Here are five stats that defined OU's season, what they mean and how OU can improve or maintain those trends in 2014.
OU averaged 5.35 yards per carry this season, ranking second in the Big 12 and No. 16 among FBS teams.
What it means: The first year of Bill Bedenbaugh was a success. OU’s offensive line did a terrific job of creating running lanes for whoever was in the backfield. True enough the Sooners had three quality veterans at running back but Brennan Clay (5.78), Damien Williams (4.78) and Roy Finch (5.88) each averaged at least 4.5 yards on at least 59 carries this season thanks to the big uglies up front.
How OU can maintain in 2014: It’s going to be tough as the Sooners lose Clay, Finch, Williams and center Gabe Ikard. But the Sooners have some solid young backs, including Keith Ford, who had 20 carries for 119 yards and one touchdown but dealt with fumble troubles as a true freshman. With the young talent in place and poised to replace the departed seniors, there’s no reason to believe the Sooners can’t match this year’s production in 2014.
Third down conversion defense
OU allowed opponents to convert just. 32.5 percent of their third down attempts, ranking second in the Big 12 and No. 13 among FBS teams.
What it means: The Sooners defense was among the best in the nation on third down. OU’s coaching staff focuses on third down plays and it’s clear they had the defense ready to step up in those key moments. In fact, eight of OU’s 14 interceptions came on third down, including all three interceptions by Julian Wilson.
How OU can maintain in 2014: Well, Mike Stoops returns, so that’s half the battle. OU should be even better on third down in 2014. Most of its key contributors return but replacing All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin won’t be easy. The Sooners defense was littered with youngsters this season and still ranked among the nation’s best. So expect even better in 2014.
Percentage of opponent drives without a first down or touchdown
The Sooners held opponents without a first down or touchdown on 40.8 percent of their drives, ranking second in the Big 12 and No. 13 among FBS teams.
What it means: OU did a terrific job of getting off the field and stopping offenses before they could gain momentum. While the Sooners offense was leaning on the running game and controlling the ball, OU’s defense came onto the field fresh and with a purpose to get off the field quickly. That combination made it hard for opposing offenses to find their rhythm against OU.
How OU can maintain in 2014: It won’t be easy because the Sooners offense should have better balance, resulting in more plays and opportunities for opponents as OU turns to the pass more often. Yet, OU’s defense should be talented enough to come close to matching that percentage.
Opponent rushes of 10 yards or more
OU allowed 46 runs of 10 yards or more to opponents, leading the Big 12 and tying Stanford and Utah for 16th among FBS teams.
What it means: One key reason the Sooners won five games by single digits was the defense’s ability to keep OU in games while the offense was struggling, particularly in the first quarter. If opponents were making big plays in the running game that wouldn’t have been possible. It also points to the increased quickness, speed and athleticism of OU’s 3-4 approach this season.
How OU can maintain in 2014: It will take a combination of good coaching and on-field leadership. And since the Sooners return several key players, including linebackers Frank Shannon and Dominique Alexander, they should be able to match that number.
Passing yards in the first quarter
OU averaged 32.75 passing yards in the first quarter, ranking last in the Big 12 and No. 112 among FBS teams.
What it means: The Sooners’ inability to pass (186.67 passing yards per game) made things difficult for OU’s offense. And their struggles to pass in the first quarter often impacted games by forcing the Sooners to lean on the running game simply because they didn’t have a lot of confidence in their passing game. Fortunately for OU, its running game was one of the conference’s best.
How OU can improve in 2014: Find stability at the quarterback position. Blake Bell played well at times, struggled at other times. Trevor Knight flashed big-time ability and displayed his inexperience as well. No matter who emerges as the No. 1 guy for 2014, he’ll have to consistently play well to help OU’s offense regain the balance that helped make it one of the nation’s best in previous years.
And the Big 12 assistant with the biggest salary? Well, he only coached two games.
Diaz, Applewhite and Stoops were the only three Big 12 assistants to rank in the top 25 nationally in pay.
Other Big 12 assistants who top the half-a-million mark include Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel ($550,000), Texas wide receivers coach Darrell Wyatt ($525,000), West Virginia defensive coordinator Keith Patterson ($501,000), West Virginia special teams coach Joe DeForest ($501,000) and Kansas defensive coordinator Dave Campo ($500,000).
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris is the highest-paid assistant in the nation with a salary of $1,309,650.
