10. McCoy’s no-look TD pass at Baylor: The epitome of Case McCoy’s moxie magic. On 4th-and-goal down big in Waco, McCoy faked a handoff but the pass was well-covered so he scrambled to his left, but the run was blown up quickly. McCoy turned back and, amid good pressure, fired off a long pass to a wide-open Malcolm Brown for the score. It’s about as a tough a 2-yard touchdown as you’ll find, and McCoy probably had no business making the throw. But it worked.
8. Justin Gilbert pick-sixes McCoy: The phrase “slim margin for error” came up a lot in the final weeks of Texas’ season. This play was certainly indicative. Down 21-10 to Oklahoma State, Texas was driving to trim the deficit before halftime, but Gilbert baited McCoy into forcing a pass to Kendall Sanders along the sideline, then picked it off and ran it back 43 yards. There would be no coming back from 28-10 against Oklahoma State.
7. Jeffcoat finishes off the Sooners: We had to get one of Jackson Jeffcoat’s 12 sacks on the list. This one came on 4th-and-13 late in the fourth quarter against OU. Blake Bell, in the red zone and threatening to possibly cut Texas’ lead to 36-28, dropped back but had no chance. Cedric Reed’s rush forced Bell to his left, where Jeffcoat dropped him for a sack and a 12-yard loss to kill the Sooners’ last-ditch rally. One of many times Texas’ defensive end duo made a big play.
6. Taysom Hill’s first touchdown run: A sign of big, bad things to come for Texas’ defense. Hill faked a handoff on 3rd-and-2 in the first quarter and darted around his left tackle. Adrian Phillips took a bad angle and missed. Sheroid Evans and Josh Turner both dove for Hill’s legs and missed. He scooted 68 yards for the first of his three rushing touchdowns. It was the beginning of the end for defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
5. “Score pass” to beat West Virginia: Arguably Major Applewhite’s best play call of the season. The Longhorns’ first possession of overtime against West Virginia could’ve stalled after Brown was twice stopped on goal-line runs. But they caught WVU by surprise on 3rd-and-goal. McCoy faked a handoff and tossed a short pass to fullback Alex De La Torre for the 2-yard touchdown. The go-ahead score was DLT’s first career catch, and McCoy had missed on this exact same play vs. OU.
4. Ash goes down at BYU: We don’t know for certain when Ash suffered his concussion against BYU. But one play stands out: With less than nine minutes left in Provo, Ash scrambled out of the pocket and was hit hard from behind by end Bronson Kaufusi as another defender wrapped up his legs. Ash was helped up, went back down, knelt and put his head down as trainers rushed out. He missed the rest of the game and nearly the entire rest of the season.
3. McCoy’s Red River dime: In another example of McCoy’s infinite irrational confidence, he chucked a 30-yard pass down the sideline and perfectly hit Marcus Johnson in stride off a wheel route. Johnson burned his defender for a 59-yard score to put Texas ahead 17-3. It was a real game-changer both for momentum and for the confidence of the Longhorn offense.
2. The near-fumble at Iowa State: Paul Rhoads and his legion of Cyclone fans had a hard time getting over this one. It’s entirely possible Johnathan Gray lost a fumble at the goal line with less than four minutes left, but no camera angle could confirm this to game officials. and McCoy would later score. Imagine where this season would’ve headed had ISU won the review and the game, sending Texas to a 2-3 record.
1. Chris Whaley’s INT for a TD against Oklahoma: No play better sums up Texas’ six-game Big 12 win streak. Whaley, the 295-pound defensive tackle, slipped back into coverage in a heavy blitz front. Adrian Phillips got to Blake Bell, whose pass sailed wide and right into Whaley’s hands. He rumbled 31 yards for the touchdown that gave Texas a stunning 10-3 lead. Just a crazy, inexplicable play that led to an unexpected rout.
- 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 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.
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).
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 - 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
Texas still holds the No. 8 spot, while Baylor remains at No. 16. Oklahoma fell one spot from No. 23 to No. 24, and Texas Tech remained in the top 40 at No. 36.
