Left out of the four-team playoff, Big 12 co-champion Baylor gets to stay close to home to play in the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day against Michigan State.
Coaching in a game in which he once played, though in a much different venue, helps ease the sting of the playoff exclusion for Art Briles and the Bears. They are in their first Cotton Bowl since the 1980 season when Mike Singletary was a team captain.
''For me, being a Texas guy, growing up in the state of Texas and playing in the Southwest Conference, that's the only bowl that existed. I mean, you're going to the Cotton Bowl,'' Briles said Sunday. ''You're going to the best bowl around.''
The Cotton Bowl will be the first game played on New Year's Day, leading into the two national semifinals that Baylor (11-1) had hoped to be a part of after claiming a share of its second consecutive Big 12 title.
Briles played at the University of Houston, and was in a Cotton Bowl when the Cougars beat Maryland on New Year's Day 1977 at the namesake stadium at the State Fair of Texas. The game is now played in the Dallas Cowboys' showplace NFL stadium, where the Bears annually play a regular season game about 100 miles from their Waco campus.
Michigan State (10-2), only the second Big Ten team in the Cotton Bowl, had its only losses against Oregon and Ohio State - two of the teams in the College Football Playoff.
''When we looked at the bowl structure and saw that we weren't going to be playing for a championship this year ... the Cotton Bowl was the one bowl that I felt like should we have the opportunity to play in ... we were going to play somebody really, really excellent,'' said Spartans coach Mark Dantonio, who was born in Texas.
This will be the Spartans' eighth consecutive bowl under Dantonio, setting a school record for the most by a coach. They beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl last year after going undefeated in the Big Ten.
''We'll bring a team there that's been able to overcome adversity and really sort of move the rock,'' Dantonio said.
Baylor is playing in its second consecutive January bowl. The Bears lost to UCF in the Fiesta Bowl last season.
Before the new playoff era, the Cotton Bowl matched Big 12 and SEC teams. Ohio State represented the Big Ten in the 1987 Cotton Bowl, when the Buckeyes beat Texas A&M 28-12.
Briles will be only the third head coach in the Cotton Bowl who also played in the game, joining Ken Hatfield (Arkansas) and David McWilliams (Texas).
When Singletary and the Bears played 34 years ago, they lost to a Bear Bryant-coached Alabama team.