Big 12: Big 12 Team Review 1208

Texas Tech season review

December, 16, 2008
12/16/08
4:16
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The greatest season in Texas Tech's modern football history ultimately will be remembered as much for what the Red Raiders weren't able to accomplish on their run to the first shared South Division title in Big 12 history.

Despite an 11-1 record, the Red Raiders dropped out of the conversation for a shot at the Big 12 championship game because their Bowl Championship Series ranking was not high enough. Their free fall started after a 65-21 blowout loss at Oklahoma that dropped them into a tie with the Sooners and Texas for the South title.

It made most Tech fans angry about how the season finished up. But their strong season will still resonate for many accomplishments.

Michael Crabtree and Graham Harrell both earned mention on All-America teams after another season as the most potent offensive duo to ever play in coach Mike Leach's offense.

But the Red Raiders' ultimate success this season was created by an improved running game and a feisty defense that played well except in the blowout loss to Oklahoma.

Tech is headed to the Cotton Bowl against Mississippi after having the conference's third-highest BCS ranking. It wasn't enough to catapult the Red Raiders into their first BCS bowl, despite their record.

Most Valuable Offensive Player: QB Graham Harrell. Harrell wrapped up his career as the most productive quarterback in Big 12 history, finishing second on the NCAA's career passing yardage list with 15,429 yards. And he saved his best for last, leading the Red Raiders to a dramatic season-ending victory over Baylor despite nine separate breaks on two shattered fingers of his non-throwing hand.

Most Valuable Defensive Player: S Darcel McBath. The most consistent defender for the Red Raiders, McBath produced 70 tackles, a team-leading six interceptions and seven passes broken up. Included in his haul was a three-interception effort against Kansas where the picks were produced on successive possessions in a span of less than six minutes.

Turning point: The Red Raiders were expected to struggle at Kansas -- the kind of game they traditionally have struggled with -- but not this year. Harrell orchestrated eight touchdown drives in Tech's first nine possessions, helped by a defense that produced five turnovers in a 63-21 beatdown. It was an indication that Texas Tech could win on the road and would be ready for the Big 12 South powers later in the season.

What's ahead: A Cotton Bowl victory would cap perhaps the most memorable season in school history and result in the Red Raiders' first top-10 finish ever. But Leach's contract impasse with school officials has overshadowed bowl preparations in recent weeks and still hangs over the program. Harrell will graduate and Crabtree is expected to declare for the NFL draft. It means that backup quarterback Taylor Potts will likely head into the spring directing an offense that will have to be rebuilt.

Texas A&M season review

December, 16, 2008
12/16/08
3:02
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

After the disappointments of the Dennis Franchione era, Mike Sherman was counted on to provide a healing nature that would unite all of the elements of the Texas A&M program.

That idea lasted less than one game. The Aggies' 18-14 season-opening loss to Arkansas State signaled that Sherman would be struggling through a lot of disappointments in his first season.

And he did as the Aggies limped home with a 4-8 record that marked the fourth time in seven seasons they have failed to make a bowl trip. In the process Texas A&M failed to beat any of its five South Division rivals for the first time in the school's Big 12 history.

Sherman did find some young skill players that will help him in the future. Sophomore quarterback Jerrod Johnson emerged as a capable quarterback after he was thrust into the lineup by two early injuries sustained by starter Stephen McGee. Freshmen receivers Ryan Tannehill and Jeff Fuller provide hope for the future. And running back/kick returner Cyrus Gray developed as the season continued.

The A&M defense was another story. The Aggies ranked no higher than 107th nationally in any of the four major defensive categories, bottoming out in a season-ending three-game losing streak where they were outscored by a combined margin of 156-58.

Offensive Most Valuable Player: QB Jerrod Johnson. Despite learning as he went, Johnson provided one of the biggest statistical seasons in school history, passing for a school-record 21 touchdowns and 2,435 yards. In the process, he also passed for a school-record 419 yards against Kansas State.

