Big 12: Ryan Swope

Instant analysis: Texas A&M 41, OU 13

January, 4, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Another Cotton Bowl, another bad loss for the Big 12. Excluding current SEC member Missouri's win back in 2008, the Big 12 has lost the Cotton Bowl to an SEC opponent in eight consecutive seasons. Johnny Football put on a show after a month away and showed zero signs of rust and a zillion signs of being an endless source of frustration for Oklahoma's defense.

The Big 12 finished 4-5 in its nine bowl games, and the SEC improved to 4-3 in its bowl games. Let's take a look at some instant analysis for Texas A&M's 41-13 blowout win over the Sooners.

It was over when: Facing a fourth-and-5 late in the third quarter, Manziel hit Ryan Swope over the middle on a short slant. Swope shed a tackler and raced 33 yards to put the Aggies up, 34-13. That capped a run of three Oklahoma three-and-outs to begin the second half and spelled doom for the Sooners.

Game ball goes to: Johnny Manziel. I mean, who else? He broke the Cotton Bowl record for total yards with 516 and accounted for four touchdowns. It could have even been five, too, if not for Malcome Kennedy's bobbling a pass in the end zone that was eventually intercepted by Oklahoma's Javon Harris.

Stat of the game: Oklahoma averaged 4.8 yards per play. Texas A&M averaged 9.6 yards per play. It was really that simple in this one. Johnny Football made the Aggies dangerous on what seemed like every snap. Oklahoma's offense played well in the first half, but it rarely looked easy, and Texas A&M prevented the Sooners from breaking big plays. It also clamped down in the red zone.

Unsung hero of the game: Texas A&M's offensive line. Get a good, long look at Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews serving as bookends on this line. They might be gone soon, cashing big-time checks as NFL first-round picks. Mike Sherman had well-chronicled struggles, but the offensive line guru left some big beef for Manziel and the Aggies offense to operate behind. It showed tonight. Oklahoma rarely blitzed, for fear of Manziel running loose in the second level, but he had all day to throw and little pressure on most snaps.

What Texas A&M learned: Heisman jinx, December distractions, coaching changes, whatever. It all seemed pretty irrelevant in this game. Johnny Football looked like his usual self, if not better. He broke loose for 47 rushing yards on Texas A&M's opening drive and didn't slow down from there. Kliff Kingsbury checked out as Texas A&M's offensive coordinator, but Clarence McKinney had a solid performance in his debut as play-caller. Manziel insisted he wasn't distracted and that the whirlwind of awards and television appearances after winning the Heisman hadn't changed him. His performance validated those claims.

What Oklahoma learned: Just like Kansas State and Notre Dame, the Sooners were incapable of beating the elite teams in college football this year. A 10-3 season isn't bad, but it's not good enough at Oklahoma. The Sooners might not have even been happy going 1-2 in those losses, but 0-3 will leave a very bitter taste in their mouths thinking back on a season that was very average by the Sooners' sky-high standards. Any notion that it had a formula for stopping or even slowing down the Johnny Football train went out the window. He had his way with the Sooner defense, which tackled poorly, too.

A closer look: AT&T Cotton Bowl

January, 1, 2013
1/01/13
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As the bowl season approaches, we're going to be looking a little closer at each game. We'll go down the Big 12 bowl schedule in chronological order.

No. 11 Oklahoma (10-2, 8-1 Big 12) vs. No. 9 Texas A&M (10-2, 6-2 SEC)

Where: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas

When: Friday, Jan. 4, 8 p.m. ET

TV: FOX

About Oklahoma: The Sooners began the year with some national-title aspirations, but those quickly came to an end with a mistake-filled September loss at home to Kansas State. A midseason loss to Notre Dame made it clear that Oklahoma was not an elite team in 2012, but the eight-game winning streak in Big 12 play after the K-State loss made it clear that the Sooners were a very, very good team -- and a Big 12 champion. The Sooners became part of the first-ever shared Big 12 title and celebrated with a season-ending win at TCU. The final three games of the year (West Virginia, Oklahoma State, TCU) were all decided in the final minute or on the final play, and the Cotton Bowl could very well make it four.

About Texas A&M: While Oklahoma underachieved a bit, the Aggies were one of the nation's biggest overachievers. Last year's team began in the top 10 and fell to 6-6 while losing five games with leads of at least nine points. Year 1 under Kevin Sumlin will forever be remembered as the year the legend of Johnny Manziel was born. The redshirt freshman quarterback burst onto the scene with a strong outing in a season-opening loss to Florida but truly broke out with a memorable performance in a road upset of No. 1 Alabama. The Aggies' defense matured under Mark Snyder, but Texas A&M was one of the nation's hottest teams to close the season.

Sooners to watch: Landry Jones will be making his 50th and final start of his career in the Cotton Bowl at Cowboys Stadium, the same place where his career began after an injury to Sam Bradford in the 2009 season opener against BYU. He's the NCAA's No. 3 all-time passer and leads the Big 12 in passing yards per game entering the bowl game. He's thrown 29 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions and got to know transfer receivers Jalen Saunders and Justin Brown well this season. Kenny Stills led the team with 897 yards on 75 catches, but keep an eye on leading tackler Tony Jefferson at safety and shutdown corner Aaron Colvin on defense.