Here are the highest-paid assistants for the nine Big 12 squads that reported salary:
- Baylor: Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett ($483,994)
- Iowa State: Defensive coordinator Wally Burnham ($375,000)
- Kansas: Defensive coordinator Dave Campo ($500,000)
- Kansas State: Co-offensive coordinators Dana Dimel/Del Miller and defensive coordinator Tom Hayes ($375,000)
- Oklahoma: Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops ($650,000)
- Oklahoma State: Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer ($462,000)
- Texas: Offensive coordinator Major Applewhite ($650,000)
- Texas Tech: Defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt ($425,000)
- West Virginia: Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson and special teams coordinator Joe DeForest ($501,000)
- Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller feels like Bill Snyder's bowl record (6-9) doesn't represent the type of coach Synder is. Mueller hopes to improve that bowl record against Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, writes Ken Corbitt of the Topeka Capital-Journal.
- A strong performance at the end of the season helped boost Justin Gilbert into the Jim Thorpe award race, writes Gina Mizell of The Oklahoman.
- Oklahoma's strong finish, which included road wins over Kansas State and Oklahoma State, played a key role in the Allstate Sugar Bowl's decision to pick the Sooners. The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey and Ryan Aber have that and more in this Sooners' notebook.
- "It would be pretty huge, a big moment in my life," says Cyril Richardson about the prospect of winning the Outland Trophy, writes John Werner of the Waco Tribune.
- Quarterback Baker Mayfield has decided to transfer from Texas Tech, reports Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.
- The uncertainty around Texas coach Mack Brown continues and he's scheduled to speak with the media during a Valero Alamo Bowl press conference today, reports Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News.
- Brown's career at UT has been one of extremes, writes Kevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News.
Oklahoma finished the season with 10 wins but could have lost several close games without big plays in key moments from several different players. Jalen Saunders' punt returns, Brennan Clay touchdown runs and key defensive plays played a role in OU's 10-2 record while two key plays in the Sooners' losses also pushed them down the road to a loss.
Here are the top 10 plays that helped define OU’s season.
1. Jalen Saunders' game-winning touchdown catch in Bedlam. Blake Bell made a perfect throw and Saunders ran a terrific route on the 7-yard touchdown that vaulted OU into the Sugar Bowl with a 33-24 win. It capped off a improbable drive in one of the best Bedlam games in recent memory. This play completely cemented the quality job done by Bob Stoops as his squad reached the 10-win mark in a season that was billed as a rebuilding campaign.
3. Saunders' punt return in Bedlam. There wasn’t a lot going right for OU’s offense when Saunders returned a punt 64 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter against Oklahoma State to tie the game 7-7. OU had gained 54 yards in the first quarter, yet entered the second quarter tied with the Cowboys thanks to Saunders. It was an important play in the win that transformed OU’s season from good to great.
4. Red zone disappointments against Baylor. It’s not one play, but this sequence completely changed the game in OU’s 41-12 blowout loss to the Bears. The Sooners were inside the Bears’ 10-yard line on back-to-back drives yet came away with three total points. BU’s headline-making offense had just three points early in the second quarter, so if the Sooners could have punched in at least one touchdown they could have played with a lead against that explosive offense. Instead they were forced to try to score to keep up with the Bears.
5. Brennan Clay's 76-yard run against TCU. The senior running back’s long touchdown run helped create a cushion against the Horned Frogs in a game that saw the Sooners offense struggle to put points on the scoreboard. Clay’s scoring gallop with under five minutes left gave OU an two-possession lead which it ended up needing when the Horned Frogs scored a touchdown late in the 20-17 win. A loss in this game could have transformed OU's season into the rebuilding campaign that many expected.
6. Trevor Knight's touchdown pass to Sterling Shepard against K-State. It wasn’t a game-changing score but it sent a clear message that Knight had brought his “A” game in OU's 41-31 win over Kansas State. The redshirt freshman played the best game of his season, finishing with a 90 adjusted QBR against the Wildcats after opening the game with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Shepard. And it was clear Knight was going to play at a high level after the first drive and touchdown to Shepard.
7. Shepard’s catch-and-run against the Irish. With the Irish threatening to make a comeback bid, Shepard caught a short pass and turned on the afterburners to pull away from the ND defense for a 54-yard touchdown to give the Sooners a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame had outscored OU 14-6 in the second half before the sophomore scored that momentum-changing touchdown.
8. Chris Whaley's interception return for touchdown in the Red River Rivalry. The Texas defensive tackle changed the momentum of the Longhorns’ 36-20 win over OU with a key first quarter interception of Bell and return for touchdown. Bell never really looked the same after the play, lacking confidence as the Sooners offense struggled to get anything going throughout the afternoon and Bell finished with a 6.4 adjusted QBR. Whaley's interception made it clear the Longhorns weren't going to get blown out as many expected heading into the game and OU appeared shell-shocked from that point forward.