Defensive Most Valuable Player: DB/LB Alton Dixon. After arriving at the school as a defensive back, Dixon moved to linebacker midway through his senior season to shore up an area of need. He led the team with 94 tackles, notched two tackles for losses and broke up two passes.

Turning point: After jumping to a 14-3 halftime lead against Arkansas State in the opener, the Aggies were shut out in the second half in the 18-14 loss. That loss showed that the Aggies wouldn't overmatch any opponent on their schedule and that Sherman's first season in the Big 12 would be a difficult adventure -- as it ended up being.

What's next: Sherman will face a huge rebuilding job in the nation's most difficult division. All of the other South teams are on upswings, which will make it difficult for the Aggies to return to relevance very quickly. And that's even with a strong core of young players headed by Johnson, Tannehill and Fuller. And the early departure of top running threat Michael Goodson makes it that much tougher.

Texas season review

December, 16, 2008
12/16/08
1:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Most observers thought the Longhorns were a year away from contending for the Big 12 South title before the season.

Instead, coach Mack Brown's team had one of its most rewarding seasons, coming within a whisper of playing in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game.

The 11-1 Longhorns earned a share of the Big 12 South title and were kept out of the conference title game only because of a three-way tie for the division championship with Oklahoma and Texas Tech. The fifth tiebreaker gave the nod to the Sooners.

Quarterback Colt McCoy came back bigger, stronger and more focused to become an integral part of the offense. McCoy emerged as a Heisman finalist, the winningest quarterback in school history and the team's primary rushing threat.

New defensive coordinator Will Muschamp cooked up an aggressive mentality that was keyed by veteran leaders like Brian Orakpo and Roy Miller.

Only a dramatic comeback by Texas Tech in the final seconds kept the Longhorns from becoming the first team in 65 seasons to beat four top-12 opponents in succession.

Instead, they will settle for a trip to the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State in a consolation game after having their BCS championship hopes snuffed out after Oklahoma's Big 12 title-game victory.

Offensive Most Valuable Player: QB Colt McCoy. After struggling with interceptions last season, McCoy came back with a productive season. He completed 77.6 percent of his passes and is in line to easily break the NCAA single-season completion percentage record. He also ranks third in passing efficiency and leads the Longhorns with 576 rushing yards.

Defensive Most Valuable Player: DE Brian Orkapo. After struggling much of last season with a knee injury, Orakpo came back determined to have a big senior season. That desire helped him produce 40 tackles and notch team-leading totals of 10.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss and 27 quarterback hurries. He also shared the team lead with four forced fumbles.

Turning point: Oklahoma had just jumped to a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter when Jordan Shipley returned a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. That big play provided a momentum surge that boosted the Longhorns to a comeback victory in that game and started their run of eventual triumphs over top-12 teams in their next two games.

What's next: The Longhorns should have a strong chance to win the Fiesta Bowl and finish the 2008 season strongly. And with McCoy already announcing he will return along with a strong supporting cast, Texas will enter next season as the prime contender for the Big 12 championship.

Oklahoma State season review

December, 16, 2008
12/16/08
1:17
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Big 12's biggest surprise team was Oklahoma State, which streaked to a 9-3 record and cracked the top 10 for the first time in 20 seasons.

Coach Mike Gundy took over the play-calling duties this season after Larry Fedora took the Southern Mississippi coaching job. Gundy developed a potent offensive mix that included quarterback Zac Robinson, Big 12 rushing leader Kendall Hunter, explosive wide receiver Dez Bryant and productive tight end Brandon Pettigrew. The quartet helped the Cowboys score an average of 41.6 points per game, which ranks eighth nationally.

The defense improved in coordinator Tim Beckman's second season, but still gave up too many big plays. The Cowboys ranked last in the Big 12 with only 13 sacks and allowed 117 points in late-season losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma.

Still, it was a season of success that should only get better. The Cowboys are headed for a Holiday Bowl date against Oregon -- their first trip to that bowl since 1988. And their only three losses this season came to teams that at the time were ranked No. 1 (Texas), No. 2 (Texas Tech) and No. 3 (Oklahoma).

