By Shehan Jeyarajah
Baylor may have been ranked No. 5 in the Associated Press poll, but few seemed to take the Bears seriously as a College Football Playoff contender. To be fair, Baylor had yet to play a team even in the top teams of the conference, much less a true national contender.
On Saturday in Waco, Baylor put both the College Football Playoff committee and Heisman Trophy selection committee on watch with an instant-classic 61-58 victory over the No. 9 TCU Horned Frogs.
“This is a statement game for us,” senior quarterback Bryce Petty said. “I’m sure we’ll have someone on Monday saying TCU wasn’t playing well or something, but for us, it’s a chance to prove we’re here to stay.”
Baylor might have been 5-0, but the Bears had yet to play anyone in the top half of the Big 12 conference. Critics pointed to an unconvincing 28-7 victory against Texas in Austin and allowing 28 second half points in a blowout win over Iowa State in Ames, Iowa.
Saturday morning in Fair Park, a No. 11 Oklahoma Sooner team that was thought to be the best team in the country only a week ago barely beat Texas, 31-26. A few weeks earlier, No. 17 Kansas State needed heroics to beat Iowa State 32-28.
Players have said that they do not get respect for taking care of business the way they do, but they know that building legitimacy is a process.
“We still don’t get too much respect,” senior receiver Antwan Goodley said. “I don’t even know how much respect we’ll get after this, but we’ll take it game-by-game and let it speak for itself.
Even though the Bears struggled to find consistency early, Baylor put on an offensive clinic. The Bears finished with 782 yards of total offense, the most allowed by TCU since Gary Patterson arrived. The Bears also overcame a 21-point deficit, which tied the biggest in program history. No other comeback started so late in the game.
Every Heisman Trophy winner has a moment when he goes out and make his case for being the best player in college football. For Robert Griffin III, a touchdown pass to Terrance Williams to beat Oklahoma was the difference.
Petty has plenty of season left and a high-profile matchup against the Sooners on the road to establish himself, but he certainly did not hurt his case on Saturday.
In one of the biggest games of his career, Petty set career-highs with 510 passing yards and six touchdowns. Despite only being in his second season starting compared to RG3’s three, Petty tied Griffin with his 13th 300-yard passing game of his career.
After a devastating pick-six to TCU linebacker Marcus Mallet to push the Baylor deficit to 21 points, Petty was unfazed. The senior threw two touchdown passes in the final six minutes to propel Baylor to its 61-58 victory.
“You saw it, you were watching,” Goodley said. “He’s a great leader. He put the team on his back and he had our back. He’s a Heisman contender all the way. He should have definitely been there last year, and we’re going to do anything we can to get him there this year.”
You can count the number of undefeated teams left in the nation on two hands, and the number of unbeaten Big 12 teams on one finger. With the win, Baylor is now in the driver’s seat for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Head coach Art Briles tried to minimize the impact of one game on a 12-game schedule.
“In my opinion, every win we have is a statement because if you want to be in that conversation, you have to win them all,” Briles said.
Despite Briles’ comments, the Bears have set themselves up well. Baylor now ranks in the top four of both the Associated Press and Amway Coaches Polls. There is plenty of football left to play, but the Bears proved they are here to stay.