WACO, Texas (AP) — Oh how sweet the season could end for No. 12 Baylor even though the Bears will not win a third consecutive Big 12 title.
A likely Sugar Bowl berth is on the line Saturday for the Bears, who with a win would represent their league against the SEC on New Year's Day if Big 12 champion and No. 3 Oklahoma gets into the College Football Playoff as expected.
"Well, I'd be running as fast as I could to get that berth, because it's worth chasing," coach Art Briles said when asked about the potential of New Year's Day in New Orleans.
Briles almost as quickly noted that the Bears (9-2, 6-2 Big 12) first have to take care of business in their regular season finale against Texas (4-7, 3-5).
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The Bears play their first home game since a 44-34 loss to Oklahoma three weeks ago ended their 20-game home winning streak — and playoff hopes. They are coming off a rain-drenched, double-overtime loss at No. 11 TCU, though a win there wouldn't have changed their Big 12 fate.
"Everyone was sad. I was sad and heartbroken about the situation," said Corey Coleman, the FBS leader with 20 touchdowns receiving. "Now we just have to beat Texas and get to the Sugar Bowl."
Baylor can still get to 10 wins and play on Jan. 1 for the third year in a row. Not bad for a team that had losing records the first 14 seasons of the Big 12 (1996-2009), finished at the bottom of the standings 12 times, and won 10 games only one time before that.
In another stunning reversal, Texas has consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1988-89 in the old Southwest Conference days. The Longhorns are the last Big 12 team to win a national championship (2005) and the last to play in the title game (2009).
Texas is responsible for the only loss by Oklahoma, which has won seven games since that 24-17 shocker at the State Fair of Texas in mid-October. Second-year Longhorns coach Charlie Strong was asked if he is still surprised at that victory, and expects calls from playoff opponents asking for advice.
"I don't know why," Strong said, eliciting laughter. "But you look at our team and we played so well against Oklahoma, then you would have figured, OK, after that game you've got six to go play. ... Just think about why can't we go play like that, what's holding us back."
Some things to know when Texas and Baylor play a regular-season finale in Waco for the third time in five seasons:
STARTING AGAIN: Texas freshman starting quarterback Jerrod Heard is sidelined after a concussion. Tyrone Swoopes, replaced as the starter after the first game, is back in that role and still leads Texas with 11 touchdowns rushing. He has hit only 47 percent of his passes for 386 yards and three TDs.
BAYLOR'S BIG NUMBERS: The Bears have the nation's top offense with 616 yards and 51 points a game, and 7.47 yards per snap. ... They have an FBS-best 22 wins in November and December games since 2011 ... The Bears are 29-2 at home since 2011, the best among FBS teams in that span. ... Baylor on Saturday will honor 19 seniors, a group that has won 39 games and two Big 12 titles.
LIMITED LINEBACKERS: Texas lost is best defensive player, senior linebacker Peter Jinkens, to a knee injury last week. That leaves five freshmen among the two-deep depth chart for three linebacker spots. It is asking a lot for that group to keep up with the big-play Bears in coverage and handle Baylor's run game.
BOWL BOUND: Baylor will be in a bowl for the sixth consecutive season. The Bears last played in the Sugar Bowl 59 years ago, beating Tennessee 13-7 on New Year's Day 1957.
OPENING THE PLAYBOOK: Strong is expected to make some offensive staff changes in the offseason. Interim play-caller Jay Norvell could be willing to open the playbook wide open with trick plays or other gambles. Texas has nothing left to play for but pride, which could be the perfect motivator for a no-holds-barred attack.
This article was written by Stephen Hawkins from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.