Baylor

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The Big 12 schedule-makers (and He Who Arranges Geographic Rivalries) sure are happy with their work for 2013. The top half of the conference — UT, Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech — have 18 games left between them, and 13 of those are matchups against another one of the top five.

 

That leaves fans with a one month long round-robinish mini-tournament to close the season. Delightful.

 

From the fifth spot in the standings, moving up:
 

Texas Tech Red Raiders (7-2, 4-2 Big 12)

Remaining games: Kansas State, @ Baylor, @ Texas

Prediction: 1-2 (7-4, 5-4) fifth place — Holiday Bowl vs. Stanford

After a perfect start, Kliff Kingsbury’s squad has dropped two straight against the first ranked opponents on Texas Tech’s schedule, and the only other members of the Fantastic Five (Oklahoma and Oklahoma State). Not their year, but stay tuned for the sequel.

 

Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-1, 4-1 Big 12)

Remaining games: Kansas, @ Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma

Prediction: 3-1 (10-2, 7-2) second place — Cotton Bowl vs. South Carolina

Sure, the offense can be inconsistent. And sure, they have a bad loss to West Virginia on their docket. But they’ve got the most palatable schedule of this gang of usual suspects with three home games and a two-week rest before the big Bedlam Series matchup.

 

Oklahoma Sooners (7-2, 4-2 Big 12)

Remaining games: Iowa State, @ Kansas State, @ Oklahoma State

Prediction: 3-1 (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) third place —Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl vs. Wisconsin

There are three things you can count on this time of year: You need a jacket to go out at night, Christmas music is playing in stores, and Bob Stoops is about to make a poor clock management or ball control decision that will cost his team a game. Plus, with Baylor’s win Thursday, it doesn’t look like this Sooners team is going anywhere.

 

Baylor Bears (8-0, 5-0 Big 12)

Remaining games: Texas Tech, @ Oklahoma State, @ TCU, Texas

Prediction: 3-2 (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) third place — Alamo Bowl vs. Arizona State

The biggest question mark and biggest exclamation point is Baylor, with their five 69-plus point games and #5 ranking. Has Art Briles caught lightning in a bottle, or is it more like a few frantic fireflies?

The Bears answered that question Thursday with their convincing win over Oklahoma. Still, Baylor have a brutal schedule the rest of the way, and, without a Saturday off, it’s hard to envision Baylor running the table.

 

Texas Longhorns (6-2, 5-0 Big 12)

Remaining games: @ West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, @ Baylor

Prediction: 4-0, (10-2, 9-0 Big 12) first place — Fiesta Bowl vs. Houston

This really comes down to two games for Texas: Nov. 16 at home against Oklahoma State and the finale in Waco.

As hard as it would have been to believe even a couple of weeks ago, Texas is best poised to come out at the head of the five football families — making Mack Brown the godfather of giant, beaming press conference smiles.

And he’d have full license to deliver, in his thunderously jovial way, a thoroughly justified “I told you so” that will rumble through the hills and plains of Texas.

Nathan Thornhill has the highest ERA of Longhorn starting ptichers at 2.54 and Texas sits at the bottom of the Big 12 standings.

Photo Credit: Shweta Gulati | Daily Texan Staff

They started from the top, now they’re here.

After losing three straight games in last weekend’s series to Baylor, the Longhorns find themselves in last place in the Big 12 with essentially no chance of reaching the NCAA Tournament this season. It will be the second straight year Texas has missed the tournament — but why?

Texas’ numbers over the entire season seem to suggest that it is doing less with more. The Texas pitching staff holds a Big 12-best 2.49 ERA, but the Longhorns are just 5-13 in conference play.

In this past weekend’s series against Baylor, Texas showcased more than ever why it will miss out on going to Omaha, something the program used to be accustomed to doing every season. Texas committed five errors and left 23 runners on base against Baylor, which now holds the No. 2 spot in the conference after its sweep of the Longhorns.

The Longhorns are averaging 8.43 hits per game this season, yet are only batting a combined .259 as a team. The Longhorns are also averaging 8.43 runners left on base per game, equal to their number of hits.

