Winning and waiting. That's what Texas will do come Friday morning.
The Longhorns (7-4, 5-3 Big 12) return to Royal-Memorial Stadium for one final showdown in 2022 Big 12 play. A win over Baylor nearly doubles Texas' wins from a season ago, but it also doubles the program's chances of returning to the Big 12 championship for the first time since 2018.
Step one for Texas to end its four-year hiatus from the conference title game is beating the Bears (6-5, 4-4 Big 12) on Senior Day. The second? Rooting for Kansas to pull off the upset over No. 15 Kansas State on the road at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
“I'm a realist with our guys. I'm honest with them,” Longhorns coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday. “They know the scenario. I painted this scenario for 'em last night. We've got to win Friday. Then we can worry about what happens Saturday night. But if we don't take care of our business, if we don't mow our own lawn, then it doesn't matter what happens Saturday night. So I think the focus and the intent is to take care of our own business first.”
Make no mistake, the attention for Friday needs to be on Baylor, a program less than a year removed from a record-setting season. Under second-year coach Dave Aranda, the Bears maneuvered their way through a strenuous Big 12 schedule to win the conference title over then-No. 5 Oklahoma State. With a Sugar Bowl victory over Ole Miss, Baylor finished 12-2 for the first time in school history.
This season has been a bit of a setback. Two heartbreaking road losses to West Virginia and BYU eliminated the Bears' chances of making the College Football Playoff. A soul-crushing 29-28 loss to No. 4 TCU last Saturday ended the chances for a potential rematch in Arlington come Dec. 3.
Sarkisian doesn't care to look at the score from McLane Stadium. The only score he remembers is the one from last year; a 31-24 comeback win that propelled the Horns to a 5-7 finish.
“It’s going to be a heck of a ballgame against a very good Baylor team, one that’s a lot like us,” Sarkisian said. “They’re probably looking at a few of their games thinking, ‘Man, a play here, a play, there,' and ultimately, maybe things are going a little differently for them in this last weekend.”
Both programs have trusted their run game to be the driving force as of late. In Saturday's 55-14 road win over the Jayhawks, Texas totaled 423 rushing yards and six touchdowns behind a four-man rotation. Bijan Robinson, who could be playing his way into a Heisman Trophy invite, totaled 243 yards and scored four touchdowns.
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In Waco, the Bears tallied 242 rushing yards on 46 carries. Craig "Sqwirl" Williams, Baylor's leading rusher, totaled 112 yards while Richard Reese and Qualan Jones each scored touchdowns.
“They’ve got great balance," Sarkisian said of the Bears' run game. "I’m impressed with their ability to run the football with the different runners that go in."
The message surrounding the program all season has been "win the day" instead of the year. While sights might be fixated on the television screens Saturday night, the attention must be on Friday mid-morning.
In years past, Texas has hitched its wagon before the horse and come up short in a must-win game. Will that be the case for the Longhorns on Senior Day?
"We’ve got to take care and do our part," Sarkisian said. "We all understand and know the ramifications of where we’re at in the Big 12. Again, we don’t shy away from those things. We’ve got to do our part Friday at 11 a.m. and see what happens after that.”
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