Big 12: Fiesta 0905
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Quan Cosby punctuated his college career with an exclamation point.
Cosby, a 26-year-old who played four years in the Los Angeles Angels minor-league system, has always provided stability and leadership for the Longhorns. And on Monday night, he gave them his very best on-field performance.
Cosby snagged a career-high 14 receptions for 171 yards, including a game-winning 26-yard touchdown reception from Colt McCoy with 16 seconds left to boost the Longhorns to a 24-21 victory over Ohio State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Throughout the season, Cosby had been the complimentary receiver to Jordan Shipley. But his big game enabled the Longhorns to punctuate a 12-1 record that is the second-winningest season in the school's history.
Colt McCoy proved some mettle in the game-winning drive, directing a 79-yard touchdown drive after getting the ball for the final time with 1:58 left.
The victory came despite a struggling defensive performance down the stretch. The Longhorns denied Ohio State a touchdown for the first three quarters before the Buckeyes charged back from a 17-9 deficit to claim the lead on two scoring drives in the fourth quarter. The Texas defense looked gassed on drives that consumed 80 and 73 yards.
But the Longhorns' late rally enabled them to escape with the victory, stretching their bowl winning streak to five games.
McCoy's heroics might have boosted his Heisman hopes for next season by throwing for a career-high 413 yards.
The Longhorns' second-half comeback marked the 22nd such comeback victory for Texas under Mack Brown, including 12 fourth-quarter comebacks.
After the victory, Brown started spinning his team's national title hopes. The Texas coach said he would vote his team No. 1 because of the grit it showed in the comeback victory.
Something about sleepwalking through the first half likely didn't impress many voters who might have had some doubt -- particularly with the impressive performances earlier in the bowl season by USC and Utah.
The Longhorns struggled early as Ohio State won the battle in the trenches early in the game, piling up an early 135-2 edge in rushing yardage in the first half. But Ohio State needed to produce more points as the Buckeyes had 22 plays in Texas territory but produced only six points. Texas was limited to minus-9 yards rushing as running backs Chris Ogbonnaya and Cody Johnson produced only 10 yards.
But the Longhorns took control in the second half, accounting for two touchdowns on their first three drives of the second half to claim the lead after their early struggles. The biggest reason was a no-huddle offense that flummoxed the Buckeyes' defense.
Texas also did a better job on massive Ohio State tailback Chris Wells, who rushed for a game-high 105 yards but produced only nine of them in the second half. Wells struggled with injuries and missed the fourth quarter.
It forced Ohio State to rely on freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor too much. Pryor snagged a touchdown reception but had trouble passing the ball as he completed only 5 of 13 passes for 67 yards and was sacked twice.
It wasn't the most artistic performance, but was still a victory. And after its early struggles in the bowl season, the Big 12 really can't complain much about any kind of win.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Who to watch: Texas quarterback Colt McCoy returns to action with a few points to prove. Monday's game will be his first since he was nosed out by Sam Bradford for the Heisman Trophy last month. McCoy is one of the nation's most valuable players after finishing third nationally in pass efficiency, fifth in total offense and even leading his team in rushing this season. The game against Ohio State also will provide him a chance for revenge against the Buckeyes, who beat him in only his second start of his career early in the 2006 season. Since then, McCoy has won 30 of his 36 career starts to become the winningest starting quarterback in school history.
What to watch: The battle in the trenches likely will determine this game. If the Longhorns' pass rush is productive, Texas should have a big advantage. If Brian Orakpo, Sergio Kindle and Roy Miller are able to pressure Ohio State freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor, it could be a long night for the Buckeyes. But if the Ohio State offensive line is keeping the pass rush away from their quarterback, Pryor should have the ability to pick apart Texas' streaky secondary.
Why to watch: The Longhorns are approaching this game with a chip on their shoulders after they were nosed out of the Big 12 championship game by Oklahoma, killing their national title hopes. But this game promises to be an intriguing matchup between two traditional powers with contrasting styles. Texas will match its varied offensive attack against Ohio State's more conventional offense keyed by Chris "Beanie" Wells, who is finally healthy after being hobbled for much of the season with injuries. The Longhorns are undefeated in two previous BCS bowl appearances. However, Ohio State has been remarkably successful against Big 12 teams, posting a 28-4 record in the school's football history, including a 5-0 mark in bowl games. Something has to give.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are my picks for the second round of Big 12 bowl games, beginning with Thursday's Konica Minolta Gator Bowl
Konica Minolta Gator Bowl -- Clemson 31, Nebraska 28
Dabo Swinney has energized the Clemson program after taking over as interim coach -- a little like Bo Pelini's job with the Cornhuskers from earlier this season. Both of these teams are playing their best football of the season. But I expect Clemson to beat Nebraska with a taste of its own medicine by controlling the clock thanks to a heavy dose of tailbacks James Davis and C.J. Spiller. If the Tigers can do this and keep quarterback Cullen Harper out of too many long-yardage situations, I expect them to nose past the Cornhuskers and fulfill a little of their early promise expected of them. It just took a different coach to get them there.
