Big 12: Hunter Lawrence
Colorado lost to Oklahoma 42-3 and Texas 70-3 in consecutive title games.
Missouri lost by 21 to Oklahoma in the 2007 title game, even though they entered with college football's top ranking. They were steamrolled by a record-breaking offense in 2008, 62-21.
Drama hadn't been on the Big 12 championship game's guest list for a while.
That changed last year, when Nebraska famously came within a second (and a few somehow-overlooked feet on Hunter Lawrence's 46-yard game-winning kick) of ending the Red River Rivalry's streak of Big 12 titles, now at six.
The effect of the Huskers' performance on Texas coach Mack Brown was clear this spring.
"I'm glad to see Nebraska is back now because we needed that," he said. "When I got here, Nebraska, Kansas State and Colorado were the three strongest teams in the league. I feel the North is coming back now, and we're about to be one of the better conferences in the country at the top end."
Who figured Brown would be saying something like that this spring when the Huskers sat at 4-3 and 1-2 in the Big 12 in mid-October?
Shooing away all the Big Ten expansion talk, Nebraska's resurgence has prompted a balance the conference hasn't seen in a long time.
The spring has been about validating 2009's balance, proving that even losing one of the conference's best players ever won't slow the Cornhuskers’ progress.
They've done it by building their team around defense and bringing the beef on the offensive and defensive lines.
Missouri built one of the best teams in school history around a dynamic offense, eventually ascending to No. 1, but still lost twice to the Sooners. A year later, they fell behind 35-0 in the first half to Texas and had no chance in the Big 12 title game, trailing 41-7 in the second half against Oklahoma.
Last season, Nebraska proved the South giants wouldn't bully it. It beat Oklahoma (even if it was a wounded Oklahoma in Lincoln) and came oh-so-close to beating Texas.
"I finally felt like we were at the position in our program where we can compete with anybody out there," said Nebraska coach Bo Pelini of his address to the crowd after the Holiday Bowl. "We had finally reached that point where week in and week out, there's not anybody they can throw at us that we don't have the opportunity to beat."
If teams want respect, that's how to earn it. Above all else, find a way to hold their own on the front lines. Nebraska hasn't won anything yet, a point Pelini pounded home this spring to anyone who would listen.
It won't be easy, and plenty of teams not named Texas and Oklahoma will try to stop them. But for the Huskers, this season is about beginning to fill the Pelini era's empty résumé and, in the process, restoring the conference's balance.
- LB Joe Pawelek - Seattle
- S Jordan Lake - unsigned
- QB Todd Reesing - unsigned
- WR Danario Alexander - unsigned
Ndamukong Suh, S Larry Asante and LB Phillip Dillard were drafted.
- DE Auston English - Cleveland
- DT DeMarcus Granger - Seattle
- RB Chris Brown - Denver
- RB Keith Toston - St. Louis
- K Hunter Lawrence - Tampa Bay
- TE/FB Jamie McCoy - St. Louis
- DE Brandon Sharpe - New Orleans
- OL Brandon Carter - New Orleans
- Stuckey notched a team-high six solo tackles and seven tackles total.
- Texas Tech cornerback Jamar Wall had six total tackles (five solo, one assist) and broke up three passes.
- Texas kicker Hunter Lawrence converted a 47-yard field goal in his only attempt, added a point after touchdown and averaged 62 yards on three kickoffs.
- Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing completed 2 of 5 passes for 11 yards and also rushed twice for 11 yards.
- Oklahoma State running back Keith Toston rushed four times for 9 yards.
One of the interesting things about the magazine's winter edition is their annual All-Texas team for players from colleges across the Lone Star State.
Texas quarterback Colt McCoy and TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes were named as the offensive and defensive players of the year.
Here's a look at the other selections for the magazine.
All-Texas first-team offense
QB: Colt McCoy, Texas
RB: Donald Buckram, UTEP
RB: Charles Sims, Houston
WR: Jordan Shipley, Texas
WR: Emmanuel Sanders, SMU
WR: James Cleveland, Houston
TE: Dan Buckner, Texas
OL: Brandon Carter, Texas Tech
OL: J.D. Walton, Baylor
OL: Chris Hall, Texas
OL: Marshall Newhouse, TCU
OL: Marcus Cannon, TCU
K: Hunter Lawrence, Texas
All-Texas first-team defense
DL: Von Miller, Texas A&M
DL: Brandon Sharpe, Texas Tech
DL: Lamarr Houston, Texas
DL: Jerry Hughes, TCU
LB: Daryl Washington, TCU
LB: Sergio Kindle, Texas
LB: Joe Pawelek, Baylor
DB: Earl Thomas, Texas
DB: Rafael Priest, TCU
DB: Jordan Lake, Baylor
DB: Jamar Wall, Texas Tech
P: Chase Turner, Houston
Ret: Jeremy Kerley, TCU
The magazine all selected other awards for specific positional groups.
