Wednesday, January 12, 2011
What we learned in the Big 12: Bowl season
By David Ubben
1. If the Big 12 is going to impress on big stages against other conferences, it has to get better at stopping the run. You saw it in last year's national championship game, which was part of the reason Texas committed to a downhill running game in 2010. This time around, it was no different. Iowa kicked things off by running all over Missouri. Marcus Coker finished with 219 yards against the Tigers. Baylor couldn't stop Illinois' running game. The Illini ran for 291 yards against the Bears. Syracuse was two yards away from having a 200-yard rusher against Kansas State and had 259 yards on the ground as a team. Washington went for 268 against Nebraska. LSU did whatever it wanted against Texas A&M and finished with 288 yards. Try not to be too surprised, but every aforementioned Big 12 team lost those games. Any team that had a downhill running game beat a Big 12 team. Oklahoma was the only team who could stop it, and the Sooners beat Connecticut 48-20.
2. Oklahoma really can get it done in the BCS. Yes, critics will crow about Connecticut's lack of a ranking, but like I wrote last week, this was as much about Oklahoma's poor play in BCS games as it was about their losses. To quote one Gene Chizik (and Lil' Wayne, too, I guess), the Sooners could say they "DWWD" against the Huskies. That is to say, OU successfully "Did What We Do" and won a game that was never really in doubt after the first half. It's been awhile since OU could say that, and it might enter 2011 as the preseason No. 1 because of it. If it hangs on to that spot, it won't have to worry about the BCS asterisk hanging over its head later in the year, either.
3. Nebraska's finish left a lot to be desired. The ugly loss to Texas A&M aside, Nebraska was still in position for a Big 12 title and a BCS bowl appearance. So much for that. The Huskers squandered an early 17-0 lead against Oklahoma in the championship, and then laid an absolute egg against Washington, losing 19-7 despite being favored to win by two touchdowns. That's not exactly the momentum the Huskers would have liked heading into the Big Ten. Instead they are looking for a shoulder to lean on (Dan Beebe's, perhaps?) during an offseason that needs to feature a long look and perhaps changes to what the Huskers do offensively. Forcing Taylor Martinez to be a drop-back passer a la Terrelle Pryor is not a good look, and Nebraska did it plenty (if only because of injury during the regular season) during its 1-3 finish to the season.
4. So did the Aggies' finish. Texas A&M's ugly loss to LSU doesn't erase the momentum established during its six-game winning streak to close the season, but it certainly delivers a blow. The Aggies should be ranked to begin the season, and don't have an easy run to start. SMU, Arkansas and Oklahoma State are all scheduled to play against the Aggies in their first four games. Stumbling out of the gate like Texas A&M did this year when real competition arrived won't fly. Of course, keeping Jeff Fuller will make avoiding that outcome a bit easier.
5. Late in games, celebrate at your own risk. We've written about "The Bronx Salute" plenty this bowl season, and by now, there's not much left to say. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops really said it best, relaying a message every coach should pass along to his players next year: "... it is a judgment call. Everybody's judgment is different," Stoops said. "So if you open the door for it to be called, then don't be -- if it is called, don't be saying 'All I did was this.' You opened the door, gave them the opportunity, and everybody's judgment's different. So don't go there." Adrian Hilburn went there, and paid dearly for it. Ultimately this was a meaningless bowl game between two seven-win teams. Please, Mr. Late-Game Touchdown Scorer, don't make an official's flag, unnecessary or otherwise, become a focal point for your team's season.