Aggies to watch: Surely you know about Manziel by now, but keep an eye on his favorite targets, Mike Evans and Ryan Swope. Evans is a big physical presence at 6-foot-5, 218 pounds, while Swope uses his breakaway speed to work the slot. Defensive end Damontre Moore's 20 tackles for loss would have led the Big 12, and was third in the SEC. He was also the Aggies' leading tackler, with 80 stops. Keep an eye on the Aggies' underrated running back duo, too, Ben Malena and Christine Michael. They combined for almost 1,200 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Did you know? Oklahoma is 11-2 against Texas A&M under Bob Stoops, but the Aggies knocked off the Sooners in 2010 in College Station as part of their six-game winning streak to close the regular season. Manziel will be the third Heisman finalist Oklahoma has gone up against this season, but the Sooners are 0-2 against the first two, Kansas State QB Collin Klein and Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o. Oklahoma leads the all-time series between these two, 19-11, but will meet for the first time in the Cotton Bowl. Oklahoma hasn't played in the Cotton Bowl since 2002, when it beat Arkansas, 10-3.

More on the Big 12 Bowls:

Grading my 1,000-yard receiver projections

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
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This time last year, we broke down which Big 12 players would most likely reach the benchmarks for their positions in 2011.

The benchmark for receivers is clearly 1,000 yards. Here's what I wrote about the Big 12's 1,000-yard receivers.

It's time to revisit those projections.

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College football had 40 players top 1,000 yards receiving. The Big 12 had four. Here's who I picked to do it:
1. Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma: Don't read much into Broyles being over Blackmon. They'll both clear the 1,000-yard mark easily, barring injury. Broyles, though, has done it twice already and has more guaranteed touches in Oklahoma's short passing game.
Final 2011 yardage tally: 1,157 yards

Thoughts: Ugh, it's hard to read that "barring injury" part from last April, but Broyles cleared the 1,000-yard mark and set the FBS career record for receptions before tearing his ACL against Texas A&M. Broyles probably had the inside track at the Biletnikoff Award over Blackmon, but settled for finalist status after the injury.
2. Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State: Blackmon won't come from nowhere this year, but teams were well aware of him after a few games last year. Look for Blackmon and Broyles to clear the 1,500-yard mark like they did last year, when they ranked second and third nationally in receiving yards. Both were finalists for the Biletnikoff Award won by Blackmon, and both have a decent chance to be Heisman finalists next year.
Final 2011 yardage tally: 1,522 yards

Thoughts: Called that 1,500-yard mark on the button, no? Only three receivers in the country topped that mark, and Blackmon was one of them. He also repeated as the nation's top receiver, becoming the second Big 12 player to take home the Biletnikoff Award in consecutive seasons. Heck of a career for Blackmon.
3. T.J. Moe, Missouri: Missouri could help out Moe quite a bit by finding a deep threat to soften up defenses for his underneath routes, but he should be a nice safety blanket for the Tigers' new quarterback. Like we wrote earlier this week, Missouri is the only team in the Big 12 without a quarterback on the roster who has started a game.
Final 2011 yardage tally: 649 yards

Thoughts: Much of the step back was anything but Moe's fault. For one, Mizzou never really found a deep threat to help stretch the field and open things up for Moe, and though quarterback James Franklin played well, he carried the ball almost 200 times. Moe doesn't have eye-popping straight-line speed, and his ability to get open was marginalized by defenses that could afford to show a lack of respect for the long ball.
4. Jeff Fuller, Texas A&M: Fuller became the first Texas A&M receiver to ever reach the 1,000-yard mark last season, and there's no reason to believe he won't do it again. He's experienced, a good route-runner and near impossible to cover on the fade route.
Final 2011 yardage tally: 828 yards

Thoughts: Who knows what went wrong with Fuller last season? He struggled early on with a hamstring injury, but coach Mike Sherman said Fuller was healthy late in the season, and just never turned it on. Fuller is physically gifted, but to me, looked like he was lazy in his route-running, and struggled with drops, too. As a result, he went undrafted.
6. Alex Torres, Texas Tech: Torres was slowed last year by a back injury, but Texas Tech loses its top two receivers from last year's team, and Torres is likely the beneficiary.
Final 2011 yardage tally: 639 yards

Thoughts: Nope. Injuries got Torres again, capped by a torn ACL late in the season. He was banged up for much of the season, and had just two games with at least 100 yards receiving.

I almost picked Kendall Wright to have more than 1,000 yards, but narrowly decided not to. He'd never had 1,000 yards in a season before exploding for 1,663 yards in 2011, but I thought the depth of Baylor's offense would prevent him from hitting quadruple digits. Nope.

The other player I missed? Texas A&M's Ryan Swope, who emerged as a the top receiver in College Station while Fuller struggled. Never, ever saw that one coming.

How would you grade my projections?