Best passer: Case Keenum, Houston
Best runner: Donald Buckram, UTEP
Best offensive lineman: Marshall Newhouse, TCU
Best receiver: Jordan Shipley, Texas
Best defensive lineman: Jerry Hughes, TCU
Best linebacker, Daryl Washington, TCU
Best defensive back: Earl Thomas, Texas
Most versatile: Von Miller, Texas A&M
DCTF also picked an all-Texas second team as well
All-Texas second-team offense
QB: Andy Dalton, TCU
RB: Lance Dunbar, North Texas
RB: Shawnbrey McNeal, SMU
WR: Jeff Moturi, SMU
WR: Tyron Carrier, Houston
WR: Kendall Wright, Baylor
TE: Justin Akers, Baylor
OL: Adam Ulatoski, Texas
OL: Jarve Dean, Houston
OL: Mike Aguayo, UTEP
OL: Lee Grimes, Texas A&M
OL: Charlie Tanner, Texas
K: Ross Evans, TCU
All-Texas second-team defense
DL: Scott Solomon, Rice
DL: Tyrell Graham, Houston
DL: Daniel Howard, Texas Tech
DL: Sam Acho, Texas
LB: Tank Carder, TCU
LB: Marcus McGraw, Houston
LB: Craig Robertson, North Texas
DB: Nick Sanders, TCU
DB: Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith, UTEP
DB: Blake Gideon, Texas
DB: Brandon Brinkley, Houston
Ret: Tyron Carrier, Houston
P: Derek Epperson, Baylor
Note: All Big 12 players are listed in bold facing.
Darrell K. Royal/Texas Memorial Stadium now has more than 100,00 seats. The Longhorns have a designated successor for Brown in place with rising star Will Muschamp. And that pesky problem with Bob Stoops has been alleviated recently with four victories in the last five seasons over the Sooners.
Times are good for Brown.
Here's a look at the Longhorns’ all-decade team during that time.
QB: Vince Young
RB: Jamaal Charles
RB: Cedric Benson
WR: Jordan Shipley
WR: Roy Williams
TE: David Thomas
OL: Justin Blalock
OL: Jonathan Scott
OL: Derrick Dockery
OL: Leonard Davis
C: Lyle Sendlein
DL: Brian Orakpo
DL: Cory Redding
DL: Shaun Rogers
DL: Casey Hampton
LB: Sergio Kindle
LB: Derrick Johnson
LB: Roddrick Muckelroy
DB: Earl Thomas
DB: Michael Huff
DB: Nathan Vasher
DB: Aaron Ross
P: Richmond McGee
K: Hunter Lawrence
KR: Quan Cosby
Offensive player of the decade: QB Vince Young. The most electrifying player of the decade capped his career by scoring the game-winning touchdown to lead his team to the national championship in his final drive. Brown finished with a 30-2 record, 6.040 passing yards and 3,127 rushing yards.
Defensive player of the decade: LB Derrick Johnson. He wasn’t around when the Longhorns won the national championship, but was perhaps the best player at his position at the school since Tommy Nobis. He capped his career with the Nagurski and Butkus Awards after earning All-America honors in each of his last two seasons.
Coach of the decade: Mack Brown. Remember when people used to joke about his inability to win big games or how he coddled his players. That all changed as the decade progressed. Brown got tougher and made some astute moves at defensive coordinator to help his program take the next step with the addition of coaches like Gene Chizik and Will Muschamp.
Moment of the decade: Vince Young’s run leads comeback victory to the 2005 national championship. Young’s game-winning 8-yard TD run with 19 seconds left boosted the Longhorns to a 41-38 victory over USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl, providing the margin of victory in one of the greatest college football games in history. Michael Huff’s fourth-down stop of LenDale White on the preceding drive set up Young’s heroics to snap the Trojans’ 34-game winning streak.
The Big 12 has provided a few of latter -- and more -- over the last decade with some of the most entertaining games in recent college football history.
Here are my favorite 10 games of the past decade. There are 10 to 15 other games that legitimately could have been included on this list.
1. Texas 41, USC 38 (Jan. 1, 2006): The Longhorns claimed the 2005 national title with a dramatic comeback capped by Vince Young’s game-winning 8-yard TD run with 19 seconds left. Michael Huff’s critical fourth-down stop of LenDale White set the stage on the preceding drive. And many observers still think that Pete Carroll could have gone for a game-tying field goal attempt on the final play of the game if he hadn't squandered a timeout before a two-point try after Young's TD run.
2. Texas Tech 39, Texas 33 (Nov. 1, 2008): Michael Crabtree’s 28-yard touchdown reception from Graham Harrell with one second remaining capped the wildest victory in Tech history -- made even more improbable after Blake Gideon dropped an interception on the play before Crabtree’s game-winning touchdown.
3. Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42 (Jan. 1, 2007): The Broncos won the 2007 Fiesta Bowl by fooling Bob Stoops’ team with three gadget plays: a game-tying hook and ladder play in regulation, an option pass from wide receiver Vinny Perretta to Derek Schouman in overtime to pull within one point and a game-winning two-point conversion by Ian Johnson on a Statue of Liberty play. Johnson proposed to his girlfriend, Chrissy Popadics, on the field after the play. After all the excitement, of course, she accepted.
4. Oklahoma State 49, Texas Tech 45 (Sept. 22, 2007): This classic offensive battle produced 62 first downs and 1,328 yards and wasn’t settled until Michael Crabtree dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass in the end zone in the final minute of play. And we all still remember it more for the fireworks in the press conferences with Mike Leach and Mike Gundy than for what happened on the field, don’t we?
5. Oklahoma 35, Texas A&M 31 (Nov. 11, 2000): Torrance Marshall’s game-winning 41-yard interception return with 7:42 left enabled the Sooners to continue their charge to the 2000 national championship. Oklahoma overcame an 11-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter and a 10-point hole with less than 9 minutes remaining. Marshall’s heroics gave the Sooners the lead and the Oklahoma defense did the rest, turning away the Aggies twice deep in Oklahoma territory late in the game.
6. Kansas 40, Missouri 37 (Nov. 29, 2008): Four lead changes in the final 6:52 made this game memorable, even though Missouri had already clinched the North title coming into the game. Todd Reesing and Kerry Meier hooked up five times on the game-winning drive, capped by a 26-yard touchdown pass with 27 seconds left. Missouri had one last hope, but Jeff Wolfert’s 54-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the game was partially blocked by Phillip Strozier.
7. Texas 13, Nebraska 12 (Dec. 5, 2009) : In a conference that made its national reputation with wild offensive battles, it was refreshing to see a defensive struggle in the 2009 Big 12 title game. Nebraska, keyed by a ferocious defense that forced three interceptions and sacked Colt McCoy nine times, appeared to have taken control on a 42-yard field goal by Alex Henery with 1:44 left. Ndamukong Suh sacked McCoy a championship-game record 4.5 times. But McCoy withstood the rush and drove the Longhorns for the game-winning field goal after a controversial officiating decision put extra time back on the clock after it appeared the Longhorns had squandered their chance to win. Hunter Lawrence’s 46-yard field goal as time expired gave Texas the victory.
8. Texas 56, Oklahoma State 35 (Nov. 6, 2004): The Longhorns were in a 35-7 hole late in the second quarter before Vince Young hooked up on a 4-yard TD pass to Bo Scaife shortly before halftime. That opened the floodgates, as the Longhorns scored touchdowns on six straight drives. Cedric Benson rushed for 141 yards and five touchdowns and Vince Young rushed for 123 yards and completed 12 straight passes at one point en route to a then career-high 278 passing yards. The Longhorns piled up 600 yards of total offense in the wild comeback, outgaining the Cowboys 266-to-minus-5 in the third quarter of the comeback.
9. Nebraska 40, Colorado 31 (Nov. 28, 2008): Alex Henery’s school-record 57-yard field goal with 1:43 left gave the Cornhuskers the lead for good in this classic that Colorado needed to win to qualify for a bowl game. And Ndamukong Suh foreshadowed his monster season to come by icing the victory with a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown with 55 seconds left.
10. Baylor 35, Texas A&M 34 (Oct. 30, 2004): The Bears had been waiting for a long time for a chance to beat Texas A&M -- particularly after losing 73-10 to the Aggies in College Station the previous season. So it was understandable that Guy Morriss didn’t hesitate to go for the win after pulling within one point in overtime on Shawn Bell’s pass to Dominique Ziegler. Bell and Ziegler then hooked up again for the two-point conversion, snapping an 18-game winless streak to the Aggies.
- 1. Vince Young's game-winning touchdown in the 2006 Rose Bowl: Anyone who was there or saw it will never forget Young's 8-yard touchdown run with 19 seconds left that led Texas to a 41-38 triumph over USC and the 2005 national championship.
- 2. Michael Crabtree's last-second grab stuns Texas: Crabtree's game-winning 28-yard catch with one second left did more than merely wrap up the biggest victory in Texas Tech history, a 39-33 win over Texas. It heralded a national coming-out party for Crabtree and the rest of the Tech program, setting the stage for the wild three-way South Division tie in 2008.
- 3. Superman's leap: Roy Williams' dramatic blitz forced Chris Simms to throw an interception to Teddy Lehman, who returned it for the game-winning touchdown in Oklahoma's 14-3 triumph over Texas in 2001.