Offensive Player of the Year: RB Kendall Hunter. The Big 12 wasn't completely a league of passing offense. Hunter rushed for a conference-best 1,518 yards and scored 14 touchdowns to key Oklahoma State's potent attack that ranked seventh nationally in rushing. Hunter rushed for nine 100-yard games and even produced 12 of his 20 receptions in the final three games of the season.

Defensive Player of the Year: LB Andre Sexton. The spiritual leader of the Cowboys' defense was also its most productive player. Sexton produced a team-high 92 tackles and was a consistent presence throughout the season. He notched 1.5 sacks, produced a team-best five quarterback hurries and tied for the team lead with two forced fumbles.

Turning point: Oklahoma State's victory at then-No. 3 Missouri. The Tigers were the highest-ranked road opponent the Cowboys had beaten since 1967. But the manner in which Oklahoma State won in the 28-23 stunner was most impressive. The Cowboys notched three second-half interceptions of Chase Daniel that made the rest of the country start noticing Gundy's turnaround with the Cowboys.

What's next: The Cowboys will be gunning for their first 10-win season since 1988 if they can beat Oregon at the Holiday Bowl. That game should only build confidence for another strong run next season as OSU returns nine offensive and six defensive starters in what could be a charge for the Cowboys' first South Division title.

Oklahoma season review

December, 16, 2008
12/16/08
12:22
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Many thought the Sooners' hopes for a Big 12 South Division championship had been extinguished after a loss to Texas on Oct. 11.

In fact, coach Bob Stoops' team was only getting started.

The 11-1 Sooners answered that loss with a remarkable turnaround to sprint to an unprecedented third straight Big 12 title.

Sam Bradford earned the Heisman Trophy as he became the first quarterback in Big 12 history to lead his team to back-to-back titles. The Sooners also boasted a pair of 1,000-yard backs in DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown, six receivers with at least 27 receptions and an offensive line dotted with future NFL players.

That group enabled the Sooners to finish the season by scoring 60 or more points against their final five opponents -- three of them ranked teams. The Sooners are also the first modern-day team in history to score 700 points in a season.

The defense struggled with new players and injuries but seemed to develop some swagger late in the season with strong performances against Texas Tech and Missouri. That late strength of schedule helped push the Sooners into the BCS title game against Florida.

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Sam Bradford. Operating the Sooners' new no-huddle offense with precision, Bradford passed for 4,464 yards, a nation-leading 48 touchdown passes against only six interceptions and a 10.1 yard-per-attempt average. And his leadership was unmatched. After the Texas loss, Bradford finished his final seven games with a salty 25-to-1 touchdown/interception ratio to lead the Sooners' title charge.

Defensive Player of the Year: LB Travis Lewis. The remarkable redshirt freshman earned a starting position late in fall practice and didn't look back once the season started. Lewis, a converted running back from high school, was the Sooners' most productive defender, finishing with a team-leading 135 tackles, 12 tackles for losses, 3.5 sacks, four interceptions and six double-digit tackle games.

Turning point: The Sooners' loss to Texas only served as inspiration for continued improvement during the rest of the season. The Sooners finished on a seven-game winning streak to charge to the Big 12 championship, scoring 45 or more points and producing at least 508 yards of total offense in every game after their loss.

What's next: The Sooners already took advantage of their favorable tiebreaker position to claim their third straight Big 12 title. And now they can look at slaying some ghosts that have haunted them in four consecutive BCS bowl losses. The Sooners will have to do it without Murray, who will miss the bowl with a hamstring injury, but still should have enough talent to challenge Florida.

Baylor season review

December, 16, 2008
12/16/08
10:41
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

New coach Art Briles wasted little time starting the Robert Griffin era. And for that, Baylor's long-suffering fans should be appreciative.

