Big 12: Jamell Fleming

Mailbag: Defending the top 25 player list

March, 14, 2012
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As always, lots of responses to my list of the Big 12's top 25 players in 2011.

Here's the list.

And here's what you all had to say.

Dave in Maryland wrote: I think most of your picks are defendable, with the exception of Klein as number 7. I believe you violated your own rule: "Each player's personal role or meaning to his team is irrelevant. This is not a 'most valuable' list. It's the Big 12's best players". Klein may develop into a great QB, but I'd say that last season he was simply above average and did not make mistakes. If you were to hold a draft of the BigXII-ish QBs at the end of the season to play one more game, RG3, Weedon, Jones, Doege, Tannehill and possibly Franklin would all be drafted before him. Klein was arguably the 7th best QB in the Big 12 last season, not the 7th best player.

David Ubben: I'd totally disagree with you on that, Dave. How many guys in this league, much less quarterbacks, could take the kind of beating Klein did last year and keep going, and keep maintaining the production Klein did? The guy was getting beat up every single week and never flinched.

Additionally, he wasn't even practicing much of the second half of the season and still progressed as a passer. That makes me pretty optimistic about his 2012.

Klein may have been the seventh best passer in the Big 12, but he was easily the seventh-best player, and maybe deserved to be even higher.

Bobby in Tulsa wrote: Great list! Just curious your thoughts on Jamell Fleming. I could see maybe not making your top 25 but not even on honorable mention? What was your thought process on him? His stats and importance to the team was as important as any DB in the Big 12. Thanks. Great job, as always.

DU: It's really, really tough to grade cornerbacks in this league. I'll say that for starters. The offenses, receivers and schemes are so good that life is pretty hard out there for DBs in general.

When it comes to Fleming, I thought he underachieved a bit this year, but in retrospect, you were probably right that he deserved honorable mention. He wasn't better than Nigel Malone or Carrington Byndom this year. I feel strongly about that. But he was as good as anyone else.

For me, the lasting image of Fleming this year was those losses to Baylor and Oklahoma State when it looked like OU's secondary wasn't even playing.

He was better than that, but I probably could have contrasted that with how Oklahoma's defense struggled without Fleming in the loss to Texas Tech. That game is probably different with Fleming on the field.

So, point to the people on this one. Fleming deserved honorable mention.

J.R. in Beckley, W. Va., wrote: hey, i have an interesting question , after the top 25 player polls for the Big12 and Big East ...Griffin and Smith were the #1 players in each conference ...with that being said , who ya got between those 2 guys ? maybe even compare and/or contrast ?

DU: Well, I don't think it's even close between the two, but Smith would have probably been somewhere in my top 10 this year if I had been including West Virginia players.

Griffin is a much better athlete and a better passer than Smith, and they both had comparable weapons this year. Consider, too, that Tavon Austin helped Geno's numbers quite a bit after the catch, while Griffin's biggest asset was hitting receivers on deep balls every week.

Smith's a great player. Don't be surprised to see him at No. 1 on this list. But he wouldn't have been close just yet. Give me Griffin and Brandon Weeden by far over Smith. Landry Jones is close from a big-picture perspective, but last year, Geno was better.

Adam in Washington, D.C., wrote: David, No complaints with your top 25, I just wanted to point out I don't think you go far enough with just what Griffin means to the Baylor program. I'm not sure anybody really can, but it has gone from having a wonderful talking point to taking on a life and identity of it's own. He is discussed at every turn in regards to the draft. His career will be scrutinized from day 1 in the NFL and he will ALWAYS carry that Baylor logo. In 15 years, when Baylor has maintained success in college football (which I strongly believe they will) you will be able to look back and identify a single individual who so instrumental in resuscitating a lifeless program. This kind of stuff just doesn't happen. But he made it happen.

DU: You're preaching to the choir on that one, Adam. It's hard to put into words what Griffin means to the program now and what he'll mean over time. You simply couldn't ask for a better ambassador for your school.

Alex Okafor in Austin wrote: I didn't make your "just missed" list?

DU: Getting around this league and talking to people, you just didn't hear the kind of fear from quarterbacks and OCs about Okafor that you did about some of the other defensive ends in this league, all the defensive ends I put on the list and honorable mention ahead of Okafor.

Texas had a lot of great pieces on the defense, but simply put, Okafor didn't inspire the same kind of respect from people around the league like Frank Alexander, Ronnell Lewis and Jamie Blatnick, or even his teammate, the less-experienced but more physically gifted Jackson Jeffcoat.

Britt Fisher in Austin, Texas, wrote: You really put Moore on there, what he did to eric stevens was disgusting. Also how did Eric Ward not make your list.

DU: Sorry, I just never bought that Damontre Moore's hit on Eric Stephens was dirty. A bit late, yes, but he wasn't trying to hurt him. Moore is a heck of a player.

