If you are anything like my family, you can't help but anticipate the coming holiday season and all the traditions that come with it. There's phenomenal food, great football, and of course, catching a classic Christmas movie or two. Maybe you're fond of The Christmas Story and its infamous Red Rider BB gun, or maybe you'll try to catch Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life. One of my personal favorites has always been The Miracle on 34th Street. The story of a department store Santa Claus who claims to be the real deal never failed to ignite my imagination as a child. In the film, Mr. Kringle is denounced by cynics and imprisoned for his apparent insanity. The legal proceedings that follow beg the audience to reconsider their preconceived ideas about reality and fantasy. Viewers are left speculating on what might be possible, tempted to embrace the unimaginable.
The Baylor Bears are asking their fans, and college football fans around the country, to reconsider their preconceived ideas as well. Baylor, once the author of a victory of the University of Texas dubbed The Miracle on the Brazos (34-24 upset of UT in Waco in 1974), have slipped from conference contender to utterly irrelevant. With the inception of the Big 12, the Baylor program has suffered through more than a decade of losing, a 15 year bowl drought, 4 controversial coaching changes, and a serious institutional identity crisis. Fortunately, for Bear fans the tide appears to have shifted and one major hurdle cleared. Baylor's 47-42 victory of Kansas State (ranked 22nd in the nation at the time) last Saturday gave the Bears their 6th win of the season, making them bowl eligible for the first time in a very long time.
Led by head coach and offensive guru Art Briles, and phenom quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Bears are challenging opponents' and fans' preconceived notions with every snap. Baylor currently ranks 5th in the nation in total offense averaging 510 yards per game, just 1 spot behind the prolific Boise State Broncos and ahead of offensive juggernauts USC (7th), Auburn (10th), and TCU (11th). Robert Griffin III ranks 3rd in the nation in individual total offense amassing an astonishing 2757 total yards through the Bears' first eight games (344.63/game). For a frame of reference, that's 574 more than Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor.
Baylor, whose annual marketing campaign has asked players and fans to "Rise Up", has not risen entirely unnoticed. Heading to Austin this week, Baylor is sporting their first national ranking in 15 years coming in at #25 in the AP poll and #24 in the USA Today/Coaches poll.
If history is our gauge, the Bears will face much more than another opponent this week. Mack Brown, the revered head coach of the Texas Longhorns, hasn't lost to Baylor since he began his tenure at UT, going 12-0 in the last 12 seasons. Since the Bears and the Longhorns faced off for the first time in 1901, Texas has dominated the series with 73 wins, 22 losses, and 4 ties. The two teams have met in Austin 53 times in the last century with UT coming out on top 43 times.
Though history dictates the odds are against the Bears, Robert Griffin III, heralded as he is, won't be stepping on the field alone. Baylor's senior running back Jay Finley has carried the ball 105 times for nearly 700 yards and five TD's. Finley's 6.6 yards per carry is even more impressive when you find out he entered this season coming off back to back ankle injuries and is sharing time with change of pace backs Terrance Gannaway (34 carries for 217 yards, 6.4/carry) and Jarred Salubi (15 carries for 104 yards, 6.9/carry). Griffin's receiving corps is impressive as well. Both Kendall Wright and Josh Gordon rank among the Big 12's top ten receivers. More impressive is that Baylor has 6 different receivers with 10 or more receptions and 6 different receivers splitting the team's 19 receiving TD's.
The question in Waco, as in much of the Big 12, is whether or not their defense is up to the task. They were manhandled by TCU early in the season, faltered in a shootout with Tech, and though they had Kansas State down by 19 at one point this past weekend, managed to let them stay in the picture late in the game. Corralling the Longhorns won't be any easier this weekend.
Austin is a fantastic venue for college football. Between the night life on 6th street (the cultural hub of UT), the award winning eateries, and the famed Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium, there's more than enough excitement to warrant a visit. That being said, whether or not you visit, whether or not you remember The Miracle on the Brazos or hope to catch The Miracle on 34th Street this holiday season, there's no doubt the Baylor faithful will be showing up or tuning in hoping for a Miracle on 6th Street this weekend.
Baylor and Texas face off Saturday at 6:00 P.M. on FSN.
Miracle on 6th Street?
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