Here's more on my criteria.
No. 1: Vince Young, QB, Texas
Why he's No. 1: No player in Big 12 history was more singularly responsible for a national title. Texas had a strong team in 2005, but Vince Young's run through that season made history. Before Young, no quarterback had ever thrown for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards. On the way to a national title, Young threw for 3,036 and 26 touchdowns, adding 1,050 rushing yards and 12 scores. A few others have achieved the feat since, but it was unheard of before Young, who finished his career with an absurd 30-2 record as a starting quarterback. That record included six fourth-quarter comebacks and the greatest BCS title game performance ever by an individual.
Against USC's so-called "Greatest Team Ever," Young racked up 267 passing yards and 200 rushing yards, capped by a game-winning scramble on fourth down to put the Longhorns ahead, 41-38, and end the Trojans' 34-game winning streak. It's the last time a non-SEC team won a national title, and Young's development as a passer that season helped Texas reach new heights. He rushed for 1,000 yards in 2004 on the way to a Rose Bowl win against Michigan, but threw for just 1,849 yards and 12 touchdowns. He helped carry Texas to a 24-1 record in 2004 and 2005 combined, the fewest losses in any two-year stretch of Mack Brown's career. Even as far back as 2003, his redshirt freshman year, he rushed for 998 yards and took over the starting job in the middle of the season, going 6-1.
Young never won a Heisman Trophy, but did win the Davey O'Brien Trophy and the Maxwell Award in 2005. The lack of membership in that hallowed college football fraternity is nothing more than a footnote in the career of the greatest Big 12 player of all-time.
The biggest earner, however, was Iowa State's Thursday night game against Texas, which received 36 percent of the vote.
The Cyclones' home game against Oklahoma State was in third with 17 percent of the vote, but I was surprised Tulsa (nine percent) and Kansas (six percent) didn't earn a bit more of the vote.
Me? I'm with the fans on this one. Iowa State needs big wins and needs exposure, and it will get both in a Thursday night game against Texas. I've said for a long time that Jack Trice Stadium is an underrated venue, and it will be on display on national television against the Longhorns.
Can the team hold up its end of the bargain? I remember back in 2011 the Cyclones raced to a 3-0 start with three fourth-quarter comebacks led by quarterback Steele Jantz, and hosted a top 20 Texas team. It got rocked, trailing 34-0 at halftime of the 37-14 loss. That kind of thing can't happen this season. It took the air out of the stadium in Ames, and did more harm than good.
Looking back on that adds some gravity to the Cyclones' game. Yes, it's an opportunity, but it's a risk, too. Texas could come to Ames undefeated, and a lopsided loss gives everyone in the Big 12 and the country reason to dismiss ISU as a program to respect.
Win, and that's another win against a top 10 team on Paul Rhoads' resume, and a chance for ISU to earn a reputation as a team capable of building beyond just six and seven-win seasons, and taking that famed "next step" as a program. A win against Texas could be the key to making that happen, and to me, that makes it the most important game of 2013.
It's an interesting approach to ranking teams, and Haney looked at NFL draft lists, colleague Mark Schlabach's top 25 and the past four years of recruiting rankings to put together his list.
A lot of the ranking is thanks to those recruiting rankings, where Texas' class averaged a ranking of 6.5 among players currently suiting up for the Longhorns.
I agree that Texas is the Big 12's most talented team by a long way, but what does that really mean, besides more pressure on Mack Brown? The Longhorns beat a rebuilding Oklahoma State team in September that was a shell of the team it became late in the season, and did so narrowly with J.W. Walsh making his first career start for the Pokes. You've got to take all that into consideration, and when you look back at the last two years, Texas' best win was either its Alamo Bowl comeback against Oregon State or a road win against Texas Tech, who ended the season tied for fifth in the league.
