By Shehan Jeyarajah
When asked during Big 12 media day back in July whether Baylor could win a Big 12 Championship, senior safety Ahmad Dixon was quick to respond.
“Can God save a hooker?”
Well, it seems as though the answer to that question is an emphatic ‘yes.’
Baylor trounced No. 25 University of Texas 30-10 in freezing conditions to win its first Big 12 Championship in the 19-year history of the conference.
“If you can get great players, great people, great administration and great fan support, everything can be a reality,” head football coach Art Briles said. “This is a defining moment for our program and it’s one I think we’ll be able to repeat many times.”
It was not something that anyone expected coming into the season. The preseason Big 12 poll selected Baylor to finish fifth overall in the conference behind Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, TCU and Texas. The preseason Associated Press and USA Today polls did not have Baylor ranked.
The Bears attempted to remedy this situation immediately with their performance in non-conference. After dominant wins over Wofford, Buffalo and Louisiana-Monroe, the Bears moved all the way up to No. 17 in the AP poll and No. 15 in the USA Today poll. During the first seven games, Baylor averaged 63.9 points per game.
With each win, the bandwagon grew. With the hype came the detractors and college football pundits who claimed Baylor could not be better than the traditional powers because the Bears had not played anyone. And at the time, the pundits were right. With that backdrop, No. 6 Baylor obliterated No. 10 Oklahoma 41-12 in a matchup of top 10 teams.
After the Oklahoma game, the injury bug began to bite the Bears. At different points of the season, running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin, receiver Tevin Reese, left tackle Spencer Drango, linebacker Bryce Hager and cornerback K.J Morton went down with injuries.
While the offense slowed at times, it gave the defense a chance to prosper.
That is, until No. 4 Baylor struggled against No. 10 Oklahoma State on the way to its first and only loss of the season, 49-17.
With the loss, Baylor’s national championship hopes were dashed and Oklahoma State was in the driver’s seat for the Big 12 title.
While dreams of a national championship were over, the season was not lost.
With Oklahoma beating Oklahoma State in Bedlam on Saturday, the game between Baylor and Texas became a de facto Big 12 Championship game.
After a 3-3 deadlock at half, Baylor, unfazed by the stakes, outscored the Longhorns 27-7 in the second half en route to its first Big 12 Championship.
“Everyone in this locker room knows we can go out there and beat whoever it is, if it’s Texas, if it’s Oklahoma,” senior cornerback KJ Morton said. “We don’t look at names anymore. We know what we’re capable of. This program has grown so much. Even just from the players believing, the faith that we have in our abilities now. Everybody has confidence.”
On Senior Day, Baylor reminded everyone just how far this program has come. When most of the seniors in this program were recruited, Baylor was a doormat. Since the majority of football players redshirt, most recruits came after a 4-8 season in 2009. The only highly rated player who played his last game in the green and gold Saturday night was Dixon.
“This was amazing,” former three-star recruit and current Outland Trophy finalist Cyril Richardson said. “When I came here, I thought I would just give it my all and do what I can, but to see everything according to what happened tonight, it’s an overwhelming feeling. I never thought that I would be standing up there celebrating a Big 12 Championship.”
Baylor sits at No. 6 and is headed to a BCS bowl game for the first time in the 16-year history of the BCS.
The Bears will play the No. 15 University of Central Florida in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, AZ on New Year’s Day.
“I think tomorrow when I wake up and see ‘Baylor – 2013 Big 12 Champs’ I’m going to believe it, but right now it’s crazy,” senior defensive end Chris McAllister said. “It just shows what you can do with a vision, a dream and hard work.”
But Seastrunk knows the season isn’t over yet.
“I’m happy we won the Big 12 Championship, but we’ve got to get to business. Hey, we won. Cherish it. I’m not a big guy like ‘oh, we did this.’ I’m moving on. I’m already about to start watching film on UCF.”
Ever since Briles came to Waco, his intentions were to bring Baylor a Big 12 title, even when that seemed improbable.
“I had a guy send me a quote a couple weeks ago that was something Michaelangelo said, ‘the problem with people is not that they aim too high and miss; it’s that they aim too low and hit.’ That’s the way you have to think and feel,” Briles said. “We’re always going to aim high.”
Baylor football will focus on its next goal of winning the program’s first BCS bowl game on Jan. 1.
No. 6 Baylor will play University of Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day in Glendale.