WACO, Texas -- No. 12 Baylor's season has gone from sweet to bitter and battered.
Down to a fourth quarterback because of yet another injury, the Bears lost their Sugar Bowl chance after falling 23-17 to Texas on Saturday in their regular-season finale.
"We just have to try to salvage the year by going to a bowl game and winning the bowl game," Baylor coach Art Briles said.
A picture-perfect day on the banks of the Brazos River, which marked the final home game for 19 seniors and standout junior receiver Corey Coleman, was marred by their third loss in four games and a bench-clearing melee in the first quarter.
"The crazy part, this is probably the best Baylor team that's been here, and the record doesn't say it," said Coleman, the FBS leader with 20 TD catches who was recognized with the seniors before the game and confirmed afterward that he plans to forgo his senior season for early entry in the NFL draft.
Baylor (9-3, 6-3 Big 12) went into November undefeated after junior quarterback Seth Russell, then the top-rated FBS passer suffered a season-ending neck injury Oct. 24. Freshman Jarrett Stidham won his first start, but broke a bone in his ankle in his third one before Chris Johnson started the last two games -- only to get hurt Saturday.
Even after their rain-drenched, double-overtime loss at TCU the night after Thanksgiving, the Bears were in line to be the Big 12's representative in the Sugar Bowl against an SEC team, with the expectation that league champ Oklahoma (11-1) will get into the College Football Playoff. That would now be Oklahoma State (10-2).
Tyrone Swoopes, making his first start for Texas since the opener, threw for 151 yards with a touchdown and ran for another score. The Longhorns (5-7, 4-5) held on after building a 20-0 halftime lead, but still have consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1988-89 in the old Southwest Conference.
"We have something to build on that we can take into the offseason," second-year coach Charlie Strong said. "Not pleased with the year we had. You look at it, you go beat Oklahoma, you bounce back and go on the road and go beat Baylor. I don't have an answer for this team. I wish I did. I wish every week could have been like this."
The NCAA approved a plan this week to make teams with 5-7 records eligible for at least two bowl bids, and as many as five, based on their Academic Progress Rates. Those selections will be made in order of best available APR, and there were at least seven teams above Texas on that list.
Baylor still had a chance after the Longhorns punted, but Jefferson's pass from the Texas 47 on the last play of the game was incomplete. Jefferson, a running back with a stronger arm, attempted the pass instead of Lynx Hawthorne, the fourth quarterback.
Hawthorne, a junior receiver who last called signals in high school, ran for a touchdown. But he was only 10 of 22 for 64 yards with two interceptions after Johnson had concussion-like symptoms from a hard hit when he fumbled on a run in the first quarter.
"The realization sets in that a lot of the gameplan's essentially out the window," said Briles, who went to mainly wildcat formations after halftime.
The Bears were within 20-17 when Hawthorne scored on an 8-yard keeper with 9:40 left. He took off toward the right sideline, planted his right foot near the 3 and dived forward with the ball in his stretched-out left hand to break the plane for the score.
After being intercepted by Duke Thomas late in the first quarter, Hawthorne made the tackle along the Texas sideline and was coming up off his knees when he got shoved back to the ground by safety P.J. Locke III.
With Texas celebrating the play and Baylor players trying to protect Hawthorne, a melee ensued. The Bears came across the field from their bench, and there were several scuffles even with referees and coaches between them trying to keep the teams separated. Bears receiver Corey Coleman gave Locke a two-handed shove.
The only penalty was unsportsmanlike conduct against Kevin Vaccaro, though it appeared the Texas safety tripped over Hawthorne after Locke's shove.
Locke also caused the fumble with the hit the knocked Johnson out of the game.
Anthony Wheeler's recovery at the Baylor 18 led to Swoopes' 9-yard keeper for a 17-0 lead.
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