A pair of embarrassing blowout losses to Oklahoma are the biggest reason for skepticism surrounding the Longhorns, who plenty of folks will pick to win the Big 12 in 2013. They've certainly got talent. Look no further than super recruits like DE Jackson Jeffcoat, DT Malcom Brown, and running backs Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray for evidence of that, not to mention defenders like CB Quandre Diggs and linebackers Peter Jinkens and Jordan Hicks.
The Longhorns have talent all over the field, and that has been the case the past three seasons, which have featured just 22 wins. Now, though, that talent has experience and Texas is preparing for it to pay off.
On paper, it should. Texas has every reason to be one of, if not the, Big 12 favorite. Still, the Longhorns have got to prove it on the field, and it takes a lot of big wins to make that happen. Texas has been short on those wins of late.
Here's what he's looked at so far:
Now, we're taking a look at Kiper's top quarterback and cornerback draft prospects. We'll start with the quarterbacks and look at the corners later today.
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesAlabama's AJ McCarron falls in the top five of Mel Kiper Jr.'s top 2014 NFL draft QB prospects.
Manziel is getting all sorts of draft attention after his record-breaking, Heisman-winning season. He's the most talked about quarterback in the country and while he doesn't have an elite arm, he's extremely athletic and slippery. He's looking to develop more into a passer, but his ability to improv will continue to help him when his arm can't.
McCarron is someone who could have left for the NFL this year, but decided to stay in school. He makes great decisions with the ball (he threw 30 touchdowns to three interceptions last season) and certainly knows how to win. He has two national championship rings and is going for his third straight. He hasn't been asked to do a lot at Alabama, but he's put up some pretty good numbers and is easily the most talented quarterback Saban has had at Alabama.
Wallace has a tremendous amount of athleticism, but he had a lot of decision-making issues last year. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards, but threw 22 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. Fixing his turnover issue is the biggest thing Wallace has to work on this fall. He has good arm strength and can get out of trouble situations with his feet.
Then you have Murray, who isn't getting a lot of draft love. He flirted with heading to the NFL, but also decided to stay in school. Murray's height (listed at 6-1) has hurt his draft status, but he has a solid arm, moves around well with his feet and has really improved his decision making. He had the stigma of not coming up in big games, but showed improvements in 2012 with his second-half effort in the Dawgs' win against Florida and with the way he played against Alabama in the SEC championship game. He'll probably end the 2013 season with a handful of SEC/Georgia records and should become the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in four straight seasons.
Other draft-eligible quarterbacks I'm keeping an eye on this fall:
- Jeff Driskel, Florida: He wasn't great last year, but there's no denying Driskel has talent. He's more comfortable with the playbook, and he has a lot more confidence. He must have more command and develop better chemistry with his receivers this fall.
- James Franklin, Missouri: He spent most of last season battling injuries, but finally isn't dealing with excruciating shoulder pain. His confidence was up this spring and that will go a long way this fall.
- Zach Mettenberger, LSU: He really came along in November and has all of his receiving targets back. People at LSU feel like he's much more comfortable with Cam Cameron's guidance.
- Tyler Russell, Mississippi State: He's had an up-and-down career with the Bulldogs, but when he was on last year he was extremely efficient. He lost all of his receivers from last year and can't press like he did late last season.
- Connor Shaw, South Carolina: It's hard to find a tougher quarterback out there. Shaw has dealt with a lot of injuries, but when he's been on the field, he's had a lot of success. Here's a chance for him to really improve his draft stock.
There are already two games on the schedule this season -- between TCU and LSU, and Oklahoma State and Mississippi State. What else would I like to see?
Let me start by saying that renewing the Texas-Texas A&M and Missouri-Kansas rivalries are a given. I'm omitting those matchups, but I'd love to see them.
Let's get started:
Oklahoma State vs. Alabama: OSU narrowly missed out on playing for the national title back in 2011, and both are among their conference favorites again in 2013. When the BCS "snubbed" the Pokes after the 2011 regular season, OSU coach Mike Gundy half-jokingly suggested these two play for the right to play LSU in the title game. It would be fun to see this one finally played out on the field.