Ranking the Big 12's top 25 players: No. 15

February, 22, 2012
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Our countdown of the Big 12's top 25 players continues. The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we're revealing a new member of the list every day.

Here's a quick rundown on my criteria for this list.

No. 15: Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M

2011 numbers: Caught 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Most recent ranking: Swope was unranked in our preseason list of the top 25 players.

Making the case for Swope: Teammate Jeff Fuller earned all the preseason headlines after pledging to return to College Station for his senior season, but Swope stole the show in 2011, emerging as the team's top receiver by a wide margin in Ryan Tannehill's only year as starter.

Swope, a former All-State running back in high school, looks the part with great quickness and a shifty frame. He's one of the league's best at shedding tacklers after the catch. Just ask Baylor, who gave up two long scores after broken tackles in Swope's 11-catch, 206-yard, four-touchdown career day in the win over the Bears.

He topped 100 yards receiving on six occasions in 2011 and returns to Aggieland for its move to the SEC and will be the No. 1 target for the Aggies' new passer, likely Jameill Showers. His consistency will help, too. He had at least eight catches in seven games last season, and at least six catches in two more. He was one of the toughest covers in the Big 12, and that should continue in the SEC, even with the league's tougher defenses.

The rest of the list:

Big 12 position rankings: Receivers/TEs

February, 14, 2012
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We're continuing our look at the postseason rankings for each position in the Big 12. Here's a look back at where the receivers ranked in the preseason.

In this position, unlike quarterback, depth is a major, major factor in these rankings.

More postseason position rankings:
[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesJustin Blackmon highlighted Oklahoma State's deep group of receivers this season.
1. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys boasted two-time Biletnikoff winner Justin Blackmon, but he wasn't the only weapon. The Cowboys had nine (!) receivers with at least 19 catches and 200 yards receiving this season. Insane. Life is good with Brandon Weeden at quarterback.

2. Baylor: Kendall Wright actually outperformed Blackmon and Ryan Broyles on the stat sheet, catching 108 balls for 1,663 yards. The Bears didn't have the insane depth of OSU, but the trio of Wright, Terrance Williams (59 rec, 957 yards, 11 TDs) and Tevin Reese (51 rec, 877 yards, 7 TDs) were all in the Big 12's top seven receivers.

3. Texas A&M: Ryan Swope emerged to become one of just four Big 12 receivers to notch 1,000-yard seasons. Jeff Fuller's season was disappointing, but he still finished eighth in the league in receiving, and Uzoma Nwachukwu was in the league's top 15 in receiving.

4. Oklahoma: The Sooners weren't quite as solid as they thought to begin the season. Broyles was as advertised, though his Biletnikoff-contending season was cut short by a torn ACL. The unit was productive, but came down with the drops late in the season. Broyles and Kenny Stills were both in the league's top seven in receiving, and Jaz Reynolds caught 41 passes for 715 yards to crack the top 10.

5. Texas Tech: Tech's top target, Darrin Moore, battled injuries all year, but Eric Ward emerged as the team's most consistent target, catching 84 passes for 800 yards and 11 scores. Alex Torres missed two games, but added 616 more yards.

6. Missouri: The Tigers' receivers had their production dip with a dual-threat passer in James Franklin who ran the ball more than his predecessor, but they were still pretty good, despite lacking a true big-time threat. T.J. Moe caught 54 passes for 649 yards and four scores. Tight end Michael Egnew added 50 grabs for 523 yards and three scores. L'Damian Washington, Marcus Lucas and Wes Kemp had unremarkable individual seasons, but their production added up to a good year for Mizzou's receivers.

7. Kansas State: Kansas State was better than most thought to begin the season, but the ground-based offense limited their receivers' ability to finish with big production. Chris Harper (40 rec, 547 yards, 5 TDs) led the group. Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett showed some good promise, too.

8. Texas: The Longhorns could get really good, really fast at this spot. The uncertainty/struggles at quarterback limited this group, but Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis could both mature into absolute stars. For now, though, they didn't quite crack the top 15 in the Big 12 in receiving. Both topped 40 catches and 600 receiving yards.

9. Iowa State: Darius Reynolds' size downfield will be missed, but Aaron Horne and Josh Lenz are tough covers working the middle of the field. Reynolds caught seven touchdowns, and Horne and Lenz both topped 38 catches.

10. Kansas: Yikes. The Jayhawks didn't have a receiver in the league's top 20, but D.J. Beshears led the team with 40 grabs for 437 yards and three touchdowns. He was the only Jayhawk in the Big 12's top 32 in receiving.
Each offense across the Big 12 starts 11 players on Saturday and plays 12-13 games. That's a whole lot of performances. Some are better than others.

These are the 11 best individual performances from the entire 2011 season. Here's our top 10 from 2010. Why are there 11 this year? Because.

If a player's team didn't win the game, he was ineligible, and this list omitted defensive performances. This is, after all, the Big 12. An opponent's defensive quality is factored in. That considered, my apologies to Henry Josey vs. Western Illinois.

