Here are some of the things we learned in the Big 12's final week of the regular season:
Texas’ troubling defensive concerns: For as much good that came for Colt McCoy’s Heisman candidacy out of Texas’ 49-39 victory at Texas A&M, the Longhorns’ struggling defense performance has to be an item of concern for Mack Brown and Will Muschamp. The Longhorns allowed more points in regulation and more total yards than any national championship team allowed during the regular season in the BCS era. And the only championship team that allowed more yards at any point of the season than Texas’ 532 yards against the Aggies was the 2005 Texas team, which was gashed for 574 by USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl. Those concerns might not materialize against Nebraska’s station-to-station offense this week in the Big 12 title game. But it will be a legitimate worry in a national title game -- particularly against a mobile run/pass quarterback like Florida’s Tim Tebow.
Mangino’s confusing late strategy: Kansas’ gutty performance in the Jayhawks’ 41-39 loss to Missouri was everything that Mark Mangino would have wanted to make it difficult for Lew Perkins to send him packing. That is, until the Jayhawks’ final possession of the game. Nursing a three-point lead with the ball deep inside its own territory, Kansas could have bled the clock and forced Missouri to deplete its time outs as it worked on the clock. Instead, Mangino opted for two risky passes that went incomplete. And it got worse when Todd Reesing was tackled for a safety on third down and only 14 seconds had expired on the drive. Missouri had plenty of time for the comeback, capped by Grant Ressel’s field goal with time ticking down. If Kansas had won, it would have been one of Mangino’s most dramatic coaching performances. Instead, his late strategy gave his critics a lot of ammunition to wonder about what could have been.
Bob Stoops’ coaching redemption: Bob Stoops’ “Big Game Bob” reputation has taken a hit the last few years. He got a little of it back Saturday with a determined coaching job that helped lead the Sooners to a 27-0 victory over Oklahoma State, ending the Cowboys’ at-large BCS hopes in the process. The Sooners have overcome misfortune in the most frustrating season in Stoops’ history. Saturday’s strong performance showed why Stoops is still one of the nation’s best coaches. And his upcoming bowl appearance can do even more for his stature. Critics have harped on his inability to win bowl games -- he's lost three straight and five of his last six bowl games. Beating a team like USC in the Sun Bowl would provide a pleasing punctuation mark on the most troubling seasons in Stoops' Oklahoma tenure.
Rex Burkhead’s return makes Nebraska a little tougher to defend: Nebraska offense added another element with the strong running of freshman Rex Burkhead, who had missed five games with a foot injury. Burkhead rushed for 100 yards against Colorado and provides a nice change of pace to go along with Roy Helu Jr. in the Cornhuskers’ backfield. That running game will be important if the Cornhuskers hope for any chance at an upset over Texas and its No. 1 ranked rush defense. The Cornhuskers likely won’t be able to dent the Longhorns’ defensive front. But Burkhead’s running gives Nebraska another weapon.
The scrambled battle for the Big 12’s coach of the year: Oklahoma State’s loss to Oklahoma did more than keep the Cowboys out of the BCS. It also made the toughest Big 12 Coach of the Year ballot in recent memory even more difficult to figure out. If the Cowboys had won and gone into the BCS, Gundy would have been a logical choice -- particularly because of the way he has navigated the Cowboys through a season filled with personnel losses. Now, it opens up to all kinds of candidates. Could it be Mack Brown, who has directed one of his best teams to an undefeated record? Or to Paul Rhoads, who unexpectedly led Iowa State to bowl eligibility? Or to Bill Snyder, who surprisingly directed Kansas State within a game of the Big 12 championship? Or maybe a couple of others. It will be a tough choice for balloters to decide which coach was truly the best in the conference this season.