Big 12 Report: Don't Look Now, Baylor On Way to Bowl Eligibility ... Seriously
Could this finally be the year the Baylor Bears can end the bowl drought that has kept them at second-class citizenship for years in major college football, fans have wondered each year?
But finally with the halfway point of the season approaching, this is indeed looking like the year the Bears qualify for the postseason for the first time since ... 1994. Their quarterback, Robert Griffin seems to be back in stride after season-ending ACL surgery a year ago, there is sufficient talent around him and after Saturday's confidence boosting 55-7 rout over Kansas it seems a matter of when the Bears (4-1, 1-0 Big 12) will get the necessary two wins over the next seven games to become eligible.
What is interesting is, whereas in the past all Baylor and head coach Art Briles have talked about is the need to get to bowl eligibility, this week the subject has been taboo with a critical game on the horizon Saturday against struggling Texas Tech at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
"They are all important, quite honestly," Briles said when asked to speculate how a win over his alma mater Saturday could put his Bears one step away from bowl eligibility. "What we are trying to do is just get better and that's what we are trying to do. We've got some areas we are trying to get better in, so we have to just keep progressing as a team and all that other stuff will take care of itself."
A win such as this past Saturday's 48-point victory over the Jayhawks -- Baylor's largest margin of victory ever in the Big 12 -- could be just what the program needs to break one of the most dismal dry spells in college football. Behind a dominating offensive performance led by Griffin, the Bears stomped Kansas.
Now, these next two weeks they will face a slowing Texas Tech team that has lost two games in a row followed by a so-so Colorado team. But if Baylor has learned anything over the years, it's to stay in the moment because fortunes can change quickly in Waco.
"The confidence level is pretty high, but we're looking at it like we are 1-0 right now," said sophomore cornerback Chance Casey. "We're not worried about last week and we're not focusing on next week. We're just focusing on this week against Texas Tech right now."
Still, there does seem to be a aura of belief around the program that hasn't been there for years.
"The confidence is different," said senior running back Jay Finley. "Earlier teams were just building. This year, with the way things are going, we are very confident and believe that we can do anything we put our minds to."
A lot of that confidence may be coming from the exceptional play of Griffin this season. The third-year starter is making plays reminiscent of his true-freshman year, dissecting defenses with his legs and arm.
So far Griffin has thrown for 1,351 yards and 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions while completing 62 percent of his passes. He's also rushed for 221 yards and four touchdowns.
There was some belief that Griffin may have still had some lingering effect from last season's ACL injury that ended his campaign in the second game of the year, but that was all but washed away Saturday. Griffin was his electrifying self, completing 26 of 36 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 64 yards and another score.
Kansas coach Turner Gill couldn't help but come away impressed.
"I think he understands the offense and what they are trying to do. And I think they are doing the things he's able to do, which is he is able to throw the ball quick and get the ball out and then when it's not there he is able to use his athleticism and can move the chains by making big plays with his legs to keep the drives going."
Remembering the Fifth Down Game
With Colorado and Missouri set to meet Saturday at Farout Field in Columbia, Mo., much attention will be given to the 20th anniversary of the infamous "fifth down game" between the two played at that very stadium.
It seemed bizarre at the time and seems even more odd now but the Big Eight officiating crew allowed then 12th-ranked Colorado five downs on its final drive that paved the way for a controversial 33-31 Buffaloes win.
Current Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was thousands of miles away working as an assistant at Washington in 1990, but he might as well have been on the sidelines that afternoon because he was good friends with Tigers head coach Bob Stull.
Pinkel recalls Stull reaching out to him not long after being victimized by that Big Eight officiating crew.
"When I heard about it, I was mad that when they found out they made a mistake that they didn't flip it and turn it around. I was upset about that," Pinkel recalled this week. "I talked to Bob that night right after the game and he was ... Those are career changing games. I don't know if he had another one in its place. You win a game like that and your whole program changes."
