(This is Part Four of a series examining how one play in one game changed the trajectory of both programs. For Part One, click here. For Part Two, click here. For Part Three, click here.)

The theme of this series focuses on how if a play breaks differently, it alters the trajectory of a team’s season. If Tank Bigsby stays inbounds against Alabama, Auburn is seen more favorably. If Florida St. stops Jacksonville St. on a deep pass, they are a bowl team. Texas beats Kansas and they are back. (I’m kidding on that one.) Those are generally positive things.
This will be a little bit different.
Last December, the Baylor Bears beat Oklahoma St. 21-16, winning the Big XII Championship and knocking the then #5 Cowboys out of the CFP playoff discussion.
For those who remember the game, there are many plays that can be pointed to that may have swung the pendulum toward the Cowboys. Quarterback Spencer Sanders threw four interceptions. Pick one, we all have our favorites. But there is one play that probably stands out among all the rest.
With 24 seconds remaining and the Cowboys facing a fourth-day from the two yard line, Baylor safety Jairon McVea knocked OSU (backup for what it’s worth) running back Dezmon Jackson out of bounds just shy of the end zone, clinching the Bears victory and subsequent Big XII Championship.
We know how the rest of the season ended for these two teams. The Bears took the momentum from that victory to beat Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl, while Oklahoma St. rebounded from the loss to defeat Notre Dame in the Fiesta.
But (say it loud for the people in the back) WHAT IF…
What if Jackson gains six more inches and reaches the end zone, giving Oklahoma State the victory and Big XII Title? How are things different? Let’s examine.
From Baylor’s perspective: Life is pretty good in Waco. The Bears made dramatic strides last year under second-year head coach Dave Aranda, to the point where just making the game probably exceeded most fans’ expectations. But it’s fair to ask, is a 10-3 Baylor Bear team going to a NY6 bowl game? Probably not, nor did they really need to to consider last season a success. More so, is a 10-3 Baylor Bear team considered a favorite for the 2022 season with Blake Shapen at the helm? Or possibly more of a flash in the pan with a quarterback controversy between Shapen and Gerry Bohanon (who has since transferred to South Florida)? The latter might be a stretch, but the reality is, they are looking at a preseason ranking somewhere in the teens as it is, so there really isn’t a lot of upward momentum as a result of their conference championship.
From Oklahoma St.’s perspective: I hate to say it, but I don’t think the fortunes for the Cowboys change for the better if Jackson scores.
For starters, there is a real chance that a 12-1 OSU would have made the CFP if they win that game. So that’s cool. But the problem is, they would have likely played Alabama in a game that would have been among the worst in CFP history. So really if you think about it, maybe Oklahoma St.’s reputation was salvaged by beating a pretty good Notre Dame team instead of getting blasted by the Crimson Tide.
College Football is weird.
It’s funny to think that outcome may have been the best case scenario for both teams, but the wide open Big XII is partially to thank for that. Oklahoma lost Lincoln Riley and a slew of talent, so it’s hard to gauge how good they are going to be. Texas may be the most talented team in the whole conference, but they are Texas. Teams like TCU and Texas Tech are starting over with new head coaches, Iowa St. doesn’t have enough weapons, Kansas St. is pinning their hopes on a quarterback last leading Nebraska to a 3-9 record. You get the idea.
I’m as much of a proponent of “New Bloods” making their way into the “Blue Blood” conversation as the next person, so seeing a Big XII Title game last year with Baylor and Oklahoma St. in it instead of Oklahoma or Texas. warmed the cockles of my cold, black heart. Both of these teams should be in the conversation again. Baylor goes to Texas and Oklahoma in November this year, and has a tough non-conference (soon to be conference) game at BYU. How they navigate those road match-ups will truly provide a gauge to where the program is.
Looking at OSU’s schedule this year, starting with home games against Central Michigan, Arizona St. and Arkansas-Pine Bluff, they’re very likely to get off to a 3-0 start. Which is good because their conference schedule begins…
At Baylor. So there’s that.
As I said earlier, college football is weird. Baylor losing probably puts them in a better position in the eye of public opinion than they are now. If they lose, they are a program on the come-up. But since they won, they are considered at the mountaintop and will get everyone’s best shot. A position they are probably not ready for. On the other hand, Oklahoma St. winning the Big XII may be bad for them, as they are likely to get blown out in their bowl game and viewed as a likely one-hit wonder.
I guess they are right. Everything works out the way it’s supposed to.

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