Big 12: 2014 season report card

Season report card: Kansas

January, 17, 2014
It was an odd season in Lawrence, Kan.

The Jayhawks defense performed better than expected but Kansas’ offense stumbled around and was the main culprit behind KU’s 3-9 record. That said, Charlie Weis’ bunch won more games in 2013 than they did in 2012 including their first Big 12 win since 2010.

Offense: F

James Sims was the only positive in an otherwise ugly KU offense. Sims rushed for 1,110 yards and seven touchdowns in his final season but the rest of the offense stumbled throughout the 12-game season. Tony Pierson, one of the Big 12’s most explosive players, struggled to stay healthy and quarterback Jake Heaps disappointed as a starter.

KU finished No. 118 in points scored per game (15.3), No. 117 in yards per game (294.5), No. 120 in yards per play (4.28) and No. 121 in third down conversion rate (27.9 percent). The Jayhawks' offense never found any rhythm or any confidence throughout the season. It was a odd turn of events for a team that was expected to lean in its offense for any success it had in 2013.

Defense: D

The defense wasn’t great but it played better than expected at times and often found itself paying for the offense’s struggles. The Jayhawks allowed 31.8 points per game and 5.82 yards per play, finishing in the bottom three in the Big 12.

[+] EnlargeJames Sims
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesJames Sims, who ran for 1,110 yards and 7 TDs, was about the only bright spot on a dismal KU offense.
Safety Isaiah Johnson was one of the surprises of the Big 12 with his active play and competitive nature. He finished tied for second in the Big 12 with five interceptions as he earned Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year honors. Linebacker Ben Heeney was another key contributor with his team-high 87 tackles and 8.7 tackle per game average which ranked fourth in the conference.

Even with some stellar individual performances, KU’s defense couldn’t really keep the Jayhawks in games and didn’t make the key plays needed to spark more victories.

Special teams: C

The Jayhawks' special teams were fairly solid. Trevor Pardula was one of the Big 12’s top punters, finishing second in net punting (40.12) and first in punts inside the 10-yard line (14). He had 51.2 percent of his kickoffs result in touchbacks. But KU’s placekicking and return game was below average as the Jayhawks’ third unit never really changed the momentum of games and sparked a win.

Overall: D

Weis’ team improved over last season's group but remains at the bottom of the conference. The offense was the Big 12’s worst unit and the defense, while improved, still wasn’t good enough to keep it in every game. The only reason the Jayhawks escaped a lower grade was their 31-19 win over West Virginia which snapped a 27-game conference losing streak.

Season report card: Iowa State

January, 16, 2014
Paul Rhoads’ team took punch after punch this season.

Yet Iowa State’s will to compete remained strong each week despite an injury-riddled season and the Cyclones finished the season playing their best football. A close-call loss against Texas will be the lasting memory of the 3-9 season but the Cyclones’ response to a seven-game losing streak to start Big 12 play should not go unnoticed. ISU rallied to win its final two games and head into the offseason with some hope.

Offense: D

ISU’s offense didn’t scare anyone, finishing among the bottom three in almost every offensive category. The Cyclones’ 24.8 points per game was ninth in the Big 12 and No. 89 nationally and their 4.82 yards per play was also ninth in the conference.

Receiver Quenton Bundrage was the lone big-play threat on offense with nine receiving touchdowns including a 97-yard catch-and-run against Texas. He finished with 48 receptions for 676 yards.

Freshman quarterback Grant Rohach provided hope for the future, starting the last four games. In those games, ISU’s offense averaged 28.2 points and 5.38 yards per play. His 66.5 adjusted QBR was sixth in the Big 12. He joins Bundrage as a good building block for the future.

Realistically, the offensive line was the root of a lot of ISU’s offensive problems as injuries forced the Cyclones to play musical chairs throughout much of the season.

Defense: F

The Cyclones finished last in the Big 12 in points allowed per game (36), total yards allowed (463.1), yards per play allowed (6.05), rushing yards allowed (224), total sacks (15) and yards per rush (5.35). In other words, they earned this F.

