Team of the week: Baylor was unranked to begin the season and picked to finish fifth in the Big 12. Instead, with a convincing 30-10 victory over Texas, the Bears won 11 games for the first time in school history to capture the program’s first outright conference title in 33 years. Baylor will cap its magical season against Central Florida in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Disappointment of the week: Oklahoma State had a chance at a second Big 12 title and BCS bowl berth in three years. And all the Cowboys had to do was beat Oklahoma in Stillwater as 10-point favorites. Instead, despite shuffling through three quarterbacks and not scoring an offensive touchdown until 19 seconds left in the game, the Sooners knocked off their instate rival yet again. The Cowboys have lost 10 of 11 to Oklahoma, but given the circumstance and the ending, this one hurt worst of all.
Big (defensive) man on campus: Cornerback K.J. Morton returned from an abdominal strain to deliver the exclamation point to Baylor’s season. Morton picked off Texas quarterback Case McCoy twice, returning the second 57 yards in the fourth quarter for an apparent touchdown. The score was nullified on his celebration penalty. But by then, the party had already begun in Waco.
Special teams players of the week: The field goal tandem of Grant Bothun and Michael Hunnicutt converted Bob Stoops’ first successful fake field goal attempt in 11 years. After their drive stalled at the Oklahoma State 8-yard line, the Sooners lined up for a field goal. Instead, Bothun, the holder, took off running with the ball left and threw the ball to Hunnicutt, the kicker. Hunnicutt backed into the end zone before getting belted by two Cowboys, tying the score 17-17.
Play of the week: Cornerback Justin Gilbert appeared to have ended Bedlam with an Oklahoma State victory, as he came down with an apparent interception on a jump ball to Lacoltan Bester. But instead of landing on the turf, Gilbert landed on Bester, who tapped the ball out of Gilbert’s hands at the last moment. Officials ruled it an incompletion, and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy inexplicably didn’t challenge the call. Five plays later, Bell hit Saunders for the game-winning score.
Stat of the week: As Oklahoma State’s head coach, Gundy’s record against Oklahoma is 1-8. Gundy’s record against the rest of the Big 12: 44-22
Quote of the week: “A defining moment for our program and one I think we'll be able to repeat many times." -- Baylor coach Art Briles, after the school’s first Big 12 championship
Baylor needed Oklahoma to top Oklahoma State in the annual Bedlam Series, but when Saturday came to an end, the Bears were the new Big 12 champion. While Baylor didn’t add to its recruiting tally for the 2014 class, TCU, West Virginia, Iowa State and Kansas landed commitments throughout the week. The Cyclones picked up three pledges, while the Horned Frogs and Jayhawks added two apiece.
Here are some of this past week’s highlights:
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Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio
4 Michigan State Spartans vs 5 Stanford Cardinal
January 1, 2014, at 5 ET on ESPN
Michigan State: First Rose Bowl appearance since the 1987 season and its first appearance in a BCS bowl. The Spartans have reached a bowl game in all seven seasons under head coach Mark Dantonio after making no bowl appearances from 2004-06.
Stanford: Second consecutive appearance in the Rose Bowl (def. Wisconsin 20-14 last season). The Cardinal are making back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances for the first time since 1970-71. Stanford has reached a BCS bowl in four straight seasons after making just one from 1998-2009.
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
15 UCF Knights vs 6 Baylor Bears
January 1, 2014, at 8:30 ET on ESPN
UCF: First BCS bowl berth in school history. Won 11 games this season, tied for the most in school history (also won 11 in 2010).
Baylor: Like their opponents in the Fiesta Bowl, the Bears receive their first BCS bowl berth in school history. Baylor looks to extend a school-record 11 wins this season to 12 in this game.
Allstate Sugar Bowl
11 Oklahoma Sooners vs 3 Alabama Crimson Tide
January 2, 2014, at 8:30 ET on ESPN
Oklahoma: Ninth BCS bowl appearance, second-most all-time. The Sooners are 3-5 in BCS bowl games, snapping a five-game losing streak with a win in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl vs Connecticut.