9. Saunders' punt return against Iowa State. There seems to be a theme here. It’s Saunders, yet again, with a game-changing play for the Sooners. OU trailed Iowa State 10-3 late in the second half and looked ready to head into the locker room trailing a team that was winless in the Big 12. Instead they went into the locker room tied and the Cyclones watched as the Sooners scored 38 second-half points to cruise to a 48-10 win. His punt return pretty much sucked the life out of the ISU locker room.
10. Lacoltan Bester's touchdown pass to Shepard against Kansas. Another theme here ... With OU’s offense struggling, Bester found Shepard for a 49-yard touchdown that gave the Sooners their first lead of the game. It looked like the Sooners might fall in Lawrence, Kan., before Bester’s perfect throw to a wide-open Shepard. OU took it from there and secured the 34-19 win.
Most intriguing game?
Jake Trotter: Kansas State-Michigan could end up being a wild shootout in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and the AT&T Cotton Bowl features two evenly matched, high-quality teams in Oklahoma State and Missouri. But anytime you can get two of the most storied programs together on the same field, it automatically becomes very intriguing. Even if the Alabama is a two-touchdown favorite over Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Brandon Chatmon: Oklahoma against Alabama in a BCS game? Sign me up! Nobody thinks the Sooners have a chance, and they might not. But these two tradition-rich programs don’t meet often and there’s a bunch of prideful people in both locker rooms who will want to represent their conferences well. OSU-Missouri is interesting, Texas-Oregon should be fun but nothing tops a meeting between two of the winningest college football programs of all time.
Max Olson: Oklahoma State-Missouri in the Cotton Bowl. I’m sorry, I can’t choose the Sugar Bowl, because the Sooners have no chance in that game. The Big 12 realignment storylines aside, OSU-Mizzou is just a really nice pairing of balanced teams who are both BCS bowl-caliber. In fact, both would’ve been playing in BCS bowls had they not suffered losses last weekend. And Dorial Green-Beckham vs. Justin Gilbert should be worth the price of admission.
Least intriguing game?
Trotter: Even though it’s a double-digit underdog in three of its six bowl games, the Big 12 doesn’t have a game that’s not intriguing. But I’m not sure Central Florida can hang with Baylor in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, which could end up resembling the Oklahoma-UConn siesta of 2010.
Chatmon: Watching Baylor is never boring. Yet their Fiesta Bowl matchup with UCF sits at the bottom of the list of games that will make you want grab a seat and some popcorn with the knowledge you’re going to see a battle. The Bears offense is explosive and fun to watch but things could get out of hand if Bryce Petty and Co. are operating as efficiently as they have for the majority of the season.
Olson: Kansas State-Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The obvious answer is probably the Fiesta Bowl, but Blake Bortles and UCF could make that one interesting. Michigan has lost four of its last five and that lone victory came in triple OT against Northwestern. Kansas State probably has to like this matchup and its chances of getting its first bowl win since 2002.
Of Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech, who has the best chance of pulling an upset?
Trotter: It would be great if the Longhorns could send Mack Brown out with a win over Oregon, but I just don’t see enough points in the Texas offense. I’m not sure Tech can slow down Arizona State, either. So I’ll go with Oklahoma. Who knows what’s going on with Nick Saban, and it’s possible Alabama isn’t as locked in for this game having gotten knocked out of the national title game in the Iron Bowl.
Chatmon: The Red Raiders will have the best shot because beating Arizona State isn’t the same task as bringing down Oregon or Alabama, two teams that have cemented themselves among the nation’s top 10 for the past few seasons. Texas Tech is coming off a five-game losing streak to end the year but still features an explosive offense with the potential to create problems for any defense. And Kliff Kingsbury will have a creative trick or two up his sleeve.
Olson: Texas Tech. The other two games are such mismatches that I have to go with the Red Raiders, even despite their five-game slide. If any Big 12 team needed a month off to regroup, review and improve, it’s Tech. We saw what Kliff Kingsbury did to Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl last year when given several weeks to prep. If he can get the quarterback situation figured out and Matt Wallerstedt can get his defense to defend the run much better, an upset wouldn’t shock me.
Player to watch?
Trotter: The only way Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State was with big plays from Jalen Saunders. The only chance the Sooners have against Alabama is if Saunders can pull off more big plays, both at receiver and in the kicking game. He is OU’s best chance in this game.
Chatmon: Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert. How could you not be looking forward to watching Gilbert take on Missouri’s receivers, particularly Dorial Green-Beckham ? The Cowboys senior has played like an elite corner this season and DBG is emerging as the type of receiver everyone expected him to be when he was one of the nation’s top recruits in the Class of 2012. Basically, it’s an opportunity to watch two future NFL players compete on one of college football’s top stages.