The Bears finished a 4-8 season with Griffin taking virtually every snap after being inserted early in the first game of the season. The nation's youngest starting quarterback oozed playmaking ability and confidence from the beginning. And most importantly, he provides hope for the future.

Close losses to Connecticut, Nebraska, Missouri and Texas Tech all could have gone the other way with some breaks for the Bears. So Briles really wasn't that far removed from taking his first Baylor team to a bowl trip, which would have snapped a 14-season bowl drought that is tied with Duke for the longest among teams in BCS-affiliated conferences.

Griffin was the starter on an offense that also featured talented skill-position players like wide receiver Kendall Wright and running back Jay Finley. Both will be back with more experience.

Briles' team was physical, ranking 25th nationally in rushing. And it was careful with the football, ranking third nationally in turnover margin.

They finished tied for the Big 12 South cellar, but beat Texas A&M and nearly stunned Texas Tech in Lubbock. The elusive bowl berth may be the next big hurdle to overcome.

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Robert Griffin. The 18-year-old Griffin was everything advertised -- and more -- in his freshman season. He finished by passing for 2,091 yards with 15 touchdowns against three interceptions. And he was the conference's top rushing quarterback, rushing for 843 yards and scoring a school-record 13 touchdowns.

Defensive Player of the Year: LB Joe Pawelek. Briles contends that Pawelek deserved All-America honors and it's hard to argue against it, considering his statistics. He led the conference in average tackles per game (10.67) and interceptions (.50 per game). And he has a knack for big plays, with two of his interceptions coming in the Baylor end zone. In short, he was one of the nation's most underrated defenders.

Turning point: Baylor's rousing 41-21 victory over Texas A&M was more than just a feel-good way to send 21 seniors out for their final home game. Considering that Baylor had a 41-7 lead after three quarters, it was a symbolic indication that the Bears had passed the Aggies and no longer should be considered the South's doormat.

What's next: With continued health for key players like Griffin, Pawelek, Wright and Finley, the Bears should challenge for a bowl berth in the next couple of seasons. It might be wise for Briles to convince Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw to tone down his ambitious nonconference schedule. A more moderate schedule might provide the Bears enough of a window to go bowling next season.

Nebraska season review

December, 15, 2008
12/15/08
4:39
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

There were books written about Bo Pelini and hundreds of T-shirts sold with his name and likeness featured before he coached his first game at Nebraska. Nebraska's fans hoped Pelini would restore the order that seemed so lacking in Bill Callahan's coaching tenure.

Pelini didn't disappoint in an 8-4 season where the Cornhuskers appear to be making steps forward. Black shirts were distributed to an improving defense that played better as the season progressed, keyed by a defensive line that was one of the best in the conference.

Quarterback Joe Ganz picked up where he left off last season, developing into the most underrated quarterback in the conference. But what marked the Cornhuskers' growth late in the season was a ball control offense that enabled them to rank second nationally in average time of possession.

Pelini battled with his temper in sideline outbursts early in the season, but seemed to curb it as the season progressed. It was easy to see why as the Cornhuskers claimed five of their last six games to qualify for the Gator Bowl in an impressive finish.

Offensive Player of the Year
Quarteraback Joe Ganz. After starting the final three games last season, Ganz picked up with the top statistical season for a quarterback in Nebraska school history. Ganz finished the season with 3,332 passing yards and 3,589 total yards -- both Nebraska single-season records -- as he ranked 13th nationally in total offense, 14th in pass efficiency and rifled 23 touchdown passes.

Defensive Player of the Year
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. No player blossomed more under Pelini than Suh, who had struggled through a underachieving sophomore season last year. Under the new coaching staff, Suh developed into a dominant inside player who led the team in tackles, tackles for losses, interceptions and sacks.

Turning point
The Cornhuskers transformed their season in the latter stages of a disappointing early loss to Missouri. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson decided to junk a power running attack in favor of a spread attack that would better accentuate Ganz's natural abilities. The Cornhuskers thrived with the new offense, winning five of their last six Michiaen route to a Gator Bowl berth.
What's next
The Cornhuskers can build immediate momentum for next season with a victory in the Gator Bowl, which would be their first since beating Michigan in the 2005 Alamo Bowl. The next goal will be to winnow a field of four contenders who will vie to replace Ganz at quarterback, the biggest question immediate positional concern for next season.

