By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
With eighth-ranked Kansas State snubbed in the BCS bowl selections and ending up in the Cotton Bowl, No. 12 Baylor's "consolation" prize was an invitation to play Washington (7-5) in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
"We're very excited to accept an invitation to the Valero Alamo Bowl," Baylor head coach Art Briles said when the announcement was made Sunday night. "I think it's a definite plus for our fans. When you go through the season and become bowl-eligible, you want to share it with the people who have helped you get there. That's the part that I love about it. We're getting to share it with our team, but our team's getting to share it with our fans."
Making back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1991-92 -Grant Teaff-led teams went to the Copper Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., and the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas - the Bears (9-3) are actually staying in-state for the fourth straight time. They lost to Washington State, 10-3, in the 1994 Alamo Bowl and fell to Illinois, 38-14, in last year's Texas Bowl in Houston.
"On behalf of Baylor University, the Board of Regents, President (Ken) Starr, coach Briles and our football program, it is a great honor to accept an invitation to participate in the Valero Alamo Bowl," Baylor Director of Athletics Ian McCaw said. "We are very excited about palying in such a prestigious and highly respected bowl game and look forward to Baylor Nation rising up to fill the stands."
Several of the players had expressed an interesting in going out of state for the bowl game, but quarterback Robert Griffin III said this "is a much better scenario."
"We could have gone to California or Arizona," Griffin said of possible bowl destinations that included the Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., and the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, Calif. "But our fan base wouldn't have traveled as well. It's good to stay in Texas. That way we can have a good following."
"I had a ton of friends . . . who expressed interest in us staying in-state," senior linebacker Elliot Coffey said, "because it was just easier for them, especially with the close proximity of Christmas and New Year's. Just with the travel times, it was easier for them to stay in-state. So I was kind of cheering for us to be in Texas, and the way it played out is great for me and my family."
As the third selection from the Big 12 - conference champion Oklahoma State is playing Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl and K-State is paired against Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl - Baylor was chosen ahead of Oklahoma. The Bears and Sooners tied for third at 9-3 overall and 6-3 in the Big 12, but Baylor won the head-to-head matchup, 45-38, and have a potential Heisman finalist in Griffin III.
"Just talking to Ian last night after the game, the two sites that felt like we had a good opportunity to go to were the Cotton Bowl or the Alamo Bowl," Briles said. "Both of those are outstanding bowls, so we were in a no-lose situation."
The Bears were also a one-point loss (36-35 at Kansas State) from possibly going to the Sugar Bowl for a matchup of marquee quarterbacks with RG3 and Michigan's Denard Robinson.
"That went through my mind today," Briles said. "You never know where it's going to end up. . . . I'll take a one-point loss to be where we are today, because I think we grew up as a football team and became a tougher team mentally, and that's why we're standing here today where we are."
On the flip side, four of the Bears' nine victories came by a total of just 13 points, and they had to erase a three-touchdown fourth-quarter deficit to beat Kansas in overtime, 31-30.
"If we don't come back and beat Kansas on the road, we're not where we are today," said Griffin III, who was named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week on Monday after throwing for 320 yards and two touchdowns and adding two TDs on the ground in Saturday's 48-24 trouncing of Texas. "You take it for what it's worth. Like coach Briles said, if that one-point loss sets us up to be 9-3 at the end of the year, then you take that. Not very many teams can have that blessing after a heartbreaking loss like that. The win against, I think, really showed the grit that we have and helped propel us through the rest of the season."
Unlike last season, when Baylor limped into the Texas Bowl with a three-game losing streak, the Bears are riding the momentum of a five-game winning streak that vaulted them to No. 12 in the final BCS Standings that were released Sunday. The Bears are also 15th in the Associated Press and 16th in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll.
"That's important, it really is. It's a whole different mentality than what we were a year ago," Briles said. "A year ago, we were coming off three straight losses, we were just excited about being in a bowl game, because it was the first time in 16 years... The thing I'm excited about is we have a very mature football team - very experienced, very mature, very focused, and very driven. We're coming off five victories, to where it's not, 'Who's next? What's going to happen?' We have a real good idea of how we're going to perform. So that is very comforting going into this bowl as opposed to a year ago."
The Bears also gained some momentum in the second half of Saturday's win over Texas, holding the Longhorns to a first-drive field goal and forcing four turnovers.
"That was just all of us finally clicking," Coffey said. "We were a little slow coming out of the gate, but we finally picked up some steam and kept rolling. Everyone's going to look at that film, especially as a defense, and know that we can play like that for an entire game. And that's what we'll do."
The deadline for season ticketholders and Bear Foundation members to order Alamo Bowl tickets is 5 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 6. You can purchase tickets online at www.baylorbears.com/tickets, by phone at 254-710-1000 or in person at the Baylor Athletic Ticket Office at the Ferrell Center.
BEAR FACTS: Junior quarterback Robert Griffin III and sophomore safety Sam Holl were named the Big 12 Conference Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year, respectively, after Saturday's 48-24 win over Texas. This marks the first time in program history that Baylor has had the Big 12 Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week honorees in the same week. A Heisman Trophy candidate, RG3 was honored for the third time this season and fifth time in his career. Holl's award is the Bears' first defensive honor since Byron Landor earned his second award of the 2010 season on Nov. 1. A native of Katy, Texas, Holl picked off a pair of passes among the Baylor defense's six turnovers and posted a game-high 16 tackles. Holl returned the first one 62 yards to set up a touchdown that gave the Bears a two-score lead in the third quarter. And then he made a leaping grab in the end zone to stop the Longhorns' final drive. Griffin III was 15-of-22 for 320 yards and two touchdowns and added two TDs and 32 yards rushing on 12 carries. . . . RG3 is also a finalist for the Capital One Cup Impact Performance of the Week. He is already a four-time winner of the weekly award and is leading this week's balloting at Capital One Cup.