Alabama: Third straight BCS bowl appearance and fifth in the last seven seasons under Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide will make their first Sugar Bowl appearance since the 2008 season (lost to Utah in that game).
Discover Orange Bowl
12 Clemson Tigers vs 7 Ohio State Buckeyes
January 3, 2014, at 8:30 ET on ESPN
Clemson: First BCS bowl appearance since 2011, when the Tigers played in the Orange Bowl. Those two games mark the only BCS bowls in school history. Speaking of history for the Tigers, they will make a school-record ninth straight appearance in a bowl game.
Ohio State: Tenth BCS bowl appearance, most all-time. The Buckeyes will make their first Orange Bowl appearance since the 1976 season against Colorado. Their last BCS appearance came in a 2011 Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas.
Vizio BCS National Championship Game
1 Florida State Seminoles vs 2 Auburn Tigers
January 6, 2014, at 8:30 ET on ESPN
Florida State: After beating Northern Illinois in last year’s Orange Bowl, the Seminoles return to a BCS bowl game. It marks their first back-to-back BCS bowl appearances since 2002-03. This will be their first BCS Championship Game appearance since 2000 and fourth overall.
Auburn: Second BCS Championship Game appearance, first since winning the national title over Oregon in the 2010 season. This marks the third BCS bowl appearance for the Tigers, who are unbeaten in such games thus far.
Oklahoma Sooners (10-2) vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1)
Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET, New Orleans (ESPN)
OKLAHOMA SOONERS BREAKDOWN
Outside of his 2000 national championship, this season might constitute Bob Stoops’ best coaching finish.
The way the Sooners won Bedlam underscores just how improbable a finish it was. Oklahoma didn’t even score an offensive touchdown until the final 19 seconds of the game, yet somehow toppled the heavily favored, then sixth-ranked Cowboys, 33-24.
Unlike the Jason White, Sam Bradford and Landry Jones eras, the Sooners are not equipped to win in shootouts. But led by a veteran offensive line, a reliable running back in Brennan Clay and its mobile quarterbacks, Oklahoma does have a strong running game, ranking 18th in the country.
Even without a surefire all-conference player, the Sooners also have their best defense since 2009. They are undersized up front, but the pass defense is prolific. Aaron Colvin is a proven lockdown corner, and Eric Striker is one of the best blitzing linebackers in college football.
The true strength of this team, however, is special teams. Jalen Saunders, who had a touchdown return in Bedlam, is one of the most electric returners in the country. Roy Finch leads the Big 12 in kickoff returns. And Michael Hunnicutt is a reliable field-goal kicker.
It will be interesting, as it has been all season, to see what the Sooners do at quarterback in the bowl. Freshman Trevor Knight won the job late in the season and was terrific at Kansas State. But he suffered a dislocated shoulder just before halftime at Oklahoma State. Knight should be fine for the bowl. But Blake Bell, who struggled in the losses to Texas and Baylor, led Oklahoma on the game-winning touchdown drive in the final seconds of the fourth quarter that beat Oklahoma State. -- Jake Trotter
ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE BREAKDOWN
The sting of losing the Iron Bowl remains. The Crimson Tide didn't expect to fall to the Tigers in the final week of the regular season, miss out on the SEC championship game and, as a result, a trip to Pasadena, Calif., for a shot at a third-straight BCS championship. All of which begs the question: How will Alabama respond now that it has been relegated to the Allstate Sugar Bowl? And does Oklahoma stand a chance?
But Alabama isn't the same team it was then.
On offense, Alabama is actually much better as Doug Nussmeier has guided UA to 38.8 points per game -- the most in the Nick Saban era. AJ McCarron might not win the Heisman Trophy, but he has a shot at making it to New York having thrown for 2,676 yards, 26 touchdowns and only five interceptions. The offensive line that was rebuilt after being the best in college football a year ago has actually allowed 12 fewer sacks this season than the last. And the running back tandem of T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake hasn't disappointed either, combining for 1,857 yards and 21 touchdowns.