Also, Ward wasn't even close to the list. Have you been watching Big 12 receivers this year? Ward was probably just inside the league's top 10 if I was ranking receivers.
We're moving on with our 2011 postseason position rankings. Today, it's time for cornerbacks. If you missed it, here's how I ranked them in the preseason.

Here are the other position rankings we've done so far:
Depth is somewhat of a factor here, but I weighted it heavily toward the top two starters at the position.

[+] EnlargeCarrington Byndom
John Albright/Icon SMICarrington Byndom went up against some of the Big 12's top receivers and held his own.
1. Texas — The Longhorns duo of Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs were by far the league's best at limiting the big play. Both are physical. Both return. Beware, Big 12 offenses. In just their first year as starters, they helped the Longhorns lead the league in pass defense. Diggs, a true freshman, led the team with four interceptions. Until the regular-season finale against Baylor, Texas and Alabama were the only teams that hadn't given up a touchdown pass longer than 20 yards. Obviously, that's way, way more impressive in the Big 12.

2. Kansas State — K-State overachieved in a lot of ways this year, and perhaps nowhere more than at cornerback. Juco transfer Nigel Malone led the league with seven interceptions. Known entity David Garrett was even more solid, making 88 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss. I ranked this unit 10th in the Big 12 before the season. They finished second. I was wrong.

3. Oklahoma — The Sooners' corners were good, but not great, and underachieved slightly. Jamell Fleming and Demontre Hurst are supremely talented, but were susceptible to big plays this year. Granted, everybody in the Big 12 was, but the Sooners ranked fourth in pass defense. Fleming broke up 10 passes and intercepted two more. Hurst broke up 11 and had an interception.

4. Oklahoma State — At times, Oklahoma State's Brodrick Brown was a legitimate shutdown corner. Justin Gilbert turned in a solid effort in his first year as a starter, which was much more important after a season-ending injury to Devin Hedgepeth in September. Gilbert picked off five passes, second-most in the Big 12.

5. Iowa StateLeonard Johnson was quietly an NFL prospect that put together a huge year. He was a big reason for ISU's upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State, and helped shut down Justin Blackmon. He finished with 71 tackles, eight pass breakups and a pick. Jeremy Reeves added two picks and seven pass breakups.

6. MissouriE.J. Gaines led the Big 12 with 16 pass breakups, and the Tigers ranked fifth in the Big 12 in pass defense. Fellow first-year starter Kip Edwards added a pick and three pass breakups.

7. Texas A&M — The team's top corner, Coryell Judie, was hampered by a hamstring injury all season, but production is production. It wasn't there for Judie, one of the league's top corners in 2010. Terrence Frederick had a good year with 13 pass breakups and a pick, but the Aggies were susceptible through the air all year. Lionel Smith and Dustin Harris filled in well in Judie's absence, but not well enough. A&M finished eighth in pass defense and helped five QBs set career highs for passing yardage in 2011.

8. BaylorK.J. Morton played well down the stretch for Baylor, but the Bears defense left a lot to be desired almost everywhere. They finished last in the Big 12 in pass defense, giving up over 290 yards a game. Morton picked off four passes and broke up six more. All four of his picks came in the final three games of 2011. Chance Casey broke up six passes and made 48 stops.

9. Texas Tech — How's this for irony? The Red Raiders actually finished second in the Big 12 in pass defense. It doesn't matter much. Tre' Porter had the only interception for a cornerback all season, and broke up two passes. Injuries were a problem all season. Cornelius Douglas, Derrick Mays, Jarvis Phillips and Sawyer Vest filled the unit, but Tech faced 61 fewer pass attempts than Kansas and 111 fewer than the next team in the Big 12. That's what happens when you can't stop the run. Doesn't mean the corners played well.

10. KansasGreg Brown picked off two passes and broke up three more. Isiah Barfield made 35 tackles and broke up five passes. The Jayhawks ranked ninth in the Big 12 in pass defense. They didn't get much of a pass rush to help the corners, but the corners were very poor in 2011.

Results from the NFL combine's final day

February, 29, 2012
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The NFL combine wrapped on Tuesday, but here's a quick look at how the defensive backs did on the final day of workouts.

Jamell Fleming, CB, Oklahoma
  • 40-yard dash: 4.53 seconds (12th among CBs)
  • 225-pound bench press: 23 reps (second among CBs)
Markelle Martin, S, Oklahoma State
  • 225-pound bench press: 19 reps (T-6 among safeties)
Johnny Thomas, S, Oklahoma State
  • 40-yard dash: 4.63 seconds (12th among safeties)
  • 225-pound bench press: 20 reps (T-4 among safeties)

One quick Insider thought from our scout, Steve Muench:
  • At 5-10 and 206, former Oklahoma State S Johnny Thomas appeared to be in excellent shape despite missing the 2011 season because of an eligibility issue, and he moved well in space. He also flashed above-average ball skills and even made a nice one-handed catch with his right hand, but he appeared to lose focus and dropped a pass late. In addition, he had to restart a drill.