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireJustin Blackmon was the difference between a win and a loss for the Cowboys in the Fiesta Bowl.
1. OSU receiver Justin Blackmon vs. Stanford. Simply put, Blackmon completely changed the game in the Cowboys' 41-38 win. OSU doesn't come anywhere close to winning without him. His first two catches went for scores, and he was uncoverable, hauling in his biggest catch of the night on a slant on fourth-and-6 with minutes to play and OSU trailing by seven. He finished with eight catches for 186 yards and three touchdowns.

2. Baylor QB Robert Griffin III vs. TCU. Interesting that Blackmon's performance came in the second-to-last game of the Big 12 season, and Griffin's came in the very first. Still, both were legendary. Griffin launched a Heisman campaign with four touchdown passes of 28 yards or longer, and extended the game-winning drive with a third-down catch up the middle that resulted with getting the wind knocked of out him. He still marched Baylor down the field for the game-winning field goal in the 50-48 win and finished 21-of-27 for 359 yards and five touchdown passes.

3. OSU QB Brandon Weeden vs. Texas Tech. This was sheer dominance from Weeden, who had an unbelievable game in the 66-6 win, despite throwing passes in what I can assure you was 40 mph-plus winds. He somehow finished 31-of-37 for 423 yards and five touchdowns in the laugher against the Red Raiders.

4. K-State QB Collin Klein vs. Texas A&M. This was by far Klein's best passing game of the season, rescuing the Wildcats from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter with a pair of deep completions and winning the game, 53-50, in the fourth overtime with a QB sneak. He carried the ball 35 times for 103 yards and five scores. He also completed 17-of-27 passes for 281 yards, a touchdown and an interception. That's a ton of touches.

5. Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles vs. Missouri. Oklahoma fell behind 10-0 early, but Broyles and quarterback Landry Jones helped bring the Sooners back in the 38-28 win. He was uncoverable for most of the game, catching 13 balls for 154 yards and three touchdowns.

6. Griffin III vs. Oklahoma. Griffin became the Heisman frontrunner after a second legendary performance in the same season. He threw the game-winning touchdown pass with seconds left to Terrance Williams, his fourth touchdown pass of the game. He finished 21-of-34 for 479 yards and carried the ball 18 times for 72 yards, including a late scramble on the game-winning drive.

7. Texas A&M WR Ryan Swope vs. Baylor: For once, the Aggies didn't struggle in the second half. Swope was solid for 60 minutes, breaking tackles and breaking loose from Baylor's offense all day. The Bears had no answer, and were blown out, 55-28. Swope finished with 11 catches for 206 yards and was the only receiver to catch four touchdowns in a game this season.

8. Baylor WR Kendall Wright vs. TCU. Now, you didn't think Griffin did it all by himself in the 50-48 win over the Horned Frogs, did you? Wright was blowing by an inexperienced TCU secondary, and RG3 found him all night. He finished with 12 catches for 189 yards and two scores, but he also threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams and hit Griffin on his only catch of the night.

9. Baylor RB Terrance Ganaway vs. Washington. Ganaway sealed the Big 12 rushing title with his sixth 100-yard game and second 200-yard rushing game of the season, rolling over the Huskies and overshadowing RG3 in the Heisman winner's final game. He carried the ball 21 times for 200 yards and five touchdowns.

10. Blackmon vs. Kansas State. Blackmon was at his best late, hauling in a 54-yard touchdown pass to take the lead in the final minutes, capped by a two-point conversion to make it a seven-point lead. K-State couldn't handle him, and he finished with 205 receiving yards, 13 catches and two scores.

11. Missouri QB James Franklin vs. Iowa State. Franklin had a handful of great dual-threat games. This was his best, despite going up against the Big 12's best group of linebackers. He helped blow out the Cyclones with 289 yards and three scores on 20-of-28 passing. He threw two interceptions, but he also carried the ball 11 times for 84 yards and two scores.

Honorable mention: Oklahoma QB Landry Jones vs. Texas; Landry Jones vs. Missouri; Texas RB Joe Bergeron vs. Texas Tech; Kendall Wright vs. Texas; Henry Josey vs. Western Illinois
We're marching along in our recap of 2011 here on the blog, and today it's time to look back on the most improved players of 2011.

Here's a few other posts you might want to check out:
In no particular order, here are the players who showed the most growth during 2011 or from 2010 to 2011.

Frank Alexander, DE, Oklahoma: The physical tools had always been there for Alexander, but he'd never quite progressed into what he looked like he could be as a freshman in 2008. Until this year, that is. Alexander was a monster all season, leading the Big 12 in tackles for loss (19) and finishing second in sacks (8.5) to win defensive player of the year honors.

Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: Nobody knew exactly what to expect from Klein this season, but he exceeded anyone's expectations on the ground, and developed into a serviceable passer by season's end. That growth should only continue into 2012. He ran for more than 1,000 yards and tied the Big 12 single-season record with 27 touchdowns, which also tied an FBS record for quarterbacks.

