For stretches of this season, Baylor didn’t look much like Baylor teams of recent vintage, and Bryce Petty didn’t resemble Bryce Petty.
This version of Art Briles’ squad was 7-1 but easy to dismiss in the College Football Playoff race.
On Saturday, Baylor achieved the most un-Baylor-like feat it could muster to put the Bears back into the playoff mix.
The Bears not only won a road game against a ranked team for the first time since 1991, they won in Norman for the first time in school history.
Baylor started Saturday ranked No. 12 but likely will be in striking distance of the playoff when the new rankings are released Tuesday after a 48-14 win over Oklahoma.
“This game, for me, was circled on the calendar,” Petty told the media. “I don't like to make that public, just because every game is a big game. At the same time, I really wanted to win this game, being at Norman. I didn't even know 37 straight losses to top 25 teams. All the stuff that we unraveled, that's big.”
The Bears needed this kind of feat to build legitimacy for the season. True, Baylor defeated TCU 61-58 thanks to a fourth quarter comeback Oct. 11. Otherwise, the Bears’ record entering Saturday didn’t have much meat to it.
Baylor’s non-conference schedule of SMU, Northwestern State and Buffalo is forgettable at best, and its loss came by two touchdowns at West Virginia.
More than that, Petty was hardly himself in October and into the first weekend of November. The Big 12 leader in passing efficiency in 2013 completed 47 percent of his passes during the four-game stretch entering Saturday.
That changed in the second quarter in Norman when Petty started to look like the quarterback who led Baylor to a conference title last season.
In the second and third quarters, Petty was 27-of-32 for 322 yards with a touchdown. He picked apart the Oklahoma defense with short completions for the most part, completing 18 consecutive passes at one point.
“It is sometimes good for people to be doubted,” Baylor coach Art Briles told the media. “He has gone through a little bit of that.”
A run game that struggled for most of the game was at least effective in short-yardage situations around the goal line for four scores inside the five-yard line. The hot streak gave Baylor 45 unanswered points to end the game.
How the selection committee views this potential turn in Baylor’s season is a mystery. The non-conference schedule could continue to be an anchor.
And even though Baylor’s first win in Norman is a landmark moment, the victory might not be resume-builder it would be in any other season. Oklahoma picked up its third loss of the season to fall to 3-3 in the Big 12.
Yet if the selection committee likes common opponents, consider that Baylor beat the Sooners by 34 on the road. Kansas State won in Norman, too, by 1. TCU beat Oklahoma by 4 in Fort Worth.
The most important victory, though, may have been a fourth quarter comeback against TCU. The Horned Frogs handed Kansas State its first loss in Big 12 play Saturday, putting Baylor, TCU and the Wildcats into a three-way tie for the conference lead.
Baylor will wrap up the season in Waco against Kansas State, and by then, the Bears could be in position to do the most un-Baylor-like thing of all: Compete for a national championship.