Lunch links: Should rivalries continue?

February, 22, 2012
2/22/12
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I don't step up to being leader, Troy. I reluctantly accept it when it's thrust upon me.

Offseason to-do list: Oklahoma

January, 30, 2012
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We're taking a look at what each program in the Big 12 needs to deal with during the offseason, whether it be in the spring, summer or fall preseason camp. Maybe all three! Who knows?

Next up: The Oklahoma Sooners.

1. Fix the secondary. Losses to Texas Tech and especially Baylor and Oklahoma State exposed a weakness in the secondary: giving up big plays. The man who'll be charged with fixing that problem is new defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, who led some of the best defenses in Oklahoma history, including one that gave the Sooners their last national title in 2000. Cornerback Jamell Fleming is gone, but the rest of the secondary returns, and Oklahoma has the talent to fill Fleming's absence. Keep an eye on what happens to Tony Jefferson, too. He's a big weapon at nickelback, but played some traditional safety after Javon Harris struggled against Baylor. Where will Jefferson play?

2. Mature the receiving corps. The struggles after Ryan Broyles' injury were clear, but Landry Jones was only part of it. Oklahoma was deceptively shallow beyond Broyles, and Jaz Reynolds and Kenny Stills just weren't good enough late in the season. They'll have to figure out how to consistently produce without Broyles on the field, and this offseason is the time to do it. Blue-chip recruits Trey Metoyer, Durron Neal and Sterling Shepard should join them next year, and Kameel Jackson showed some decent potential.

3. Sort out the running backs. Dominique Whaley will be healthy next year, and a slew of transfers has thinned the corps, but Brennan Clay and Roy Finch are more than serviceable. Finch emerged as the team's top back late when Whaley was sidelined with a fractured ankle, but Alex Ross should join the team, too. Will Trey Millard get a few carries, too? This situation's pretty unpredictable for now. You'd figure Whaley grabs the starting job back when he gets healthy, but there's no guarantee there. Hence, on the to-do list it lands.

The Big 12 and the Senior Bowl

January, 30, 2012
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Senior Bowl week has come and gone, and now we wait for the combine (starts Feb. 22) for the next big moves prior to the NFL draft.

Here's how the Big 12 participants did, with a few thoughts to follow.

Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State
  • 5-9, 56 yards, 2 INT, sack
Terrance Ganaway, RB, Baylor
  • five carries, 14 yards; two catches, 8 yards
Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M
  • three catches, 19 yards
Michael Egnew, TE, Missouri
  • one catch, 14 yards
Randy Bullock, K, Texas A&M
  • made field goals of 39 and 24 yards. No misses. Two touchbacks on four kickoffs.
Jamell Fleming, CB, Oklahoma
  • four tackles, forced fumble, interception (off Weeden)
Leonard Johnson, CB, Iowa State
  • one pass breakup
Emmanuel Acho, LB, Texas
  • five tackles
Keenan Robinson, LB, Texas
  • three tackles
Kheeston Randall, DT, Texas
  • three tackles
Markelle Martin, S, Oklahoma State
  • two tackles, tackle for loss
Tony Jerod-Eddie, DE, Texas A&M
  • two tackles
A few thoughts:
  • A certain bit of symmetry in Fleming picking off Weeden late. From The Oklahoman: "I told him I owed him one," said Fleming, referring to the Cowboys' 44-10 rout of the Sooners in December. "And I got him." No doubt a rough outing for Weeden, who threw his other interception off an awkward drop back, but I wouldn't worry too much about one game. The practices mean a lot more than spotty game time for everybody in this game, and Weeden impressed a lot of people this week. A big day means just as little as an awful day in this game.
  • What a day for Fleming, though. He grabbed the interception late, but forced a fumble from Arkansas' Joe Adams on the opening drive.
  • Has Weeden taken over the No. 3 spot among QBs behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III? Ryan Tannehill was hurt this past week and couldn't play, but this could be an interesting race. No doubt there's disagreement among NFL teams on where to slot Weeden.

Season report card: Oklahoma Sooners

January, 25, 2012
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We're offering up grades for each team in the Big 12 after their seasons conclude, so here's a look at how the 10-3 Oklahoma Sooners graded out in 2011.

More report cards:
OFFENSE: Oklahoma had as many weapons as anyone to begin the season, complete with a Heisman contender (frontrunner?) in Landry Jones and the man who would eventually hold the FBS record for career receptions, Ryan Broyles, as the team's top receiver. The Sooners were loaded at running back, though Dominique Whaley surprised everyone by leapfrogging top-flight recruits Brennan Clay and Roy Finch to steal the starting job. The offensive line was better this year, and the coaching staff showcased some great creativity with the near-unstoppable Belldozer formation that helped backup QB Blake Bell score 13 touchdowns over the second half of the season, after Whaley went down with a season-ending ankle injury. Ultimately, though, Jones wasn't quite as sharp without Broyles and the receiving corps had some big drops late in the season, and the Sooners were embarrassed in the season finale vs. Oklahoma State with the Big 12 title hanging in the balance. Jones' performance, too, has to be better in 2012. His 15 interceptions are far too many, and it was even more than he threw as a freshman in 2009, when he had the most in the Big 12. Once Broyles went down, receivers Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds simply weren't good enough.