Baylor vs. LSU: Straight up offense vs. defense. That's the Big 12 vs. SEC debate at its heart. Baylor just might be the Big 12's best offense, and LSU will put together another strong defense. These are the matchups we want to see. The Big 12 has faltered on the big stage, helping the SEC stretch its run of national titles, but seeing Bryce Petty sling it around against an athletic defense would be a lot of fun.
Texas vs. Arkansas: Arkansas' exit from the Southwest Conference helped usher in the birth of the Big 12 after the SWC crumbled. Texas has bigger rivals like Oklahoma and Texas A&M, but these two played some of the greatest games in college football history, and as an Arkansas native, I've seen up close how much Razorbacks fans detest the Longhorns to this day. The result would be a great game and a hyped atmosphere.
TCU vs. Texas A&M: Texas A&M fans take exception to the idea that TCU was an on-field "upgrade" over the Aggies in the Big 12. The Aggies largely struggled in the Big 12 after some early success and a Big 12 title under R.C. Slocum. Since leaving for the SEC, the Aggies have gone nowhere but up, and ended 2012 as the hottest team in college football. Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel has a Heisman Trophy. Could he shred the Frogs? Want to prove TCU is not an upgrade? Beat TCU on the field.
Kansas State vs. Florida: Kansas State is perpetually underrated and wins with a bunch of junior college guys, and high school players overlooked by major programs. Florida won big under Urban Meyer, but has been largely overrated since Meyer left and was whacked by Louisville to end 2012. The Gators would be suiting up an army of recruiting stars, but could Bill Snyder, the Manhattan Magician, grab a win for the Big 12?
See more on my criteria here.
Let's move on with the list:
No. 2: Ricky Williams, RB, Texas (1995-98)
Why he's on the list: Every season Ricky Williams was on the field, he made a huge impact. He arrived in Austin and started 12 games as a true freshman, winning freshman of the year in something called the Southwest Conference. The best was yet to come. By the end of his career in 1998, he had captured the NCAA record for career rushing yards, with 6,279. (Wisconsin's Ron Dayne broke it the next season.) Williams broke Tony Dorsett's record with a memorable touchdown run in an upset win over Texas A&M. He was also the all-time leader in rushing touchdowns, with 72 and had 11 200-yard games over his four-year career. He was the first player to ever win the Doak Walker Award twice as the nation's best running back, but his career peaked with an absurd 2,327 yards in 1998, averaging six yards a carry on his 391 touches. Along the way, he helped snap Nebraska's 47-game home winning streak, and easily won the Heisman Trophy. Williams earned 714 first-place votes. His closest competition, Kansas State QB Michael Bishop, received 41. Williams also won the Camp Award, the Maxwell Award and was the AP's Player of the Year. He earned All-Big 12 first team honors three times, and a status as one of the greatest Longhorns ever. His statue was unveiled in April 2012 and will always have a place outside DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium.
The rest of the list:
But how cool would it be if these two conferences joined in the football realm as well? Sure, these two have the new Sugar Bowl, but just imagine these two conferences, which have a little beef between them right now, facing each other during the regular season.
All that offense against all that defense.
It's likely just a pipe dream, but a boy can dream, right? Well, I'm dreaming right now and I've come up with my top five SEC-Big 12 matchups I'd like to see in my future SEC-Big 12 Challenge:
Alabama vs. Oklahoma: Bob Stoops gets to face Nick Saban in a game that would be preceded by plenty of talk about both coaches' comments about the SEC -- and Saban's about Stoops. On the field, you'd see a lot of speed from both sides, but would the Sooners have enough up front to stop the pounding that the Crimson Tide has given pretty much every nonconference opponent in the last few years?