AT&T Cotton Bowl -- Texas Tech 34, Mississippi 20
It will be good for the Red Raiders to get back to football after some of the travails of the last several weeks. But Graham Harrell's surgery and Mike Leach's contract squabbles should be long forgotten by the team that many forgot still earned a share of the Big 12 South Division title. Look for a healthy Michael Crabtree to be the difference in this game, if the Red Raiders can keep a salty defensive front from pressuring Harrell. And even if the Rebels get ahead early, remember that Harrell has directed two wild bowl comebacks in the last two seasons, rallying the Red Raiders from a 31-point deficit to win the 2006 Insight Bowl over Minnesota and a 17-point deficit in the final four minutes to direct a comeback in last season's Gator Bowl over Virginia. Houston Nutt has directed a nice renaissance with the Rebels this season, leading them to victories over the last two national championship teams. But the chore of beating Texas Tech will prove too much for them on Friday.
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl -- Texas 41, Ohio State 20
After being snubbed for the Big 12 title game, the Longhorns will approach this game with a chip on their shoulder. That's not a pretty proposition for an Ohio State team that has been blown out of its last two BCS bowl games by a combined score of 79-38. The key for the game will be the play of streaky Ohio State freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the return of tailback Chris Wells. I expect Texas' defensive front keyed by Brian Orakpo and Roy Miller to exert enough pressure to keep Pryor discombobulated most of the game. And if Texas can get receivers Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby open against a tough Ohio State secondary keyed by Malcolm Jenkins, the Longhorns should have the edge on offense, too. This game will be close at the half, before the Longhorns pull away in the second half.
My bowl picks last week: 1-1* (50.0 percent)
My picks for the season: 85-14 (85.9 percent)
* Not including Wednesday's Kansas-Minnesota game
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are 10 things I'm looking forward to watching in Big 12 bowl games that start on Thursday.
1. Clemson's defense performs with new leadership: Heralded defensive coordinator Vic Koenning left Clemson before the Tigers' matchup in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl against Nebraska for a new job at his alma mater at Kansas State. It will leave Clemson linebackers coaches David Blackwell and Ron West calling defenses in an interim capacity in the bowl game against Nebraska. It won't be an easy chore considering that the Cornhuskers rank in the top 20 nationally in passing yards, yards per game and points.
2. Joe Ganz's final game: Nebraska's senior starting quarterback has quietly led a resurgence of the Cornhuskers' offense, directing them to at least 30 points in 10 of 12 games this season and at least 41 points and an average of 504 total yards in their last three games. Ganz needs four touchdown passes to break Nebraska's single-season and career marks. Considering the way he has played down the stretch, those marks might not be out of the question with a big day against the Tigers.
3. Pelini's mark on history: First-year Nebraska coach Bo Pelini will be gunning for his ninth victory of the season against Clemson, which would enable him to join Frank Solich, Tom Osborne and Bob Devaney as the only Nebraska coaches to win nine games in their first full season with the Cornhuskers.
4. Texas Tech finally returns to football: The Red Raiders have endured a long month since the end of the season as Graham Harrell has recovered from delicate surgery on his non-throwing hand and Mike Leach has been involved in continued contact negotiations with school officials. It will almost be a relief to get back to football -- particularly with the return to health of wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who was hobbled much of the season with a sprained ankle. A victory against Mississippi in the AT&T Cotton Bowl would boost the Red Raiders to a school-record 12 victories in a single season.
5. Say goodbye to the Cotton Bowl -- in Fair Park: Friday's game between Texas Tech and Mississippi will be the final AT&T Cotton Bowl game played in its historic facility near downtown Dallas before moving to the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium in Arlington next season. The bowl has been one of the more tradition-steeped games in college football, beginning at its current location in 1937. Memories of that rich 73-year history will be especially vivid on Friday.
6. Harrell's remarkable legacy: Texas Tech's senior quarterback Graham Harrell will finish his career Friday as the clear best to ever play at his position in school history. He can punctuate his college career by staking two significant statistical claims. With 253 passing yards he can become the first player in NCAA history to pass for 5,000 yards in multiple seasons. And he needs two touchdown passes to surpass Hawaii's Colt Brennan's career record of 131 touchdown passes for the most in FBS history.