The defense, though, has endured its ups and downs. Against Texas A&M, it gave up the most yards in school history, and against Auburn, it allowed the most rushing yards since 2011 (296) and the most rushing yards by a quarterback (99) in the Saban era. Discipline was an issue in those games and the back end of the defense was a troublesome spot throughout as strong safety Vinnie Sunseri was lost to injury midway through the season and the cornerback spot opposite Deion Belue was a revolving door with John Fulton, Cyrus Jones, Bradley Sylve, Eddie Jackson and Maurice Smith all taking unsuccessful turns.
The Tide’s defense will be tested by Oklahoma. With a few QBs that can run, if Alabama doesn't come out ready to play, it could turn into a shootout as the Sooners possesses the kind of spread offense that has given the Tide trouble (http://espn.go.com/blog/sec/post/_/id/75890/alabama-at-loss-defending-spread-offenses). LSU had the best tandem of receivers Alabama faced this season, but Oklahoma might have the best receiver corps with three wideouts with 20 or more catches. Jalen Saunders has 615 yards and five touchdowns of his own and Sterling Shepherd, who has 428 yards and six touchdowns, is the kind of shifty receiver that can hurt you. -- Alex Scarborough
Alabama heads to the Allstate Sugar Bowl facing the same kind of challenge it encountered the last time the Crimson Tide played in this game.
They will need to stay motivated after their national title hopes have vanished.
Alabama was atop the polls all season and seemed headed toward a shot at a third straight national title before falling 34-28 to No. 2 Auburn. The third-ranked Crimson Tide (11-1) instead will face No. 11 Oklahoma (10-2) in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 at New Orleans.
These two storied programs will be facing each other for only the fifth time ever. Oklahoma leads the series 2-1-1 and beat Alabama 20-13 when they last met in 2003 at Tuscaloosa.
Two of their prior meetings came in bowl games. Oklahoma and Alabama tied 24-24 in the 1970 Bluebonnet Bowl. Alabama beat Oklahoma 17-0 in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 1963.
"Even though there is some disappointment in terms of how we finished our season this year, we're not disappointed at all in the opportunity that we have to play in the Sugar Bowl and to play against a great team," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "I'm hopeful that our team will look at this as a challenge and an opportunity for them to prove the kind of football team we can be."
Alabama faced a similar situation five years ago.
When it earned that Sugar Bowl invitation in 2008, Alabama had just lost the SEC title to Florida with a BCS championship game appearance at stake. Alabama fell behind 21-0 to Utah and went on to lose 31-17. The Tide had a more pleasant Superdome postseason memory when they capped their 2011 national title with a 21-0 victory over LSU in the BCS championship game.
The 6-foot-4, 212-pound outside linebacker is the No. 207-ranked prospect in the ESPN Junior 300 and has seen his stock skyrocket in December with offers from some heavy hitters nationally.
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After weeks of conjecture and debate about strength of schedule, the matchup for the VIZIO BCS National Championship turned out to be an obvious one.
The regular season had set up the possibility for a controversial BCS title game with one-loss Auburn on the outside looking in at unbeaten but less-tested Florida State and Ohio State, but Michigan State took the Buckeyes out of the conversation by winning the Big Ten championship game on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Auburn moved up to the second spot in the standings by outscoring Missouri 59-42 in the SEC championship game.
Now the title game is set: Florida State, the nation's only undefeated team, will face 12-1 Auburn, champion of the conference that has won the past seven national championships.
"We all complain about the BCS, but isn't it funny how often they get it right," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said.
The Buckeyes fell to No. 7 in the BCS standings but will still have the opportunity to play in a record 10th BCS bowl. Ohio State will face No. 12 Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl.