Missouri season review

December, 15, 2008
12/15/08
4:27
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

With Chase Daniel along with most of his offensive weapons and 10 defensive starters back, Missouri was a fashionable preseason pick to contend for the national championship.

And why not? After an 11-2 season, the Tigers seemingly were on an upward swing and seemed to be a good choice for their first conference championship since 1969.

A funny thing happened on the way the Bowl Championship Series. The Tigers never fulfilled early expectations that boosted them to No. 3 in the country after a 5-0 start.

Back-to-back losses to Oklahoma State and Texas ended those national title hopes. The 9-4 Tigers claimed the North Division championship for the second-straight season, but were humiliated in a 61-21 beatdown by Oklahoma that underscored the problems that faced them all season.

The heralded defense never performed to expectations, ranking 99th in total defense and 117th in pass defense. All-American William Moore notched eight interceptions last season but produced only one during an injury-marred senior season.

The season ended with a thud as the Tigers were blistered for an average of 51 points and 532.5 yards per game in demoralizing losses to Kansas and Oklahoma to finish the season. It will be interesting to see if coach Gary Pinkel can get the Tigers to rebound for the Alamo Bowl matchup with Northwestern.

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Chase Daniel. By most standards, Daniel had an outstanding senior season, passing for a school-record 37 touchdown passes. But his passing yards and completions were down and his interceptions up from last season. He remained the inspirational leader for the Tigers and leaves Missouri as unquestionably one of best players in school history. But Daniel will personally remember his 0-4 career record against Oklahoma and winning no Big 12 titles.

Defensive Player of the Year: LB Sean Weatherspoon. He started quickly with interception returns for touchdowns in each of the Tigers first two games of the season -- a first in school history. Weatherspoon led the team with 138 tackles, 16 tackles for losses and three interceptions and was second with 4.5 sacks.

Turning point: The Tigers marched to the Oklahoma State 1-yard-line on the opening drive and were in position to score a momentum-setting touchdown. But on fourth down, Pinkel elected to go for a field goal, deflating any momentum in what turned out to be a 28-23 loss to the Cowboys that put an early crimp in Missouri's national title hopes.

What's next: The Tigers are heavy favorites to beat Northwestern in the Alamo Bowl, which would enable them to win a 10th game in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. Their biggest off-season concerns are to see whether heralded recruit Blaine Gabbert can replace Daniel and if coordinator Matt Eberflus can put some teeth back into his defense.

Kansas State season review

December, 15, 2008
12/15/08
3:54
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The ouster of Ron Prince wasn't really unexpected, especially after the Wildcats' struggles in a North Division that wasn't exactly imposing this season.

But the timing was. Prince was let go on Nov. 5 with three games left in the season when the Wildcats still harbored bowl aspirations. After those hopes were extinguished later in the season, the school administration reached out to legendary former coach Bill Snyder, who led them to 11 bowl appearances during his 17-season coaching tenure at the school.

It will be a tough rebuilding chore as Snyder inherits a defense that ranked 117th nationally and allowed at least 509 yards of total offense in eight of its final 10 games.

Quarterback Josh Freeman had his moments, accounting for 3,349 yards of total offense and 34 touchdowns. His efforts helped the Wildcats rank 18th nationally in passing offense, 21st in scoring offense and jump to a 4-2 record that stoked bowl hopes.

Defensive collapses eventually killed those aspirations during a five-game losing streak that ultimately led to Prince's firing. His hopes of a talent upgrade through a massive junior-college infusion did not materialize and eventually led to his firing.

