No. 6 Oklahoma’s biggest comeback ever didn’t have a lingering effect on No. 8 Baylor.
Now they get to play again, this time for the Big 12 championship and possibly a spot in the College Football Playoff, which seems much more feasible after a couple of significant losses in other leagues.
After the Sooners overcame a 25-point deficit to win 34-31 at Baylor in mid-November, the Bears rebounded with convincing wins over longtime nemesis Texas and Kansas to guarantee the much-anticipated rematch.
“To play the way we did I thought showed tremendous focus by our players and a dedication and commitment to the process,” Baylor coach Matt Rhule said Monday, relaying part of the message he shared with his team.
The Sooners and Bears — both 11-1 overall, 8-1 in the Big 12 — play the Big 12 championship game Saturday at the home stadium of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas.
“It's a new game,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “Different venue, different time, teams have evolved even though it wasn't that long ago. It's still different, it's still going to start 0-0, and so the team that plays the best will win.”
Oklahoma is going for its fifth consecutive Big 12 title and record 13th overall. The Sooners, who followed the win at Baylor by beating TCU and rival Oklahoma State, are also trying to get into the playoff for the fourth time in five years. Oklahoma is No. 7 in the CFP rankings, Baylor is ninth.
Baylor has won two Big 12 titles, the last in 2014 shared with TCU during a stretch when the league wasn’t playing a championship game. That was also when the Bears and Horned Frogs were the first two teams left out of the initial four-team playoff.
Losses by Alabama in the SEC and Minnesota in the Big Ten on Saturday opened a clearer path into the playoff for a one-loss Big 12 champion.
“Certainly quality wins at the end of the year are always important. We’ve had a lot of quality wins this year,” Riley said. “So we get an opportunity for a quality win. So does Baylor. I think it sets up well for our league either way.”
The Sooners made the playoff as an 11-1 team in 2015 before the Big 12 reinstated its championship game. Oklahoma has won both Big 12 title games since, advancing to the playoff with that extra win — at 12-1 both times.
Rhule was asked if he thinks his team, with no previous playoff experience or longstanding tradition of a program like Oklahoma, would get proper consideration from the playoff selection committee if the Bears win the Big 12 championship.
“I trust the people on the committee to do their job. It doesn't seem like a very easy job,” Rhule said. “It’s not only really about Baylor. It’s about the Big 12. If any team wins the Big 12, and doesn’t get proper consideration, then to me they’re not recognizing what the league is all about.”
But that’s not even a topic of conversation for Rhule with his players this week.
“I don't even talk about it. In fact, I won't even want to talk about the last game (against Oklahoma). I won't even talk about the championship,” he said. “To me, it's a chance to go try to win a game, let's just go play. We're a team that's way better when we have that mindset. Anytime I've ever talked about potential things, we've never been very good.”