It's hard to say the impact a win like that would have had on Missouri. But the repercussions of such a deflating loss seemed swift. The Tigers, who won just two more games that year and went to finish 4-7, didn't have a winning season until 1997 under Larry Smith and didn't become a consistent winner again until Pinkel's arrival.
Stull, who now the athletic director at UTEP, was 15-38-2 in five seasons at Missouri.
"It was just a strange, strange game in history," Pinle said. "Unfortunately Bob Stull, a friend of mine, was a part of it. It probably changed their program."
There have certainly been controversial endings since, but none rival the blunder the officiating crew made that afternoon that left many stunned. It's highly unlikely with the sophistication instant replay has brought that such a mistake could be repeated today.
Pinkel is hopeful but not certain such a blunder couldn't happen again.
"I would like to think that it couldn't," said Pinkel, whose team heads into its Big 12 opener Saturday 4-0 and ranked No. 24 in the country. "I would like to think that if there was any confusion that they would stop and with the replay now we have access to that you would go and make sure you get it right. You hear people around here talking about it and everybody kind of has their opinion. Some people say it was wrong. Other people say with replay they would never had scored a touchdown because replay would have helped them there, too."
Sooners Still Improving
It seems a little odd the Oklahoma Sooners are 5-0 and ranked No. 6 in the country, yet there is very little buzz outside of the borders of Oklahoma.
A lot of that may be because, minus an impressive performance against Florida State, the Sooners were considered fortunate in wins over Utah State, Air Force and Cincinnati and they tried hard to give the game away to Texas in last Saturday's Red River Rivalry.
Thus, not many have jumped on the bandwagon for the Sooners as serious contenders for this year's BCS national title game. That seems perfectly fine with coach Bob Stoops.
"In the end we are still a work in progress and I like that to be quite honest," said Stoops, whose team has a bye this week. "To not play your best and beat a good Texas team is always a good thing."
Slow-Starting Red Raiders
The Texas Tech Red Raiders seemed to always jump on teams fast under Mike Leach.
That hasn't been as much the case in the first year of Tommy Tuberville and his high-octane NASCAR offense. The Raiders have been slow out of the pits, especially these last two games which have both ended in defeat.
Tech fell behind to Texas 14-0 in the first quarter then caught up by halftime only to lose 24-14. Then this past week in a stunning 52-38 loss at Iowa State, the Raiders found themselves in a 24-0 deficit after the Cyclones scored 24 unanswered points in the second quarter. Tech again rallied to tie the game but ran out of steam late in the second half.
Tuberville is beginning to see some signs in his players that must be corrected immediately.
"It's about consistency," he said. "We've got to be able to start a game and we've got to build more confidence in our players. Right now their confidence is pretty low and it's obvious with people pressing. We've just got to relax and go out and make plays and have fun. I think we are pressing too much early."
Where Has D.J. Monroe Been in Texas' Offense?
Texas coach Mack Brown has been bombarded this week with questions about sophomore running back D.J. Monroe who has burst on the scene these last two games.
The Longhorns have seemed void of playmakers on offense this season, but Monroe is looking very much like he could be that guy after moving over from receiver to running back this season. Using his speed and shiftiness, Monroe made a couple nice runs against UCLA two weeks ago and then during Saturday's Red River Rivalry loss to Oklahoma, he broke an electrifying 60-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter.
The problem this past Saturday was that Monroe was again relegated to afterthought status in the second half. Brown said that was because the Longhorns had to pass a lot to catch up and Monroe isn't as solid in some of the pass protection as the other backs.
There is a good bet Monroe is quickly being brought up to speed during the bye week with the Longhorns desperately needing playmakers and with Nebraska coming up in a week.
"He's doing a good job, working hard and trying to learn quickly," Brown said. "It's not plays as much as protections. Protections are complicated particularly when you are playing against well coached defense like Oklahoma and they show you a lot of different looks."