GRADE: B+

DEFENSE: Baylor debacle aside, the Sooners defense wasn't as bad as it looked late in the season. Oklahoma State and the Bears made the Sooners' issues in the secondary look really, really serious, but it's easy to forget the Cowboys and Bears are also the nation's No. 2 and No. 4 passing offenses. Oklahoma gave up over 40 points in each of its three losses, though it was dealing with some injuries defensively in the first loss to Texas Tech, namely the loss of top corner Jamell Fleming. Looking big picture, Oklahoma played its best football early in the season, and ranked second in the Big 12 in total defense, behind only Texas. Additionally, DE Frank Alexander won the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and teammate Ronnell Lewis might have been right behind him in the voting if not for a late-season knee injury and academic suspension.

GRADE: B+

OVERALL: It's easy to feel like 2011 was a complete failure, considering the national title hype in the preseason and the year's finish in the Insight Bowl. You can't classify it as a success, and we'll get to the final grade in a bit. But 10 wins is 10 wins, especially in a very, very deep league this year. The Texas Tech loss got more inexplicable as the season dragged on, but Baylor and Oklahoma State were good teams. Better than Oklahoma? Talent-wise, no. But both knocked off the Sooners, who are back to the drawing board in 2012, chasing another national title from the role of dark horse, rather than favorite.

GRADE: B-

Lunch links: Could Big 12 expand again?

January, 25, 2012
1/25/12
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Little Jerry is a lean, mean pecking machine.

NORMAN, Okla. – When Bob Stoops brought his brother back to Norman, he envisioned recapturing the magic that generated some of the best defenses in Oklahoma history.

Instead, Stoops will now have to hire a linebacker coach.

Wednesday night, co-defensive coordinator Brent Venables announced that he has left Oklahoma to become the defensive coordinator at Clemson, leaving the Sooners with another coaching vacancy.

In hiring Mike Stoops last week, Bob Stoops believed he was getting the band back together.

With Mike Stoops calling the defense and Venables co-coordinating, the Sooners ranked third nationally in fewest yards allowed in 2003. In 2001, Oklahoma ranked fourth.

[+] EnlargeBrent Venables, Bob Stoops
Brett Davis/US PresswireBrent Venables has been on the Oklahoma staff since Bob Stoops took the job in 1999.
And in the 2000 national championship game, the Stoops brothers and Venables devised a defensive game plan for the ages as the Sooners kept Florida State’s high-powered offense from scoring.

Too much time, however, had passed. And Bob Stoops’ hopes proved to be short-lived. After Venables and Mike Stoops took a recruiting trip together to Florida, Venables and his wife flew to Clemson. And the allure of a new challenge, a massive pay raise and the chance to call his own defense again won out.

Because of the success the Sooners endured while Mike Stoops was the senior partner in the relationship, Venables was never fully appreciated by the Oklahoma fan base. Moreover, the explosion of Big 12 offenses after Mike Stoops left made it virtually impossible to produce top five defenses.

But Venables still coordinated some gems that helped catapult the Sooners to Big 12 championships in ’06, ’08 and ’10.

In 2008, the Sooners wiped out second-ranked Texas Tech by holding one of the nation’s top offenses to a single touchdown in the first half. OU went on to play for a national championship that season.

But perhaps his most memorable coaching job came in the final game of the ’10 regular season against Oklahoma State. Faced with the task of slowing down the high-powered Cowboys, Bob Stoops and Venables elected to revamp the entire defense, going to a 3-4 scheme. The shift stunned the Cowboys, and Oklahoma State managed only three offensive touchdowns as Oklahoma prevailed.

But as much as the Sooners will miss Venables as a coordinator and linebackers coach, they will miss him just as much as an ace recruiter.

Ronnell Lewis, Demontre Hurst, Tom Wort, Corey Nelson, Austin Box, Jamell Fleming and DeMarco Murray are just a few of the standouts Venables had a hand in recruiting to Norman in recent years.

He also was the assistant who secured two of OU’s top verbal commitments in this recruiting class: safety Eric Striker and running back Daniel Brooks. Venables also was the primary assistant recruiting California cornerback Brandon Beaver, who is scheduled to visit OU this weekend.

Bob Stoops tried to get the band back together. With his brother and Venables blazing the recruiting trail as a tandem, then forging those ferocious defenses again on the field.

Instead, the Stoopses will be on their own. Turned out, the band didn’t get back together.