There were individual standouts on the unit, like linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington, but the overall defense was really bad. A general lack of aggressive, active playmaking made this the conference’s worst unit. Yet there were a lot of inexperience players who got thrown into the fire so ISU can only hope 2013’s disappointment will spark success in 2014.

Special teams: B-

ISU’s special teams were solid but not exceptional. Punter Kirby Van Der Kamp was solid and Cole Netten hit 10 of 11 attempts inside 40 yards. Add two different players with kickoff returns for touchdowns (Jarvis West, DeVondrick Nealy) and ISU’s special teams held their own.

Overall: D+

The Cyclones escaped an lower grade with their strong finish to the season and Rohach’s strong play once he took over the starting role. Their 52-44 triple-overtime win at West Virginia in its season finale showed a lot of fight for a team that could have thrown in the towel during a seven-game losing streak in the middle of the season. Nonetheless, a three-win season was a disappointing result.

Season report card: TCU

January, 15, 2014
TCU began the year as the player's pick to win the Big 12. The Horned Frogs ended the season as the conference’s most disappointing team.

Gary Patterson’s squad fielded a quality defense again but the offense made life much harder than it should have been with mental mistakes and turnovers handcuffing the Horned Frogs’ dreams of winning the Big 12. The injury bug didn’t help, hitting 2012 Defensive Freshman of the Year Devonte Fields and starting quarterback Casey Pachall. All in all, not much went right for TCU in 2013.

Offense: F

TCU’s national offensive rankings read like basketball scores: No. 104 in total yards (344.8), No. 103 in yards per play (5.03), No. 112 in third down conversion rate (32 percent) and No. 87 in points scored (25.1).

Ugly numbers, indeed.

But the main reason the Horned Frogs get an "F" is because they had way too much offensive talent campus to finish lower than 50th nationally in every major offensive category. With Pachall, B.J. Catalon, Trevone Boykin and others, the offense had playmakers. It just didn’t make plays and, worse yet, its 30 turnovers ranked No. 114 in the country.

Boykin, who started the majority of the season at quarterback, was the bright spot as the most explosive playmaker on the offense and arguably the best receiver on the roster when Pachall returned to the lineup.

Defense: B

[+] EnlargeJason Verrett
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsThe 2013 season didn't go as planned for cornerback Jason Verrett and the Horned Frogs, but Verrett could still be a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
The defense was the reason TCU played several close games as Texas was the lone team to blowout the Horned Frogs. The unit finished among the top three in the Big 12 in several categories including total yards (356.4), yards per play (4.83), rushing yards (130.83) and yards per carry (3.31).

Big 12 co-defensive player of the year Jason Verrett led one of the Big 12’s best secondaries and blanketed receivers from his cornerback spot, safety Sam Carter finished among the Big 12 leaders in interceptions (5) and Paul Dawson was among the conference’s most productive tacklers with 91.

Its struggles on third down and in slowing down the pass are the lone reasons the defense didn’t earn a higher grade.

Special teams: C-

Outside of its kick return units, TCU’s special teams units were pretty average. Catalon returned 32.1 percent of his kickoff return attempts for more than 30 yards and finished with a 26.54 average to provide a game-changing threat on kickoffs.

The Horned Frogs finished in the bottom half of the Big 12 in punting, net punting, kick return average allowed and opponent starting position so their special teams didn't do things to change games and turn the momentum in their favor.

Overall: D

The defense was the lone cause for hope for the Horned Frogs for the majority of the season. They easily could have finished 8-4 or better but turnovers, the inability to make key plays when they needed them and injuries doomed the Horned Frogs to a bowl-less season. They finished the season without a signature win, yet they aren't that far away from being in the thick of the Big 12 title race.

Season report card: West Virginia

January, 14, 2014
It was a rough season at West Virginia.