- 4. Torrance Marshall's theft saves the season: Texas A&M was driving, but Marshall's 41-yard fourth-quarter interception return provided a game-winning touchdown and a 35-31 triumph over the Aggies at Kyle Field. The big play preserved Oklahoma's victory in the Sooners' toughest challenge en route to the 2000 national championship.
- 5. Eric Crouch's catch cements Heisman bid, beats Oklahoma: Crouch's 63-yard TD reception on a throwback pass from freshman receiver Mike Stuntz was Crouch's signature moment on his path to the 2001 Heisman Trophy and sparked a 20-10 triumph over Oklahoma.
- 6. Darren Sproles sparks Kansas State's stunning 2003 Big 12 title game upset: Darren Sproles rushed for 235 yards -- the most gained against an Oklahoma defense ever to that point -- and Ell Roberson added four touchdown passes to help Kansas State claim its first Big 12 title in a 35-7 upset over No. 1 Oklahoma.
- 7. Hunter Lawrence's kick pushes Texas into national title game: Despite a sputtering performance by Colt McCoy that included nine sacks and three interceptions, Texas held on for a 13-12 victory over Nebraska in the 2009 title game on a 46-yard field goal by Hunter Lawrence on the final play of the game. Lawrence's game-winning kick came only after McCoy nearly squandered the opportunity by throwing the ball out of bounds on the previous play as the clock originally appeared to have expired. Officials put time back on the clock, setting the stage for Lawrence's heroics.
- 8. Chris Brown gashes the Cornhuskers: Colorado running back Chris Brown ripped Nebraska for 198 yards and six touchdowns, boosting the Buffaloes to a wild 62-36 victory over Nebraska that snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Cornhuskers. Brown's big game sent the Buffaloes to the 2001 Big 12 title game, which they won the following week against Texas.
- 9. Postgame clash of the titans: Oklahoma State's 49-45 victory over Texas Tech in 2007 produced one of the most memorable games in Big 12 history. The teams compiled 94 points, 62 first downs and 1,328 yards. But all of the action on the field was upstaged in a wild postgame battle of soundbites when Mike Leach questioned the toughness of his defense and Mike Gundy berated an Oklahoma City columnist who he felt had unfairly portrayed quarterback Bobby Reid.
- 10. Kyle Field's nod to patriotism: Texas A&M's 21-7 victory over Oklahoma State wasn't what was so memorable. It was that the Aggies fans decked out Kyle Field in red, white and blue in the first game after the 9/11 attacks on the country in 2001. Thousands of fans transformed the old stadium into a patriotic rainbow in a memory that endures to this day.
Baylor linebacker Joe Pawelek, Iowa State offensive lineman Reggie Stephens, Kansas State defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald, Oklahoma State running back Keith Toston, Texas Tech cornerback Jamar Wall, Texas Tech guard Brandon Carter, Colorado tight end Riar Geer, Kansas wide receiver Kerry Meier, Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing, Kansas safety Darrell Stuckey, Missouri defensive tackle Jaron Baston, Nebraska safety Larry Asante, Oklahoma running back Chris Brown, Oklahoma cornerback Brian Jackson, Texas defensive tackle Lamarr Houston and Texas kicker Hunter Lawrence are on the West team's roster.
Every Big 12 program except Texas A&M will be represented in the annual all-star game, which will be played for the 85th time.
It will be particularly critical for players like Pawelek, Fitzgerald, Reesing and Toston as they perform before professional scouts in practices next week leading up to the game.
And keep an eye out for Stephens, who plans to work at guard after serving as a center for the Cyclones this season.
Here are my 10 most memorable moments of the Big 12 season. They aren't ranked in any specific order, but all played a huge part in the conference this season.
- Colt McCoy's injury: When the senior Texas quarterback was lost for the game with a nerve injury to his throwing shoulder after five offensive snaps in the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama, the Longhorns' hopes were doomed. Even a strong and gutty relief performance by freshman backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert won't alter Texas fans from thinking what could have happened if McCoy had not been injured.
- Sam Bradford's injuries: Oklahoma's hopes of a national championship were crushed after Bradford sprained an AC joint in his throwing shoulder shortly before halftime in the Sooners' season opener against BYU. Their dreams of a four-peat of consecutive Big 12 titles died when Bradford was reinjured early in the first quarter of its South Division showdown against Texas.
- “I'm so proud to be your coach”: Without starting quarterback Austen Arnaud and top rusher Alexander Robinson, and with a sapping flu bug depleting his team, first-year Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads was overcome with emotion in the locker room following his team's 9-7 upset at Nebraska. His heartfelt reaction captured by an ISU film crew became an immediate YouTube sensation.