The 2011 Big 12 All-Bowl team

January, 13, 2012
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Here's the All-Bowl team from the Big 12, recognizing the best single-game performances from this year's bowls.

QB: Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State: Weeden threw for 399 yards and three touchdowns (it could have been four if a game-winning TD pass to Colton Chelf hadn't been overturned) on 29-of-42 passing. His first pass was intercepted, but he had an otherwise solid night and ran for his first career touchdown in the 41-38 win against Stanford.

[+] EnlargeTerrance Ganaway
AP Photo/Darren AbateBaylor's Terrance Ganaway rushed for five TDs in the Alamo Bowl.
RB: Terrance Ganaway, Baylor: The Big 12 rushing champion ran for 200 yards and five touchdowns in the Bears' 67-56 win against Washington in the Alamo Bowl.

RB: Ben Malena, Texas A&M: Malena stepped in for the injured Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael and had a solid game in the Aggies' 33-22 win against Northwestern in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. He finished with 77 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, showcasing his physical running style. He also caught six passes for 36 yards.

FB: Trey Millard, Oklahoma: Millard carried the ball four times for 21 yards but also helped pave the way for three Blake Bell touchdowns from the Belldozer formation.

WR: Ryan Swope, Texas A&M: Jeff Fuller had better numbers in the bowl, but it was aided by big catches late. Swope kept the Aggies offense humming for most of the game, with eight catches for 105 yards in the win against Northwestern.

WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State: Blackmon was the best offensive player in the Big 12 bowls, spearheading Oklahoma State's offense in the Fiesta Bowl win with eight catches for 186 yards and three touchdowns.

WR: Colton Chelf, Oklahoma State: Chelf made two huge catches over the middle early and a third nearly won the game, but his touchdown was overturned. Still, OSU doesn't win its first BCS bowl without Chelf's 97 yards on five catches.

TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri: By Egnew's standards, it was a quiet game, but he played well with a 25-yard grab and three catches for 39 yards in Mizzou's win.

OL: Grant Garner, Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State's offensive line is keyed by Garner, who helped the Cowboys handle Stanford's blitzes well and give Weeden plenty of time in the Fiesta Bowl win.

OL: Philip Blake, Baylor: Baylor ran for 482 yards and scored 67 points in its win against Washington in the Alamo Bowl. Blake's the man who keyed it all.

OL: Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State: Adcock's the best overall talent on OSU's line, and he showed it in the win against Stanford.

OL: Dan Hoch, Missouri: Missouri rolled over one of the nation's best rush defenses, North Carolina, for 337 yards on the ground.

OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M: The Aggies' offense was potent for most of its win against Northwestern, and Joeckel was solid in run and pass blocking for the balanced attack.

DEFENSE

DL: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas: Jeffcoat made five tackles, two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss in the Longhorns' 21-10 win against Cal. The Texas defense dominated, and the defensive line's play was the catalyst. He did it all with a torn pectoral muscle, too. He'll miss the spring after having it surgically repaired this week.

[+] EnlargeAdam Davis
AP Photo/Matt StrasenKansas State defensive end Adam Davis, 97, had two sacks and forced this first-half fumble by Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson in the Cotton Bowl.
DL: Adam Davis, Kansas State: Davis sacked Arkansas' Tyler Wilson twice and had three tackles for loss with a forced fumble in the loss to the Razorbacks.

DL: R.J. Washington, Oklahoma: With Ronnell Lewis ineligible, Washington showed up big in the win against Iowa. He had two sacks and made three tackles.

DL: Tony Jerod-Eddie, Texas A&M: Jerod-Eddie made eight tackles and had a sack in the win against Northwestern.

LB: Damontre Moore, Texas A&M: Moore was a monster in the season finale for the Aggies, making nine tackles and forcing a fumble on his lone sack.

LB: A.J. Klein, Iowa State: Klein flew around for the Cyclones, making 15 tackles in a physical game against Rutgers, though the Cyclones lost.

LB: Jordan Hicks, Texas: Could this be a big piece of momentum heading into 2012? Hicks starred with seven tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup in the win against Cal.

CB: Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma: Fleming was the Big 12's best defensive player of the bowls and the best player on the field in the Insight Bowl, making seven tackles, intercepting a pass and returning it 21 yards. He also broke up three passes.

CB: David Garrett, Kansas State: Garrett made 10 tackles and had two tackles for loss in the loss to Arkansas.

S: Kenny Vaccaro, Texas: He hates the nickname Machete, but Vaccaro was hacking away at Cal. He made three tackles, including two for loss and a sack.

S: Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State: Even if it was illegal (it was), Martin had the hit of the bowl season with a huge blast on Stanford's Ty Montgomery that took Montgomery's helmet off on the opening drive. He finished with nine tackles and a tackle for loss, with a fumble recovery.

SPECIALISTS

P: Tress Way, Oklahoma: Way averaged 50 yards on his six punts, including a 67-yarder.