Here are our Week 15 bowl projections for the Big 12:
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1): Baylor vs. BCS at-large
Allstate Sugar Bowl (Jan. 2): Oklahoma vs. SEC champion (or replacement)
AT&T Cotton Bowl (Jan. 3): Oklahoma State vs. SEC No. 3/4
Valero Alamo Bowl (Dec. 30): Texas vs. Pac-12 No. 2
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Dec. 28): Kansas State vs. Big Ten No. 4/5
National University Holiday Bowl (Dec. 30): Texas Tech vs. Pac-12 No. 3
Texas Bowl (Dec. 27): None available vs. Big Ten No. 6
New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Dec. 28): None available vs. American No. 4
Heart of Dallas Bowl (Jan. 1): None available vs. Big Ten No. 7
1. Baylor is the one and only champ: The last time Baylor won an outright conference championship, Mike Singletary was its middle linebacker. Until Saturday. With a little help from their friends from Norman, the Bears captured their first Big 12 title, and won’t have to share it with anybody. Baylor faces some adversity with the loss at Oklahoma State, but Art Briles’ bunch showed some gumption, bouncing back for a hard-fought win at TCU before closing out Floyd Casey Stadium in style.
3. The Mack Brown speculation is about to ramp up: It has been a storyline all season. Now it’s about to reach a fevered pitch. It would have been interesting to see what Texas would have done had the Longhorns upset Baylor, captured the outright Big 12 title and gone to the Fiesta Bowl. Instead, Texas finished with less than nine regular-season wins for the fourth straight season, which requires a thorough internal review from the burnt orange brass. Will Brown be forced to resign before the bowl game? Let the speculation commence.
4. Oklahoma owns Bedlam: The Cowboys have made great strides with their program under Mike Gundy. But one fact remains: They cannot beat the Sooners in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma really had no business winning this one. Oklahoma State was the heavy favorite. At home. With the superior quarterback. And a senior-laded defense. The Sooners didn’t even score an offensive touchdown through the first 59 minutes, 41 seconds of the game. But Oklahoma's defense hung tough, and the Sooners reeled off a pair of remarkable special teams plays to keep the score close. Then, like so many times before in this game, Oklahoma broke Oklahoma State’s back in the final two minutes. Even with all their recent success, the Cowboys have now lost 10 of 11 in Bedlam. And the Sooners still own their instate rivals.
5. Bob Stoops can still win big games: People often needle Stoops’ “Big-Game Bob” moniker. But Saturday, Stoops proved again he can still win the big games. Even the ones nobody expects him to win. Despite rotating three different quarterbacks and playing without the starting left side of his offensive line, Stoops manufactured a win in Stillwater with bold special teams calls and a defense that gave up yards but never broke. The Cowboys had the advantage over the Sooners in many different ways -- quarterback, experience, defense and home field -- but Stoops outcoached his Oklahoma State counterpart. And somehow, someway, added another big-game win to his resume.
Bob Stoops can still win big games. The Sooners head coach willed his team to 10 wins this season. OU overcame poor quarterback play, disappointing blowout losses and several injuries to win back-to-back road games at Kansas State and Oklahoma State to finish 10-2. It’s an incredible final record for a team that looked hopeless at times in 2013.
Special teams can change a game. OU scored its first 20 points via special teams. A punt return for a touchdown, a fake field goal for a touchdown and two field goals helped set the table for Blake Bell to come in and finish off the game in the final minutes with a clutch drive. It wouldn’t have happened without Jay Boulware’s superb special teams units.
The Sooners' quarterback of the future remains unclear. Just when it looked like Trevor Knight might grab the starting quarterback job and run away and hide, all three quarterbacks played in the win over OSU, with Bell putting together his best drive of the season in the game’s final moments. Knight could still be the future, but Bell showed he shouldn’t be cast aside.
2. Oklahoma lost to Texas by 16 points and to Baylor by 29, at which point the Sooners got written off. Oklahoma had played in only one BCS bowl in the past four seasons, it had a 7-2 record after losing to the Bears, and gee, hadn’t Bob Stoops slipped a bit? The Sooners then won three straight, scored two touchdowns in the final :19 to upset No. 6 Oklahoma State, 33-24 and appear headed for the Allstate Sugar Bowl. That’s Stoops’ ninth BCS game, a record that will forever be his, and in his 15 seasons, the Sooners have had 12 10-win seasons. The Sooners aren’t back. They never left.