Replacing talented players like Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin would have tested any program, and the Mountaineers struggled to overcome the loss of NFL draft picks from their offense. The defense took one step forward, then one step back. The result was an up-and-down season which ended in the most disappointing fashion with back-to-back losses to Kansas and Iowa State after WVU looked poised to earn a bowl appearance.

Offense: C-

The Mountaineers finished in the bottom half of the conference in several categories and never looked like an offense that could scare Big 12 defenses. The execution was lacking as coach Dana Holgorsen tried to integrate inexperienced players into his offensive attack.

Imagine WVU’s offense without Charles Sims. Yikes. The Houston transfer rushed for 1,095 yards, averaged 5.3 yards per carry and caught 45 passes, tied for the team lead. The Big 12 newcomer of the year was one of the most explosive players in the conference and the clear headliner of the team's offense.

A lot of the Mountaineers' offensive struggles were rooted in their quarterback play. Clint Trickett and Paul Millard both passed for over 1,000 yards but neither completed more than 56 percent of their passes. By comparison, Smith completed 71.2 percent of his passes in 2012.

There’s talent at receiver with Kevin White, Daikiel Shorts and Mario Alford, but the wideouts were just as inconsistent as the quarterbacks. There’s reason for hope at the position but it won’t matter if the young receivers don’t learn and mature after a season's worth of experience.

Defense: D-

WVU finished among in the bottom three of the Big 12 in nearly every category including points allowed (33.3, 9th), yards (455, 9th), yards per play (5.9, 9th) and third down conversions allowed (42.7 percent, 10th). The only reason the Mountaineers' defense escaped an "F" was a couple key stretches of strong play including games against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

[+] EnlargeCharles Sims
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsTailback Charles Sims was one of the few bright spots on the Mountaineers' offense in 2013.
Worse yet, WVU’s defense got worse as the season progressed, not better. There was some talent on the defense, including Will Clarke and Darwin Cook, but they weren’t productive and efficient as a unit despite featuring some quality athletes.

Nonetheless there are some talented defenders returning in 2014. including cornerback Daryl Worley. who could develop into an All-Big 12 performer before his career is over.

Special Teams: B

Outside of their return game, the Mountaineers 'special teams units were pretty solid. WVU finished among the top three in the Big 12 in several key categories including net punting, opponent starting position and opponent punt return average.

WVU’s special teams finished with 6.07 expected points added and was the lone unit of the three (offense, defense, special teams) that finished with a positive expected points added for the season.

Overall: D

The Mountaineers dropped to a D after they played their way out of a bowl game with losses to Iowa State and Kansas. WVU looked to be moving in the right direction after a road win at TCU then promptly lost a winnable home game against Texas before the losses to the Jayhawks and Cyclones. There was a thin line between hope for 2014 and a holiday season full of disappointment.

Season report card: Texas

January, 13, 2014
As bad as things got for Texas in 2013 -- and they did get bad -- the Longhorns played for a Big 12 championship on the final day of the regular season after rallying following a horrible nonconference slate. Nonetheless, 8-5 isn’t going to get it done in Austin, Texas.

Offense: C

The Longhorns offense was average in pretty much every area except running the ball. UT was third in the Big 12 with 196.2 rushing yards per game thanks to a deep group of ball-carriers. Johnathan Gray is one of the Big 12’s top running backs and his injury against West Virginia was a bigger loss than most realize as the Longhorns lost three of their final four games after his injury. They had won six straight games before Gray was hurt. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron are solid runners in their own right and give the Longhorns quality running back depth.

UT’s quarterback play was terrific at times, like the Red River Rivalry win over Oklahoma, and horrible at other times, like the Longhorns' blowout losses to Baylor and Oregon. Case McCoy brought confidence and moxie but was too confident at times and hurt his team with some of this poor decision-making and throws. Outside of Jaxon Shipley, UT’s receivers struggled to be consistent and explosive for much of the season.

The Longhorns' offensive line was solid, allowing a sack just 3.6 percent of the time quarterbacks dropped back to pass, ranking second in the Big 12, and paving the way for their bevy of running backs.

