Big 12: what we learned 13
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
1. Brent Venables' luster is restored. The Oklahoma defensive coordinator's reputation -- like the "Big Game" mystique of his boss, Bob Stoops -- had been dinged a little in recent seasons because of the Sooners' BCS bowl game struggles. But after the Sooners' swarming, decisive dissection of Texas Tech's offense Saturday night, the nation again was reminded why the Sooners' Big 12 dynasty was built first and foremost on defense. The Sooners' strong defensive performance should resonate as a resume to help sell Venables for one of those open jobs that are out there. If he can direct a team in the future like he can to play defense against Texas Tech, he should be considered one of the hottest commodities available.
2. Let the BCS lobbying begin. Before the third quarter of Saturday's Oklahoma-Texas Tech game was finished, Texas spin doctors were texting national football writers and poll voters to remind them about Texas' 45-35 victory over Oklahoma on Oct. 11. As if they really had forgotten. But it shows what will be as big a battle off the field as on it as two monolithic football programs with the public-relations machines to match. It should be interesting to see how everything unfolds. Texas failed in its biggest road test this season and so did Texas Tech. Now, it will be Oklahoma's chance against Oklahoma State in a bitter road rivalry game. A win there would resonate for the Sooners unlike either of the other two South Division challengers.
I'm expecting to see a lot of bully pulpit harmonizing from Mack Brown and Stoops if their teams win their regular-season finales next week. Wouldn't it be delicious if somehow those two old rivals could end up meeting at the BCS Championship Game? Sure, Florida and Alabama would both have to lose as the Longhorns and Sooners keep winning. But in this wackiest of all college football seasons, anything appears to be possible.
3. Texas Tech's dream season came to a crashing thud Saturday night. But it's still not out of the question that the Red Raiders might have a shot at their first Big 12 Championship Game. Mike Leach's team will be pinning its hopes on beating Baylor next Saturday afternoon and then hoping that Oklahoma State's best team in 20 years can rise up and claim an upset victory over Oklahoma. Stoops has won four of five previous games in Stillwater, but all of the Oklahoma victories were settled by six points or fewer. Texas Tech has to hope that Kendall Hunter makes a quick recovery from his quadriceps injury and that Zac Robinson, Brandon Pettigrew and Dez Bryant take advantage of their week off more fortuitously than the Red Raiders did.
4. Saturday's biggest winner in the North Division was Nebraska, and it had nothing to do with any Big 12 games. Syracuse's shocking upset over Notre Dame has dropped the Irish far down the Gator Bowl's wish list and pushed the Cornhuskers into the inside track for the game if they can beat Colorado on Friday. The Cornhuskers would be 8-4 and would have the sizzle of winning five of their last six games -- as well as returning to a bowl in coach Bo Pelini's first season. Gator Bowl officials are already salivating about a potential Nebraska-Florida State matchup, an enduring bowl treat between two once-dominant programs that were matched up four times in New Year's Day bowls from 1988-94. The only way that scenario won't happen will be if Notre Dame stuns USC next week in Los Angeles, where the Irish are 1-5 since 1996 and lost their last three games by an average margin of 27.3 points. Sounds like the Cornhuskers and their fans better start stocking up on suntan lotion.
5. Ron Prince's coaching career at Kansas State ended in a fitting fashion Saturday. The Wildcats claimed a 38-30 victory over Iowa State, but the way the game finished up was the perfect encapsulation of Prince's three-year coaching career there -- the shortest in Big 12 history for any North Division coach. Prince called time out with one second left to set the defense on one rousing conclusion. And Iowa State proceeded to score a touchdown on the final play of the game, tacking on a meaningless score (unless you were gambling on the game) to finish off a 626-yard performance. Even in his final victory, Prince's defense let him down at the end. It's been that way for him for three years.