3. A year ago, Tyler Gaffney, minor-league outfielder, sat in the stands on Jan. 1 and watched his former Stanford teammates win the Rose Bowl. Gaffney decided to return to the Farm to play football, in part because he wanted to win a Rose Bowl, too. How often does such a dream become reality? It’s hard enough for the players who won to repeat. Gaffney made sure it happened. He won the Pac-12 championship game MVP with 133 yards and three scores in the Cards’ 38-14 rout of Arizona State. Gaffney finished the season with 1,618 yards and 20 touchdowns -- and an invitation to play in Pasadena.
Quarterback Blake Bell: The Sooners quarterback didn’t fold under the pressure of taking the field with under two minutes remaining and OU needing a touchdown. Instead Bell excelled. He led OU down the field, going 5-of-8 on the drive, capping it with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Saunders. He was 9-of-14 for 134 yards and one touchdown for a raw QBR of 91 in the fourth quarter. He played the majority of the second half after starter Trevor Knight was injured and was superb in backup duties. Quite simply, he played his best when the Sooners needed it most.
Receiver Jalen Saunders: In addition to his game-winning touchdown catch, Saunders returned a punt 64 yards for a touchdown. His punt return completely changed the momentum of the game and gave the Sooners hope when they were facing a 7-point deficit and hadn’t accomplished much on offense.
Receiver Sterling Shepard: Bell and Saunders stole the show but Shepard was the Sooners most productive offensive player. The sophomore finished with seven receptions for 112 yards including four receptions for 92 yards in the final 15 minutes. As clutch as Bell and Saunders were, the Sooners probably don’t win the game without the explosive play of Shepard.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops: The Sooners held OSU to 2 of 13 on third down, essentially stopping the Cowboy attack by making the key plays when it mattered in third down situations. OSU quarterback Clint Chelf entered the game leading the Big 12 in third down QBR at 91.8 (on a scale of 0-100 with 50 being average). The Sooners held him a total third down QBR of 9.3.
CB K.J. Morton, Baylor: After sitting out last week’s game against TCU with an abdominal strain, Morton came back big against Texas. He picked off Case McCoy twice, returning one for a touchdown that ended up being called back on a penalty. That fourth-quarter INT, on an errant screen pass, ended up finishing off Texas and securing the Bears’ Big 12 championship and Tostitos Fiesta Bowl bid. Morton also had two pass breakups and three tackles on the day.
K Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma: Hunnicutt was 2-for-2 on field goals and hit all three of his extra-point attempts. But his performance in this Bedlam game won’t be remembered for those makes. It’ll be for the 8-yard touchdown pass he caught from Grant Bothun on a third-quarter trick play that tied the game at 17-17 and helped swing momentum considerably.
QB Blake Bell, Oklahoma: What a comeback and a moment for Bell, whose junior season had highs and lows, but it closes with a remarkable high. With Trevor Knight knocked out of the game, Bell came off the bench as the third-string option and threw for 140 yards on 10-of-16 passing, capped by the 7-yard game-winning touchdown to Jalen Saunders. He ran a near-perfect two-minute drive to knock off a hated rival and perhaps send the Sooners to a BCS bowl. Doesn’t get much better than that.
RB Glasco Martin, Baylor: Bears WR Antwan Goodley put up big numbers too, as usual, but Martin’s contribution was critical in the second half. A Baylor run game that was limited to 62 yards on 19 rushes in the first half finally got rolling late, thanks to the bruising senior. Martin gained 102 yards on 22 carries and sealed the victory with an 18-yard touchdown.
K Ben Grogan, Oklahoma State: I know, I know, how can two kickers earn Helmet Stickers? What about Goodley, Desmond Roland, Jalen Saunders, Eddie Lackey or lots of other deserving candidates? Well let’s talk about Grogan, who achieved as ridiculous a feat on Saturday as we saw in the Big 12 this season: He nailed a 41-yard field goal in the middle of an earthquake. A 4.5-magnitude earthquake, in fact. Even with the loss, it’s an accomplishment he’ll get to talk about it for the rest of his life. And he’ll always have the shaky camera footage to prove it.