A year after going just 2-7, No. 9 Baylor is back at the top of the Big 12. And the Bears cost No. 5 Oklahoma State a potential College Football Playoff berth in the process.
The Big 12 title game was a wild, turnover-filled affair, but it was Dave Aranda’s Bears that emerged with a 21-16 victory at AT&T Stadium in Arlington to win the program’s first outright Big 12 championship since 2013.
It was the Baylor defense and the play of redshirt freshman quarterback Blake Shapen that made the difference. Shapen, making his second career start in place of the injured Gerry Bohanon, threw three first-half touchdown passes to help Baylor jump out to a 21-6 halftime lead.
From there, Baylor had to hold on for dear life as Oklahoma State scratched and clawed its way back into the game. In the end, the Baylor defense got the stops it needed to preserve a conference championship.
The final stop was as dramatic as could be.
Oklahoma State, trailing 21-16, advanced all the way to the 2-yard line with just over a minute to play and the Baylor defense came up with a stop for the ages to eke out an unbelievable victory.
On fourth down, Oklahoma State running back Dezmon Jackson went for the edge and Baylor's Jairon McVea managed to chase him down. Jackson dove for the pylon and came up just inches short of the goal line.
The effort from McVea, a sixth-year senior, gave Baylor a Big 12 championship.
Turnovers sink Oklahoma State
Baylor was able to build its lead on the back of interceptions thrown by Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders. Sanders led the Cowboys to a field goal on their first drive, but was intercepted on the team’s next two possessions.
Both of those mistakes directly led to Baylor touchdowns — two TD passes thrown by Shapen.
When Sanders wasn’t giving it away, the Oklahoma State offense sputtered. Jaylen Warren, OSU’s star running back, did not play due to an ankle injury and Baylor’s defense bottled up the Cowboys’ other backs.
Toward the end of the first half, following an Oklahoma State three-and-out, Shapen threw a beautiful third-down touchdown pass to Tyquan Thornton to give Baylor a 21-3 lead.
Wow. Two plays later, Blake Shapen throws an absolute dime to Tyquan Thornton for a touchdown 🔥🔥🔥
It's 21-3 Baylor. pic.twitter.com/uMhhHlXAKh
— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) December 4, 2021
Baylor would take a 21-6 lead into the break as Shapen completed his first 17 passes of the game. But his fortunes would turn in the second half.
Oklahoma State has been led by its defense all year, and that unit made things difficult for Shapen throughout the second half. Shapen would take a hard fall on his shoulder in the third quarter, and it would severely limit him the rest of the way.
OSU's comeback featured big decision from Mike Gundy
Baylor had its share of self-inflicted wounds too.
Notably, Baylor kept its offense on the field on a fourth-and-1 from its own 36 and could not pick up the first down. That led to an Oklahoma State touchdown that cut the BU lead to 21-13.
Later on, after another Sanders interception and a missed Baylor field goal, Oklahoma State had its best opportunity to tie the game. Baylor muffed a punt, giving Oklahoma State the ball deep in BU territory.
The Cowboys advanced all the way to the 1-yard line, but they couldn’t punch it in. Two runs were stuffed, and OSU’s third-down play resulted in a botched exchange between Sanders and Jackson.
Trailing by eight points, OSU coach Mike Gundy sent his field goal unit out for a 20-yard try instead of going for it on fourth-and-goal from the 3. It was a decision that will be questioned all offseason.
The field goal was good to make it 21-16, but it wasn't clear if Oklahoma State would get that close to the end zone again. The Cowboys did. But the Baylor defense was up to the challenge yet again and came away with the stop and the victory.
What does this mean for the College Football Playoff?
At 11-1, Oklahoma State was No. 5 in the rankings and would have had an excellent chance to crack the top four with a victory. Instead, the loss almost certainly eliminates OSU from playoff contention.
Now the door is open for other teams, especially No. 6 Notre Dame. If No. 1 Georgia defeats No. 3 Alabama in the SEC title game, it could knock Alabama out of the top four as well.
No. 2 Michigan and No. 4 Cincinnati need to take care of business in their respective conference championship games too. If they do, that fourth spot is wide open.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame (11-1) is resting at home and could possibly be in position to move into that No. 4 spot. The final CFP rankings will be unveiled Sunday afternoon.