- Sticks' dramatic comeback: With the Texas Tech program in limbo after Mike Leach's firing three days earlier, the Red Raiders fell behind underdog Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl. Interim coach Ruffin McNeill pulled Taylor Potts from the lineup and inserted backup Steven “Sticks” Sheffield at quarterback with 8:05 left to give his team a boost. Sheffield responded by hitting his first six passes and going 9-for-11 in the game to help direct the Red Raiders to a 41-31 victory. Potts earned Most Valuable Player honors in the game, but Sheffield saved the Red Raiders' victory.
- Colt McCoy's "too early" Heisman moment: McCoy was presumed to have locked up the Heisman with a 65-yard touchdown run through the middle of the Texas A&M defense, helping spark a 49-39 victory over the Aggies. It punctuated an effort in which McCoy accounted for 479 yards and five touchdowns against A&M. That was, until …
- "Big Suh" dominates Texas: Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh provided a game for the ages against Texas in the Big 12 title game before losing to the Longhorns, 13-12. Suh had a Big 12 title game record 4.5 sacks, and the Cornhuskers harassed McCoy into three interceptions and sacked him nine times. The big effort not only doomed McCoy's Heisman hopes, but undoubtedly sparked Suh's trip to the Heisman presentation at the same time.
- Broyles slices through the Cowboys: Oklahoma wide receiver/punt returner Ryan Broyles punctuated a 209-yard punt return effort with an 87-yard scoring return to lead the Sooners' 27-0 victory over Oklahoma State, ending the Cowboys' hopes of making a trip to a BCS game. Broyles' 316 all-purpose yards were the third-best effort in school history.
- Robert Griffin's injury: Baylor's worst fears were realized during the Bears' 68-13 victory over Northwestern State when their stellar sophomore quarterback suffered a season-ending knee injury. It killed their hopes of snapping a 15-season bowl drought -- tied for the longest among schools with automatic BCS bids -- just when promise under Coach Art Briles had never appeared brighter.
- Danario's late-season explosion: Missouri wide receiver Danario Alexander progressed into the nation's most explosive receiver during the final half of the season. He nearly became the first player in college football history to notch back-to-back-to-back-to-back 200-yard receiving games. He finished with 214 yards against Baylor, 200 against Kansas State, 173 yards against Iowa State and 233 yards against Kansas in his final four regular-season games.
- Hunter Lawrence's field goal: After it appeared Texas had mismanaged its way to losing the Big 12 title game, one second was put back on the clock. Hunter Lawrence took advantage on the reprieve with a 46-yard field goal that gave the Longhorns a 13-12 victory over Nebraska and a berth in the BCS title game. It was the first time in Lawrence's career -- dating back to pee-wee football -- that he had ever attempted a game-winning kick.
McCoy was sandwiched into center Chris Hall when he was crushed by Alabama defensive end Marcell Darius.
The play knocked McCoy out for the rest of the drive.
It was capped by an 18-yard field goal by Hunter Lawrence that gave Texas a 3-0 lead.
The Longhorns take an early lead, but may have suffered a greater loss without McCoy. It's hard to believe the Longhorns can win without their leader.
Amazingly, Lawrence’s game-winning 46-yard kick against Nebraska was the first time he was challenged to convert a game-winner in the final seconds in his football career.
Despite providing one of the most spectacular plays in Texas’ football history, Lawrence’s heroics have a short shelf life. He realizes his legacy will be determined as much by upcoming kicks in Thursday’s BCS National Championship Game as the one that got them to the game.
“That kick was a good thing, but you can’t think about it all the time or dwell on it,” Lawrence said. “You have to put it away and move on.”
Lawrence’s kicking will be critical for the Longhorns in Thursday’s game against Alabama. He’s had the most consistent stretch of his career, converting 22 of 25 field-goal attempts for an .865 career field-goal percentage -- highest in the history of the school.
The late binge was a marked contrast after Lawrence’s rocky start when he arrived at Texas in 2006. Lawrence initially failed to live up to the promise that made him one of the first kickers to receive a full scholarship in the Mack Brown era after a stellar career at Boerne High School in the suburbs of San Antonio.
Lawrence was involved in a tight battle as a freshman and eventually was beaten out for the kicking job by Ryan Bailey during the 2006 season. Bailey made the most of his opportunity, converting all six field goals including the game-winning kick in a howling snowstorm at Nebraska that earned him the Longhorns’ kicking job for most of the his first two seasons.
Instead, Lawrence handled the kickoff duties, waiting for his chance to challenge for the regular place-kicking job later in his career.
“This place is pretty intense and it took me awhile to get used to it,” Lawrence said. “You have to put in the work to win the job. You can’t just walk in here and get stuff handed to you. There’s a lot of work involved.”
Bailey handled the job in the 2007 season and early in 2008 before Texas coaches opened competition again last season. That time, Lawrence claimed the starting job and lived up to his promise by converting nine of his first 10 kicks en route to leading the team with 90 points.
The close competition with Bailey boosted Lawrence’s development.