Olson: Baylor RB Lache Seastrunk. Of all the Big 12 players going bowling, it’s Seastrunk and Jace Amaro I’ll be watching because both could opt to go pro early after one final game. Seastrunk will be 100 percent healthy by January, Baylor won’t be afraid to run it 60 times if it’s working (remember the UCLA game last year?) and a huge game on this stage could help his draft stock and sway him to enter the draft. If he comes back, it’s huge for the Bears and for the Big 12.
Stability, Please (Austin-ish) In his tenure at Texas, Mack Brown has garnered a national championship, the 09 Big XII title, another 4 Big XII South titles, 15 bowl appearances, and this year came within a game of winning the Big XII outright. If UT fires/retires him, doesn't that just repeat the blunder Texas made when they fired Fred Akers and entered the Dark Ages for a decade?
Brandon Chatmon The potential for that to happen is there, no question. I'd agree sometimes you don't realize how good you have it until things change. It all depends on who would be the replacement hire.
Coach Claus (North Arctic State) OK, so I gave FSU and Auburn a chance at the NC, I gave millions of fans what they wanted and kept 'Bama out of the NC, the Buckeyes were on the naughty list so I gave them coal from Michigan State, I gave a couple schools their first-ever BCS bowls. What's left on the list?
Brandon Chatmon My million dollar check. I haven't got that yet, but you have until the 25th, Coach Claus, so make it happen.
Bobby (Waco) Bedlam obviously shuffled the BCS slots a bit, but do you think Baylor would have a better chance against Alabama than OU?
Brandon Chatmon Probably. The Baylor Bears are the Big 12 champions for a reason.
Tony (Richmond, CA) How surprised are you that OU left Stillwater with a victory?
Brandon Chatmon I was very surprised. Particularly with the way they did it, having the offense cruise down the field at the end. Impressive win for the Sooners.
Chuck (WVU) The Mountaineers play a pretty tough schedule next year. What record does Dana Holgorsen have to get to keep his job? If we go bowling, I think he stays. Even we if we go 5-7 and are competitive against the top schools, I think he still might get another year. Your thoughts?
Brandon Chatmon I think WVU needs to make a bowl game next season, so 6-6. I like the young players on the roster but they really need a quarterback. I do think Holgorsen is a good guy for the job though, he understands what it takes to win, particularly in the Big 12. I wouldn't be in a hurry to cast him aside if I'm WVU.
Joseph (Minnesota) When the Big 12 has a high scoring game, there is no defense. When the SEC has a high scoring games, then it is just a great football game with great offenses. What gives?
Brandon Chatmon I've wondered the same thing. Though I don't really hear people trying to play the "SEC defense is second to none" card too much anymore.
Chase (Dallas) Gaze into your crystal ball and tell was what the Big 12 record will be for the bowl games.
Brandon Chatmon Good question, I'll say 3-3 but could easily be 1-5 in my opinion. Baylor is my lone lock.
Big 12 champ Baylor led the league with a school-record 10 first team players and earned three individual awards, including Coach of the Year (Art Briles) and Offensive Lineman of the Year (guard Cyril Richardson).
Oklahoma State had a league-high 11 players named to the first or second teams. The awards were voted on by the league’s coaches.
Chuck Neinas Coach of the Year
Art Briles, Baylor
Defensive Lineman of the Year
Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
Offensive Newcomer of the Year
Charles Sims, West Virginia
Co-Defensive Players of the Year
Jason Verrett, TCU; Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
Offensive Freshman of the Year
Baker Mayfield, Texas Tech
Defensive Newcomer of the Year
Isaiah Johnson, Kansas
Offensive Player of the Year
Bryce Petty, Baylor
Defensive Freshman of the Year
Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma
Offensive lineman of the Year
Cyril Richardson, Baylor
Special teams Player of the Year
Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
QB – Bryce Petty, Baylor
RB – Lache Seastrunk, Baylor
RB – Charles Sims, West Virginia
FB – Trey Millard, Oklahoma
WR – Antwan Goodley, Baylor
WR - Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
WR – Tevin Reese, Baylor
TE - Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
OL – Spencer Drango, Baylor
OL – B.J. Finney, Kansas State
OL - Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
OL - Cyril Richardson, Baylor
OL - Parker Graham, Oklahoma State
PK –Anthony Fera, Texas
KR/PR – Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
DL - Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
DL - Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State
DL – Chris McAllister, Baylor
DL - Charles Tapper, Oklahoma
DL - Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
LB - Jeremiah George, Iowa State
LB – Shaun Lewis, Oklahoma State
LB – Eddie Lackey, Baylor
DB – Jason Verrett, TCU
DB – Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
DB – Ahmad Dixon, Baylor
DB – Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State
DB – Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma
P – Spencer Roth, Baylor
QB – Clint Chelf, Oklahoma State
RB – James Sims, Kansas
RB – Malcolm Brown, Texas
FB – Kye Staley, Oklahoma State
WR – Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma
WR – Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State
WR – Jaxon Shipley, Texas
TE – E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
OL – Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
OL – Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
OL – Donald Hawkins, Texas
OL – Trey Hopkins, Texas
OL - Le’Raven Clark, Texas Tech
PK –Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma
KR/PR – Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State
DL – Tyler Johnson, Oklahoma State
DL – Chucky Hunter, TCU
DL – Cedric Reed, Texas
DL – Kerry Hyder, Texas Tech
DL – Will Clarke, West Virginia
LB – Ben Heeney, Kansas
LB – Eric Striker, Oklahoma
LB – Caleb Lavey, Oklahoma State
DB – Jacques Washington, Iowa State
DB – Daytawion Lowe, Oklahoma State
DB – Sam Carter, TCU
DB – Carrington Byndom, Texas
DB – Darwin Cook, West Virginia
P – Nick O’Toole, West Virginia
FPI is a predictive measure of team strength that uses the elements of team offensive, defensive and special teams performance (adjusted for each opponent) that correlate most with future results. Each team’s FPI is used to calculate the expected point differential in a matchup between two teams, as well as the percentage chance of each team winning.
