GAME NOTES: With both teams still clinging to hope of winning the Big 12 Conference title, the 23rd-ranked Texas Longhorns and ninth-ranked Baylor Bears square off in the final game at Floyd Casey Stadium.
Although Oklahoma State controls its destiny in the league, the winner of this matchup would represent the Big 12 in the BCS if the Cowboys were to lose their matchup with Oklahoma.
"You start looking at this weekend when people have talked about whether we should have a championship game or not," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "We actually have two in the Big 12. You have the one with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State at 11:00, then ours at 2:30. So the Big 12 will be highlighted this weekend and will come out with a champion just like everybody else. It definitely highlighted some of our best teams this weekend. It's fun."
Texas had a chance to put itself in the driver's seat in the league a few weeks back at home versus Oklahoma State, but it fell flat in a 38-13 loss. The Longhorns managed to get back on track on Thanksgiving night with a 41-16 thrashing of Texas Tech to improve to 8-3 overall and 7-1 in conference.
Baylor was once a national championship hopeful, but it too fell victim to Oklahoma State's outstanding run, as it was on the wrong end of a 49-17 beating on Nov. 23. The Bears were also not very impressive in their latest contest at TCU, although they did manage to sneak away with a 41-38 victory to remain in the hunt for the conference championship.
"You couldn't ask for a better scenario, other than winning the game, and that's the bottom line all the way around," Baylor coach Art Briles said. "That's where our focus will be plus closing out the stadium."
Texas leads the all-time series with Baylor, 74-24-4, although the Bears have won two of the last three meetings.
The Longhorns have been impressive on offense this season, putting up 33.1 points and 441.8 yards per game, and they eclipsed both averages in last week's win over Texas Tech with a 41-point, 463-yard effort.
Case McCoy has taken over as the full-time starting quarterback for the injured David Ash, and has completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 1,831 yards with 12 touchdowns (two rushing) and nine interceptions. McCoy knows that he will have his work cut out for him if Texas wants to keep pace with the high-powered Bears.
"We need a fast start," McCoy said. "When you get behind a team that can score a lot of points, it's hard to play catch-up."
Since Johnathan Gray (780 yards, four TDs) was lost for the season with a calf injury a few weeks back, Malcolm Brown (643 yards, nine TDs) and Joe Bergeron (342 yards, four TDs) have been called upon for larger workloads. The duo responded in last week's win, as each amassed 100 yards rushing.
Jaxon Shipley (52 receptions, 570 yards, TD) has developed a nice rapport with McCoy, while Mike Davis (46 receptions, 701 yards) is a big-play threat and has scored eight touchdowns.
Defensively, Texas has one of the best units in the Big 12 in allowing just 25.1 points per game.
Steve Edmond leads the way with 73 tackles to go with two interceptions, although he will miss this contest with an injury. Cedric Reed (71 tackles, 17.0 TFL, 9.0 sacks, 15 QB hurries, four FF) and Jackson Jeffcoat (69 tackles, 19.0 TFL, 10.0 sacks, 18 QB hurries) are two of the best pass rushers in the nation. Duke Thomas has picked off three passes.
While the Texas offense has played well, it pales in comparison to what Baylor has accomplished. The Bears are the nation's top-ranked offensive squad, both in terms of scoring (55.4 ppg) and yardage (635.1 ypg). The yardage output would be an NCAA record if it stands, while the scoring number is just shy of Army's all-time record of 56.0 ppg set way back in 1944.
A big reason for the Bears' success has been the play of quarterback Bryce Petty, who is completing 62.4 percent of his passes for 3,557 yards, 28 touchdowns and just two interceptions, while adding an additional 11 rushing scores in a campaign that has not gone unnoticed by his head coach.
"I think he's been phenomenal and the thing that impresses me is first of all his leadership because you never really know about someone until you go through the fire with them -- go through some kind of adversity with them," Briles said of his quarterback. "Fortunately, we haven't had a lot of adversity, but when we have, he's been really strong and really solid."
Antwan Goodley is one of the nation's most dangerous deep threat, as he has caught 59 passes for 1,205 yards and 12 touchdowns. Levin Norwood (39 receptions, 634 yards, six TDs) has stepped up in the absence of Tevin Reese (33 receptions, 824 yards, eight TDs), who is out for the season with a wrist injury.
In addition to a potent aerial attack, Baylor also runs for nearly 270 yards per game, with Lache Seastrunk (982 yards, 11 TDs) and Shock Linwood (848 yards, eight TDs) both a threat to take it to the house each time they touch the ball.
Baylor is more than just a potent offense, however, as its defense yields just 22.2 points and 355.2 yards per game, while generating 24 takeaways.
Eddie Lackey is the unit's top performer with 84 tackles, 11.0 TFL, 4.5 sacks and two interceptions. Joe Williams, Demetri Goodson and Terrel Burt all have multiple interceptions, while Chris McAllister (11.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks) and Shawn Oakman (12.0 TFL) have both been solid along the defensive line.
Baylor has not played up to its potential in recent weeks, and if it performs like it did last week against TCU, it will be hard-pressed to take down a scrappy Texas squad, but in the end, the emotions of closing out Floyd Casey Stadium will lift the Bears to a solid victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Baylor 41, Texas 35