Carrington Byndom, CB, Texas: Byndom was a huge question mark when the season began, but by December, he'd developed into arguably the league's best shutdown corner. Players like that don't often put up big stats, but ask around the league's receivers about Byndom and look at how many big plays the Longhorns gave up. Both are testaments to Byndom's talents.

Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor: Wright, like Alexander, was a good player who became truly elite in 2011. Wright, believe it or not, had never enjoyed a 1,000-yard receiving season before 2011, even though he'd led the Bears in receiving in the three previous seasons. But who led the Big 12 in receiving this year? It wasn't Biletnikoff winner Justin Blackmon. It wasn't Ryan Broyles. It was Wright, with 1,663 yards and 17 scores. Insane. Robert Griffin III is the biggest reason for Baylor's rise, but Wright is a much closer second than most realize.

Texas' offensive line: Tough to pick one guy out of this group, which was dreadful last year but was a big part of Texas' moderate rebound this year. Stacy Searels coaches the unit, which ranked third in the Big 12 in rushing offense this season.

Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M: Jeff Fuller earned the headlines at Texas A&M this year, but Swope was the man for the Aggies. He actually had the same number of catches as Fuller in 2010, but had almost 250 fewer yards and eight fewer scores. Fuller battled injuries this year, but Swope caught 89 balls for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns, far surpassing the future NFL receiver's output.

Leonard Johnson, CB, Iowa State: Johnson, like Byndom, didn't quite get the press of other cornerbacks in the Big 12 like Brodrick Brown, E.J. Gaines or Justin Gilbert who broke up tons of passes and intercepted lots of others, but he quietly earned a reputation as one of the league's premier lockdown defenders.

James Franklin, QB, Missouri: Franklin looked shaky in a season-opening win over Miami (Ohio), throwing for just 129 yards and looking generally unimpressive. He wouldn't have another game like that the rest of the year. He topped 285 yards passing in four games this season and was sixth in the Big 12 in total offense, throwing for 2,872 yards as a first-year starter, and equaling the eight wins produced by Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert in their first years as starters.

Who's in, out of the Big 12 in 2012?

January, 17, 2012
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Sunday was the final deadline for players to enter the NFL Draft, so here's a look at who's in and who's out for 2012.

Leaving early for the NFL:

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesOklahoma State's Justin Blackmon is headed to the NFL, as expected.
Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State: Blackmon's decision was mostly a formality all season. Coach Mike Gundy intimated several times that he expected Blackmon, who held a dramatic news conference before the 2011 season, to leave and advised him to do so. Blackmon went through Senior Day festivities as a junior, and made it "official," I suppose, right after the Fiesta Bowl, announcing his intentions in a postgame interview.

Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor: Griffin's stock skyrocketed faster and more dramatically than anyone in the draft over the last half of the season, and after winning the Heisman Trophy and the Alamo Bowl, Griffin said he felt it was time to go. He's right. He said he felt like he needed to go after breaking down in the locker room after the bowl win, and he'll leave the Big 12 as one of the league's all-time greats. Both Blackmon and Griffin are projected as top 10 picks easily. Both could realistically go in the top five.

Ronnell Lewis, LB, Oklahoma: Lewis had a lot on his plate this year, and Sooners coach Bob Stoops recognized this. Lewis missed the final three games of the season with an injury and then academic issues, and left for the NFL with Stoops' blessing. He projects as a late first-round or early second-round pick, but his impressive physical measurables should be on display at the combine.

Bryce Brown, RB, Kansas State: Brown's career at Kansas State never worked out. The five-star recruit turned transfer from Tennessee carried the ball just three times for 16 yards and fumbled deep in K-State territory to set up an opponent's score in the season opener. Brown's physical skills impressed coach Bill Snyder in the spring, but he never earned his spot in the rotation and left the team in midseason. Now, it looks like he won't be coming back.

Staying in college:

Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: Jones' decision to return was the most impactful since Blackmon and Brandon Weeden made a joint announcement to return to OSU after the 2010 season. Jones' decision makes Oklahoma the front-runner in 2012 in the Big 12, and a dark horse to win the national title. Oklahoma's failed run at the title this past season began with a preseason No. 1 ranking. Jones, though, regressed this past season and struggled after his top target, Ryan Broyles, tore his ACL. The Sooners' receivers were plagued with drops, too, but Jones will have to figure out what went wrong to bounce back in 2012.

Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas: Vaccaro might emerge as one of the league's premier defensive stars in 2012, but he'll keep his diverse skill set in Austin for one more season. He's one of the league's biggest hitters, and he'll be a huge piece of Manny Diaz's defense next season, as well as a preseason candidate for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M: Swope won't be playing in the Big 12, of course, but the former running back and unlikely leading receiver for the Aggies is coming back to College Station. Last season, the Aggies waited on Jeff Fuller's decision, but Swope outperformed the more athletically gifted Fuller. Swope's running-back frame is deceptively fast and his feel for space is excellent. It'll be interesting to see how he does in the SEC West in 2012.

Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State: Brown's the surest tackler in the Big 12 and an amazing blend of power and speed. Like Vaccaro, he'll be a big candidate for preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. He was one of just eight Big 12 defenders to top 100 tackles in 2011.