For a team averaging so many hits and allowing so few runs per game, the Longhorns have shown that they will fold in close games. Texas holds a 9-9 record in one-run games and a 2-5 record in two-run games this season.

With records of 11-2 when scoring in the first inning, and 19-1 when leading after six innings, Texas seems to be a team that can only win if it scores first and maintains. But with a third of the starting lineup batting over .300 this season, the results should be better.

Heading into Tuesday’s tilt with Prairie View A&M (20-20, 9-9) a team that holds a similar record to the Longhorns this season, Texas needs to start asserting itself at the plate and preserve some dignity.

Although the Panthers haven’t faced the level of competition the Longhorns are used to, they are batting a combined .262 as a team.

The one-game matchup should answer an important question for Texas moving forward: Do they choke against better competition? Prairie View A&M pitchers hold a combined 5.33 ERA this season, while the Longhorns average 3.83 runs per game.

If Texas finds itself in a close ballgame with a mid-major Panthers team, Augie Garrido will have a lot of reevaluating to do heading into the final games of the season.

No. 9 Oklahoma at No. 8 Kansas State:
Saturday 2:30 p.m. | TV: ESPN

The last time that Kansas State was ranked this high was in the 2004 preseason poll. The Wildcats have gotten out to a 7-0 start this season, with marquee wins over Miami and Baylor. The true test for the Wildcats will come in the next four weeks, when they take on four straight ranked opponents starting with No. 9 Oklahoma on Saturday. Oklahoma may be their toughest test in the stretch though, especially since the Sooners are coming off of a demoralizing loss to Texas Tech that most likely knocked them out of the National Championship race. They will be motivated and looking to show no mercy this weekend. The Wildcats will have to lean heavily on their 19th-ranked rushing attack to keep the Oklahoma offense of the field. Kansas State’s running game is spearheaded by running back John Hubert, who has 637 yards in his sophomore campaign, and dual-threat quarterback Collin Klein, who has 670 yards and 14 touchdowns with his legs alone. Expect Kansas State to keep the ball on the ground to work the clock, but it will be a monumental task for the Wildcats to take on and defeat an angry Oklahoma squad.

Baylor at No. 3 Oklahoma State:
Saturday 2:30 p.m. | TV: ABC

High-scoring offenses, check. Two great quarterbacks, check. Two defenses that prefer to allow their offensives to win games for them, check. What does all of this equal for football fans? Perhaps the highest scoring and most entertaining game of the season. Despite his team’s pair of losses, Baylor’s Robert Griffin III still manages to see the top five in most Heisman watch lists because of his outstanding numbers. Griffin has already thrown for 1,950 yards, 22 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Oklahoma State is also led by a prolific player under center in senior Brandon Weedon, who has thrown for a video game-like total of 2,436 yards already this season. Leading the Cowboys’ second-ranked offensive attack, that averages 48.6 points a game. But unlike Baylor the Cowboys have elite level talent around Weedon, such as wide receiver Justin Blackmon. He is a likely top-five pick in the 2012 NFL draft, although after suffering concussion-like symptoms in their last game, Blackmon is questionable for the showdown with Baylor. Even without their star receiver on the field, expect the third-ranked Cowboys to continue their roll and out gun Baylor in a great game.

No. 11 Michigan State at No. 14 Nebraska:
Saturday 11 a.m. | TV: ESPN

Last week, Michigan State had perhaps the most exciting finish in college football this season when it completed a Hail Mary to knock off an undefeated Wisconsin squad while simultaneously ruining any national title hopes the Badgers had. However, this win for the Spartans was huge for them in their Big 10 title hopes, as it kept them undefeated in conference play and should give them the confidence moving forward to continue their roll. The Spartans are competitive in every game because of their outstanding defense that holds opponents to only 13.7 points a game — which is more than enough to allow their offense to work. While their offense is not the most explosive in the world, it is efficient. Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins takes care of the ball while moving it down the gridiron, as he has thrown only three interceptions this season. Nebraska has been strong in their first season in the Big 10, with its only loss coming to the previously mentioned Wisconsin squad. While the Cornhuskers aren’t the prettiest team to watch, they are effective at pounding the ball down your throat, averaging 261 rushing yards a game. This keeps the pressure off of quarterback Taylor Martinez and his throwing arm, which if used to often, causes Nebraska to lose games. Expect a smash mouth game with the Cornhuskers rushing attack and the Spartans defense clashing.