According to FPI, the two most lopsided bowl games involve Big 12 teams, and not in the good way.
FPI gives Oregon a 91 percent chance to defeat Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl, and Arizona State equally a 91 percent chance to defeat Texas Tech in the National University Holiday Bowl.
The Big 12, however, is involved in the two most evenly matched games, as well. FPI gives Kansas State just a 53 percent chance of beating Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and Oklahoma State (despite being 1-point underdogs) a 54 percent chance of defeating Missouri in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.
The Cotton Bowl, by the way, is one of only four bowl games with a matchup of teams both ranked in the FPI top 20. The others include the Discover Orange Bowl (Ohio State-Clemson), Capital One Bowl (South Carolina-Wisconsin) and, of course, the VIZIO BCS National Championship (Auburn-Florida State).
- Iowa State's latest commitment was on hand for the Cyclones’ win over Kansas, the coldest game in ISU history, yet wasn't deterred, writes Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register.
- West Virginia assistant Tony Gibson played a key role in the Mountaineers landing highly regarded recruit Dravon Henry, writes Chris Anderson of the Charleston Gazette. Henry is No. 136 in the ESPN300.
- Oklahoma coach Josh Heupel was outstanding during Bedlam, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman.
- The Sooners are a BCS team yet still don't know who is their quarterback, writes Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman.
- Here's a pre-bowl list of things Baylor fans should not do. The Waco Tribune's Brice Cherry provides the advice.
- Nobody on the Kansas State team has won a bowl game but the Wildcats hope to end their bowl losing streak, writes Joshua Kinder of the Manhattan Mercury.
- It's time for Mack Brown to step down at Texas, writes Max Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
- Despite a disappointing Bedlam result, Oklahoma State is quickly selling out its allotment of tickets for the AT&T Cotton Bowl. The Oklahoman's Gina Mizell with the report.
Alabama and Oklahoma are members of college football's aristocracy with a history of winning that goes back decades. From Paul Bryant to Bud Wilkinson, dusty images come to mind with these two schools. And it's only fitting that they'll meet in New Orleans, which holds its own storied place in history.
But what about the game itself? It's still a few weeks away, but let's break down some of the aspects that might make Tide-Sooners an interesting event to watch on Jan. 2.
Who starts at QB?: Oklahoma will begin bowl practice soon, but who starts under center is still a significant question mark. As Sooners offensive coordinator Josh Heupel explained, he'll go with, "Whoever it takes." Redshirt freshman Trevor Knight is nursing an injured non-throwing arm, though it's unclear the severity of the injury. Meanwhile, junior Blake Bell, who came on in relief of Knight against Oklahoma State and led the Sooners on a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, seems like the hot hand. But he entered the game third on the depth chart behind Kendal Thompson so making any assumptions here seems futile.
Stoops vs. the SEC: Some folks just don't like to dredge up the past. But after what Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has said about the SEC in the past year or so, it's hard to forget. Stoops has called the league with seven straight BCS champions overrated, top-heavy and overstated in terms of its defensive prowess. It's all propaganda, he claims. A veteran of the Big 12, he's been mostly alone in his criticism of the SEC, which has made him a favorite target of college football fans in the South who like to chide other conferences already. But Stoops will have his chance to answer their criticism and state the case for his own. A win over the Tide might spell vindication.