Defense: C

Much like the offense, the defense wasn’t great at much of anything with the exception of getting to the quarterback. Texas finished first in the Big 12 with 39 sacks thanks to 23 combined sacks from Big 12 co-defensive player of the year Jackson Jeffcoat (13) and his opposite defensive end Cedric Reed (10).

[+] EnlargeJoe Bergeron, Will Smith
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsJohnathan Gray and the Longhorns finished the 2013 season 8-5 after losing to Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
The defensive line was great at times and subpar at other times. The lack of consistency killed the team and made the entire defense just as inconsistent. When its defensive front played well, however, the defense was much tougher to handle. Safety Adrian Phillips, linebacker Dalton Santos and linebacker Steve Edmond all finished among the top five on the squad in tackles and were active defenders. But the Longhorns didn’t seem to have many difference-makers on the defensive side of the ball.

In UT’s five losses the defense allowed 36.4 points per game, 497 yards per game, 6.3 yards per play, and 2.4 points per drive. Ugly numbers for a team with the talent the Longhorns possessed. Injuries played a role in the defense’s struggles but talent wasn’t the issue as it was clear the unit improved when Greg Robinson took over and simplified the system.

Special Teams: B-

Anthony Fera was the clear bright spot among an average group of special teams units. He handled the place kicking and punting and did both well for the Longhorns. Daje Johnson was a scary threat on kickoff and punt returns with his speed but didn’t rank among the Big 12’s best in either category.

Overall: B-

The Longhorns won eight games and competed for a Big 12 championship during a season that will be remembered for its faults. They could have, and should have, been better but they did dominate an OU team that defeated Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and had one of the Big 12’s most impressive stretches of the season during their six-game win streak. It was a disappointing season but it wasn’t the complete disaster that some would like to believe.

Season report card: Texas Tech

January, 10, 2014
The 2013 season was a learning experience for Texas Tech. The Red Raiders saw plenty of success with a seven-game win streak to start the season, yet also endured plenty of disappointment with a five-game losing streak to end the regular season. TTU’s 37-23 win over Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl was easily the most encouraging game of Kliff Kingsbury’s first year.

Offense: A-

The offense was explosive and creative but not very balanced. TTU averaged 35.8 points per game, finishing third in the Big 12 as offensive struggles was rarely the reason for a loss. Kingsbury’s group finished among the top 10 nationally in total yards (511), passing yards (392.85) and first downs per game (27.6).

Jace Amaro was the most productive tight end in the nation and provided an immediate mismatch as soon as he stepped on the field, Jakeem Grant’s speed and quickness scared defensive backs and Eric Ward’s ball skills combined to give the Red Raiders the Big 12’s most versatile receiving targets.

TTU’s pass catching threats helped it lead the Big 12 in passing yards per game. They were solid on third downs, converting 45 percent of their third down attempts, despite relying on Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield, two true freshmen quarterbacks. The offensive line, led by tackle Le’Raven Clark, was good enough to make Tech one of the league’s top offenses but was not dominant.

The running game was the weakness of the squad, averaging 118.15 rushing yards per game, No. 111 among FBS teams, as no Red Raider finished with more than 500 yards rushing.

Defense: C

Texas Tech’s defense rode a roller coaster from good to average to horrible, thanks in part to injuries as the season progressed. The Red Raiders finished in the middle of the pack in pretty much every category but did have some strong showings including wins over Arizona State and TCU.

Linebacker Will Smith led the way, finishing among the Big 12 leaders in tackles with 120 stops while consistently showing up as one of the conference’s most active defenders and defensive tackle Kerry Hyder was one of the Big 12’s best defensive linemen. But the overall unit didn’t feature an overwhelming group of playmakers or overwhelming depth.

The inability to stop the run, particularly during their five-game losing streak, made that unit the weak link during the home stretch of the season. TTU allowed at least 277 yards in each of its last six games, which won't get it done if TTU hopes to compete for a Big 12 title in the near future.

Special teams: B

They were pretty solid but not spectacular. The Red Raiders finished among the Big 12 leaders in field goals, kickoff returns and opponent starting position. They didn't win games but they didn't cost games either.

