WACO, Texas (AP) — Matt Rhule and his Baylor Bears almost certainly won’t have to wait until next year for another shot at Oklahoma.
Give it about three weeks, when it seems inevitable that they will meet again in the Big 12 championship game. The No. 8 Sooners and No. 13 Bears, both 9-1 overall, are clearly the league’s top two teams this season.
“There is no doubt in our minds that we are one of the better teams in the country,” Rhule said. “Obviously we wish we could have the second half back. ... I am sure Oklahoma, they wish they could have the first half back.”
The incredible start that gave Baylor an early 25-point lead ended up setting up the biggest comeback ever for the Sooners. The four-time defending Big 12 champions still have hopes for another playoff appearance after the 34-31 victory on the banks of the Brazos River on Saturday night.
“Well, that was fun,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said.
With two games left in the regular season, the Sooners and Bears share the Big 12 lead at 6-1, ahead of three teams with 4-3 conference records. Iowa State already has lost to both Oklahoma and Baylor. Texas, already with a loss to the Sooners, plays at Baylor on Saturday. Oklahoma State, which lost at home to Baylor, ends the regular season Nov. 30 hosting Bedlam against its instate rival.
Oklahoma and Baylor will play again Dec. 7 in Arlington, Texas, if both win just one of their last two games. The Sooners, up two spots in the new AP poll on Sunday, host TCU on Saturday.
The Sooners trailed 28-3 early in the second quarter at Baylor and were down 31-10 at halftime.
Jalen Hurts overcame a career-worst three turnovers — two that led to Baylor touchdowns in the first half, and a third when the quarterback fumbled just before running across the goal line in the third quarter when Oklahoma was making its comeback.
Riley slapped Hurts on the back coming off the field after that, and he had a short message.
“I told him that I think we're moving it well at this point, hold onto the damn ball, score every drive,” Riley said.
Oklahoma’s offense was on the field pretty much all of the second half. The Sooners tied the game at 31 with four consecutive drives after halftime that took at least 11 plays — three touchdowns and Hurts’ fumble that was set up when the Sooners’ defense forced its first turnover in six games. Baylor ran only seven plays in the same span.
Hurts finished with 297 yards passing and four touchdowns, even with standout receiver CeeDee Lamb missing the game because of an undisclosed medical issue. The graduate transfer from Alabama also ran for 114 yards.
Baylor had the ball for less than 6 minutes after halftime and had only 16 plays, the last when Charlie Brewer’s pass was intercepted after the Bears got to the Oklahoma 40 in the final minute.
Now they have to refocus and do their part for the chance at a December redo.
“You’ve got to get over it and move on to the next week,” said Brewer, who threw two TD passes to Denzel Mims and ran for two more scores for the early lead. “Obviously, it was tough with just all the implications and how big the game was. Would we have liked to win it? Yes, but we didn’t, so we don’t have a choice but to learn from it.”
Baylor had won 11 in a row. The loss pretty much takes the Bears out of a contention for a spot in the College Football Playoff, but they can still win a conference title only two years after an 11-loss season.
If the Sooners can win their fifth consecutive Big 12 title, and 13th overall, they could still have a shot at getting into the playoff for the fourth time in five seasons.
“As a coach, there's a lot of great wins. We've been lucky to have a ton of them here. Coming back like we did, how it all played out, this one is up there for sure,” Riley said. “I am beyond proud, also beyond excited about us continuing to grow. I think people still see we got a lot of things to continue to grow and get better. I think this can be a catalyst for that. I think it will be.”