Players to watch
Oklahoma DB Aaron Colvin: He's a big, physical corner who might be able to give Amari Cooper trouble. At 6-foot and 192 pounds, he's an aggressive type that doesn't intercept the ball a lot -- he has just one this season -- but does draw his fair share of flags. He's fifth on the team in tackles (49) and tied for sixth in passes defended (4).
Alabama LB Adrian Hubbard: We saw it play out last season where Hubbard came from nowhere to close the season strong (three sacks in the final games) and flirt with the NFL as a redshirt sophomore. He ultimately stayed for his junior season, but we could see a repeat of last year as Hubbard has racked up three sacks and 11 tackles in the Tide's past four games.
Oklahoma DL Charles Tapper: The Sooners have struggled some on offense this season, but their youth on defense is cause for hope. Trapper, a big 6-foot-4, 261-pound defensive end, is one of those bright spots. As a sophomore, he leads the team with nine tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.
Alabama QB AJ McCarron: It's ironic to consider that McCarron's final game at UA will come against a team he nearly signed with as a player coming out of high school. The night before he was set to decide, he said he was thinking he'd go with Oklahoma. Why? He liked their program and Sam Bradford. But as he said, when you're a teenager, "Your mind changes about 20 times a day." In the end, it's safe to say McCarron made the right decision as a win over Oklahoma would be the cherry on top of a career that's seen him win two national championships as a starter and earned him a trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Stats to keep an eye on
2: Oklahoma has a history of being a talent-rich program on offense, but this season's been different as the Sooners placed just two such players on the first- and second-team AP All-Big 12 Team. And those two selections -- center Gabe Ikard and kicker Mike Hunnicutt -- aren't what you'd call impact players.
18: The Sooners have flipped the script after being known as a passing team under former quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Landry Jones. This season Oklahoma's relied heavily on the run, ranking 18th in the country with 235.8 rushing yards per game.
20: Alabama's still shaking off the reputation of a slow and plodding offense. And while it may be true the Tide doesn't huddle, it does get big plays. In fact, UA ranks 28th in the country with 68 plays of 20 or more yards. Meanwhile, Oklahoma ranks 86th with only 48 such plays.
OU finished the season 10-2 including a 7-2 Big 12 record as some likely and unlikely candidates stepped up to make a difference during a season that was initially billed as a rebuilding year but will end with the Sooners playing in a BCS bowl.
Here is a regular season review of the standout players and coaches during OU’s BCS journey.
Offensive MVP: Center Gabe Ikard. It’s not often that an offensive lineman is the clear MVP of a 10-win team. But Ikard’s not your normal offensive lineman. A four-year starter, Ikard’s experience and intelligence helped the Sooners overcome an season-ending injury to fullback Trey Millard, a quarterback carousel and multiple running backs taking turns as the lead ball carrier. Through it all the offensive line helped the Sooners average 235.83 rushing yards per game and allowed 15 sacks with Ikard’s leadership and example.
Defensive MVP: Linebacker Frank Shannon. The sophomore fought off injuries to play in all 12 games and lead the squad with 85 tackles along with seven tackles for loss, two sacks and one interception. When senior linebacker Corey Nelson was lost for the season in early October, Shannon went from an understudy to a on-field leadership role. His presence also helped true freshman Dominique Alexander excel in Nelson’s absence.
Special teams MVP: Jalen Saunders. The senior receiver changed the game with punt returns for touchdowns against Iowa State and Oklahoma State during the Sooners’ three-game win streak to end the regular season. Without those two returns, who knows how those games could have turned out. He averaged 16.78 yards per punt return and had five punt returns for more than 20 yards.
Assistant coach of the year: Defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery. The season began with a defensive line full of unknowns and inexperience. Yet, it performed like a veteran group and even shook off an season-ending injury to Jordan Phillips to finish No. 1 in the Big 12 in yards allowed per game. Several inexperienced players including Charles Tapper and Jordan Wade played important roles under Montgomery's coaching.
Undervalued contributor on offense: Receiver Sterling Shepard. The sophomore wasn’t the No. 1 guy like Saunders, but when he wasn’t involved OU’s passing attack wasn’t as potent. He finished with 44 receptions for 540 yards and six touchdowns. His 67.7 completion percentage (44 receptions in 65 targets) led the squad. Shepard stepped up in key games and provided a quality big play threat when teams focused on Saunders.
Undervalued contributor on defense: Linebacker Eric Striker. The Florida native helped transform the Sooners’ defense with his relentlessness and quickness off the edge. Playing a standup linebacker who consistently blitzed on passing downs, Striker proved to be one of OU’s top pass rushing threats with 3.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. He wasn't among the team leaders in tackles but he was always active when he was on the field.