PK: Randy Bullock, Texas A&M: Bullock made all four of his field goal attempts, including two from beyond 40 yards.

PR: Dustin Harris, Texas A&M: Harris looked the part of the Big 12's best, returning a punt 35 yards and finishing with 54 yards on his four returns.

KR: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State: Gilbert had a 50-yard return and returned his four kicks for a total of 136 yards.

Best and worst from Big 12 bowl season

January, 12, 2012
1/12/12
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The bowl season is over, and it's time to pass out a few awards.

Best offensive player: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State. Blackmon went nuts against Stanford after the Cowboys were shut out in the first quarter against Stanford. His first two catches went for touchdowns, and he finished with 186 yards on eight grabs and his third three-touchdown game of his career. That was the first time he'd done that since the Tulsa game in 2010, the third game of the season.

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesThree of Justin Blackmon's eight catches against Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl were for touchdowns.
Second-best offensive player: Terrance Ganaway, RB, Baylor. Ganaway ended his career in style, taking plenty of heat off his Heisman-winning quarterback, Robert Griffin III. He scored five touchdowns and ran for 200 yards, leading the way for three Bears 100-yard rushers in the 67-56 win over Washington in the Alamo Bowl.

Best defensive player: Jamell Fleming, CB, Oklahoma. Passing? I think not, Iowa. Matched up with NFL-bound, Skycam-attacked Marvin McNutt, Fleming made seven tackles, returned an interception 21 yards and broke up three passes. Well done.

Best team performance: Oklahoma State. The Cowboys got the Big 12's best win of the entire season, knocking off a solid Stanford team and handing Andrew Luck a loss in his final game as a Cardinal. Maybe they got lucky with a missed 35-yard field goal attempt to force overtime, but the Cowboys played well after a shaky first quarter and beat the nation's No. 4 team on a neutral field. Well done.

Best play: Robert Griffin III's post-Heisman "Heisman moment." He somehow backpedalled out of a handful of Washington tacklers, escaped outside and galloped to the pylon, diving into the end zone as he took a big hit before scoring. A big-time play from the Heisman winner for a 24-yard score.

Craziest play: North Carolina's Bryn Renner whipped a strike to Dwight Jones, but a hit jarred it loose. Somehow, it ended up on Jones' shoulder and rolled across his back, staying there long enough for Missouri LB Zaviar Gooden to sprint over and slide in to intercept the pass before it hit the ground.

Scariest play: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa. McNutt was minding his own business in the Iowa huddle. Then the Skycam at Sun Devil Stadium came crashing down and sent McNutt into a panic. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but it was memorable incident. The camera was grounded for the Fiesta Bowl later in the week.

Best out-of-nowhere performance: Colton Chelf, WR, Oklahoma State. Starter Tracy Moore was reportedly suspended, and Chelf filled the void well. He caught just 16 balls in 12 games, but hauled in five for 97 yards in the win over Stanford, including a 24-yarder in overtime that was ruled a touchdown before being reversed and giving way to a game-winning field goal.

Worst performance: Kansas State. It was shocking to see. The Wildcats made too many early mistakes that they hadn't made all year. There was a fumble to give Arkansas an easy three points, a handful of dropped passes, a wave of penalties and an ill-advised punt to Joe Adams that swung the game in favor of the Hogs. Not good, and K-State didn't give itself a chance in the 29-16 loss.

Best handling of distractions: Texas A&M had to deal with the loss of senior offensive lineman Joey Villavisencio, who died in a car crash on his way home for Christmas. It fired coach Mike Sherman earlier. Interim coach Tim DeRuyter left for Fresno State, but stayed to coach the bowl game. The team was prepping for a move to the SEC and playing its bowl game in the home of its new coach, Kevin Sumlin. The Aggies, though, played pretty well against Northwestern and controlled most of the game in the 33-22 win.

Best atmosphere: Cotton Bowl. For a second consecutive year, this bowl takes the cake. K-State and Arkansas fans absolutely packed Cowboys Stadium and cheered loudly from an hour before the game through the entire matchup. A big-time atmosphere for what should be a big-time game.

Early 2012 Big 12 power rankings

January, 10, 2012
1/10/12
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With the season over, it's time to take a look at the Big 12 in 2012. For now, that means assuming a few things. And we all know what assuming does.

It makes us all look like geniuses.

So, for the purpose of this, I'll assume a few predictions. First, I'll assume Robert Griffin III is heading for the NFL. I'll also assume Mike Stoops lands back at Oklahoma.

That said, it's time to project what this league looks like in 2012.

And, before we start, let me make this clear: The Big 12 from 1-6 is absolutely wide open. Last year, the league only had three legitimate title contenders: Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. This year, every one of the top six teams (and maybe seven, if RG3 returns) can win the Big 12 in a realistic scenario. The difference between Nos. 2 and 6 is minuscule and could change a ton by the end of spring practice.

