ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dave Aranda finished his first regular season at Baylor in 2020 with a 42-3 blowout loss to Oklahoma State that ranked as the worst home loss in four years. The performance capped a frustrating 2-7 campaign, the Bears' second-worst season since 2000.
One year later, after beating an even better iteration of those same Cowboys 21-16 on a goal-line stand to win the program's first Big 12 Championship Game, the stoic Aranda was asked whether he could contrast the two performances against the Pokes.
"No … no," Aranda said while shaking his head to laughter from the press.
One year later, everything has changed. Texas and Oklahoma are leaving the Big 12 for the SEC. The Bears are the first non-Sooners team to win the Big 12 since 2014. Lincoln Riley left the Sooner State for USC. And in a sneak preview of the "new" Big 12, Baylor moved to 11-2 to make its case as the premier program of the Hateful Eight.
Really, the Big 12 title game presented an incredible display for the future of the conference. The game featured two continuing members of the conference, and, along with the SEC, the only conference championship game featuring a pair of top-10 teams. Had then-No. 5 Oklahoma State won, the Cowboys likely would have clinched a spot in the College Football Playoff. Instead, Baylor held them 6 inches -- literally -- short.
In many ways, JUCO transfer Dezmon Jackson's foiled reach for the goal line at the hands of former walk-on Jairon McVea is perfect symbolism for the new league. Oklahoma State and Baylor have 13 combined 10-win seasons since 2010. Cincinnati has five of its own, and just became the first Group of Five team to enter the College Football Playoff. Houston and BYU finished ranked. TCU and Iowa State have played for conference titles in the past five years. Kansas State and West Virginia have played in BCS bowls.
There is no permanent Goliath in the new Big 12. Instead, there's only Davids hoping to become king. And right now, in only Year 2, Aranda sits on the throne.
"I've said this before, but he is the most humble, one of the hardest working guys that I know," linebacker Terrel Bernard said. "A man of integrity, a man of faith, and we all want to give our all for him. We respect him so much and he'll never take the credit, but a lot of credit is due to him."
As Baylor has ascended back to the top of the Big 12, the soft-spoken Bears coach has become one of the fastest-rising stars in the sport. The career defensive coordinator was passed over for head coaching jobs over the years despite earning a reputation as perhaps the nation's top defensive mind. Now, every fanbase with an opening is clamoring for his services after seeing the magic he pulled at Baylor.
The program had not won a game against a ranked opponent since 2015. In 2021, the Bears beat No. 5 Oklahoma State, No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 14 Iowa State and No. 19 BYU at the time of the matchup. After losing to the Cowboys in Stillwater during the regular season, Baylor held Oklahoma State to 1.8 yards per carry in the Big 12 title game. In the signature win over Oklahoma, Aranda's defense held the Sooners to a Riley-low 260 total yards in a 27-14 win.
Simply put, the program is built in the steady Aranda's image: Read, learn, improve.
"I think just the culture that he's brought into the program, I think all of our guys have bought into what he's taught and what he believes, and I think that we all trust in him," said quarterback Blake Shapen, who came off the bench to complete a Big 12 title game-record 17 consecutive passes to start the game. "I think that's the outcome of happened. We all trust in what he's brought to Baylor."
CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd reported that Aranda is expected to sign a contract extension in the coming days. While the Big 12 title win will make his services more expensive, Baylor is in a strong position to keep him. And if the school does, the Bears have a head start on finding success in the new Big 12.
When the College Football Playoff field was announced on Sunday, Aranda was nowhere to be found in Waco. He called into the Sugar Bowl media availability not from a celebratory get-together but from the parking lot of a Burger King in Dallas while out recruiting. From his perspective, Aranda's work at Baylor has just begun.
"What Baylor represents to me is the value in that there's things bigger than football, and that foundationally -- to get where we're going -- we've got to start with people, recognize people and truly care about people," Aranda said. "I think that's what connects all these teams that do all this winning at Baylor and connects the university and community. For me, it aligns so well and pushes me to be a better person.
"In talking with [athletic director] Mack Rhoades and our administration, I try as best I can to convey that this is where I want to be, this fits me and I've never really looked on the outside ... I hope to be here for a very long time."