No. 6 Stanford at USC:
Saturday 7 p.m. | TV: ABC

Stanford has rolled early on this season, jumping off to a quick 7-0 start against average competition. But this week the Cardinal square off with perhaps the toughest team on their schedule thus far: USC. The Trojans have only one loss on the season and are coming off of an impressive 31-17 win against Notre Dame on Saturday. USC is led by junior quarterback Matt Barkley, who has thrown for 2,006 yards, 19 touchdowns and only four picks thus far. Barkley is a very gifted player and was the top prep recruit in the class of 2008. However, as luck would have it, the Trojans are up against one of the few quarterbacks in the country that could actually be better than Barkley: Andrew Luck. Luck is the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL draft and is looking to lead Stanford to a national title before he leaves. He has a great shot to do that if he can navigate the Cardinal through the rest of the Pac-12 schedule, starting with USC on Saturday. But even if Stanford stumbles against USC this weekend, the game is still a must see because of the NFL-level talent under center for both squads.
 

Who would not want to be considered the best at what they do?

“We don’t want No. 1,” said Texas forward Jordan Hamilton after Saturday’s 69-60 win against Baylor.

“I don’t want to be No. 1,” echoed freshman Tristan Thompson.

Not yet at least.

Whether they like it or not, it is possible that when the rankings come out today, the Longhorns will be the No. 1 team in the nation after Ohio State fell to Wisconsin on Saturday.

For this to happen, Texas would have to leap frog over No. 2 Kansas, who the Longhorns beat in January.

The Longhorns, who have now won 10 straight, are playing like one of the best teams in the country. Nevertheless, they continue to say that the entire team can still get much better. Much of the team is aware of what is possible once reaching that top spot.

They witnessed it firsthand last season when a collapse — in which they lost 10 of their final 17 games — began after they were crowned the top team in the nation 13 months ago.

While college football coaches may start lobbying for first-place votes this late into a season, mum’s the word for Texas head coach Rick Barnes.

“We haven’t talked about any of that stuff,” Barnes said. “We haven’t talked about anything but trying to get better.”

Barnes said that every team will be looking to beat his team no matter what the rankings say. Teams such as Baylor, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas State and Oklahoma State — all of which are considered on the bubble — remain on the Longhorns’ schedule.

For those teams, that matchup with a top-three ranked Texas team helps boost a tournament resume. The games are still important for the Longhorns as well.

“We are looking for wins to get us in a great position at the end of the year,” Barnes said.

A No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament would likely mean a favorable road to the Final Four for the Longhorns.
But Barnes knows nothing about it.

“I think someone told me the Final Four is in Houston,” he said.

Barnes heard correctly. In addition, favorable tournament locations which the Longhorns could land include Tulsa in the opening two rounds and San Antonio for the regional.

That’s closer than the last time the Longhorns reached the Final Four in 2003, when they stayed in the South and played in front of plenty of burnt orange in Birmingham, San Antonio and New Orleans.

For now, this is all speculation for the fans and media to discuss.

“There is so much that can be done,” Barnes said. “If you start thinking and talking about that stuff, you can really get sidetracked.”

Texas’ once almighty defense is crumbling. And it’s because they don’t know how to fix their recurring problems.

Against UCLA, Iowa State and Baylor, Texas’ defensive woes were the same — they missed assignments, were unable to stop third down conversions and could not force enough turnovers. After each of those losses, defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said, “We’ll just go back to the drawing board.”

Whatever Muschamp’s scheme was this week, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III conquered it. The dual-threat quarterback completed 16 of 24 passes for two touchdowns as he led the best Baylor team head coach Mack Brown has seen in his time at Texas to a 30-22 win. It was Baylor’s first win in Austin since 1991.

“The guy is unbelievable. I don’t know how he can be out of the Heisman talk,” Brown said. “He was the difference. He made play after play after play after play. He makes everyone else around him better.”