And for the curious: I would have Missouri behind Kansas State on this list, and I'd have Texas A&M right behind Texas.

1. Oklahoma: The Sooners moved into the familiar role of favorite after Landry Jones announced he'd return in 2012, but not nearly as heavy a favorite as they were in 2011. Injuries hurt Oklahoma late this season, and replacing Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Frank Alexander, along with linebacker Travis Lewis and corner Jamell Fleming won't be easy. Receivers Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds have to play big for the Sooners to get the win.

2. Kansas State: The big question mark for this team is can it take care of business and not get stuck in close games in 2012? The Wildcats were 8-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less this season. They can't count on duplicating that in 2012. They should be better, and return most of the big pieces from this season's 10-win team, most importantly quarterback Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown. Next season is the time to prove it.

3. West Virginia: Who else is excited to see Geno Smith, Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineer Express show up in Big 12 country next season? Like I wrote last week, giving up 33 points and still winning by five touchdowns is the Big 12 way of life. The Mountaineers broke Baylor's week-old bowl scoring record with 70 points, and bring back most of a good Big East champion team in 2012. The transition won't be easy, but they've got a chance to make a big splash in their inaugural year. The Big 12 and West Virginia are both convinced that the Mountaineers will join the Big 12 in 2012 and are planning as if it will happen, though pending lawsuits with the Big East mean it's still unofficial.

4. TCU: The transition will be more difficult for TCU, methinks. Depth could be an issue. There aren't any weeks off in the Big 12. Not even Kansas. Ask Baylor about that one. New Mexico's staying behind in the Mountain West. Eventually, I think TCU has a chance to be on par with Texas and Oklahoma on the recruiting trail and on the field. Being the only team in the metroplex is a huge deal. And it'll bring back a great team with lots of offense, headlined by QB Casey Pachall and receivers Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson, along with Brandon Carter. It'll be fun to watch.

5. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys should sustain success from this year, even though they lose Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. They don't have to worry about a losing season, but with a first-year starter at quarterback, the odds are against them winning the Big 12. First-year starters have only won the Big 12 twice. Look out for Joseph Randle to have a huge year in 2012. I'm also betting on Clint Chelf to grab the starting QB job, but keep an eye on early enrollee Wes Lunt.

6. Texas: The Longhorns should be better and have lots of upside, but it's looking more and more like this team will only go as far as David Ash will take it. We'll learn just how far that is during spring and summer. This offseason is paramount for Ash's development. He's got to show something big next fall. The defense should be stingy, the offensive line improved and the backfield loaded. It's up to him.

7. Baylor: Sounds like 2012 may be the Nick Florence Show in Waco. Baylor will take a step back without RG3, but we'll see just how much he had around him, which is to say, a lot. Kendall Wright and Terrance Ganaway will be gone, but Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese will get a chance to shine. Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk will get plenty of preseason attention, too. The Bears look like a fringe bowl team with some upside without RG3.

8. Texas Tech: Tech and Oklahoma State probably have the most upside of any team in these power rankings. The Red Raiders were better than 5-7 this season, but will have to prove it in 2012, and have to stay healthy. Seth Doege, Eric Stephens and Darrin Moore could be a dynamic set of triplets in 2012, and don't rule out a top-three finish for the Red Raiders in 2012.

9. Iowa State: The Cyclones may have a bit of a quarterback controversy in the spring after Steele Jantz reclaimed the quarterback job in the second half of the Pinstripe Bowl. Paul Rhoads joked about it after the game, but he's not joking when it comes to needing one of those guys to push the other. Jared Barnett has more upside, and the Cyclones could certainly grab a third bowl bid in four years if he plays well in 2012. ISU's a good team, but it's stuck in an absurdly deep conference that could have as many as seven (six, most likely, depending on RG3) Top-25 teams to start the season.

10. Kansas: There's a new flavor at KU, and the variables will be unpredictable for this team through spring and fall. The season should be fun. Can Charlie Weis redeem himself? What about Dayne Crist? Was Notre Dame just not the right fit for either? The opportunity to do something special at Kansas is here, and the bar is very, very low after a miserable two years. The defense can't be worse, and the Jayhawks have solid, maturing running backs.


Oklahoma ended a disappointing year on a high note, winning its third consecutive bowl game to record back-to-back seasons of 10 or more victories. Iowa's bowl magic vanished despite a plucky effort as the mistake-prone Hawkeyes lost in the postseason for the first time since 2006.

Let's take a closer look at the Insight Bowl:

How the game was won: Oklahoma's pressuring defense flustered Iowa and forced enough mistakes to buy time for Landry Jones and the offense to get going. The Sooners led 14-0 at halftime despite mounting only one productive drive, but their defense never backed down or broke down. OU made Iowa work for everything, and the Hawkeyes repeatedly shot themselves in the foot with penalties, dropped passes, poor throws, questionable play calls and other mistakes. Junior quarterback James Vandenberg and the Iowa offense established a rhythm midway through the third quarter and closed to within 21-14 with 6:56 left, but Oklahoma's power game, led by quarterback Blake Bell, responded to seal the victory.