Newcomer of the year: Alexander. The coaching staff had raved about Alexander since the preseason but his opportunities were limited until Nelson’s injury. He had 10 tackles in his first four games but had 19 tackles in his first start against Texas after Nelson was sidelined. He finished with 75 tackles, second on the squad.
Most improved player: Tapper. The defensive end stepped on campus as a raw former basketball star with plenty of potential. He ends his sophomore season leading the Sooners in sacks (5.5) and tackle for losses (9). His size, speed and quickness will make him one of the Big 12’s most feared defenders in 2014.
1. Baylor (11-1, 8-1 Big 12, last week 2): The Bears have a chance to put the finishing touches on a tremendous season with a favorable matchup in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Central Florida. Baylor better win for conference pride/bragging rights, as the Big 12 is an underdog in four of its other five bowl matchups.
2. Oklahoma (10-2, 7-2 Big 12, LW 4): If Bob Stoops somehow pulled off the upset of Alabama, it would constitute his best coaching job since the national championship season in 2000. That Stoops even got OU in the Allstate Sugar Bowl is remarkable. This might be the least talented 10-win team Stoops has ever had. But this is also a team that found a way to get to 10 wins when it didn’t look possible.
3. Oklahoma State (10-2, 7-2 Big 12, LW 1): Oklahoma State’s football history is filled with Bedlam disappointments. But 2013 will rank at the very top. The Cowboys were in control for most of the game against Oklahoma. But they were a disaster on special teams and third downs, and when the game was on the line, a defense that had been terrific all year capitulated against a third-string quarterback. A win over Missouri in the AT&T Cotton Bowl will ease the sting, but this one will sting for awhile.
4. Texas (8-4, 7-2 Big 12, LW 3): With a chance to win the Big 12 outright, Texas’ up-and-down season ended with a thud in Waco. As a result, Mack Brown’s seemingly impending resignation will dominate the conversation in Austin while the Longhorns attempt to prepare for a very difficult matchup in the Valero Alamo Bowl against Oregon.
5. Kansas State (7-5, 5-4 Big 12, LW 5): The Wildcats won’t have the matchup with old conference rival Nebraska in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. But they will have the chance to beat a name program (Michigan), which would cap a very nice end to a season that began very badly.
6. Texas Tech (7-5, 4-5 Big 12, LW 6): Losing five in a row after a top-10 ranking is not how Kliff Kingsbury wanted to close out his first season. Losing six would be even worse. But the Red Raiders have an opportunity against Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. Win that game, and nobody will be talking about the five-game losing streak. Instead, they’ll be talking about one of the biggest upsets of the bowl season, which would give Tech some momentum going into the winter.
7. TCU (4-8, 2-7 Big 12, LW 7): The Horned Frogs will have a new offensive coordinator (reportedly Doug Meachem) and a new quarterback (who knows?), but will that translate into more points? It better if TCU is to bounce back from two mediocre-to-bad years in the Big 12.
8. Iowa State (3-9, 2-7 Big 12, LW 8): With wins over Kansas and West Virginia to finish out the season, along with their impending stadium expansion, the Cyclones have some momentum again. Head coach Paul Rhoads getting the right offensive coordinator to jump-start a unit that has talent is the next step.
9. Kansas (3-9, 1-8 Big 12, LW 9): Did the Jayhawks show improvement in Year 2 of the Charlie Weis era? Not really. Which is why Year 3 will be a defining one. Kansas needs to win more than one Big 12 game. The key will be rising sophomore QB Montell Cozart. If he can make a jump to the next level, so too will the Jayhawks.
10. West Virginia (4-8, 2-7 Big 12, LW 10): Last week, athletic director Oliver Luck issued a statement backing coach Dana Holgorsen. But Luck’s statement sure seemed to emphasize the 2014 season. Problem is, West Virginia opens with Alabama, goes to Maryland, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Texas, and plays Oklahoma and Baylor at home. The Mountaineers would have to win one of those games just to become bowl eligible. On top of that, they’ll be replacing easily their best offensive (running back Charles Sims) and defensive (safety Darwin Cook) players from this past season. Good luck, Dana.
Taylor (Kansas): OK, so I know I was a little down on my Sooners heading into Stillwater. And you offered some kind words of encouragement that eased my thoughts and lo and behold they pulled it off. Now, can you offer me some more support for the Sugar Bowl? I'm not sure they will score! Bama has a chip on their shoulder and I feel like they are going to take it out on anyone and everyone in their way.
Jake Trotter: The one thing OU might have going its way in this game is... does Bama care? The last time Bama just missed out on the title game, it lost to Utah in the Sugar Bowl. If Bama comes out flat, OU might have a chance. If Bama comes out ready to play with a chip on its shoulder…
Mike (Jacksonville): What are the chances Mack Brown steps down before the bowl game?
