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December 1, 2012

A Big Day for Baylor

Ahmad Dixon described Baylor's locker room scene Saturday afternoon as being "pretty crazy in there." He didn't provide details.

Head coach Art Briles walked up to the podium for his post-game press conference with his eyes a little watery, the sign of a man that had gotten a tad emotional celebrating Baylor 41, Oklahoma State 34.

Every win means something in the Big 12, to heck with what the SEC apologists pontificate about ad nauseam. This is one challenging football conference.

That's why Saturday's win in a way is a culmination of the first chapter of Briles' tenure at Baylor (and I say there will be plenty more chapters). Texas in 2010. Oklahoma and Texas Tech in 2011. Oklahoma State in 2012. The Bears are wiping the names off the whiteboard, the rivals that have owned this Baylor football program - for a few years or several of them.

Oklahoma State was the last one standing. To the last six Baylor teams that lost to the offensive-juggernaut that is the Cowboys, this win on the first day in December is for you.

"Today was about respect," Briles said.

Was it personal to Briles that in four previous tries he had never beaten Oklahoma State? Was it personal to the 23 seniors that played in their final home game who were 0-3 or 0-4 against the Cowboys?

"Yes sir," Briles said, and left it at that.

Football will always be personal. The respect part? Baylor should have it by now. It's not debatable.

Baylor has three consecutive seven-win seasons for the first time since 1949-50-51. Three bowl seasons in a row for the first time in school history.

The Bears will end the regular season somewhere in the Top 5 in the nation in points, yards and passing yards. This is an offensive machine.

Baylor protects its home field these days, winning 11 of 12 at Floyd Casey, the only loss to TCU this season. One more season here and then time to protect the new house.

Baylor is 10-1 in November and December for the last two seasons. The Bears have become a closer when it comes to finishing off seasons.

Briles, as fore-mentioned, has now ended long losing streaks to all of the old Big 12 South schools - Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and finally Oklahoma State. All of them had reached at least three games, many of them a lot longer before Briles arrived.

Baylor now owns a 2-game winning streak on Tech and a one-gamer on Oklahoma State. Has won 2 out of 3 against Texas. Has split the last two against OU.

Only a two-game losing streak sits out there to the Aggies, and A&M of course bolted the conference and the next time the Brazos rivals play is anyone's guess (hopefully in a bowl game sometime soon).

Baylor has gotten there this season by playing with heart, determination, energy -- all of those things Briles talks about every time he speaks in public or to reporters.

Maybe it was the RG3 hangover. Maybe the Bears had to wait on Lache Seastrunk to catch on. A lot of the slow start this year had to do with a defense finally making plays, game-turning plays in the last five games of the season.

Saturday was a microcosm of this 4-1 run. Baylor won the turnover battle again. Eddie Lackey made the momentum-changing play with his first-quarter interception for a touchdown for a 10-3 Baylor lead. There's no doubt his teammates fed off of that play.

"The way our defense has been playing," Ahmad Dixon said, "snd the way our defense has been playing since the Kansas game, and with the play of Eddie Lackey, it makes the rest of it easy on the defense."

Baylor's offense produced another Briles-type game with 615 yards of total offense. The Bears had 333 yards rushing as Seastrunk and Glasco Martin and Nick Florence made play after play in the running game.

And get this: Florence, while slumping in the TCU loss, has had an overall magnificent season. Texas A&M's freshman wonder boy Johnny Manziel will win the Heisman next week. He has 4,600 combined yards rushing and passing.

Guess where Florence ended up after 12 games? With 4,660 yards rushing and passing. Yep, that's 60 more.

Debate if you want the merits of the SEC defenses vs. the Big 12 numbers. I'm just focused on the numbers. Florence has had a great season.

No play defined Baylor's Saturday like Seastrunk's 76-yard touchdown run with 5:11 left in the fourth quarter that gave the Bears a two-touchdown lead and all but sealed their seventh win. Seastrunk pulled up with a cramp at the OSU 40 and willed himself into the end zone. A lot of players would have gone down and quit. He didn't.

Seastrunk said after the game that he did it for God, for his family and his friends. He was determined for them.

"Everyone gave up on me except my family and Coach Briles," Seastrunk said. "I'm so happy to be here because the support system that has sat with me when I wasn't able to play."

Baylor had to earn respect in the Big 12. Florence had to earn it taking over for RG3. Seastrunk had to earn respect on his own team, from his own coaches.

Lord knows the defense and Phil Bennett had to earn the respect of their teammates, coaches and even the fans.

They all have it now. Baylor has it now.


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