Offensive Player of the Year: WR Brandon Banks. The mighty-mite receiver emerged as the success of Prince's junior-college class as a receiver and return threat. Banks led the team with 67 receptions for 1,049 yards and nine touchdowns. He was also a threat with a conference-best 98-yard kickoff return and on a 93-yard run that was the second-longest in school history.

Defensive Player of the Year: DE Brandon Harold. One of the few bright spots on a struggling defense, Harold provided the most consistent pass-rushing threat for the Wildcats with 45 tackles and three sacks. His 10.5 tackles for losses led all freshmen defensive linemen in the nation and his tackles led all freshmen Big 12 linemen.

Turning point: The Wildcats started the season 2-0 before dropping a 38-29 decision at Louisville. Those defensive struggles incensed Prince so much that he had his team run 38 50-yard wind sprints -- one for each point allowed -- when it returned home at 3 a.m. The teaching point apparently didn't stick as the Wildcats lost six of their last nine games after their nocturnal workouts.

What's next: Snyder, 69, will have to do a quick rebuild, especially with the defense. The hiring of former Clemson coordinator and former standout Kansas State linebacker Vic Koenning is a big start. It also will be critical for Snyder to do what he can to convince Freeman to return to school and not declare for the NFL draft.

Kansas season review

December, 15, 2008
12/15/08
2:06
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

On the heels of last season's Orange Bowl appearance, there was curiosity how much a tougher schedule of South Division opponents would affect Kansas.

After losses to Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech by a combined 143-59 margin, it would appear that the tougher schedule had an effect on the 7-5 Jayhawks' season.

That tougher schedule killed their hopes of winning the North Division after a 5-1 start. The Jayhawks fell out of title contention after losing to Nebraska.

The loss of veteran defensive coordinator Bill Young proved critical. New coordinator Clint Bowen's group struggled against better opponents, ranking 87th in scoring defense, 94th in total defense and 113th in pass defense.

Todd Reesing led a potent offense that kept the Jayhawks competitive in most games and sparked a wild comeback victory over Missouri to finish the regular season.

It enabled the Jayhawks to earn a berth in the Insight Bowl against Minnesota. That might not seem like much in the grand scheme of football, but it did enable the Jayhawks to make history.

Coach Mark Mangino's team became the first in Kansas' 119-season football history to make back-to-back bowl appearances. And considering the tougher schedule, that achievement assuredly is an accomplishment.

Offensive player of the year: QB Todd Reesing. Sometimes overshadowed by the other quarterbacks in the league, Reesing broke his own school records for completions (302), attempts (406) and passing yards (3,575) as he threw 28 touchdown passes. He capped his season with a gutsy four-TD effort against Missouri which should resonate through the offseason.

Defensive player of the year: LB James Holt. The most consistent player on an inconsistent defense, Holt was involved in every facet of Kansas' defense. Holt shared the Big 12 lead with 15.5 tackles for loss and six fumbles forced. He was the Jayhawks' best blitzer with seven sacks and led the team with 97 tackles.

Turning point: The Jayhawks rallied from a 20-point halftime deficit to beat Iowa State after Mangino inserted Jake Sharp in the lineup after he had seldom played in the season's first four games. Sharp emerged as a consistent rusher, finishing as the Big 12's third-leading rusher in conference games with 710 yards over the final eight games.

What's next: A victory over slumping Minnesota in the bowl game would help build confidence heading into the offseason. And with the return of key players like Reesing, Sharp, Dexton Fields and Kerry Meier, a run at the Big 12 North title wouldn't be out of the question next season -- even with a tough slate of Big 12 South opponents again next season.

Iowa State season review

December, 15, 2008
12/15/08
12:42
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Gene Chizik's departure for Auburn is a big surprise after Iowa State's struggles in 2008. The Cyclones won their first two games and then lost 10 games in a row, becoming the first team since Iowa State in 2003 to go winless in Big 12 Conference play.

Chizik was committed to building for the future, utilizing 11 freshmen this season. By the end of the year, the Cyclones were starting four freshmen along with kicker Grant Mahoney.

