Big 12: Southern Mississippi Eagles
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The Big 12's biggest surprise team was Oklahoma State, which streaked to a 9-3 record and cracked the top 10 for the first time in 20 seasons.
Coach Mike Gundy took over the play-calling duties this season after Larry Fedora took the Southern Mississippi coaching job. Gundy developed a potent offensive mix that included quarterback Zac Robinson, Big 12 rushing leader Kendall Hunter, explosive wide receiver Dez Bryant and productive tight end Brandon Pettigrew. The quartet helped the Cowboys score an average of 41.6 points per game, which ranks eighth nationally.
The defense improved in coordinator Tim Beckman's second season, but still gave up too many big plays. The Cowboys ranked last in the Big 12 with only 13 sacks and allowed 117 points in late-season losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma.
Still, it was a season of success that should only get better. The Cowboys are headed for a Holiday Bowl date against Oregon -- their first trip to that bowl since 1988. And their only three losses this season came to teams that at the time were ranked No. 1 (Texas), No. 2 (Texas Tech) and No. 3 (Oklahoma).
Offensive Player of the Year: RB Kendall Hunter. The Big 12 wasn't completely a league of passing offense. Hunter rushed for a conference-best 1,518 yards and scored 14 touchdowns to key Oklahoma State's potent attack that ranked seventh nationally in rushing. Hunter rushed for nine 100-yard games and even produced 12 of his 20 receptions in the final three games of the season.
Defensive Player of the Year: LB Andre Sexton. The spiritual leader of the Cowboys' defense was also its most productive player. Sexton produced a team-high 92 tackles and was a consistent presence throughout the season. He notched 1.5 sacks, produced a team-best five quarterback hurries and tied for the team lead with two forced fumbles.
Turning point: Oklahoma State's victory at then-No. 3 Missouri. The Tigers were the highest-ranked road opponent the Cowboys had beaten since 1967. But the manner in which Oklahoma State won in the 28-23 stunner was most impressive. The Cowboys notched three second-half interceptions of Chase Daniel that made the rest of the country start noticing Gundy's turnaround with the Cowboys.
What's next: The Cowboys will be gunning for their first 10-win season since 1988 if they can beat Oregon at the Holiday Bowl. That game should only build confidence for another strong run next season as OSU returns nine offensive and six defensive starters in what could be a charge for the Cowboys' first South Division title.