Jake Trotter: I would say better than 50 percent. But one thing the Texas brass needs to consider if they push for Mack's resignation is, who will they replace him with? If you're going to push a coach like Mack out, who's done a lot for the university and pulled it out of the doldrums in the '90s, then you'd better have somebody lined up.
Nick (Texas): The Big 12 will have a losing bowl record: Agree or disagree?
Jake Trotter: Agree. Gonna be very difficult for OU, Texas and Tech to win. One will need to to give the league a chance at a winning record.
Dave (Orange County): Who do you think has a better all-time program? OU or Alabama?
Jake Trotter: When ranking all-time programs, I go, 1. Notre Dame, 2. Alabama, 3. OU, 4. Ohio State, 5. Michigan.
Levi Farmer (Tulsa, OK): OU loses a lot of RB depth with the senior class. Who is in line to step up and start next year?
Jake Trotter: It will be the Keith Ford show.
JFB (DFW): How does [Bryce] Petty not get an invite when you compare his numbers and "character" to other invitees?
Jake Trotter: Petty's campaign was very similar to Brandon Weeden's back in 2011. Just when Weeden's candidacy was rolling, OSU lost to Iowa State. Just when Petty was getting into the top 3, Baylor was smoked by OSU. Petty has another year, and he will be on everyone's radar this time going into the season.
Dave (Atlanta): Any update on how Trevor Knight's doing?
Jake Trotter: He is fine. Dislocated shoulder on his non-throwing side. Will be back for the bowl.
Jason (Cincinnati): The last time we spoke, I mentioned how I was worried about the ISU visit to Morgantown and you mentioned WVU was a different team at home. Yet WVU suffered another meltdown after a 31-7 lead. We are making the Big 12 look really bad and this is not WVU football. Mountaineer nation is losing faith in the staff. What is really wrong in Morgantown?
Jake Trotter: Talent, coaching, mentality... it's a lot of things.
Ryan (Bear Country): Not that it matters anymore, but still don't understand how a two-loss Stanford team is ranked higher than a one-loss Baylor squad (granted, we did get blown out by OSU). Is it just the brand?
Jake Trotter: Stanford has seven Top 25 wins. Baylor has two.
Andrew (Houston): Do you think Lache Seastrunk is coming back? Early in the year it looked like there wasn't a chance... but late in the year he hurt his draft stock. I think he is back and BU is a top-5 team in the country again.
Jake Trotter: I think Lache comes back. That would be the best backfield in the Big 12 again, with Petty.
Tom (Dallas): Jake, would you please be so kind and remind Texas Tech and TCU that Baylor has a Big 12 championship and they don't.
Jake Trotter: Ouch.
Fred (Lubbock): Trotter, what's more impressive, our two-decades-plus of consistently winning or Baylor's miserable little Big 12 championship during a horribly down year in the conference?
Jake Trotter: Here we go again...
- With the school's first Big 12 title in hand, Baylor's Art Briles has his eye on making the College Football Playoff as one of the nation's top four teams next season, writes John Werner of the Waco Tribune.
- Texas head coach Mack Brown's status is unclear for a lot of different reasons, writes Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News.
- Iowa State is preparing to hire a new offensive coordinator but will likely continue to run the "Pistol" offense, reports Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune. And what took ISU's latest commitment so long to pull the trigger?
- Nick Saban to Texas would transform the Big 12, making success against UT harder to achieve, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman.
- The Oklahoma State cheerleader who stuck his foot out as if he was trying to trip Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker will be disciplined, reports The Oklahoman's John Helsley. Meanwhile a controversial Bedlam tweet from an Oklahoma account was made by an non-OU employee according to a statement from the school.
- OU will be facing the team it wants to be when the Sooners take on Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, writes John Hoover of the Tulsa World.
- Missouri, Oklahoma State's Cotton Bowl opponent, had lofty goals heading into the season, writes Jimmie Tramel of the Tulsa World.
- Could this be Baylor fans' worst nightmare? Art Briles should think twice if the Washington Redskins come calling, writes Mac Engel of the Fort Worth-Star Telegram.
- Here are some storylines for the Holiday Bowl from Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.
- West Virginia has gotten off to a good start on the recruiting trail, landing a four-star defensive back. ESPN.com's Craig Haubert with a Scout's take on the potential impact.
Deputy athletic director Dave Martin says the university does not condone physical or verbal abuse toward players or fans. In a statement to The Oklahoman, Martin said the cheerleader will see "consequences for his poor judgment and actions."
The male cheerleader is shown on video extending his foot while Oklahoma's Eric Striker celebrated his touchdown that ended the rivalry game. Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State 33-24.
He didn't make contact, and Martin said the cheerleader explained he was just extending his foot in a mocking manner.