Florida vs. Texas: Will Muschamp was supposed to be the head coach of the Longhorns, but he was tired of waiting around. I feel like there would be some awkwardness beforehand between Muschamp and Mack Brown that could escalate during the game. That just makes for a way more entertaining game. Plus, the Gators would finally leave the southeast!
Texas A&M vs. Texas: Well, duh. This one is too obvious, but there is so much bitterness and history between these two schools that there's no way it wasn't going to make my top five. Plus, the Aggies are trying to prove that they aren't looking up at the Longhorns anymore. The fan interaction might be more entertaining than the actual game.
LSU vs. Oklahoma State: Les Miles seeing his old team? Yes, please! The Cowboys know how to sling it around with the best of them, while LSU always has a ton of speed on defense. The Tigers aren't strangers to Big 12 ball, but I just have a feeling this would be really fun to watch, considering these two were so close to playing a couple of years ago.
Georgia vs. West Virginia: I love to see great defense -- I really do -- but I'm sucker for blowing scoreboard lights out. I'm pretty sure we'd get exactly that if these two met in the near future. Since this game would be played after this season, the Dawgs might have a little more bite from their defense, so expect some more exciting play calling from WVU.
What matchups would you like to see in my awesome SEC-Big 12 challenge?
A reminder: The goal isn't to see every team or see X team Y number of times. The goal is to see as many games as possible that are relevant to the Big 12 title race.
- Week 1: TCU vs. LSU at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas
- Week 2: West Virginia at Oklahoma
- Week 3: TCU at Texas Tech
- Week 4: Kansas State at Texas
- Week 5: Oklahoma at Notre Dame
- Week 6: TCU at Oklahoma
- Week 7: Texas vs. Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas
- Week 8: TCU at Oklahoma State
- Week 9: Texas at TCU
- Week 10:Oklahoma State at Texas Tech
- Week 11: Texas at West Virginia
- Week 12: Oklahoma State at Texas
- Week 13: Oklahoma at Kansas State
- Week 14: Texas Tech at Texas
- Week 15: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State
Wow, what a year. The first thing that jumps out at me is I wish I'd have a chance to see Baylor. I take a simple approach here: I pick the best game every week. The Bears had a handful of games on my "honorable mention" list, and I'm sure recording wins throughout the season will ensure a visit.
After all, three of the last four times I've attended a game at Floyd Casey Stadium, the fans have stormed the field. I was at Baylor's wins over TCU, Oklahoma and Kansas State, and wrote about a snoozer against SMU to open the 2012 season, too. I've spent plenty of time around the Bears, but I was surprised they didn't show up here at the end of the year.
Let's rack up the teams who did:
Oklahoma (6) -- three road games, two home games, one neutral site game
Texas (5) -- two road games, two home games, one neutral site game
TCU (5) -- three road games, one neutral site game, one home game
Oklahoma State (4) -- two home games, two road games
Texas Tech (3) -- two home games, one road game
Kansas State (2) -- one road game, one home game
West Virginia (2) -- one road game, one home game
Interesting numbers. That's a heck of a trip through Big 12 country over the course of one season.
The Big 12 opens 2013 with a pair of neutral-site games against the SEC. Two of the league's title contenders -- TCU and Oklahoma State -- happen to be playing in them, but the Big 12's best returning defender will be on the sidelines.
From our news story:
Devonte Fields, the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, will miss TCU's season opener against LSU at Cowboys Stadium, and the Frogs' game against SE Louisiana "due to a violation of university and team policy." Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson announced the suspension in a news release.
Fields won the award as a true freshman after making 18.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. He also forced two fumbles and recovered one, as well as logging an interception.
The debate and comparisons between the SEC and Big 12 have raged all year long, but ultimately, you're only as good as your teams prove they are on the field. The two conferences played just twice last season, but the debate was sure to rage in advance of a hyped opening weekend with TCU facing LSU and Oklahoma State meeting Mississippi State in Houston.