Here is a more in-depth look at the Big 12 class rankings:
Trending up: West Virginia and Iowa State both saw spikes in their 2014 recruiting, but the Mountaineers are the hottest of the two, particularly after picking up ESPN 300 athlete Dravon Henry (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa), the top-ranked recruit in the state of Pennsylvania. West Virginia also landed junior college quarterback Skyler Howard (White Settlement, Texas/Riverside Community College), who threw for more than 3,100 yards and 33 touchdowns this season. Let’s also give credit to Iowa State, who scored five commitments in the first 10 days of the month, the latest being junior college defenders Jordan Harris (Wesson, Miss./Copiah-Lincoln Community College), an inside linebacker, and Gabe Luna (Garden City, Kan./Butler Community College), a defensive end.
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- 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.
Offensive MVP: RB Johnathan Gray. The best, most valuable player Texas had and the guy the Longhorns wisely built their attack around once David Ash went down. A torn Achilles ended his season after nine games, but Gray finished with 780 yards, four scores and No. 4 in the Big 12 in rushing yards per game.
Special Teams MVP: K/P Anthony Fera. The Groza Award finalist finished 20-for-22 in field goals, and his only two misses were deflected at the line. He was a solid punter, too, pinning more than 40 percent of his boots inside the 20.
Newcomer of the Year: TE Geoff Swaim. He didn’t get enough praise for his efforts, but the junior college transfer was a sharp blocker and quickly earned the starting job. He became a critical asset once Texas transitioned to run-heavy offense.
Freshman of the Year: OT Kent Perkins. Really the only choice here, since most of the 15-man rookie class redshirted. Perkins started one game and showed off the potential to be an elite starter down the road.
Most improved: LB Steve Edmond. Among the biggest disappointments of Texas’ 2012 defense, Edmond grew up and became a playmaker as a junior. He snagged the game-clinching interception at West Virginia and was Texas’ leading tackler before suffering a lacerated liver against Texas Tech.
Most impressive win: Texas 36, No. 12 Oklahoma 20. Texas, the major underdog, made the Sooners look like complete frauds, which nobody saw coming, and dominated the line of scrimmage en route to a surprisingly easy victory. Just a great all-around performance, and Texas probably could’ve scored 50.
Biggest surprise: The six-game win streak. Texas rallying to start 6-0 in the Big 12 without its quarterback and with a new DC is still remarkable no matter how this season ended.
Best performance: A few good choices here, but we’ll go with Gray’s night against Kansas State: A career-high 141 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. Honorable mention: Jeffcoat against TTU; the Gray-Malcolm Brown duo against OU.
Best offensive play: We’ll go off the radar: Jaxon Shipley’s 10-yard touchdown catch and Alex De La Torre’s 2-yard score at West Virginia. Two clutch scores to save a comeback.
Best defensive play: Chris Whaley’s 31-yard interception for a touchdown against Oklahoma. He dropped into coverage, picked off Blake Bell’s pass and ran him over at the goal line. That big fella can really run.
Best pass: Case McCoy’s 59-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Johnson against Oklahoma, giving the Longhorns a 17-3 lead. McCoy threw an absolute dime, a 30-yard pass down the sideline on a wheel route. Johnson got a step on Kass Everett and easily outran him to score. Huge play in a huge game.
Best catch: John Harris’ 44-yard Hail Mary catch to give Texas an improbable 17-13 lead at halftime at Iowa State. Harris snagged McCoy’s last-second heave between three Cyclones defenders.
Best hit: Hard to choose one here, so let’s just go with the nine sacks that Texas recorded against Texas Tech. Jackson Jeffcoat was responsible for three, and the best of the nine was probably when he switched gaps from his “Spinner” role after the snap and went completely unblocked to take down Baker Mayfield.
Best decision: Hiring Greg Robinson in July for the football analyst role. Had Mack Brown not lined up his backup plan before the season began, the Longhorns would’ve been in even worse trouble after two games. The role also gave Robinson a baseline familiarity with Texas’ defensive talent.
Worst decision: The fact that Tyrone Swoopes did not end up getting any meaningful game reps after his redshirt was burned. Because he received nothing more than meaningless mop-up time, he wasn’t an option when Case McCoy struggled at Baylor.
Best quote: “Playing you’re a** off. Bottom line. That’s our identity. It has nothing to do with plays, it has to do with believing in yourself and playing your ass off.” -- OC Major Applewhite, after beating Oklahoma
Best interviews: Have to go with two winners here. Quandre Diggs gets a medal for his enjoyable weekly dose of defiance. It’s not anger, it’s not disdain, it’s just the way he delivers his brand of swagger. And McCoy gets one, of course, for his always-chipper demeanor, long-winded but insightful takes and self-deprecating humor.
