Arlington, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - A glass half-full Baylor fan sees the Bears' appearance in a New Year's Day bowl game as an accomplishment.
One with a half-empty mindset views it as a slight of the highest order.
Regardless of their opinion, they will be tuning in to the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1 to watch the fourth-ranked Bears take on the seventh-ranked Michigan State Spartans at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
While Baylor is ranked No. 4 in the AP poll, the College Football Playoff committee saw it appropriate to rank Ohio State in the final spot in the CFP rankings, with the 11-1 Bears falling in at No. 5.
Since the Big 12 does not have a championship game, the conference opted to name co-champs at the end of the regular season, with both Baylor and TCU each sharing the crown even though the former beat the latter.
The only blemish on Baylor's record came in a 41-27 loss at West Virginia on Oct. 18, a game that saw the Bears commit 18 penalties for 215 yards -- the most ever by a Big 12 team. They recovered to win their final five games, including a 38-27 win over nationally-ranked Kansas State in the finale.
Still, it was not enough, and Baylor's head coach took the high road rather than complain about the process.
"I certainly would have liked to be in (the final four), but it didn't work out that way so what am I going to do? You know, moan and wine," Art Briles lamented, "It's a decision that was made that we have no control over, so we will live with it, it's what we do. We are fighters, competitors, we will live to fight another day. It's what we are doing."
Bryce Petty was one of those fighters and was a finalist for all of the major quarterback awards after guiding the No. 1 offense in the country, one that averaged 58.8 points and 581.3 yards per game. The senior ranked eighth in the country with 300.5 passing ypc and produced a sensational 26-to-6 touchdown- to-interception-ratio.
Corey Coleman was Petty's No. 1 target and finished with 57 catches for 969 and 10 touchdowns in nine games. Antwan Goodley, K.D. Cannon and Jay Lee all had six TD receptions, while Shock Linwood ran for 102.2 ypc and 16 scores as a sophomore.
The offense justifiably gets most of the headlines, but the Bears' defense ranked first in the Big 12 against the run, allowing 107.7 ypg. That usually stems from teams needing to throw after falling in an early hole, and Baylor has been able to force 24 turnovers as a result.
Bryce Hager led the way with 101 tackles, Orion Stewart intercepted four passes and Shawn Oakman had one of the best seasons in school history on the defensive line. Oakman needs one sack and two tackles for loss to set the BU record in both categories. He has posted 10 sacks and 18 TFLs so far.
A win Thursday would give the Bears a school-record 12 victories and improve their postseason record to 11-10. They lost in the Cotton Bowl in 1975 and '81 to Penn State and Alabama, respectively.
Michigan State was also predicted to be in the title hunt, what with finishing the 2013 season with only one loss and a Rose Bowl win over Stanford. The Spartans though, dropped an early-season test at Oregon and later lost at home to Ohio State, which all but sealed their fate outside the CFP.
MSU won three straight after the OSU loss to finish the season at a respectable 10-2, including a 7-1 mark in Big Ten play. Since the two setbacks were both to teams playing in the CFP, Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio figures his team is ready for another stiff test.
"Baylor would have, could have been in the top four in the country. We've already played two of those top-four teams, so why not play another one," Dantonio said. ""When you go to a bowl game, you're always trying to move forward. You want to play the best team you can."
Known for its hard-nosed defense coming into the season, the Spartans' offense rose to the occasion nearly every week and set school single-season records for points (517), total offense (5,958 yards), offensive touchdowns (64), rushing touchdowns (40) and made point-after attempts (66).
Jeremy Langford carried the load out of the backfield, rushing for 1,360 yards and school-record nine consecutive 100-yard games and counting. The senior accounted for 19 of a team-record 40 touchdowns on the ground.
Connor Cook was no slouch under center, with the junior QB leading the Big Ten in passing (241.7 ypc) and ranking 14th in the FBS in passing efficiency (152.4). Half of his 22 touchdown passes went to wide receiver Tony Lippet, who totaled 60 receptions for 1,124 yards in his senior campaign.
The defense took a slight step back this season but still ranked seventh in the FBS in total defense (293.5 ypg) and sixth in rushing defense (97.5 ypg). The opportunistic bunch forced 33 turnovers, which led to an FBS-best plus-20 turnover margin.
Kurtis Drummond made second-team All American after leading the Spartans in tackles (65), interceptions (4) and pass breakups (11). Trae Wayne recorded three interceptions, while Shilique Calhoun anchored a line with 11 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.
MSU has never appeared in the Cotton Bowl and is just 10-14 all-time in the postseason, though the Spartans have won their last three bowl games. They also hold an impressive 19-2-1 record against teams currently in the Big 12 and won their only previous matchup against Baylor way back in 1968.
The Cotton Bowl was first played in 1937, and this is the first top-10 battle it has seen since 1994 when No. 4 Notre Dame beat No. 7 Texas A&M.