LSU is likely to be a top 15-20 team and a tough matchup for the Frogs that gets a lot tougher without Fields. TCU's Big 12 title aspirations won't be affected very much considering Fields will return for the league opener in Lubbock on Thursday, Sept. 12, but losing him against LSU is huge for more than just Frogs fans. It's handicapped the Big 12's ability to earn a big win over one of the SEC's best teams and biggest brands. TCU, a top 15-20 team in its own right, can definitely still win, but it just became more difficult with Fields' suspension.
Junior Matt Anderson is behind Fields on the depth chart and may earn the start, but Patterson wasn't super happy with Fields when I visited with him earlier this spring. It's safe to say Fields' suspension isn't helping him get back in Patterson's good graces.
See more on my criteria here.
Let's move on with the list:
No. 3: Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska (2005-09)
Why he's on the list: Suh's career had modest beginnings, and coach Bo Pelini famously almost told the Oregon native to take a hike when he took over the Huskers job before the 2008 season. Instead, Suh bought in and became the Big 12's most decorated and best defender ever in two years as a starter. We're not taking his NFL career into account, but colleague Mel Kiper called Suh the most dominating defensive tackle in college football he'd seen in 32 years. Suh's greatest achievement was becoming a Heisman finalist as a defensive tackle in 2009, and I've always believed he should have won the award ahead of Alabama's Mark Ingram, who was arguably the second-best running back on that Alabama team that won the national title. Suh was simply the most dominant player in college football that season, impacting every game he played and just about every snap.
Do you know how hard it is to lead a team in tackles as a defensive tackle? Suh did it twice. He had 43 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks in two seasons as a starter. In 2009, he collected an absurd amount of hardware: He was the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year and he won the Lombardi Award, the Nagurski Trophy and the Bednarik Award. He was also a unanimous All-American and a finalist for the Camp Award as college football's best player. Nebraska's defense in 2009 was one of the best in Big 12 history, and the team fell just short of the Big 12 title. That's not Suh's fault. His performance against a big-time Texas offense in the title game was one of the best I've ever seen. Against the Longhorns, led by senior quarterback Colt McCoy (No. 5 on our list of top Big 12 players), he made 12 tackles and 4.5 sacks, racking up a school record seven tackles for loss. He was everywhere, and it seemed like he was in McCoy's face on every snap.
All season long, Suh was unblockable. Only two players are blocking him from being the greatest Big 12 player of all-time.
The rest of the list:
See more on my criteria here.
Let's move on with the list:
No. 4: Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma (2006-2009)
Why he's on the list: Bradford was Oklahoma's starting quarterback for only two seasons, really, but they were two of the best of any quarterback in college football history. He finished his career as college football's all-time leader in career passer rating, at 175.62, but his season in 2008 was one of the greatest statistical years of any major quarterback ever. He tossed 50 touchdowns to just eight interceptions while helping Oklahoma score more points than any offense in college football history.
Bradford was as accurate as any quarterback to ever play college football, but he had a huge arm and made great decisions constantly. He was a modest, three-star recruit who struggled late in his high school career, but racked up 36 touchdowns and just eight interceptions after winning the Oklahoma job as a redshirt freshman in 2007. He threw for 8,403 yards in just over two seasons as the Sooners' starter, and fell just short in 2008 of grabbing Oklahoma's eighth national title. He finished that season with a Heisman Trophy, as well as the Davey O'Brien Award and the Sammy Baugh Trophy. He thrashed Missouri in the Big 12 title game in both seasons as a Sooners, earning a pair of Big 12 championship rings.
His career ended in frustrating fashion, essentially with a shoulder injury in the 2009 season opener. He came back in the middle of the season but re-injured it early in a loss to Texas and never made the field again as a Sooner after electing to undergo season-ending surgery. The St. Louis Rams made him the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NFL draft.
