Budding Baylor-TCU rivalry has never burned hotter

Baylor and TCU go back.

Way back.

Texas Christian University got its name, its football team and its purple and white colors while the school resided in Waco alongside Baylor. Before a 1910 campus fire forced a permanent TCU move to Fort Worth, the Horned Frogs and Bears staged their first game on the gridiron in 1899, which ended in a fierce, 0-0 tie.

Not since the fire, though, has Baylor-TCU generated so much heat.

The two Big 12 schools are on the precipice of making the inaugural College Football Playoff, with the other standing as the main obstacle.

Three of the past four meetings have been decided in thrilling shootouts by a total of eight points, with controversy ensuing off the field in two of them.

Even though the schools are almost carbon copies, from their Christian roots to their relatively small fan alumni foundations, the two fan bases don’t see eye to eye.

“I don’t think TCU people like Baylor people. I certainly don’t,” said Dick Lowe, one of TCU’s most prominent boosters. “I have friends that went to Baylor. I like them as individuals, but not because they went to Baylor. As far as I’m concerned, Baylor is the enemy.”

Baylor fans seem to feel the same way.

So while many of the Big 12’s best rivalries -- Texas-Texas A&M, Oklahoma-Nebraska, Texas Tech-Texas A&M, Kansas State-Nebraska and Kansas-Missouri -- were gouged by conference realignment, Baylor-TCU appears to be on its way to filling a major rivalry void in the conference.

“There’s a natural rivalry there,” said Drayton McLane, whose name is on Baylor’s new $266 million stadium. “Baylor and TCU being the two best teams in the Big 12 has only heated it up. So I think you’re going to see this game only get better over the next few years.”

Any rivalry with staying power, though, needs a history. TCU-Baylor has it, on and off the field.

Following Baylor’s 61-58 victory this year, the Bears hold the slightest of advantages in the series with a record of 52-51-7.

“Anytime you have that long history, those games are going to mean something on Saturday,” said TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte.

For decades, TCU and Baylor were league rivals, fighting to overthrow the Longhorns and Aggies in the Southwest Conference.

“I went to Baylor back in the late '50s, and that was a heated rival in those times,” McLane said. “TCU had a great running back in Jim Swink [who passed away this week]. Baylor had some great players too.”

But the discord on both sides reached a new pitch when the Southwest Conference broke up in the 1990s.

Along with Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech, Baylor was included in the newly formed Big 12, leaving TCU in conference purgatory for almost two decades. Horned Frogs power brokers insisted Baylor was chosen over TCU because of the political maneuverings of the late Gov. Ann Richards, a Baylor alum.

Lowe, however, tells a different story.

“TCU hadn’t carried its weight,” he said. “Baylor hadn’t either.

“But the way I saw it, we deserved to be left out.”

Both programs have come around since, thanks to the hiring of two of the top coaches in the country.

Gary Patterson quickly whipped the Horned Frogs into a Mountain West powerhouse, which galvanized the support both internally and externally that ultimately catapulted TCU into the Big 12 in 2012.

“The attitude has completely changed,” Lowe said. “Right now, we’ve got a helluva program. We’ve now got the administration, the money, the facilities, the stadium and the coach -- a coach I think that’s here to stay.”

Baylor has the same.

In the most impressive turnaround since the Manhattan Miracle at Kansas State, Art Briles transformed Baylor from a perennial doormat into a powerhouse. With a victory Saturday over Kansas State, the Bears would join Oklahoma as just the second program to repeat as Big 12 champion.

Like TCU, Baylor has a new stadium, a supportive administration and a galvanized donor base.

“There’s no doubt it’s a great game,” said Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw. “We think it will be one of the featured games in the conference and the country for years to come.”

As the programs have ascended, the tension has as well.

Two years ago, Patterson exchanged words with Briles at midfield after Bears safety Ahmad Dixon was ejected for targeting Trevone Boykin. Patterson then ripped Briles and Baylor in his postgame news conference. After this year’s game, Patterson accused Baylor safety Orion Stewart of threatening him, which Bears defensive coordinator Phil Bennett denied happened.

That, combined with the endless debate of who should be ranked higher in the playoff rankings, has fanned the flames, though Lowe notes that nobody would care if TCU and Baylor were still struggling.

“Rivalries don’t mean a damn thing if you’re not winning,” Lowe said. “It wouldn’t endure two sorry programs, or even one sorry program.”

But TCU and Baylor have been winning. Capitalizing on the drama this budding showdown has generated in recent years, the Big 12 is highlighting the game in 2015 by scheduling it on Black Friday.

“There’s no reason this shouldn’t be a big rivalry game,” Lowe said.

A rivalry to place alongside the Red River Showdown and Bedlam would boost the perception of the Big 12 nationally and give TCU and Baylor another pitch on the recruiting trail.

“Highly successful teams need a rival,” McLane said. “That’s how you do great in recruiting. Good athletes want to go to universities that have had success, have good stadiums, good coaching, but also have strong rivalries.”

The Baylor-TCU rivalry has never been stronger. Though the flames were doused a century ago, the fire on each side has never burned hotter.