Big 12. Nothing else really matters. One thing I did want to mention was that the ODB Tailgate before the game was, in my opinion, a huge success. A huge number of previously-unknown (to me, at least) ODBers made appearances, and everyone had a great time. Huge kudos to the Fankhauser Crew, Peter, and everyone else that contributed to the tailgate, as well as all those who came out. I don't yet know if I'll be making the trip to Arizona, but I hope ODBers get something similar going there.

Something else I wanted to talk about specifically was the Baylor defense. Derided for so long by so many (including, prominently, yours truly), the Baylor defense threw down a virtuoso performance to cap off a season in which it showed improvement second only to Auburn's offense in perhaps the entire country. Once its defining weakness, Phil Bennett's group was again the strength of our team when we needed them most, buying time for a largely dysfunctional offense to get its act together and eventually put Texas away. The only touchdown scored by the Longhorns came after yet another spectacular special teams failure on a fourth down play that was positively Manziellian in its absolute reliance on luck. Texas amassed a grand total of 217 yards, including just 54 (!!) passing by Case McCoy. By virtue of his two interceptions, senior CB (and ODB favorite) K.J. Morton managed to surpass that number in return yardage with 60. I don't know if any Baylor player has ever done that before. Eddie Lackey, almost certainly my 2013 Defensive MVP, made his case yet again for the All-Big 12 First Team with a game-high 13 tackles, 2 for which went for loss.

On offense, I have to admit I was surprised to see Baylor stick with our original offensive gameplan, which obviously called for significant focus on runs into the heart of the Texas DL, for as long as we did. The failure of that plan to work as intended put us in much of the same situation we occupied against TCU and OKlahoma State, with all of the pressure on Bryce Petty and his receivers. In the first half, it didn't work well at all. Because he's a genius, of course, Briles recognized that at halftime and moved to attack the edges, opening things up for Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin against Texas' linebackers, not their DL. That did work, and suddenly the offense took off on the back-to-back scoring drives that eventually put the game out of reach. Everything that happened after Baylor went up 17-3 was basically just window-dressing; the Bears were never in any real danger because they could fall back on the aforementioned defense.

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Quick Thoughts:
  • Orion Stewart and Terell Burt looked pretty good back there together in the first half, didn't they? Those are probably your starting safeties going into 2014 as Ahmad Dixon graduates, so that's definitely a good thing. Stewart, a redshirt freshman, has a lot of growing to do to fill Dixon's shoes, but he's well on his way.
  • Malcolm Brown (the Texas RB) can play. I really like that kid, and he gashed us over and over again in the first half. It was only when Texas unadvisedly tried to run east-west that we managed to stop their running game consistently. That's where we brought our speed to bear with Lackey and fellow-senior Sam Holl and managed to lock them down. We'll be better in this regard next year when freshmen Byron Bonds and Andrew Billings have another year in Kaz' offseason program behind them.
  • I am once again very glad that Bryce Petty is coming back another year. You saw a few throws tonight that were absolutely fantastic-- the should-have-been TD to Levi Norwood, the wheel route to Glasco Martin-- and a few that weren't so great-- the should-have-been interception and the wide open TD pass to Jordan Najvar. All-in-all, I couldn't be happier to bring him back for his senior season with, hopefully, Lache Seastrunk beside him. We'll have Antwan Goodley back, as well, but we're going to need to either replace Tevin Reese's deep threat or decrease our own reliance on it.
  • Seriously, that wheel route to Glasco was a thing of beauty. I didn't believe it when it happened. Great throw, great catch, great play. Unbelievable.
  • Didn't understand the fake punt with Brody Trahan throwing a pass.
  • We blocked a kick! Or, I should say, Shawn Oakman blocked a kick.
  • Casey McCoy was 12/34 for 54 yards, a TD, and 2 INTs tonight. That's a QBR (ESPN's thing) of 4.6.
  • I hated that K.J. had a TD taken away because some referee thought the kids were having too much fun in an environment the Powers that Be delude themselves into believing is all about players playing for the Love of the Game.
  • The uniforms were gorgeous in person, perhaps even more gorgeous in the limited replays/highlights I've seen since. Kudos to Jeff Barlow and his team for putting them together.
That's it for now. I'm pretty tired ... I think I'll hit the hay.

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