7. The Rebels' defense put to a test: Mississippi is allowing only 123.3 yards per game in their last three contests and have held opponents to less than 215 total yards in five games this season. They will be supremely challenged against an explosive Red Raider offense that ranks first nationally in passing and fourth in total offense and scoring. Tech erupted for at least 538 yards of total offense in eight of its first 10 games this season, but has been progressively limited to its lowest offensive totals in each of the last two games against Oklahoma and Baylor.
8. Will Ohio State's success against Big 12 teams continue against Texas? The Buckeyes have compiled a remarkable 28-4 record against Big 12 teams, including a 5-0 mark in bowl games. But they will be facing a Texas squad in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl that is hungry after being snubbed for a shot at the Big 12 title game and the FedEx BCS National Championship Game if it would have won there. The Longhorns are one of four programs nationally that are undefeated in BCS games.
9. Colt McCoy's retribution against the Buckeyes: Texas quarterback Colt McCoy was making only the second start of his career early in the 2006 season when he directed the Longhorns to a 24-7 home loss to Ohio State in his second career start. Since then, McCoy has claimed 30 of his 36 career starts to become the winningest starting quarterback in school history (31-7, .838 winning percentage.) Included in that streak have been both his bowl games.
10. Ohio State's trickery on offense: The Buckeyes have spent much of their early bowl practices tinkering with a package where quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor and Todd Boeckman are in the lineup at the same time. They will try that offense against a Texas defense familiar with such a philosophy for chunk plays after early work this season with McCoy and Texas backup quarterback John Chiles playing at the same time. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel can only hope his gadgetry is more fruitful than Texas' ended up being.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Happy New Year's Eve! Before partaking in the daylong feast of football tomorrow, here are a few links to get you ready.
- Lincoln Journal-Star columnist Steve Sipple writes that Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson was overcome with emotion when asked about coaching quarterback Joe Ganz's final game Thursday in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl against Clemson.
- A more mature Texas quarterback Colt McCoy prepares for Ohio State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Dallas Morning News Big 12 columnist Chuck Carlton writes.
- Texas Tech coach Mike Leach related his favorite Cotton Bowl memory as the Red Raiders prepare for the Jan. 2 game against Mississippi. Jackson Clarion-Ledger columnist Rick Cleveland told of how Leach left a dummy set of plays when he was an assistant at Oklahoma, hoping a Texas coach or player would stumble upon them and believe he had found the Rosetta Stone as far as cracking his spread offense.
- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops will collect a $3 million bonus on New Year's Day, pushing his 2008 compensation over $6 million, the Tulsa World's John Hoover reports.
- With Dez Bryant playing on one gimpy leg and Zac Robinson struggling with a bum shoulder, Oklahoma State was stripped of many of its offensive weapons in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl. But the Oklahoman's John Rohde writes that OSU coach Mike Gundy refused to use injuries as an excuse for his team's 42-31 loss to Oregon.
- Kansas is poised for big things next season with the return of most of its major offensive skill-position players and both starting tackles. But Kansas City Star reporter J. Brady McCollough writes that the most important returning item could be offensive coordinator Ed Warinner, who guides the team into tonight's Insight Bowl game against Minnesota.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The Big 12 claimed its first bowl victory Monday night. But it will get a lot tougher tonight when Oklahoma State faces Oregon in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl.
Before we get there, here are a few lunchtime links to help prime the palate:
- Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle writes that Texas players are excited to start their football preparations for the Jan. 5 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. "There comes a point when your mom asks you to take the trash out, so it was time to leave home and get here," Texas quarterback Colt McCoy said. "Those days off are nice, but now it's time to go back to work."
- The Kansas City Star's Jason Whitlock writes that Missouri shouldn't celebrate its Valero Alamo Bowl victory over Northwestern. Instead, Whitlock calls them "The kings of the pathetic North Division."
- Reid Laymance of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, the defensive MVP of the Tigers' Alamo Bowl victory over Northwestern, will return for another college football season. Weatherspoon hopes to convince his roommate Jeremy Maclin to join him.
- Texas Tech's defense is bracing for a heavy dose of Mississippi wide receiver Dexter McCluster from coach Houston Nutt's "Wild Rebel" formation in Friday's AT&T Cotton Bowl.
- Tonight's Pacific Life Holiday Bowl could serve as an important catapult for an Oklahoma State program hoping to compete for its first Big 12 South Division title next season. The Oklahoman's John Rohde said a win tonight could serve as a serious stimulus to the program's first BCS bowl appearance.
- Starting Kansas cornerback Justin Thornton won't play in the Jayhawks' Insight Bowl game Wednesday night against Minnesota, starting linebacker James Holt told the Topeka Capital-Journal's Tully Corcoran. It will mean senior Kendrick Harper will get the start for a Kansas pass defense that ranked 113th nationally in yards allowed.