- David Ubben, College Football
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Oh, it's back. America's most polarizing holiday (sorry, Thanksgiving!) is here, and it's time to pass out a few Valentines to various things across the league that did things deserving of love in the past year.
1. The Big 12. Congratulations, you exist! Sure, it sounds simple, but if I were a betting man in June, I would have bet against it, at least in terms of being one of college football's elite leagues. Commissioner Dan Beebe convinced the Longhorns and their West Coast-eyeing tagalongs to keep playing their games exclusively in flyover country. Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri love you lots for it. Sources indicate that edible bouquets have been sent by all five schools to the Big 12 offices in Irving and UT president William Powers' offices. Athletic director DeLoss Dodds, too.
2. Taylor Potts. Potts wins easily for gesture of the year. After coming off the bench (following a week of being passed over for Steven Sheffield for the first time all season and taking it like an adult in practice) and leading Texas Tech to its biggest win of the year, a 24-17 win over then-No. 12 Missouri, Potts had plenty to beat his chest about. That's when a rare thing happens: answering reporters' questions is fun. Potts didn't take any after the game, instead electing to read a statement to the media paying homage to those in the armed forces. Texas Tech wore camouflage jerseys during the game as part of the Wounded Warrior project. Potts said speaking with soldiers during the week made enough of an impact on him that he chose to use his platform to honor them. You've got to love everything about that.
3. Fans' patience. Entering the 2011 season, there's nary a Big 12 coach on a realistic hot seat. Colorado's Dan Hawkins got the ax in midseason, but all 10 Big 12 coaches return with rather comfortable seats heading into the season. Mike Sherman at Texas A&M looked headed for a rough offseason at 3-3 early in the year, but a late push and a share of the Big 12 South title means he's sitting pretty entering 2011. Turner Gill hauled in a great recruiting class at Kansas to take some heat off a disappointing debut season. Minor doubts, annoyances and worries aside, every other school in the Big 12 is much closer to a dizzying love affair with their head coach.
4. Oklahoma. Thank them, the rest of the Big 12. A "laughingstock" is certainly too strong, but there would have been noticeable snickers from around the country if Nebraska had won the Big 12 and skated off to the Big Ten with the trophy in hand. But the Sooners climbed out of a 17-0 hole and knocked off the Huskers in Cowboys Stadium in the Big 12 title game. The loss sent the Huskers to the Holiday Bowl, where they self-destructed and faced a coaching overhaul in the offseason, rather than a coronation. If you're a fan of a Big 12 team, you ought to shake the hand of Sooners fans the next time you see them. They saved the league a lot of grief.
5. A fresh start in 2011. I'm extremely sad to see the Big 12 Championship go. I loved the game, it was almost always interesting, and a great event in a great venue. That said, 2011 should be pretty interesting with 10 teams all gunning for the same title and no more divisions. What will that ultimately do, and what will it change in the league? Who knows? We'll find out in 2011, and I'm loving the anticipation of finding out.
6. Returning stars. You've got to love Oklahoma State stars Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma stars Ryan Broyles and Travis Lewis and Texas A&M star Jeff Fuller. Thanks to them, the Big 12 should be a whole lot more fun to watch in 2011. And really, that's what it's all about. All five could have entered the draft early, but elected to stay, preserving some big-time star power in the league in 2011, something that seemed to be missing a bit early on in 2010. Because of Lewis and Broyles, Oklahoma should enter the season as one of, if not the favorite for the national title. Oklahoma State and Texas A&M should be top 20 teams at worst, and the two co-Big 12 South champs in 2010 look ready to give the Sooners a run for their money in 2011. Who doesn't love that?