On Saturday, No. 6 Baylor will be seeking their second Big 12 football title in school history.
The road for back-to-back conference crowns leads them back to the friendly confines of their brand-new McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas and a top 10 matchup with No. 9 K-State.
Head coach Art Briles is pleased with the work that has been done by his team, but realizes that plenty of work still remains.
“We made history last year,” Briles said. “Baylor never won a Big 12 Championship until last year, so making history is good. It’s about winning football games now. We’ve already made history, so we’re winning games and trying to create consistency in a program and trying to prove that we belong with the nation’s elite in college football. We can win on a consistent basis and it’s not easy to do. Our guys need to be commended for getting this far. We haven’t done anything yet – we haven’t won anything, championship-wise, but we’ve certainly set ourselves up to do that.”
The Bears are 10-1 on the year with that one loss coming to West Virginia on the road.
The Bears attack starts, contrary to perception, on the ground with sophomore running back Shock Linwood who is second in the Big 12 in yards per game with 103.2 and in touchdowns with 15 overall.
With the run established, players such as sophomore wide receiver Corey Coleman have provided Baylor with a punch on the outside. He has separated himself from a pack of talented receivers, both young and old, and tops the Big 12 in receiving yards with 116 yards over eight games.
Coleman’s longest touchdown, 72 yards, is representative of Baylor’s love of the deep ball – a factor that has been missing in the past several games for the Bears.
“Our running game has been going well, so we have to be able to hit some short routes as well,” Coleman said. “Once we hit those, the defense won’t play 30 yards back like they have been playing. After we hit those short routes and they come up, we can get them long.”
Coleman and the rest of Baylor’s stable of future NFL receivers can only be as good as their quarterback.
Senior quarterback Bryce Petty has been one of the best and most consistent in Baylor’s recent lineage of quarterbacks.
After last week’s 48-46 shootout win over Texas Tech, Petty’s health is in question after getting knocked around and leaving the game with a concussion.
Even with those questions, both the quarterback and his coach insist that Petty is fine and will be suited up ready to play on senior day.
“I do (expect to have Petty on Saturday),” Briles said. “He was here yesterday. He was feeling pretty good. He actually felt pretty good at the end of the game the other day. Of course he took a hard shot, a clean shot.”
One would be remise while discussing Baylor without talking about the Bears defense.
The Bears went from having one of the worst defenses in college football to having the best rushing defense in the Big 12 and the third best total defense this season.
They’ve also been strong in forcing turnovers with sophomores cornerback Xavien Howard and safety Orion Stewart both in the top 10 in the Big 12 for interceptions per game. Senior defensive end Shawn Oakman in the top 10 in the Big 12 for both fumbles forced and fumbles recovered.
The Wildcats will plunge headlong into the full arsenal of what Baylor has to offer in what will be the second AP top-10 matchup that Baylor has been a part of in 50 years.
“I think it says what our team did last year and what our team is doing this year,” Briles said. “We’ve got to finish what we started and fortunately we’re at that point. All of our hopes and aspirations are still alive.”