Overall: A-

The Red Raiders exceeded expectations, particularly since they played the majority of the season with a true freshman at quarterback led by a first-year head coach. They started the season with seven straight wins and, most important, showed they grew and matured after their five-game losing streak to end the regular season with an impressive bowl win over a 10-win ASU squad. Tech fans should be encouraged with the direction of the program under Kingsbury as his unyielding confidence and competitiveness trickles down throughout the entire program.

Season report card: Kansas State

January, 9, 2014
Kansas State looked like it was destined to stay home at bowl season after starting the year with losses in four of its first six games. The Wildcats, however, got things back on track in the second half of the season and ended the season playing as well as any Big 12 team.

Offense: A

The Wildcats had the second-best offense in the Big 12 behind Baylor, it just went largely unnoticed because it was so relentlessly efficient. K-State’s 2.54 points per drive and 6.32 yards per play were second behind the Bears and they led the league in third down conversion rate (48.8 percent).

Receiver Tyler Lockett was arguably the Big 12’s best receiver and most valuable player. He was nearly unstoppable with his quickness and route running, which transformed him from a feared returner into a nightmare matchup anytime he was on the field.

The Wildcats had some uncertainty at quarterback but Jake Waters and Daniel Sams each had their moments of brilliance. Running back John Hubert had the best season of his career with 198 carries for 1,048 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior. His production was up and down but he still provided a playmaking option in the offensive backfield and K-State’s offensive line was very solid throughout the year, helping the Wildcats offense rank among the Big 12’s best.

Defense: B

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTyler Lockett became a do-everything weapon for Kansas State as a wide receiver and kick returner.
The Wildcats defense wasn’t dominant but it was good enough to win games. KSU finished third in the Big 12 in points allowed per game at 22.9.

K-State’s defense didn’t put fear into any offense but opponents knew they would have to execute flawlessly and play physical to have success against the Wildcats. This unit was clearly better with a healthy Ty Zimmerman roaming the secondary at his safety spot and Ryan Mueller was a force at defensive end throughout the season. Linebacker Blake Slaughter was one of five Big 12 defenders to finish with at least 100 tackles (110).

Special Teams: C

The Wildcats special teams weren’t great but they weren’t bad either. Lockett and Tremaine Thompson were solid return threats on kickoffs and punts but K-State’s kicking game was middle of the road in pretty much every aspect. Ultimately K-State’s special teams units did their job but they didn’t go above and beyond to consistently change games in the Wildcats favor.

Overall: B+

The Wildcats had a solid season considering the loss of do-it-all quarterback Collin Klein from last year’s Fiesta Bowl squad, but they could have been even better if they weren’t so mistake prone in the first half of the season. The Wildcats were playing some of the best football in the conference at the end of the season, finishing with six wins in their final seven games after starting 2-4.
Oklahoma State was one win away from its second Big 12 championship in three seasons. Yet the Cowboys ended the year with back-to-back losses that cast a disappointing shadow over their season. The preseason Big 12 favorite finished 10-3 with losses to West Virginia, Oklahoma and Missouri but had to clear some hurdles to win double-digit games for the fourth time in five seasons.

Offense: A-

It seems like OSU’s offense took a clear step backward during Mike Yurcich’s first season as offensive coordinator. Yet the Cowboys finished among the top 3 in the Big 12 in most categories, including points per game (39.1), yards per game (448.8) and yards per play (5.9). But their struggles in key moments, like the road loss at West Virginia and on third down (38.6 percent conversion rate, sixth in the Big 12 and No. 60 among FBS teams), drops this grade to an A-.

Quarterback Clint Chelf saved the offense with his performance in the second half of the season, although he experienced some ups and downs of his own at various times. OSU’s receivers were among the deepest in the Big 12 with Charlie Moore, Jhajuan Seales, Tracy Moore and Josh Stewart each looking like top targets at different points in 2013 making the receiving corps the strongest group on the offensive side of the ball.