“It’s helped me a lot,” Lawrence said. “He’s a heck of a kicker and we’ve competed back and forth over the years. We kind of pushed each other to keep getting better and better. And after having done it for so many years, it’s made me better.”
Lawrence reclaimed the starting job in another tight battle that wasn’t settled until shortly before the season.
“He made a lot and I made a lot. Neither one of us missed too many in two-a-days,” Lawrence said. “It could have gone either way. He was kicking really well and so was I. Both of us were only one or two kicks away when it all ended up.”
That constant competition steeled Lawrence’s concentration for the game-winner in the Big 12 title game. Although he hadn’t faced many clutch kicks in games, battling with Bailey made for some similar competitive situations at Texas practices that had him ready for his shot against the Cornhuskers.
“I’ve probably been more nervous in some practices than I have in games,” Lawrence said. “But that’s a good thing. That pressure being kept on you makes it all seem game-like when you finally get the chance in the game.”
I've tried to do something similar for the Big 12 -- boiling down the conference's 2009 campaign into the 25 most significant moments of the regular season.
Here are my choices. Let me know if you think I've forgotten any. A bunch of good moments were left out, let me assure you.
Unfortunately for the conference, the most significant moments were off-the-field items like injuries and suspensions.
They aren't ranked in any order, although some assuredly are more important than others.
- Sam Bradford’s injury: Oklahoma’s hopes of claiming the BCS championship were abruptly detoured in the first half of the Sooners’ first game. Bradford was hit by BYU linebacker Coleby Clawson shortly before halftime, knocking him out of the Cougars' 14-13 season-opening victory. The legal hit caused a sprained AC joint in Bradford's right shoulder that kept him out for the next three games.
- Bradford’s injury – part two: After successfully returning form injury, and leading the Sooners to a victory over Baylor in their conference opener, Bradford started strongly against Texas the following week. He directed a 77-yard scoring drive on the Sooners’ first possession for a 3-0 lead. On the next Oklahoma offensive play, the Sooners' hopes of a fourth straight Big 12 title were dealt a cruel ending. Texas cornerback Aaron Williams knocked Bradford out of the game with a devastating sack. Bradford landed on his shoulder and didn’t play the rest of the season, undergoing surgery several weeks later.
- “I’m so proud to be your coach”: Without starting quarterback Austen Arnaud and top rusher Alexander Robinson, and with a sapping flu bug, first-year Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads was overcome with his emotion in the locker room following his team's 9-7 upset of Nebraska. His heartfelt reaction captured by an ISU film crew became an immediate YouTube sensation. But something tells me that Bo Pelini will show it to his Nebraska team often before the Cornhuskers’ rematch in Ames next season.
- Robert Griffin’s injury: Baylor’s worst fears were realized in the Bears’ 68-13 victory over Northwestern State when their stellar sophomore quarterback suffered a season-ending knee injury. It killed their hopes of snapping the conference’s longest bowl drought.
- Todd Reesing is pulled late from Texas Tech game: Kansas appeared on the verge of a breakthrough road win at Texas Tech that would have qualified them for a bowl game. But the Jayhawks squandered a 21-14 lead entering the fourth quarter after two drives ended with fumbles by senior quarterback Todd Reesing. Coach Mark Mangino pulled Reesing for Kale Pick, saying he thought his quarterback was battered from the constant Tech pressure. Removing Kansas’ most decorated player foreshadowed the Kansas collapse the rest of the season. The Jayhawks lost the game 42-21 and the remaining four games on their schedule.
- Blocked kick saves the Wildcats: Iowa State had pulled within a point of Kanas State with 23 seconds left, but Emmanuel Lamur blocked the ensuing conversion, preserving a 24-23 victory that catapulted the Wildcats into the North Division lead for much of the season.
- Banks’ kickoff returns: Brandon Banks provided kickoff returns of 91 and 92 yards in less than 3 minutes to boost Kansas State past Tennessee Tech.
- Colt McCoy's "too early" Heisman moment: Texas quarterback Colt McCoy was presumed to have locked up his Heisman with a 65-yard touchdown run through the middle of the Texas A&M defense, helping spark a 49-39 victory over the Aggies. It punctuated an effort in which McCoy accounted for 479 yards and five touchdowns against A&M. That was, until …
- "Big Suh" dominates Texas: Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh provided a dominating performance, and almost single-handedly pushed his team to the Big 12 title before losing 13-12 against Texas. Suh had a Big 12 title game record 4.5 sacks, and the Cornhuskers harassed McCoy into three interceptions and sacked him nine times. Goodbye Heisman for McCoy in a performance that undoubtedly sparked Suh's trip to the Heisman presentation at the same time.
- Nebraska’s comeback in the rain against Missouri: The Tigers had dominated the first three quarters en route to a 12-0 lead. But Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee torched Missouri’s secondary for three touchdowns in a span of 202 seconds to spark a 27-12 victory. Lee had completed 9 of 27 passes heading into the fourth quarter.