Alex Okafor, DE, Texas: Okafor burst onto the scene this season after playing defensive tackle in 2010, and he finished seventh in the Big 12 with six sacks. He was also eighth with 12.5 tackles for loss.

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.

Instant analysis: Texas A&M 33, NU 22

December, 31, 2011
12/31/11
3:24
PM ET

After a rough season that included the death of teammate Joey Villavisencio last week and the firing of coach Mike Sherman, the Aggies got a bowl win. It's been an emotional year at Texas A&M, but it will end in fine fashion with a good win over Northwestern.

The Aggies did it without top rusher Cyrus Gray, too. Gray missed his second consecutive game and the final game of his career with a stress fracture in his shoulder that he suffered early in a win over Kansas.

Here's some instant analysis.

How the game was won: Texas A&M was the better team and proved it for the first three quarters, but like we've seen all year, the team swooned in the second half. This time it came in the fourth quarter. The Aggies survived via two huge third-down catches from Uzoma Nwachukwu and Jeff Fuller to keep the ball out of Northwestern's hands in the final minutes. This season, the Aggies blew leads of 18 (Arkansas), 17 (Oklahoma State), 14 (Missouri), 13 (Texas) and 10 (Kansas State). They avoided a sixth loss in extravagant fashion this season with a clutch late drive to close out the Wildcats.

Turning point: Trailing 7-3, Texas A&M scored on its final three drives of the first half, highlighted by a vertical, 26-yard touchdown catch by Jeff Fuller from Ryan Tannehill. The Aggies took control and the Wildcats weren't able to get within realistic reach the rest of the game. The Aggies scored the first 10 points of the second half for a 30-7 lead.

Player of the game: A&M receiver Ryan Swope. Swope continued his tear this season with eight catches for 105 yards and broke a few tackles on a 37-yard catch-and-run to set up an early touchdown that put the Aggies ahead for good. Fuller had a huge catch late to seal the game, but Swope kept the A&M offense humming in the first half while it built the big lead.

Unsung hero: Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter. He spelled what looked like a gimpy Dan Persa and ran for 65 yards and a touchdown in a nice performance.

What it means: One epic bowl losing streak ended while another lives on. Northwestern had lost five bowl games going back to 1949 and made it a sixth. Texas A&M ended its eight-game bowl losing streak dating back to 2001. The Northwestern streak was represented on the sidelines by a monkey wearing a No. 63 jersey, the number of years since the Wildcats won a bowl.

Well wishes: Coryell Judie. The Aggies' kick returner and cornerback finally returned to full health against Texas on Thanksgiving after missing a handful of games with a hamstring injury. However, he suffered a fractured wrist during his final collegiate game. It's a rough break for a huge talent, but he'll hear his name called next April in the NFL draft.

Record performance: With his first field goal midway through the first quarter, kicker Randy Bullock broke Texas A&M's single-season scoring record set back in 1927. The Lou Groza Award winner surpassed Joel Hunt's record of 128 points and finished the season with 139 points after making three field goals and three extra points on Saturday.

ESPN.com's All-Underrated Big 12 team

December, 13, 2011
12/13/11
4:30
PM ET
We unveiled our All-Big 12 team last week with lots of talent.

Time for a new take, with a little help from the Big Ten Blog: The All-Underrated team.

My criteria: The conference's most underrated player at each position. This is, of course, subjective. This isn't for the second-best player at each position. It's for the player who doesn't get enough respect. The only rule: He can't be on my All-Big 12 team.

Here goes:

OFFENSE

QB: James Franklin, Missouri
RB: Christine Michael, Texas A&M
RB: John Hubert, Kansas State
FB: Braden Wilson, Kansas State
WR: Ryan Swope, Texas A&M
WR: Tevin Reese, Baylor
WR: Josh Cooper, Oklahoma State
TE: James Hanna, Oklahoma
OL: Clyde Aufner, Kansas State
OL: Philip Blake, Baylor
OL: Austin Wuebbels, Missouri
OL: David Snow, Texas
OL: Lonnie Edwards, Texas Tech

DEFENSE

DE: Toben Opurum, Kansas
DT: Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, Baylor
DE: Meshak Williams, Kansas State
DE: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
LB: Steven Johnson, Kansas
LB: Elliot Coffey, Baylor
LB: Alex Elkins, Oklahoma State
CB: David Garrett, Kansas State
CB: Leonard Johnson, Iowa State
S: Terrance Bullitt, Texas Tech
S: Daytawion Lowe, Oklahoma State

SPECIALISTS

P: Trey Barrow, Missouri
PK: Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma
PR/KR: Jarvis West, Iowa State

Coach: Paul Rhoads, Iowa State

Ranking the Big 12 bowl games

December, 12, 2011
12/12/11
1:00
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Bowl season approacheth. Two games featuring Big 12 teams will be as good as any this postseason, especially with the impending rugby match that we'll tentatively call the BCS National Championship.

Here's how the Big 12 games rank from top to bottom.