The Cowboys running game was the main area where the Pokes took a clear step backward, rushing for 171.9 yards per game and losing the balance their offenses had become known for during recent years. Inconsistency at running back and along the offensive line played a major role in those problems.

Defense: A+

For the first time in recent years the Cowboys defense was the foundation of their success. The Cowboys finished atop the Big 12 in several defensive categories including points per game (21.9, No. 19 among FBS teams), third down conversion rate (31.4 percent, No. 7 among FBS teams) and passing yards per attempt (5.8, No. 10 among FBS teams).

[+] EnlargeJosh Stewart, Andrew Wilson
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsOklahoma State receiver Josh Stewart, who announced earlier this week that he's entering the 2014 NFL draft, was the top playmaker for the Cowboys this season.
Veteran leadership from linebacker Caleb Lavey, defensive tackle Calvin Barnett and safety Daytawion Lowe made life easier for Glenn Spencer during his first season as defensive coordinator. Barnett was the anchor of a quality defensive line, Lavey joined Shaun Lewis to create a playmaking duo at linebacker and Lowe joined elite cornerback Justin Gilbert as anchors in the secondary.

OSU’s defense had its share of struggles, particularly late in the season, but it was one of the Big 12’s best units from beginning to end.

Special teams: D+

OSU’s special teams cost them a game against West Virginia and didn't help the cause in the team's Bedlam loss. Overall, the special teams unit was below average for the majority of the season. The Cowboys finished at the bottom of the Big 12 in field goal percentage (61.1 percent) and net punting (34.3 net yards per punt). Only the dynamic punt return skills of Stewart and the sheer speed of Gilbert on kick returns kept this grade from being an F.

Overall: B+

Some people will look at this team and say it underachieved while others could look at it and say it overachieved. Problems along the offensive line handcuffed the offense for a good portion of the year and Chelf spending a portion of the year on the sidelines didn’t help. But the Cowboys still found a way to win 10 games and were one drive from winning another Big 12 title.

Season report card: Oklahoma

January, 7, 2014
Well, well, well. Look who ends the season as the Big 12’s top-ranked team. It appeared the Sooners were facing a rebuilding season heading into 2013, yet Oklahoma finished the year No. 6 in both the AP and coaches polls after an 11-2 season that was capped off by a 45-31 win over Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Offense: B

The Sooners' bowl performance catapulted this grade up to a B. They were a very average offense for the majority of the season, lacking balance and consistency in the passing attack. Their running game was terrific, averaging 223.92 yards, second in the Big 12 and No. 18 nationally among FBS teams. Senior running back Brennan Clay had the best season of his career with 175 carries for 957 yards and six touchdowns. He was OU’s most consistent skill player.

But Oklahoma's passing game was inconsistent and didn’t create fear for any defense it faced with a passing attack that surpassed 200 yards just three times during the regular season. The Sooners' Sugar Bowl offense was the one the offensive coaching staff had envisioned when they named Trevor Knight the starter before the season began, so the Sooners enter this offseason with hope. OU’s quarterback situation is clearer now than it was at any point during the regular season.

The Sooners' offensive line deserves an A. The group didn’t dominate every single game but rarely had bad outings and was the main reason for the offensive success OU did achieve in the regular season. Center Gabe Ikard was the best player on the team and his leadership was one reason this squad overachieved.

[+] EnlargeHead coach Bob Stoops of the Oklahoma Sooners
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAn 11-2 record and Allstate Sugar Bowl win means a lot of high marks for the Sooners.
Defense: A-

OU’s defense was the foundation of its BCS berth. The defense entered the season with a huddle full of questions, yet was the driving force behind another 10-win regular season in Norman, Okla.

The defensive line was very good, overachieving with a lot of inexperienced players. Sophomore Charles Tapper became an impact player, and the development of several other defensive linemen, including Jordan Wade and Geneo Grissom, cannot be understated. New defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery did a terrific job.

