Why does Baylor play Texas?
Given different circumstances, like a donation of land to NASA through Baylor University instead of Rice University, President John F. Kennedy’s famous 1962 speech might have been delivered about another conference opponent of the Texas Longhorns, and with more timely relevance.
After all, the Rice Owls were in the midst of totaling 17 wins against Texas between 1930 and 1960 — 61 years later, the Owls have only defeated the Longhorns twice since Kennedy gave the speech making the case for the United States winning the Space Race and 21 times overall.
The Baylor Bears, on the other hand, had beaten Texas just seven times over that same 30-year stretch and was in the early stages of an eventual 16-game losing streak to the Horns, the longest stretch of futility in the all-time series between the two programs.
Otherwise, the history of Texas against Rice and Texas against Baylor don’t look too different — the Longhorns have 75 wins over the Owls and a 77.3 win percentage compared to 80 wins and a 71.4 win percentage over the Bears, although Rice has a winning streak of five games against Texas while Baylor has never won three games in a row in the series.
The answer to the question of why Rice played Texas and why Baylor plays Texas, then, is a simple one — the Longhorns and Owls were in the Southwest Conference together and the Longhorns and Bears are in the Big 12 Conference together, for a few more months, at least.
The difference is that while the Owls and Longhorns have met 15 times since the dissolution of the Southwest Conference and the move by Texas into the newly-created Big 12, the series between the Bears and the Horns seems likely to end this year, along with regular-season games against the Red Raiders and Horned Frogs.
“Well, I think that’s always a hard one because the moment you play one of them, the other one’s going to be even more upset. Why isn’t it us?” Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian said on Monday. “And so, all I can do is focus on the teams we play and I recognize these are great rivalries and games that have been played for a long, long time. If that’s the direction it ends up going into, that’d be great. I think it’s great for the state of Texas and so on and so forth. But some of that is obviously out of my control of what we do there.”
For Longhorn athletics director Chris Del Conte, the calculus undoubtedly looks similar — the new Big 12 now features four former Southwest Conference teams located in the state in Baylor, Houston, TCU, and Texas Tech. And while the current SEC schedule for 2024 still features four non-conference games, the conference schedule is likely to expand to nine games; even if it doesn’t, scheduling one or more in-state Power Five opponents in the future seems unlikely for the reasons Sarkisian laid out.
“I do think one of the challenges with that is, you play Baylor, Tech’s upset, you play Tech, TCU is upset, you play TCU, Houston’s upset, they’ve finally just gotten into the conference. So there’s that trickle-down effect and where it goes moving forward, I’m not really certain,” Sarkisian said.
Sarkisian and the Longhorns are aware of what Saturday’s night game in Waco might look like — similar to last season’s day game in Lubbock against Texas Tech, Baylor sold the game out, including the most student tickets ever sold at McLane Stadium. So expect plenty of vitriol raining down on Texas from the stands along the Brazos as the Horns start what they’re calling the “Embrace the Hate” tour that will also run through Fort Worth, Houston, and Ames.
“I think we just need to understand what we’re walking into,” Sarkisian said. “We’re gonna go into Baylor here Saturday night on the road. It’s been well-documented that as of right now, the last time we’re going to play Baylor, the last time we’re going to go there, and so we understand the environment we’re walking into, and we can’t be fearful of that — we have to embrace it. We’ve got to walk in there and be ourselves and play our brand of football, but understand what we’re going into and so I do think that’s part of it.”
It is, after all, the last chance in football for Baylor fans to voice their frustrations about Texas leaving the conference.
“Now more than ever, they’re horns down, right? Now more than ever, who cares about Texas? Let’s take one more shot out on the way out,” Sarkisian said.
The message from Sarkisian to his team sounds a lot like it did when Texas traveled to Tuscaloosa two weeks ago and came out with an upset of Alabama.
“We can’t sit here and be a punching bag,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve got to walk in there and we have to be in attack mode and we have to make sure that you know we’re built for the environment. I think we’ve proven that to ourselves now over the last couple road games that we’ve had and no more so than going to Alabama and embracing that environment. So we’re gonna have to do the same Saturday night.”