- Danario’s late-season explosion: Missouri wide receiver Danario Alexander progressed into the nation’s most explosive receiver during the final half of the season. He nearly became the first player in college football history to notch back-to-back-to-back-to-back 200-yard receiving games. He finished with 214 yards against Baylor, 200 against Kansas State, 173 yards against Iowa State and 233 yards against Kansas in his final four games.
- Virginia Tech’s late rally against Nebraska: The Cornhuskers appeared poised to steal a victory at Virginia Tech despite an offensive attack that consisted of five Alex Henery field goals. But with less than 90 seconds remaining, Danny Coale got behind Matt O’Hanlon for an 81-yard reception from Tyrod Taylor. The Cornhuskers’ collapsed three plays later when Taylor hooked up with Dyrell Roberts on an 11-yard touchdown with 21 seconds left to cap the Hokies' 16-15 victory.
- Nebraska’s fumble-fest against Iowa State: The Cornhuskers’ sputtering offense bottomed out in a 9-7 loss at Iowa State. The Cornhuskers started the day on offense with a fumble and finished with a Zac Lee interception on their final play. In between, there were six turnovers that doomed the Cornhuskers’ hopes, leading to the Cyclones’ first victory in Lincoln since 1977.
- Broyles slices through the Cowboys: Oklahoma wide receiver/punt returner Ryan Broyles punctuated a 209-yard punt return effort with an 87-yard scoring return to lead the Sooners’ 27-0 victory over Oklahoma State, ending the Cowboys’ hopes of making a trip to a BCS game. His 316 all-purpose yards were the third-best effort in school history.
- Tyler Hansen's redshirt season abruptly ends: After seeing a 14-10 halftime lead over Texas dissipate into a 24-14 deficit in one quarter, Colorado coach Dan Hawkins inserted quarterback Tyler Hansen into the lineup for the first time, ending thoughts that he would redshirt. The Buffaloes beat Kansas in their next game and Hansen remained in the starting lineup much of the rest of the season in front of Hawkins’ son, Cody.
- Dez Bryant’s dismissal: Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant rebounded from nagging early-season injuries and appeared ready to help the Cowboys challenge for their first South Division title. He produced five touchdowns in OSU’s first three games. But he was ruled ineligible for the rest of the season on October 7 for violating an NCAA bylaw. Bryant failed to fully disclose his interactions with former NFL standout Deion Sanders to the NCAA.
- The emergence of "Sticks" Sheffield: A 2-2 Texas Tech team looked in trouble when starting quarterback Taylor Potts suffered a concussion shortly before the half against New Mexico. Backup Steven “Sticks” Sheffield responded by completing his first three passes and punctuated that possession with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Alex Torres as time expired in the first half to boost Tech to a 14-7 lead. That sparked a run of four straight drives capped by touchdowns and a 48-28 victory. Tech won its next three games with Sheffield as a starter.
- They can play defense at Tech: The offensive-minded Red Raiders led the conference with 34 sacks. Their defensive emergence was best typified in a late-stand against Baylor that preserved a 20-13 victory.
- Florence’s comeback: Baylor freshman quarterback Nick Florence rallied the Bears from an 11-point halftime against Missouri to an eventual 40-32 victory. In their only conference victory, Florence passed for a school-record 427 yards and three touchdowns, overcoming a 468-yard passing effort by Missouri's Blaine Gabbert.
- Cha'pelle's clutch pass defense: Colorado cornerback Cha’pelle Brown’s defense in the end zone preserved the Buffaloes’ 34-30 victory over Kansas. It was the loss that started the Jayhawks’ seven-game losing streak, costing them a bowl berth and ultimately Mark Mangino’s job.
- Mangino's coaching gaffe: Nursing a three-point lead with 2:59 left, Mangino curiously went for three straight passes from his end zone against Missouri. On the final play, Reesing was sacked for a safety by Brian Coulter and Aldon Smith, setting up Grant Ressel’s 27-yard field goal on the last play to give Missouri a 41-39 victory.
- Matt O’Hanlon’s trio of picks: Former walk-on safety O’Hanlon provided three interceptions, including the game-sealing one with 27 seconds left, to preserve Nebraska’s 10-3 victory over Oklahoma.
- It’s just not only Suh, too: Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick was overshadowed most of the season playing next to Ndamukong Suh --except during Crick's record-breaking five-sack performance during a 20-10 win over Baylor. Crick tied the school record with seven tackles for losses and provided a fumble recovery in the fourth quarter that helped seal the victory.
- Marquise Goodwin's clutch kickoff return: Texas A&M had just pulled within 42-39 of Texas, and had Kyle Field roaring after a 20-yard touchdown pass from Jerrod Johnson to Jeff Fuller. But freshman Marquise Goodwin, returning kickoffs only because of D.J. Monroe's suspension, silenced the crowd with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that iced the Longhorns' victory.