The rest of the list:
"Like Mike Davis said, he has a swagger about him now," the running back said of the quarterback.Only now it might be time to believe in the rising junior. Not because of some huge personality shift in Ash, but because this time –-- the junior season following a multiyear starter's sophomore season -- is typically when said actions start to speak louder than words.
Looking back at eight Big 12 multiyear starting quarterbacks -- Texas’ Colt McCoy, Texas’ Vince Young, Missouri’s Chase Daniel, Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell, Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Kansas’ Todd Reesing -- all but one had a dramatic leap in every statistical category from their sophomore to junior years. (Jones was the exception. In the six categories measured, he only increased his stats in one category, average yards per game.)
So the odds are Ash, who started 12 games in 2012, should follow suit. Maybe not to the extreme of Young, who topped the other seven aforementioned quarterbacks when it came to overall production increase. But there should at least be a measure of improvement to Ash’s stats. How much is up for debate for the next several months.
But if he follows the statistical average presented by those eight quarterbacks who have gone before him, Ash could see his passing efficiency rating rise by 17.10 points, completion percentage by 5 percent, touchdowns by 5.8, interceptions shrink by a nominal 0.25, overall yards move up 581.8 and yards per game to increase by 45.6.
Of course, there are mitigating factors that could shape whether or not Ash has a rise or fall in his stats in 2013.One of which is that Ash already experienced a dramatic rise in his stats from 2011 to 2012. In his sophomore season, Ash finished in the top 25 in passer efficiency rating and increased that rating 45.9 points. He had 15 more touchdown passes as a sophomore, threw for 1,620 yards and completed 10.4 percent more of his passes. (He also had 144 more attempts as a sophomore than as a freshman.) The point being that quite possibly a ceiling, if not already hit, is at least within arm’s length.
A counterargument could be that a shift in offensive philosophy, from traditional sets to spread, should serve to bolster his stats. In addition, the Big 12’s defenses -- at least that of top teams Oklahoma and Kansas State -- have experienced huge losses on their side of the ball. Add that fact to the unavoidable truth that the Big 12 is not exactly chock full of top defenses -- only TCU and Texas Tech finished in the top 40 in total defense in 2012 -- and it sets up for Ash to have at least a nominal rise in his statistical production in his junior season.
If all that is not enough to make a decision, there are still the words of Ash’s teammates to go by as well:
"Now that he has it down, he’s a lot more comfortable," Brown said. "He’s loosened up with us and he talks more now because he knows what he’s doing."
Given that this is Ash’s junior year and that history is on his side, it might just be time to believe those words.
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Kirk Herbstreit joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss Bob Stoops' recent comments about the SEC and the pending college football playoff, what appears to be an unpredictable Big 12 in 2013, how the Aggies will handle expectations and more.
Play Podcast Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin talks about the improvements being made to Kyle Field, what those improvements will to for the program, the success of last year, Johnny Manziel's offseason and the expectations for the Aggies in 2013.
Play Podcast Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo talk about Texas A&M's decision to expand its stadium and say although the Aggies had a fantastic year, the school must also be careful not to overextend its resources based on a single hot stretch.
Play Podcast Baylor head coach Art Briles joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss what kind of player the Cowboys are getting in Terrance Williams.
Play Podcast Arlington and Texas A&M product Luke Joeckel, the potential No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Richard Durrett to discuss the draft, coaches and advice from his dad.
Play Podcast Florida Gulf Coast athletic director Ken Kavanagh joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss his school's Cinderella story and playing in the Sweet 16 at Cowboys Stadium.
Play Podcast Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby joins Fizsimmons & Durrett to discuss Cowboys Stadium as a venue, the state of Big 12 basketball, the new 2014 college football format, why there's no hurry to have a Big 12 football championship and much more.
Play Podcast Jay Bilas joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the remaining 16 teams in the NCAA tournament, the intrigue surrounding the Northwest Region and the excitement over FGCU, even though a similar story happens every year.