The linebackers redeemed themselves as the most productive position group after a shaky 2013. Despite losing senior leader Corey Nelson, OU’s linebackers were solid throughout the year and Big 12 defensive freshman of the year Dominique Alexander looks like a future star.

Cornerback Aaron Colvin joined Ikard as one of the leaders and best players on the squad. He was the anchor of a defense that finished atop the Big 12 in yards allowed per game (350.2 ypg). OU’s secondary was relatively inexperienced but more than held its own even with some rough patches against Alabama and Kansas State.

Special teams: A

Special teams play won the Sooners some games in 2013. Those units had a major impact in wins over Iowa State, Oklahoma State and West Virginia. Jalen Saunders was one of the nation’s top punt returners and kicker Michael Hunnicutt was money for the majority of the season.

Overall: A+

This OU squad had no business going 11-2 as injury after injury crippled the team, but it still found a way to keep winning games. The Sooners' pride, competitiveness and undeterred expectations for success rose them to another level and was never more apparent than in the Sugar Bowl win over the Crimson Tide. OU entered the season with muted expectations and ended it alongside the best teams in college football.

Season report card: Baylor

January, 6, 2014
Baylor had one of the best seasons in school history, winning 11 games for the first time, making its first BCS bowl and winning the Big 12 for the first time. Those accomplishments easily could have been forgotten with the Bears' horrible showing in their 52-42 loss to UCF in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, but this season will be remembered fondly in Waco, Texas.

Offense: A+

[+] EnlargePetty
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBryce Petty led Baylor to a nation's-best 52.4 points per game.
Is there anything higher than an A-plus? What more could Bryce Petty & Co. do? The Bears averaged 52.4 points per game, 618.8 yards per game and 7.49 yards per play as their offense led the Big 12 in nearly every offensive category. During his first season as the starting quarterback for Baylor, Petty earned Big 12 offensive player of the year honors and was the driving force behind the Bears' title run.

The running backs were superb, with Lache Seastrunk, Shock Linwood and Glasco Martin each finishing with at least 500 rushing yards, helping Baylor lead the conference in rushing. The receivers were just as good, with Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese ranking among the Big 12’s top receivers and Levi Norwood, Corey Coleman and Clay Fuller providing quality depth.

The foundation was the offensive line, led by Lombardi Award finalist Cyril Richardson. Their offensive front allowed Petty’s accuracy to draw praise, Seastrunk’s shiftiness to frustrate defenders and Reese’s deep speed to scare Big 12 secondaries.

Defense: A-

The defense was the biggest reason the Bears won their first Big 12 title. In recent history, the Baylor offense has been good consistently, always explosive. This season, the defense held up its end of the bargain, finishing among the top 10 nationally in yards per play at 4.75, ranking ninth among FBS teams.

Safety Ahmad Dixon was the emotional leader of the defense and set a tone for its aggressive approach with his physical presence in the secondary. Cornerback K.J. Morton was a playmaker on the outside and linebackers Eddie Lackey and Bryce Hager were versatile tackling machines in the middle of the field.

The defensive line did its part as well, leading the Big 12 with 99 tackles for loss and recording 31 sacks. Defensive ends Shawn Oakman and Chris McAllister were active throughout the season and defensive tackle Beau Blackshear was an underrated presence in the middle.

The lone reason the Bears don’t get an A-plus was their performance in Baylor’s two losses. They allowed 594 yards to Oklahoma State and 556 yards to UCF. As good as Baylor's defense was in 2013, it took a step backward on the big stage against the Cowboys and Knights.

Special teams: C

Baylor’s special teams weren’t special; they were average. The Bears finished ninth in the Big 12 in field goal percentage, seventh in kickoff returns and eighth in punt returns. Baylor did have two punt returns and one kickoff return for touchdowns this season, but its special teams units didn’t win games. But the Bears didn’t need their special teams do to anything but operate efficiently and allow their offense and defense to perform.

Overall: A+

The Bears will receive rings that say "Big 12 champions" on them. What more could you ask for from a team that opened the season picked to finish fifth in the conference?