By Shehan Jeyarajah
On Nov. 19, 2011, Baylor University changed forever. The Baylor Bears football team were ranked No. 22 in the country by the BCS after making only its third appearance in the Associated Press poll in the past 16 seasons.
Baylor faced an all-too-familiar foe in Big 12 powerhouse Oklahoma. The No. 5 Sooners came to Waco undefeated all-time against the lowly Baylor Bears. With a plethora of upsets throughout the day, Oklahoma looked to push itself back into the national title picture with a convincing win against a ranked opponent.
Junior quarterback Robert Griffin III had other plans that chilly November night. Against a top-five team in the country, RG3 finished with 479 yards passing, 72 yards rushing and four total touchdowns in a game that has gone down in Baylor lore. With his performance, Griffin catapulted himself on to the national stage that eventually led to him winning Baylor’s first Heisman Trophy.
“For me, personally, it was the moment that the program changed,” junior quarterback Bryce Petty said. “I think that’s when we knew that we could play with anybody. It didn’t matter who it was and it wasn’t one of those deals when you see Baylor on the schedule and you go ahead and put a win next to it. That was very exciting for us. It was one of our first games that was a hype environment and we came through. It’s going to be a very exciting atmosphere kind of like 2011, so hopefully for the same result.”
Nearly two years later, the No. 6 Baylor Bears sit in a similar situation heading into a historic nationally televised matchup against No. 10 Oklahoma. For the first time in the history of the matchup, Baylor is considered the favorite.
“Since I’ve been here, this is probably the biggest game we’ve played,” senior defensive end Chris McAllister said. “They keep getting bigger and bigger. The people around the school are excited, the people around the city are excited. A win against a top 10 team would do a lot for us, and hopefully get some of the respect we’re trying to earn.”
Excitement for Baylor football is at an all-time high. Baylor’s released early student ticket sale information via its Facebook page on Monday.
Out of 12,575 people eligible for student tickets, more than 8,200 students have picked up tickets. That is more than 65 percent of the student population.
“I feel the fans’ excitement a lot,” senior left guard Cyril Richardson said. “When you go into the Student Union Building you see everyone in line trying to get those black shirts. It’s crazy and fun.”
Those “black shirts” that Richardson is referring to are part of a “BlackOUt” promotion put on by Baylor Student Activities.
The shirts went on sale Oct. 29, but sold out after only one day. Student Activities ordered more shirts, and those sold out within hours the second day of sales.
Lines on Monday stretched throughout the entire Bill Daniel Student Center.
On Oct. 30, Baylor Athletic Director Ian McCaw tweeted that the dreaded tarp would be removed for the final two games at Floyd Casey Stadium.
The tarp, which has covered unsold South Endzone seats since 2004, cut the maximum attendance at the Case from 50,000 to around 47,000. With it gone, Baylor has a chance to set a record for attendance in Floyd Casey Stadium’s final two home games.
“I think one of the greatest quotes ever was when Coach Briles said, `We’re going tarpless,’” Petty said. “It’s going to be a big deal for us. It’s going to be huge that we finally get to take that tarp off.”
This game may not just have implications in the Baylor community, but also in the national spotlight.
Baylor is one of only five teams in automatic-qualifying conferences who are undefeated, along with Alabama, Florida State, Oregon and Ohio State.
Out of those teams, Baylor is ranked lowest in the BCS thanks to having the lowest strength of schedule. A win against a top 10 Oklahoma would change that.
“We’re ready to roll Thursday and it’ll be here pretty fast,” head football coach Art Briles said. “It’s an accelerated week without question. I’m really proud of the way our university and our marketing department has jumped in and added to the atmosphere. I’m happy for that and happy for our players and recruits and that’s a big deal for us so we need to get out and perform well.”
Baylor is ranked top five in the Associated Press poll for the first time in 60 years and is ranked in the top six of the BCS rankings for the first time in the 16-year history of the Bowl Championship Series.
No. 6 Baylor football will look to make program-changing statement against No. 10 Oklahoma at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the penultimate game at Floyd Casey Stadium.
The game will be nationally broadcast on Fox Sports 1.