The Cyclones showed some promise for the future with the development of quarterback Austen Arnaud. And wide receiver Darius Darks set a school freshman receiving record with 49 receptions.

Running back Alexander Robinson also developed into a consistent ball carrier, producing a team-best 703 rushing yards and six touchdowns.

Chizik's forte before coming to Iowa State was working with defenses. But his young unit regressed in every major statistical category from his first season, ranking 95th nationally in rushing defense, tied for 110th in scoring defense, 111th in total defense, 115th in pass defense and 117th in pass efficiency defense.

Whoever takes over will have to build some continuity for a program which will be working with its third coach in the last four seasons.

Offensive player of the year: QB Austen Arnaud. After struggles typical of first-year starter, Arnaud showed some flashes late in the season. He passed for 2,792 yards and 15 touchdowns, finishing with a school-record 440 passing yards against Kansas State in his final game. That outing should provide promise for the Cyclones' new coach.

Defensive player of the year: LB Jesse Smith. The junior linebacker was a consistent producer on a unit that often struggled. Smith finished second on the team with 84 tackles, led the team in passes broken up, tied for the team lead in forced fumbles and ranked second in quarterback hurries and fumble recoveries.

Turning point: The Cyclones likely weren't going to challenge for the North Division title, but their confidence took a big shot in a 34-31 overtime loss at UNLV. Iowa State rebounded from a 21-0 halftime deficit, tying the game with three seconds in regulation. But the defense couldn't hold up in overtime -- a foreshadowing of its struggles in conference play.

What's next: Obviously the hiring of Chizik's replacement will determine in which direction the program will move forward. It's an attractive job in a power conference with 16 starters and two specialists returning. The Cyclones have a productive quarterback coming back in Arnaud. Those factors will prove enticing to somebody.

Colorado season review

December, 15, 2008
12/15/08
11:22
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

A season of early promise unraveled as the injury-riddled Buffaloes lost seven of their last nine games after starting the season 3-0. It helped them miss a bowl game for the second time in coach Dan Hawkins' three seasons.

Those injuries put demands on an offense that could ill afford them, helping account for a lack of explosiveness where Colorado ranked no higher than 81st in any of the NCAA's major offensive team statistical categories.

The biggest concern throughout the season was the erratic play of quarterback Cody Hawkins, the son of the coach. His struggles midway through the season led Hawkins to unexpectedly strip the redshirt from freshman Tyler Hansen during the Kansas State game.

Hansen helped lead Colorado to a dramatic victory in that game, but eventually struggled, leading to a return for Hawkins by the end of the season that finished with a 5-7 record.

The quarterback struggles were symptomatic of the problems that bogged down the offense all season. The Buffaloes scored more than 17 points in Big 12 play only twice this season. In a league where offenses were so dominant, that was a handicap that the Buffaloes' game defense never could overcome during the disappointing finish.

Offensive player of the year: KR-WR Josh Smith. After missing much of his freshman season with injuries, Smith rebounded to become the Buffaloes' biggest offensive weapon. Smith finished the season with 1,987 all-purpose yards, second-most in school history behind only Rashaan Salaam's 2,349 yards during his Heisman Trophy season in 1994.

Defensive player of the year: CB Cha'pelle Brown. On an underrated defense that kept Colorado in most games, Brown was the most consistent defender. He saw action on a team-high 827 plays, leading the team in passes broken up (10), third-down stops (14) and tying for the team lead with two interceptions. His game-winning interception return for a touchdown provided the margin of victory against Eastern Washington.

Turning point: The Buffaloes could ill afford another injury when tailback Rodney Stewart was lost for the season with a fractured fibula against Texas A&M on Nov. 1. Not only did it cost them their leading ball carrier and a shot to win against the struggling Aggies, it also snatched away the Buffaloes' most consistent offensive weapon.

What's next: It would behoove the Buffaloes to spend a lot of time in conditioning during the offseason so the rash of injuries doesn't bite them against next season. And an interesting quarterback battle is brewing in the spring between Hawkins and Hansen.

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