Nobody is circling a petition to bring back the Southwest Conference.
But fans better get used to Baylor playing SMU because they’re starting a five-year contract with Sunday’s 5:30 p.m. game at Floyd Casey Stadium.
Since the universities are less than two hours apart and have a long history in the SWC, it makes a lot of sense to re-establish the rivalry. SMU leads the series 36-35 with seven ties, so that speaks volumes about how close the rivalry has been over the years.
“It’s great for fans and it’s easily accessible for both schools,” Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw said. “There are a lot of similarities between Baylor and SMU. They’re a good fit academically and geographically.”
Their football programs are both experiencing rebirths.
Under Art Briles, the Bears can make history if they reach a third straight bowl. Baylor broke a 15-year bowl drought with its 2010 appearance in the Texas Bowl before jumping back in the postseason pool with last year’s 67-56 win over Washington in the Alamo Bowl.
With June Jones reviving the program, SMU snapped a 24-year bowl drought with its 2009 appearance in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, where it romped to a 45-10 win over Nevada. The Mustangs have followed with appearances in the Armed Forces and Compass bowls.
Nobody has more invested in this rivalry than Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett. He was SMU’s head coach from 2002-07, compiling an 18-52 record before being replaced by Jones.
Since the last year of SWC football in 1995, Baylor and SMU have played only twice. Bennett was on the Mustangs’ sideline for both games as the Bears won a 10-7 decision in 2003 and a 28-23 decision in 2005. So he’d like get a taste of being on the winning sideline Sunday.
“Yeah, it motivates me,” Bennett said. “It’s like playing your brother, you want to win.”
Whether Sunday’s game will be a series classic remains to be seen. But here are five games from a rivalry that began in 1916 that were among the best.
Oct. 11, 1980: Baylor 32, SMU 28
Grant Teaff’s 1980 SWC championship team might have been the most dominating in Baylor history.
But the No. 18 Bears were certainly in dire straits in the early minutes of this mid-October game at Baylor Stadium as No. 20 SMU blew out to a 21-0 lead. The Mustangs scored their third touchdown when John Simmons intercepted a Jay Jeffrey pass and returned it for a 22-yard touchdown early in the second quarter.
“I remember Jay coming back to the sidelines and asking, ‘Am I going back into the game?’ ” Teaff said. “I said, ‘Of course, you’re our quarterback, and we’re going to win the game.’ He had a lot of leadership and character.”
The Bears fought back behind Jeffrey’s passing and Walter Abercrombie’s running. Still trailing 28-14 in the third quarter, the Bears scored the final 18 points including a go-ahead 6-yard touchdown run by Jeffrey in the fourth quarter.
The Bears improved to 5-0 with the win and went on to finish 8-0 in the SWC. They won the conference by three games, but it could have been a much different story if not for the great comeback against the Mustangs.
Nov. 19, 1949: Baylor 35, SMU 26
After winning its last SWC title in 1924, No. 15 Baylor needed to beat No. 10 SMU in this late November showdown to have a shot at its first championship in 25 years.
It turned out to be a classic, as Baylor quarterback Adrian Burk led the Bears past an SMU team that featured 1948 Heisman Trophy winner Doak Walker.
The 63,000 fans who filled the Cotton Bowl were the most to ever see the Bears to that point. Burk played brilliantly as he passed for 233 yards and three touchdowns, including a deep scoring pass to Dudley Parker in the opening minute of the game. Baylor’s defense also did a superb job of stopping Walker and backfield mate Kyle Rote.
“Those teams had guys back from the war,” former Tribune-Herald sports editor Dave Campbell said. “Baylor got (coach) Bob Woodruff from Georgia Tech and he brought Frank Broyles along as his offensive coordinator. He could really recruit. They got Adrian Burk out of junior college, and he went on to have a good pro career.”
The Bears’ SWC championship dream died a week later as Rice won a 21-7 decision for the title. But Baylor finished with an impressive 8-2 record, its best since 1928.
Oct. 9, 1982: SMU 22, Baylor 19
The Mustangs were all the rage in college football in 1982 behind their “Pony Express” offense featuring Eric Dickerson and Craig James.
They finished No. 2 in the nation with an 11-0-1 record, but they barely got out of Baylor Stadium with a win in October.
Crowding as many as eight defenders on the line of scrimmage, the Bears stuffed the Mustangs’ running game as they finished with just 97 yards on 44 attempts. But SMU quarterback Lance McIlhenny saved the day by throwing three touchdown passes.
McIlhenny hit the go-ahead 3-yard touchdown pass to Rickey Bolden late in the fourth quarter, and the two hooked up again for the two-point conversion.
“We were always pretty good against the run, and that made it hard on them,” Teaff said. “But McIlhenny was a clutch player.”
Nov. 19, 1966: SMU 24, Baylor 22
Rallying from a 21-point deficit, the Bears were on the verge of one of their greatest comebacks in school history before disaster struck.
In the final minute, SMU’s Ronnye Medlin blocked a Baylor punt before Mike Livingston threw a 27-yard pass to Jerry Levias. Livingston then ran for 18 yards to set up Dennis Partee’s 20-yard game-winning field goal with 15 seconds remaining.
The Bears walked away from the Cotton Bowl crushed. A week later, the Mustangs beat TCU to clinch their first SWC title since 1948.
“The whole game boiled down to us not getting our final punt away,” Baylor coach John Bridgers said after the game. “I am disappointed more so because our great comeback was not enough.”
SMU’s comeback offset a tremendous game by Baylor quarterback Terry Southall who hit 29 of 50 passes for 350 yards and two touchdowns.
Nov. 13, 1954: Baylor 33, SMU 21
SMU had an outstanding team that featured future Pro Football Hall of Fame players Raymond Berry and Forrest Gregg.
But the No. 20 Bears had a lot of weapons of their own, and they showed it in this big game at the Cotton Bowl.
The No. 11 Mustangs jumped out to a 14-0 lead as quarterback Duane Nutt ran for a touchdown and threw for another. But the Bears intercepted four passes, and Del Shofner made the biggest play of the day.
With the Mustangs driving deep into Baylor territory, Shofner intercepted a Nutt pass and returned it 87 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 14-13. Shofner ended Baylor’s next drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, and SMU never regained the lead.
Winning five of their last six games, the Bears earned a bid to the Gator Bowl, where they lost to Auburn.