At first, Griffin appeared hesitant. On Baylor’s first series, the quarterback was introduced to senior defensive end Sam Acho, who tackled him and caused a turnover.

But Griffin found his groove in the second quarter when he connected with receiver Terrence Williams on a third-and-10 over the middle of the field. Williams escaped Texas safety Blake Gideon, found the open field and ran for a 59-yard touchdown to give Baylor a 10-9 lead.

“We didn’t make plays that we’re used to making around here,” Gideon said. “It’s just a matter of one guy not getting their responsibility one play, and offenses are exploiting it.”

Despite Gideon’s missed tackle, the defense halted Baylor’s running game for about two-and-a-half quarters, holding them to 5 yards on 21 carries. But late in the third, Bears’ tailback Jay Finley broke the seal for a 69-yard touchdown run. Finley, who had 250 rushing yards against Kansas State the previous week, ran over Texas in the third and fourth quarters for 116 yards.

Griffin continued to have success in the fourth quarter as he exposed Texas’ weakness at defending third downs. After the Longhorns held Baylor on the goal line for five plays, Griffin finally sneaked in for a 1-yard touchdown, putting the Bears up 23-19.

Baylor essentially sealed Texas’ fate on their next possession. Griffin started with a 28-yard keeper on a zone read, then found receiver Kendall Wright for 11 yards on third-and-10. Three plays later on third-and-nine, Griffin connected with Wright again, who weaved past safety Christian Scott for a 30-yard strike.

That made the score 30-19 Baylor.

“It’s hard to stop [Griffin]. He’s a dual-threat quarterback,” said junior linebacker Keenan Robinson. “You try to stop his feet, then he hurts you with the pass. You try to stop his pass, then he hurts you with the run. He’s a good, balanced quarterback.”

Texas’ defense ended up holding Baylor to 328 total yards, which was well below the Bears’ season average of 510.8 (the fifth best average in the nation). Acho and Robinson played solid defense, as they combined for 19 tackles and five for a loss of 30 yards. But those two can’t defend 11 players by themselves.

Now, just like every week, it’s back to the drawing board.

“We’ve just got to find a way,” Muschamp said after the game. “All we want to do is go back to work, watch the film and re-evaluate. I look forward to getting back to work.”

Men's cross country

Junior Brock Simmons has always been interested in sports. He earned his black belt in martial arts when he was younger and was also involved in kung-fu, ice hockey and roller hockey.

He even tried his hand at football in high school, but that didn’t last long.

“I was god awful at it,” he said.

Because of his athleticism, Simmons said that his story of becoming a runner is the same as everyone else’s.

“No one just loves to get into running,” Simmons said. “Every athlete had to run cross-country at my high school, so I just fell into it.”

Simmons’ coaches put him into standard track events but eventually realized that the mile was where Simmons truly shined.

“I didn’t take it too seriously in the beginning,” Simmons said. “I knew I had a gift, so I just took it and, well, ran with it.”

Though he won a great deal of races in high school, Simmons did not think about running at the next level until his senior year, when calls started coming in from colleges.

“I realized then that I could do this forever,” he said. “I looked at some small schools and I was really interested in Baylor and Arkansas.”

After winning the Texas Relays his senior year, however, Simmons was invited by UT on a trip with the team ­— that was when he knew Texas was where he wanted to be.

“I knew Austin would be a cool place to live and to go to school,” Simmons said. “I called the coach on my way home from the trip and committed right then, telling him to make me a Longhorn.”

Because of injuries, Simmons was redshirted as a freshman and not able to participate. Simmons’ girlfriend, psychology senior Alex Turner, said he did not let being hurt keep him down.

“I’ve never met someone with so much determination and dedication,” Turner said. “He puts his entire heart into running and it’s so inspiring to see him work towards his goal day in and day out.”

As a sophomore, Simmons put that determination to use and focused on getting his feet back under him after being out for so long. During this time, the men’s running program experienced a coaching transition, as current head coach John Hayes came in. Simmons took to his training methods immediately.

Hayes took a subpar team, with all of its superstars graduated, and made them into quite a group.

