The No. 12 Baylor Bears (9-2, 6-2) aren’t going to the College Football Playoff and don’t have the opportunity to win the Big 12 title for a third straight season. What they can do if they beat Texas (4-7, 3-5) in the season finale is reach a New Year’s Six bowl game for the third year in a row.
Third-ranked Oklahoma locked up the Big-12 championship and likely is headed to College Football Playoff. After losing to the Sooners on Nov. 14, the Bears beat ranked teams in Oklahoma State and TCU on the road to earn the position they're in now. The conference’s second-place team, which Baylor would be with a win, would go to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl against an SEC team on New Year’s Day.
''Well, I'd be running as fast as I could to get that berth, because it's worth chasing," Baylor coach Art Briles said on Monday, when asked about a potential Sugar Bowl appearance. ''If you're not going to finish first, then finish second. I think that would show a lot of consistency over the years."
With a win, the Bears would reach double-digit wins for the fourth time in five years. The program has come a long way since suffering through a 15-22 record in Briles' first three seasons.
Third-string quarterback Chris Johnson is the latest man under center for Baylor, the team that leads the nation in yard (616) and points (50.8) per game. Johnson has thrown three touchdowns and rushed for another in two games since taking over in late November for backup Jarrett Stidham, who took over for original starter Seth Russell earlier in the season.
They’re led on the ground by Shock Linwood, who ranks No. 4 in the conference with 1,298 rush yards and is tied for sixth with 10 rushing touchdowns. Baylor rushes for a Big 12-leading 291.5 yards per game while Texas surrenders the third-most yards on the ground per game (203.2) in the conference.
In the face of questions about Charlie Strong’s job security, the Longhorns stepped up and beat Oklahoma on Oct. 10 and remain the only team to beat the Sooners this year. Texas has gone 2-3 since then and will finish under .500 for the second straight season as they play for pride more than anything on Saturday in Waco. If the Longhorns are able to pull off the shocking upset, there’s an outside chance they could end up as one of the 5-7 teams to receive a bowl bid due to the lack of eligible 6-6 or better teams to take up spots in bowl games.
Tyrone Swoopes will resume quarterback duties with starter Jerrod Heard out with a concussion. Swoopes has completed just 47.3 of his pass attempts, but has rushed for 399 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The Longhorns have a 0-4 record in road games and have been outscored 150-30, losing each game by at least 18 points. Texas is 1-3 against ranked opponents.
In their last meeting in Oct. 2014, Baylor defeated Texas in Austin, 28-7.
Betting Line: Baylor -20.5
Over/Under: 68.5 points
Prediction: Texas’ struggles on the year mixed with the Bears’ explosiveness on offense makes this feel like an easy game to call. Expect Baylor to establish the ground game early, and then frustrate the Texas defense by passing to multiple targets. While the final score may seem one-sided, Texas should put up a fight. Baylor's defense should do enough to hold off the Texas passing attack and secure a New Year’s Six bowl once again.
Predicted Score: Baylor over Texas, 42-20