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. Auburn (12-1, 7-1 SEC; last week: 1): When you beat the No. 1 team in the country, then thump the No. 5 team 59-42 to win the SEC championship and get a spot in the Vizio BCS National Championship, your résumé really speaks for itself. Auburn is the hottest team in the country. Behind RB Tre Mason, a Heisman Trophy candidate, the Tigers have the nation's best running game (335.7 yards per game) and a wave of momentum to ride out to Pasadena, Calif., to take on No. 1 Florida State.
2. Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC; LW: 3): While the Crimson Tide won't be playing for a third straight national championship, they are still one of the best teams in the country. The Allstate Sugar Bowl waits for the Tide, but if the playoffs started this season, Alabama would be right back in the title hunt and might be the favorite to win it all.
3. South Carolina (10-2, 6-2; LW: 4): The Gamecocks ended the season by winning five in a row. They were in the BCS hunt until Alabama lost, but their Capital One Bowl matchup with Wisconsin should be a fun one. Here's hoping that the long layoff helps DE Jadeveon Clowney heal for what will likely be his final game in a South Carolina uniform.
4. Missouri (11-2, 7-1 SEC; LW: 2): The Tigers went to Atlanta with the nation's 14th-best rushing defense (second in the SEC) and left giving up an SEC title game-record 545 rushing yards. Missouri's defense looked far from sturdy against Auburn, but Mizzou still had a very successful season. A year ago, the team was sulking after a five-win season. Now, Missouri has 11 wins and is playing in the AT&T Cotton Bowl after possibly being a win away from the BCS title game.
5. LSU (9-3, 5-3 SEC; LW: 5): It was an up-and-down season in Baton Rouge, but the Tigers pulled off two big, late-season wins, including a blowout against QB Johnny Manziel and his Texas A&M Aggies. In the Outback Bowl, LSU will be without QB Zach Mettenberger, who threw for 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns this year. But the future looks bright for freshman Anthony Jennings, who orchestrated a game-winning 99-yard touchdown drive to beat Arkansas.
6. Texas A&M (8-4, 4-4 SEC; LW: 6): This wasn't the ending Manziel wanted. While he hasn't officially declared early for the NFL draft, it's a foregone conclusion that his days in College Station are numbered. After another successful statistical season, Manziel is headed back to New York for the Heisman ceremony, but two straight poor performances in losses to end the regular season could keep him from winning the award for a second straight year.
7. Vanderbilt (8-4, 4-4 SEC; LW: 7): If any team wants to complain about its bowl game, it's the Commodores. After finishing the season on a four-game winning streak and beating Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the same year, Vandy is headed to the BBVA Compass Bowl. It was another great season for coach James Franklin and his team, and you better believe this team will be motivated against Houston.
8. Georgia (8-4, 5-3, SEC; LW: 8): The Bulldogs had wins over South Carolina and LSU, but losing QB Aaron Murray to an ACL injury and dropping games to Mizzou and Vandy in consecutive weeks really put a damper on the season. The defense still has a lot of kinks to work out going forward, but surrendered 400-plus yards only twice in November after allowing 400 or more in four of the first five games of the season. And back-to-back bowl games against Nebraska is head-scratching to say the least.
9. Mississippi State (6-6, 3-5 SEC; LW: 9): A season that started on the rocks ended with two must-wins and a bowl berth. Dan Mullen's hot seat suddenly feels cooler, and the Bulldogs even got some love in the postseason by unexpectedly jumping into the AutoZone Liberty Bowl against Rice. Mississippi State clawed its way back to the postseason and should have a lot of fire in Memphis.
10. Ole Miss (7-5, 3-5 SEC; LW: 10): The end of the season wasn't great for the Rebels, but this program has come a long way under Hugh Freeze. In his first two seasons, Ole Miss has made back-to-back bowl trips. Last season, the Rebels were a surprise team in Birmingham. This year, Ole Miss is headed to Nashville, where Rebels fans will flock. It'll be fun to watch that spread offense take on Georgia Tech's triple option.
11. Tennessee (5-7, 2-6 SEC; LW: 11): Butch Jones wasn't able to pull a Gus Malzahn in his first season, but he brought some enthusiasm back to a program looking to rediscover its pride. There won't be a bowl game for the Vols, but this is the time for Jones and his staff to hit the recruiting road hard. Tennessee already has the nation's No. 2 recruiting class, but now it's all about keeping that class together and building for the future.