Simmons ended up being Texas’ fifth runner in cross his second year, but his breakthrough came in his third year. Simmons managed first place at the team’s opener at Princeton, making him third overall.

Simmons placed fourth in last year’s Big 12 meet, and 12th at the regional meet. Texas earned a second place finish at regionals, catapulting them to the national meet, where Simmons finished 120th.

This year, the Longhorns will once again travel to the Princeton Invitational for their opener on Oct. 16, and the team feels good after such hard training.

“I really think it will be a battle between Texas guys this year,” Simmons said. “It’d be cool to get first to fifth, so we’ll see.”

Personally, Simmons usually competes at a faster level than he trains at, and with injuries being a constant threat, the junior goes in to ice three times a day after workouts.

“Some people can run and be just fine, but I have to stay on top of things,” he said. “I just have to flip a switch and get serious.”

When he does have time to relax, though, Simmons enjoys hunting, causing his teammates to classify him as “a redneck.”

“I grew up in Denton, which isn’t a redneck town, really, but there are rednecks in my family, for sure,” Simmons said. “I like to think I’m pretty classy, though. I mean, I do shop at Express.”

Junior Brock Simmons has always been interested in sports. He earned his black belt in martial arts when he was younger and was also involved in kung-fu, ice hockey and roller hockey.

He even tried his hand at football in high school, but that didn’t last long.

“I was god awful at it,” he said.

Because of his athleticism, Simmons said that his story of becoming a runner is the same as everyone else’s.

“No one just loves to get into running,” Simmons said. “Every athlete had to run cross-country at my high school, so I just fell into it.”

Simmons’ coaches put him into standard track events but eventually realized that the mile was where Simmons truly shined.

“I didn’t take it too seriously in the beginning,” Simmons said. “I knew I had a gift, so I just took it and, well, ran with it.”

Though he won a great deal of races in high school, Simmons did not think about running at the next level until his senior year, when calls started coming in from colleges.

“I realized then that I could do this forever,” he said. “I looked at some small schools and I was really interested in Baylor and Arkansas.”

After winning the Texas Relays his senior year, however, Simmons was invited by UT on a trip with the team ­— that was when he knew Texas was where he wanted to be.

“I knew Austin would be a cool place to live and to go to school,” Simmons said. “I called the coach on my way home from the trip and committed right then, telling him to make me a Longhorn.”

Because of injuries, Simmons was redshirted as a freshman and not able to participate. Simmons’ girlfriend, psychology senior Alex Turner, said he did not let being hurt keep him down.

“I’ve never met someone with so much determination and dedication,” Turner said. “He puts his entire heart into running and it’s so inspiring to see him work towards his goal day in and day out.”

As a sophomore, Simmons put that determination to use and focused on getting his feet back under him after being out for so long. During this time, the men’s running program experienced a coaching transition, as current head coach John Hayes came in. Simmons took to his training methods immediately.

Hayes took a subpar team, with all of its superstars graduated, and made them into quite a group.

Simmons ended up being Texas’ fifth runner in cross his second year, but his breakthrough came in his third year. Simmons managed first place at the team’s opener at Princeton, making him third overall.

Simmons placed fourth in last year’s Big 12 meet, and 12th at the regional meet. Texas earned a second place finish at regionals, catapulting them to the national meet, where Simmons finished 120th.

This year, the Longhorns will once again travel to the Princeton Invitational for their opener on Oct. 16, and the team feels good after such hard training.

“I really think it will be a battle between Texas guys this year,” Simmons said. “It’d be cool to get first to fifth, so we’ll see.”

Personally, Simmons usually competes at a faster level than he trains at, and with injuries being a constant threat, the junior goes in to ice three times a day after workouts.

“Some people can run and be just fine, but I have to stay on top of things,” he said. “I just have to flip a switch and get serious.”

When he does have time to relax, though, Simmons enjoys hunting, causing his teammates to classify him as “a redneck.”

“I grew up in Denton, which isn’t a redneck town, really, but there are rednecks in my family, for sure,” Simmons said. “I like to think I’m pretty classy, though. I mean, I do shop at Express.”