ARLINGTON, Texas — The Baylor Bears defeated the Oklahoma State Cowboys, 21-16, on Saturday in the Big 12 Championship game at AT&T Stadium.
Baylor jumped out to a 21-6 lead at halftime. The Bears’ defense forced four Spencer Sanders interceptions. But the Bears hung on for dear life to get the win, as the Cowboys (11-2) turned their game with the Bears (11-2) into a street fight. Despite his mistakes, Sanders threw for 247 yards, rushed for another 33 and led the Cowboys on a potential game-winning drive in the final minutes until Baylor’s incredible goal-line stand in the waning seconds to preserve the win.
Baylor quarterback Blake Shapen will go down as the starting quarterback that helped Baylor win its first Big 12 Championship game, and its first Big 12 title since 2014. But, as the Bears failed to score a single point in the second half, it was the defense that saved the day — Jalen Pitre, Terrell Bernard, Dillon Doyle, Jairon McVea, JT Woods and the names go on.
Here are our three takeaways from the game.
1. Baylor’s (2022) Quarterback Competition?
Gerry Bohanon deserves to start for the Bears in their bowl game (most likely the Sugar Bowl) assuming he’s healthy to do so. But Blake Shapen signaled that there’s a quarterback battle to be had with his performance in the Big 12 Championship game. He completed his first 17 passes of the game and led the Bears on three touchdown drives, all of which he polished off with touchdown passes. He showed great command for the offense. In the second half, Oklahoma State’s defense had a lot to do with Shapen’s struggles, along with the entire offense. Bohanon and Shapen can give the Bears different things as the position, and head coach Dave Aranda would be smart to let the pair slug it out in spring camp to see which one has the ability to elevate this offense to the next level. That can even be done with the understanding that Bohanon is the incumbent (which he should be after a solid first season as a starter). The Bears aren’t missing much to be a national title contender. That much is clear.
After the game, Shapen was humble, saying he was grateful for the opportunity and considered it Bohanon’s team. At minimum, Shapen proved that the Bears have a deeper quarterback room than many thought. That’s a bonus in a transfer portal world.
2. The Cowboys Missed Another Golden Opportunity
Back in 2011, the Oklahoma State Cowboys were in line to reach the BCS National Championship game, sitting at No. 2 in the country in the AP Poll. But it was one loss on Nov. 18 on the road at Iowa State that ended that dream. It look them a decade to get back to a point where they could take another shot at it. But, again, the Cowboys weren’t quite able to get across the finish line. Mistakes were the big blow for OSU. Four Spencer Sanders interceptions put the Cowboys in a big hole, and seven of Sanders’ interceptions this season have come against Baylor. So there’s something the Bears know about Sanders that the other Big 12 teams don’t. The Cowboys were without running back Jaylen Warren, as head coach Mike Gundy said he was “physically unable to play.” Several defenders were beat up throughout the game. But, the Cowboys hung in there, the defense stuffed Baylor in the second half and Sanders managed to make some gutty plays as the Cowboys had a chance to win in the final minute. Being unable to convert that fourth down probably kept the Cowboys out of the College Football Playoff and a legitimate shot at a national championship. That would be the second time in 10 years the Cowboys have missed out.
3. The Future
The Big 12 is changing, and everyone knows it. Even without the conference’s two blue bloods in the game — Oklahoma and Texas — the Big 12 Championship game had its second-largest attendance since the game was rebooted in 2017 (more than 66,000 fans). Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy said he “loved the atmosphere.” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby had to love that as he handed the trophy to Dave Aranda. He also had to love that two teams that are sticking around made it to the title game, brought big crowds with them and put together a compelling game. Shortly after the Big 12 title game ended, the American Athletic Conference title game began with Cincinnati and Houston — two future Big 12 programs — facing each other. Seeing the Cowboys fail to win and get a potential shot at the College Football Playoff hurts the conference’s overall profile. But, no matter what happens with playoff expansion, the Big 12 is showing that it’s up to the task of sending a team to the postseason every year — and being competitive once it gets there.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.