KANSAS STATE vs. BAYLOR, 2:30 p.m. Today., Kansas State 5-1, 2-1 Big 12; Baylor 5-2, 2-1 Big 12.
In the 14-year history of the Big 12, the Baylor Bears have never played for the chance to go to a bowl game.Their first shot at that crucial sixth win comes Saturday against Kansas State and coach Bill Snyder, who knows something about rebuilding a program and looking for breakthrough victories along the way.Snyder’s Wildcats were battling nearly a century of football futility in 1993 when they beat nationally ranked Oklahoma for their sixth win in a 9-2-1 season that started a 12-year bowl streak.“That has to be part of the process and part of direction,” Snyder said. “If you did not get there, it would signify that you are not capable of winning very many ball games.”Baylor’s 16-year bowl drought is the school’s longest since the Bears started making postseason appearances in 1949. The big chance for the Bears (5-2, 2-1 Big 12) just happens to be homecoming, followed by four remaining games in which Baylor is likely to be the underdog each time.Coach Art Briles wasn’t inclined to make any special speeches this week, though. He’s more likely to say six wins doesn’t guarantee a bowl game — it just puts his team on the list.“We’re just trying hard for a win,” Briles said. “Sometime here at the end of the season, we’ll add ’em up.”The only other year the Bears had five wins in the Big 12 era was 2005, when they won their finale against Oklahoma State. Baylor started 4-1 that year, which wasn’t unusual because the Bears generally have faded in conference play. They once had a 30-game losing streak in Big 12 games.Fortunes have changed under quarterback Robert Griffin. He had Baylor thinking bowl game as a freshman in 2008, when the Bears went 4-8 but nearly knocked off ranked opponents Missouri and Texas Tech. He struggled in a 45-10 loss to No. 4 TCU this year after missing most of 2009 with a knee injury, but now leads the Big 12 and is third nationally in total offense at 335 yards per game.“It puts a smile on your face,” Griffin said of the Bears sniffing bowl eligibility. “But we have to hunker down, make sure we stay consistent with our preparation.”Baylor had something of a breakthrough in last week’s 31-25 win at Colorado. The Bears fell behind, then had to keep the Buffs out of the end zone late.“There’s one way to get experience. You can’t buy it, and you can’t wish for it. You gotta live it,” Briles said. “I think that was a good maturing game for us.”Kansas State (5-2, 2-1) is looking for that sixth win, too. The Wildcats had that many last year in Snyder’s return after three seasons in retirement, but they didn’t get a bowl bid. This is Snyder’s fourth season since his last postseason trip — a 35-28 Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State after Kansas State shocked top-ranked Oklahoma in the 2003 Big 12 title game.“At the beginning of the season, I thought that we would become bowl eligible, so this is just another game that will help us accomplish that,” said quarterback Carson Coffman, who bounced back from a rough outing in a blowout loss to Nebraska by completing 15 of 16 passes and accounting for five touchdowns in last week’s 59-7 rout of Kansas. “It is huge for the program, especially for recruiting.”The key component in the Kansas State offense is running back Daniel Thomas, who is eighth nationally and second in the Big 12 at 130 rushing yards per game.The Wildcats have the No. 2 rushing offense in the Big 12, and the Bears are third. Baylor is coming off a season-best 309 yards rushing against Colorado, fueled by Jay Finley’s career-high 143. Kansas State is last in the league in rushing defense.“This is, collectively, the best Baylor team that I have ever seen during their time in the Big 12 conference,” Snyder said. “There is not much that they are lacking.”