AUSTIN, Texas -- The battle of Baylor and Texas has long been a David vs. Goliath affair. Just, you know, not like this.
Baylor is a two-touchdown favorite over the Texas they’ll face this weekend in Waco. Say what you want about Vegas, but the line speaks to perception. And perception says these two teams couldn’t be more different.
Though they share I-35, the Bears and Longhorns took two completely opposite roads to get to this game, and yet they’re both 7-1 in the Big 12 and playing for the same goal on Saturday.
For Baylor, 2013 has been the dream season. The No. 9 Bears are 10-1 and chasing their first 11-win season in school history. They’ve won 14 of their last 15. They’ve been one of the great stories of the season.
They have the nation’s No. 1 scoring and total offense, the best QB in the Big 12 in Bryce Petty, a much-improved defense and a coach in Art Briles who’s now revered as one of the best coaches in college football.
“Our focus from day one was to win every game we play this year,” Briles said. “We haven't done it but we've been pretty close and we get another opportunity Saturday."
Texas, meanwhile, has survived the season from hell to reach 8-3 and a No. 25 BCS ranking.
By the time Big 12 play began, the Longhorns already had two losses and a new defensive coordinator. Instead of taking on nonconference cupcakes like Baylor did, Texas scheduled games at BYU and against Ole Miss and lost both. Four games in, they’d lost their quarterback and best linebacker, too.
“I thought we would be really good before the season started,” coach Mack Brown said. “Then the two weeks were just a collapse for us. Then, as we said, we were excited about starting over and challenged by it.”
They’ve won seven games since, including an upset of then-No. 12 Oklahoma, and kept fighting. Brown has survived a season filled with speculation he’ll be fired -- including chatter that Briles could take his job -- and led Texas further than anyone expected.
So here they are, same record in the Big 12. A share of the conference championship is on the line. By the time they kick off, an outright title and Fiesta Bowl trip could be on the table, too.
There are two obvious reasons why, when their paths converge this weekend, these two teams are playing the second-biggest game in the Big 12 on conference championship Saturday. Both lost to Oklahoma State, and both have injuries to blame.
Of course, as is the case with everything else, the narratives are different on that front. Baylor, with the exception of the OSU loss, kept rolling in November despite losing receiver Tevin Reese, running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin, tackle Spencer Drango, linebacker Bryce Hager and several others. The rushing duo returned to play TCU, but for much of that game the Bears were without three starters in the secondary.
Meanwhile, Texas is right up there with Georgia and Florida among the most injury-ravaged teams in the country, at least when it comes to critical players.
Somehow Texas has found a way to scrap together wins without quarterback David Ash, running back Johnathan Gray, linebacker Jordan Hicks, defensive tackle Chris Whaley and tackle Josh Cochran, and a few more starters have missed games. Now linebacker Steve Edmond is out too.
The laundry list of ailing players has these two teams in similar shape this week. Texas has obvious weaknesses. Baylor no longer looks invincible.
And Oklahoma State made both look bad, with relatively similar beatdowns on back-to-back weeks. That’s why the Cowboys control their own destiny entering Bedlam, and why Texas and Baylor will be watching the scoreboard all the way up to 2:30 p.m. CT.
By then, Briles and Brown will know where things stand in the Big 12. Then comes the real fun: finding out just how far apart their programs stand.