And how could we forget …
- Hunter Lawrence’s field goal: After it appeared Texas had mismanaged its way to losing the Big 12 title game, one second was put back on the clock. Hunter Lawrence took advantage with a 46-yard field goal that gave the Lonhorns a 13-12 victory over Nebraska and a berth in the BCS title game. It was the first time in Lawrence’s career – dating back to pee-wee football – that he had ever attempted a game-winning kick.
After nearly three weeks of prodding from the Nebraska media, Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne finally made a comment about some of Pelini's postgame antics.
Osborne noted in his statement that Pelini was professional in his postgame news conference with members of the media. But cameras captured Pelini after the game yelling: "BCS! That's why they made that call."
Pelini also had a heated postgame conversation with Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe immediately after his press conference concluded.
The Nebraska coach's emotional outburst was triggered by the end of the championship game. The game clock originally expired with Nebraska ahead before game officials put one second back on the clock. That extra time enabled Hunter Lawrence to convert a game-winning 46-yard field goal as time expired, giving the Longhorns the conference championship.
But Pelini's comments did not draw a negative response from Beebe or the conference office, Osborne said.
"The commissioner registered no dissatisfaction with his conversation with Bo," Osborne said in remarks reported by the Lincoln Journal-Star. "I shook his hand and thanked him for talking with Bo. At no time did Nebraska coaches or staff indicate disrespect to the commissioner."
Pelini's outburst was understandable after the emotional game. But the fact is that the Texas victory ended up costing the Big 12 money in the BCS rather than providing extra money for it.
If Nebraska had won the Big 12 title game, Texas undoubtedly would have qualified for the BCS as an at-large team. That addition would have provided an extra $4.5 million for the conference it will not now make because the conference has only one team in the BCS.
And it also has made the Longhorns' trip to Lincoln next Oct. 16 perhaps the most eagerly anticipated home game for Nebraska fans in many years.
The conference had seven first-team selections, five second-team selections and six third-team selections.
Here's a look at the AP's Big 12 honorees.
First team: QB Colt McCoy, Texas; T Russell Okung, Oklahoma State; T Trent Williams, Oklahoma; C J.D. Walton, Baylor; WR Jordan Shipley, Texas; DT Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska; S Earl Thomas, Texas.
Second team: WR Danario Alexander, Missouri; DE Von Miller, Texas A&M; DT Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma; LB Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri; CB Perrish Cox, Oklahoma State.
Third team: G Brandon Carter, Texas Tech; C Chris Hall, Texas; K Hunter Lawrence, Texas; DE Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma; DE Brandon Sharpe, Texas Tech; LB Sergio Kindle, Texas.
Here's a link to the entire All-America team picked by AP pollsters.
Kelly said that if Nebraska had held on for a victory over Texas in the Big 12 title game, he likely still would be the coach at Cincinnati.
With the BCS rankings after the conference championship games, a Texas loss would have catapulted the Bearcats into the national championship game against Alabama rather than Texas.
"Who knows what would have happened if Nebraska wins that game," Kelly said on "The Afternoon Saloon" on ESPN 1000. "I might not be here at Notre Dame because we don't know if they would have waited for me, because I was going to play in the national championship game."
On several occasions in the past several weeks, Kelly has mentioned Adi Kunalic's critical out-of-bounds kickoff that preceded Hunter Lawrence's game-winning field goal. He mentioned it again Tuesday on Dan Patrick's national radio show.
"The kickoff specialist from Nebraska will not be getting a Christmas card from us," Kelly said.
Kelly also mentioned that he'd consider playing Texas as he builds his Notre Dame program.
"When you look at the teams that carry the same mission [as Notre Dame], Texas does that obviously," he said. "Those kinds of schools really are attractive to me.
"[Athletic director] Jack Swarbrick and I will sit down and look at our schedule as we move forward. I want to be around the best, because we're asked to be the best. And that's the kind of schedule I want."
The Longhorns and Notre Dame last played in 1996 in the first season of Big 12 play. Notre Dame has not played a Big 12 school since 2001 when it played Texas A&M and Nebraska. The Irish also met Baylor in 1998, Kansas and Oklahoma in 1999 and Texas A&M and Nebraska in 2000 and 2001.
They have future games against Baylor in New Orleans and at Oklahoma in 2012, at home against Oklahoma in 2013.
Is there any other Big 12 teams that would make an ideal matchup with the Irish and Kelly in future seasons?
How about a reprise of those classic Colorado-Notre Dame bowl games from the early 1990s? Or natural rival Missouri? Or Mike Leach and Texas Tech or Mike Gundy and Oklahoma State taking their teams to play in South Bend, Ind., in future seasons?