[+] EnlargeWeeden
Richard Rowe/US PresswireOklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden could be a second-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft.
1. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 2: No. 3 Oklahoma State vs. No. 4 Stanford - Just imagine if the opponents were switched and these two took on SEC opponents in national semifinals as part of the college football Final Four. Oh, what could have been. Either way, Brandon Weeden and Andrew Luck assure us that this will be a tight, cleanly played game with two of college football's best passers. Outside of the SEC rematch for the title, this is the best bowl game of them all.

2. AT&T Cotton Bowl, Jan. 6: No. 8 Kansas State vs. No. 6 Arkansas - The Wildcats have played heart-stoppers in what seems like every week. They're 8-1 in games decided by fewer than seven points. Why change now? This will be just the second Big 12 vs. SEC matchup this year, and both games have been in Cowboys Stadium. Texas A&M allowed a Hogs comeback, but Arkansas' potent offense will be nothing new for Kansas State, which has been compensating for them all year. The Wildcats nearly beat OSU and beat Baylor this year. Expect a wild finish.

3. Valero Alamo Bowl, Dec. 29: No. 12 Baylor vs. Washington - Beware of fireworks. Baylor's first Heisman winner, Robert Griffin III, will take the field for perhaps the final time, and expect tons of points in this one. The Huskies and Bears combine to average 75 points and give up an average of 69 points. QB Keith Price keys a good Washington attack with running back Chris Polk, who burned Nebraska for 177 yards in the Holiday Bowl last season.

4. Insight Bowl, Dec. 30: No. 14 Oklahoma vs. Iowa - The storylines are rich in this rare Big Ten meeting for the Sooners. Last year, Stoops cheered on the Hawkeyes in the Insight Bowl against Mizzou. Oklahoma will take on Stoops' alma mater this year in the warmup game for the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona. The Sooners will be without receivers Jaz Reynolds and Ryan Broyles, but Landry Jones will try and bounce back from a Bedlam blowout.

5. Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas: Texas A&M vs. Northwestern - The Aggies will take on QB Dan Persa and the Wildcats in nearby Houston, where the crowd should be heavily maroon. Running back Cyrus Gray is questionable, but it'll be interesting to see how A&M looks without coach Mike Sherman and a new man running the offense. Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter will serve as interim coach, and this will be the last time Ryan Tannehill throws to receivers Jeff Fuller and Ryan Swope.

6. Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, Dec. 28: No. 24 Texas vs. California - Texas should be mostly healthy by the time this one kicks off, and running back Malcolm Brown could carry some nice momentum into his sophomore season with a big day. After numerous bowl practices leading into this one, it'll be interesting to see what Texas does at quarterback, too.

7. New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 30: Iowa State vs. Rutgers - Last year's Bronx Salute was an ugly end to a classic, but the picturesque setting in Yankee Stadium still has a big novelty factor for fans watching and in attendance for this one. The 8-4 Scarlet Knights are fourth in the Big East and should offer an interesting contrast to the eighth-place team in the Big 12. We'll see how Iowa State's offense is impacted by a maturing freshman quarterback in Jared Barnett. But it will be an offense playing for the final time with offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who will join Urban Meyer's staff at Ohio State after the season.

8. AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl, Dec. 26: Missouri vs. North Carolina - The 7-5 Tigers, like 6-6 Texas A&M, didn't go to the SEC in the fashion they would have liked. But even if it's a middling bowl game, don't underestimate the momentum that can be established by a win. Ask Oklahoma, which grew up a lot in a win over Stanford in the 2009 Sun Bowl before winning the Big 12 in 2010. That's especially true for a team returning a lot next year like Mizzou, even if it will take on a whole new schedule.

How would you rank the bowls?

Season recap: Texas A&M

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
6:30
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TEXAS A&M AGGIES

Record: 6-6 (4-5)

Through all the rough moments for the Aggies in 2011, the lasting image will be the ecstatic Longhorns sideline emptying onto Kyle Field to chase down Justin Tucker, who kicked a game-winning field goal to beat A&M in the final iteration of the Lone Star Showdown. Texas might come to College Station again at some point before the end of the world, but with an ending like that, it could be awhile. The Aggies are headed to the SEC, but did it with one of the most disappointing seasons in school history, which resulted in coach Mike Sherman's postseason firing.

By now, the numbers are well known. The Aggies were good enough to lead 11 games by double digits and bad enough to lose six of those games. It was truly maddening. Texas A&M was so, so much better than 6-6, and stocked with as much talent as any team in the Big 12, and maybe the country. Why were there so many second-half meltdowns? Sherman and everyone else involved never figured it out, and the Aggies will try and bring in a coach to fix it.

Offensive MVP: Ryan Swope, wide receiver. This is a bit of an upset, but the only other option is going with Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael as a shared option. Both could be replaced by the other and missed key games, but Swope was consistent most of the year, and played his best in conference games. He finished with a team-high 81 catches for 1,102 yards with 11 touchdowns. He was one of only four Big 12 receivers to top 1,000 yards receiving. Even with his year, the former high school running back might be the most underrated player in the Big 12. Without him, Texas A&M's passing game wouldn't have been functional, and without that, what happens to the running game?