Player of the game: Sooners cornerback Jamell Fleming. The senior set the tone early with an interception return to the Iowa 10-yard line, setting up the first of three Bell-dozer touchdown runs. Fleming also contained Iowa's All-Big Ten wide receiver Marvin McNutt, who had just four catches for 46 yards and appeared frustrated for much of the game.

Stat of the game: Oklahoma ran eight offensive plays in the first quarter, and had 12 yards and no first downs. But the Sooners led Iowa 7-0.

Candid camera: There was a scary moment late as ESPN's Skycam fell onto the field and nearly struck McNutt on a bounce. It delayed the game several minutes with 2:22 left to clear the wiring.

Second guessing: It's seems odd to question a Kirk Ferentz decision to go for a fourth-and-short situation, but Iowa really could have benefited from points following a 13-play, 68-yard drive midway through the first quarter. Down 7-0, the Hawkeyes marched to the Oklahoma 6-yard line before failing on third-and-4. Rather than kick the short field goal, Ferentz went for the touchdown and Iowa lost 3 yards on fourth down. Iowa didn't score until early in the fourth quarter.

What it means for Oklahoma: The Sooners ended on a positive note and showed they could be motivated to win a bowl despite a disappointing regular season. After being shredded by rival Oklahoma State, the Oklahoma defense responded very well against Iowa, controlling play for the first two and a half quarters. For a unit that endured inconsistent play in October and November, this was a good ending. The victory sends the Sooners into a crucial offseason, which begins with Jones' decision on whether to stay for his senior season or enter the NFL draft. Oklahoma loses some key seniors but still should enter the 2012 season as one of the top contenders for the Big 12 title.

What it means for Iowa: Hawkeyes fans can't be disappointed with the effort, but a team that repeatedly made mistakes away from its home field couldn't survive them again Friday night in Tempe, Ariz. The defense played very hard for retiring coordinator Norm Parker, but Iowa needed a cleaner performance to upset Oklahoma. Iowa sees its wins total drop for the second consecutive season, and the team now enters a critical offseason. Ferentz soon will name a new defensive coordinator, and he needs to put a stop to the revolving door at running back. Iowa loses key parts but should be more experienced at several spots. However, Hawkeyes fans expect more from their program and its well-paid coach, and they should. The Big Ten is only getting harder, and Iowa should be mirroring what Wisconsin and Michigan State have done rather than falling back into the pack. Not much has gone right for this program since the 2010 Orange Bowl victory.

Instant analysis: Oklahoma 31, Iowa 14

December, 31, 2011
12/31/11
1:46
AM ET
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Sooners took a three-touchdown lead into the fourth quarter, then held on to secure their third consecutive bowl victory.

Turning point: After two fourth-quarter-touchdowns, the Hawkeyes owned the momentum with just over 5 minutes to play. But with the ball at the Iowa 43-yard line, Oklahoma turned to the Belldozer package to convert a crucial third-and-2. Quarterback Blake Bell faked the jet sweep to Kameel Jackson to the right, then rumbled left off tackle for 7 yards and a first down. Michael Hunnicutt capped the drive with a 35-yard field goal to put the game away.

Player of the game: OU cornerback Jamell Fleming made himself some money, blanketing All-Big Ten wideout Marvin McNutt all night. McNutt was limited to just four catches for 46 yards despite numerous passes thrown his direction. Fleming also picked off a James Vandenberg pass in the first quarter and returned it to the Iowa 5 to set up OU’s first score. Fleming finished with seven tackles and three pass breakups.

Unsung hero of the game: OU punter Tress Way kept the field position in the Sooners’ favor all night. He tied an Insight Bowl record with a 67-yard punt from inside the OU 5-yard line. Way finished the night with a 50.3 average on six punts.

Stat of the game: With a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Trent Ratterree in the third quarter, Landry Jones snapped a streak of 15 consecutive quarters without a touchdown pass. Jones had been stuck on 28 touchdown passes since the Texas A&M game on Nov. 5, when leading receiver Ryan Broyles suffered a season-ending knee injury.

What it means: It wasn’t pretty, especially on offense, but the Sooners prevailed to take a little momentum into the offseason after a disappointing end to the regular season. OU should be a, if not the, favorite to win the Big 12 next season.

OU's final tributes to Austin Box planned

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
2:30
PM ET
Oklahoma has named the final two players who will honor Austin Box by wearing his No. 12 jersey without a name on the back.

Box, who would have been a senior, died in May.

Cornerback Jamell Fleming will honor the linebacker by wearing his jersey on Saturday against Oklahoma State when Oklahoma plays for the Big 12 title and a ninth trip to the BCS since the 2000 season.

In the Sooners' bowl game, sophomore safety Tony Jefferson will wear the jersey.

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