WACO, Texas — While Charlie Strong's first two years at Texas are the first consecutive losing records for the Longhorns in more than a quarter century, season two ended on a positive note.
The Longhorns, responsible for the only loss by Big 12 champion Oklahoma, ended their regular season with a 23-17 victory at No. 12 Baylor on Saturday that knocked the Bears out of a likely Sugar Bowl invitation.
"We have something to build on that we can take into the offseason," Strong said. "Not pleased with the year we had. You look at it, you go beat Oklahoma, you bounce back and go on the road and go beat Baylor. I don't have an answer for this team. I wish I did. I wish every week could have been like this."
Tyrone Swoopes, making his first start for Texas since the opener, threw for 151 yards with a touchdown and ran for another score. The Longhorns (5-7, 4-5 Big 12) held on after building a 20-0 halftime lead, but still have consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1988-89 in the old Southwest Conference.
"After they started coming back, we didn't get down on ourselves. It would have been easy to do so, but we didn't," Swoopes said. "I think everybody was tired of losing, so we stepped up and did what we had to do."
The NCAA approved a plan this week to make teams with 5-7 records eligible for at least two bowl bids, and as many as five, based on their Academic Progress Rates. Those selections will be made in order of best available APR, and there were at least seven teams above Texas on that list.
Texas started the season with a 38-3 loss at Notre Dame and finished non-conference play with a 45-44 home loss to California, missing an extra point after a big comeback. There was also that 24-0 loss at Iowa State.
"There were some stumbles, but I think we, as a team, can really put our minds to accomplishing something," fullback Alex De La Torre said.
Swoopes started in place of redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard, who suffered a concussion in the 48-45 Thanksgiving night home loss to Texas Tech. Heard got in a few plays, but had no impact against the Bears.
Baylor (9-3, 6-3 Big 12) went into November undefeated after junior quarterback Seth Russell, then the top-rated FBS passer suffered a season-ending neck injury Oct. 24. Freshman Jarrett Stidham won his first start, but broke a bone in his ankle in his third one before Chris Johnson started the last two games before getting hurt Saturday and replaced by receiver Lynx Hawthorne.
The Bears were in line to be the Big 12's representative in the Sugar Bowl against an SEC team, with the expectation that league champ Oklahoma (11-1) will get into the College Football Playoff. That would now be Oklahoma State (10-2).
"We just have to try to salvage the year by going to a bowl game and winning the bowl game," Baylor coach Art Briles said.
"The crazy part, this is probably the best Baylor team that's been here, and the record doesn't say it," said junior Corey Coleman, the FBS leader with 20 TD catches who was recognized with the seniors before the game and confirmed afterward that he plans to forgo his senior season for early entry in the NFL draft.
Johnny Jefferson ran for 158 yards for Baylor, and had enough yards to convert a fourth-and-4 with 2:31 left before defensive tackle Poona Ford stripped the ball loose and fell on it.
Baylor still had a chance after the Longhorns punted, but Jefferson threw an incomplete pass from the Texas 47 on the last play of the game.
There was a melee in the first quarter after Duke Thomas' interception. Lynx Hawthorne, the fourth Baylor quarterback, tackled him along the Texas sideline and was getting up when shoved back to the ground by safety P.J. Locke III.
The Bears came across the field from their bench, and there were several scuffles even with referees and coaches between them trying to keep the teams separated.
The only penalty was unsportsmanlike conduct against Kevin Vaccaro, though it appeared the Texas safety tripped over Hawthorne after Locke's shove.
Locke also caused the fumble with the hit the knocked Johnson out of the game.
Anthony Wheeler's recovery at the Baylor 18 led to Swoopes' 9-yard keeper for a 17-0 lead.
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org