Defensive MVP: Sean Porter, linebacker. Porter's production slowed a bit late in the season, though he did notch 2.5 tackles for loss against Texas. Even still, he had one of the best years of any defender in the Big 12. He led the team with 16 tackles for loss and had 8.5 sacks. He finished with 73 tackles.

Turning point: The loss to Oklahoma State. That's the game that started it all and was the first of many blown leads. The 20-3 halftime lead was gone before the end of the third quarter, and the 30-29 loss cost them control of the Big 12. That didn't matter long, of course. A&M blew another lead to Arkansas a week later, but the three-game losing streak to Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas State officially made the 2011 season a wash.

What’s next: They'll be walking into the SEC West with a yet-t0-be-determined coach and lots of new faces. The first year in the SEC could be rough. Tannehill is gone, Gray is gone, Jeff Fuller is gone after an underwhelming senior season and four of the top eight tacklers are gone. That's a whole lot of production. A new quarterback, likely Jameill Showers, will have to adjust to much tougher defenses in a new league. The Aggies will rely on a very experienced offensive line and power back, Michael.

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
11:25
PM ET
Texas A&M (6-6) vs. Northwestern (6-6)

Dec. 31, noon ET (ESPN)

Texas A&M take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: The Aggies are in a state of turmoil. They have no coach and the players are understandably shaken up about it. Mike Sherman was loved around College Station, and his super classy exit press conference showed all the reasons why. Ultimately, Texas A&M's much-ballyhooed second-half failures ended Sherman's tenure as the head Aggie. The numbers are well-known by now, but still staggering. They tell the story of how a preseason top 10 team with as much talent as any in the Big 12 ends up at 6-6. Five halftime leads of double digits and another by nine against rival Texas. All were losses.

That doesn't change the talent on the field. Running back Cyrus Gray will likely return from injury, as will quarterback Ryan Tannehill with top targets Ryan Swope and Jeff Fuller. They'll play with an offensive line that has some legit NFL talent, a credit to Sherman's recruiting acumen as a coach with an offensive line background. Texas A&M is already assured of leaving the Big 12 with a bitter taste en route to the SEC next season, but a bowl win might help ... if only a little bit.


Northwestern take from Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern will play in a bowl for a team-record fourth consecutive year, but the Wildcats are still looking for that elusive postseason win after a disappointing 2011 campaign.

As players and coaches often are reminded, Northwestern hasn’t won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose. The Wildcats have come close the past three seasons, particularly in the 2010 Outback Bowl, but they’ve fallen short each time. While Texas A&M’s motivation might be a question mark after its recent coaching change, Northwestern will be geared up.

The good news is that unlike last year, Northwestern will have top quarterback Dan Persa on the field for its bowl. Although Persa didn’t look nearly as dominant this season as he did in 2010, he still led the Big Ten in passing (240.3 ypg) and completed 74.2 percent of his passes with 17 touchdown strikes and seven interceptions. Persa and the offense will need to put up points as Northwestern’s defense has struggled mightily this season and in the recent bowl losses. The Wildcats will be without top cornerback Jordan Mabin against Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill and his talented group of receivers.

This will be a virtual road game for Northwestern in Houston, as Texas A&M fans will pack Reliant Stadium. But Pat Fitzgerald’s teams often play better on the road than at home, as they are 14-8 on the road since the start of the 2008 season.

Big 12 by the numbers: Week 13

November, 23, 2011
11/23/11
3:00
PM ET
Here's the story of the Big 12 this week, as told by calculators.

2: Holding penalties by Texas A&M's offensive line this season.

9: Games since the Aggies' O-line has been called for a hold.

13.64: Points per game for K-State quarterback Collin Klein, the most among QBs this season.

8: Big 12 teams receiving votes in the coaches poll this week.

6: Games at Jack Trice Stadium with an attendance of over 50,000 at Iowa State, the first time in school history.

3: Major conferences the Big 12 has a losing record against all-time. (SEC, Big Ten, ACC)

2: Coaches with identical 5-19 records with Big 12 programs if Kansas loses to Mizzou. (Turner Gill, Gene Chizik)

1: FBS quarterback with 375 passing yards and 75 rushing yards in a game this season. No, not RG3. It's Iowa State's Jared Barnett, on Friday against OSU in his third start.

12.5: Points per game for OSU running back Joseph Randle, second in the Big 12 behind Klein.

4.1: Points per game between Randle and the Big 12's No. 3 scorer, OSU receiver Justin Blackmon.

1: Receiver in the Big 12 with more touchdown catches than Texas A&M's Ryan Swope. (Blackmon)

17: Tackles for loss for Frank Alexander, three more than any player in the Big 12.

7: Interceptions for Kansas State CB Nigel Malone, three more than any player in the Big 12.

9: Touchdown passes given up by Texas, four fewer than any team in the Big 12. (Oklahoma State)

100: Percent of onside kicks against Oklahoma State that have been successful.

87: Yards on the longest catch in the Big 12 this year, on a tipped ball by Kendall Wright last week.

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