12. Florida (4-8, 3-5 SEC; LW: 12): It's going to be a long offseason in Gainesville after the Gators missed out on a bowl game for the first time in 22 years and had their first losing season since 1979. Things will be uncomfortable and toxic between coach Will Muschamp and the fan base, but he can't let that seep into his program or have it affect his football team. With no bowl prep, Muschamp's first order of business is to keep his recruiting class intact -- especially the offensive weapons -- and get those prospects to Gainesville.
13. Arkansas (3-9, 0-8 SEC; LW: 13): The Razorbacks finished the season with nine straight losses, which was a school record and a new record for coach Bret Bielema, who just completed his first-year at Arkansas (his first head-coaching stop was at Wisconsin). Arkansas had a solid running game, with freshman RB Alex Collins (1,026 yards and four touchdowns) carrying the load, but the passing game was the worst in the SEC (148.5 yards per game).
14. Kentucky (2-10, 0-8 SEC; LW: 14): Mark Stoops' first season in Kentucky was forgettable in the win-loss column, but the hope in Lexington is that his impressive recruiting class brings some real life back to the program in Year 2. What had to really irk the defensive-minded Stoops was that his defense ranked 13th in the league, allowing 427.2 yards per game and an SEC-worst 31.2 points per game. The Wildcats just didn't have the endurance to keep up in SEC play and have now lost 16 straight against SEC competition.
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.
Texas coach Mack Brown is expected to resign by the end of the week, a source told ESPN's Brett McMurphy.
"I know Mack, he's friend, this is his decision, but he wants to tell his players and staff and not read it on the internet," the source told ESPN. "That's why he reacted strongly to the (Orangebloods.com) report.
"I'd be real surprised if it hasn't happened by Friday night with the (Texas) football banquet. I think it will be taken care of. It wouldn't drag on much longer."
Orangebloods.com first reported Tuesday afternoon Brown would step down after 16 years as the Longhorns' coach.
Later Tuesday, Brown texted the website Horns247: "I haven't seen [the] article. I'm in Florida recruiting. If I had decided to step down, I sure wouldn't be killing myself down here. I have not decided to step down."
A source said, though, discussions have been ongoing with Brown, Texas president Bill Powers and Brown's agent, Joe Jamail.
You can read the rest of this story here.
But what about after that fairly obvious choice? ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach attempted to rank them all from 1-35 on the college football homepage.
For our purposes, let's take a look at where Schlabach ranked the bowl games for the nine SEC teams that aren't Auburn that will appear in the postseason.
No. 4: Alabama-Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl: Sooners coach Bob Stoops has talked a big game about how tough the SEC actually is. He's about to get a close look at perhaps the toughest customer in the whole league.
No. 5: Missouri-Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl: This should be a fun matchup between former Big 12 rivals who feature explosive offenses. Just like the old days.
No. 6: South Carolina-Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl: If not for an inexplicable midseason loss to Tennessee, South Carolina would have been in the thick of the BCS picture. A win here would be a proper sendoff in what will almost certainly be Jadeveon Clowney's final game as a Gamecock.
No. 9: LSU-Iowa in the Outback Bowl: No Zach Mettenberger for LSU, but Anthony Jennings' debut at quarterback against a stout Iowa defense could make this one interesting.
No. 10: Georgia-Nebraska in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl: Yeah, it's a rematch from last season's Capital One Bowl, but it should still be another tight contest between injury-riddled teams that will have had another month to heal.
No. 11: Texas A&M-Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl: If this is Johnny Manziel's final game as an Aggie, he'll have an opportunity to throw against a Duke team that is playing in back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history. This game delivers an exciting result almost every year, and this season could turn into a shootout.
No. 22: Ole Miss-Georgia Tech in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Facing Georgia Tech's option offense is always a challenge, and the young Rebels will need to slow down the Yellow Jackets in order to cap another year of improvement under Hugh Freeze.
No. 23: Vanderbilt-Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl: Commodores fans were angry that they didn't get invited to a more prestigious bowl after Vandy's second straight eight-win regular season. They'll need to turn out at Legion Field to prove their point.
No. 24: Mississippi State-Rice in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl: The Bulldogs barely slipped into bowl season by beating Ole Miss in overtime. Now they'll have to take down Conference USA champ Rice, which won its first outright league title since 1957 when it blasted Marshall last weekend.
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