Dallas Colleges: Adrian Peterson
The James story set off a firestorm of other sports-related Rushmores. NFL Rushmores. IndyCar Rushmores. One site even put together its Mount Rushmore of Pro Bass Fishermen.
Not to be outdone, Brandon and I have put together a Mount Rushmore of Big 12 football players.
For those who slept through social studies, the actual Mount Rushmore includes the likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. The four were chosen not only because they were famous presidents. They were chosen because they were transformational figures in American history.
Washington won the Revolutionary War. Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln freed the slaves. Roosevelt changed American diplomacy.
In keeping with the spirit of the real Mount Rushmore, our Big 12 Rushmore wasn’t just about picking the four best players. It was about picking transformational figures whose impact was far-reaching. And it's just from the Big 12 era (1996-present).
Without further ado, the Big 12 football Mount Rushmore:
Texas QB Vince Young
That all changed in 2005, thanks to one of the greatest individual seasons in college football history. Young put the Longhorns on his back, and took them all the way to Pasadena, Calif. The Longhorns destroyed everyone, including the Sooners, with Ohio State being the only regular-season opponent to play Texas within 10 points.
Young was even more spectacular in the national title game against USC. The mighty Trojans had no answer for Young, who threw for 267 yards and rushed for 200. And in the closing seconds on fourth down, he dashed past the pylon for the game-winning touchdown.
Young didn’t win the Heisman Trophy (he should have), but he became the first FBS quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 in the same season. He also finally lifted Texas over the hump, taking the Longhorns from great to elite.
Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson
Just this month, Oklahoma signed one of the best running backs in the country in California native Joe Mixon. Who is Mixon’s idol? Peterson. Who knows how many recruits the Sooners were able to sign the last decade because of Peterson. The number is substantial.
Peterson arrived in 2004 as the Sooners’ most ballyhooed recruit since Marcus Dupree. Texas wanted Peterson badly. And Peterson actually watched the 2003 Red River Rivalry from the Texas sidelines. But even though Peterson dreamed of playing for the Longhorns growing up, he wanted to win more. Peterson’s signing with Oklahoma added insult to injury to its cross-river rival.
After getting to campus, Peterson put together one of the best freshman seasons ever. He rushed for 1,925 yards, leading the Sooners to the national title game. He also finished second in the Heisman voting, even though there was still a stigma against voting for freshmen.
The next two years of Peterson’s career were marred by injuries (even though he still finished with 4,041 career rushing yards). When healthy, he was the single-most dominant force in Big 12 history.
Baylor QB Robert Griffin III
The Bears had not enjoyed a single winning season since before the inception of the league, and had lost 85 of 96 Big 12 games. The facilities were a mess and attendance was so poor, the school rolled a tarp over Floyd Casey Stadium's south end zone bleachers.
But by the time Griffin left, the program had been transformed. He brought the school its first Heisman Trophy and just its second 10-win season.
Griffin’s effect can still be felt in the Big 12. His magical season spurred Baylor to secure the funding for an on-campus, $260-million stadium that will open this fall. The Bears have also been a force ever since, both on the field and on the recruiting trail. In the last three months, Baylor captured its first Big 12 title, then nailed down a top-25 recruiting class. Until Griffin came along, that would have been unthinkable in Waco. It’s now the standard.
Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh
There have been some great defensive players to come through the Big 12. None come close to matching Suh, who was one of the most menacing defensive tackles to ever play college football.
In 2009, Suh captured the Outland, Nagurski and Bednarik national awards as the nation’s most outstanding lineman and defensive player. He also became the first defensive Heisman finalist since Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997.
Spearheaded by Suh, Nebraska also fielded perhaps the greatest defense in Big 12 history. Despite playing in an era of high-flying offenses, the Huskers gave up just 10.4 points per game, the fewest any defense has allowed in Big 12 history.
Facing off against the Big 12’s best offense in the Big 12 championship, Suh and the Huskers imposed their will, and came a controversial call away from toppling the Longhorns. Texas went on to the national championship game, and Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy still finished one spot higher in the Heisman voting than Suh. But in that game, like every other one he played in that season, Suh was the best player on the field.
- RB: Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma (2004-06) -- Nicknamed "A.D." because he could run "All Day," Peterson set an FBS freshman record with 1,925 rushing yards while finishing second to Matt Leinart in the '04 Heisman voting. Injuries plagued his next two seasons, but he still was a force and rushed for more than 1,000 yards to finish with 4,041 career rushing yards and 41 touchdowns before turning pro early.
- WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (2009-11) -- Blackmon joined Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree as the only receiver to win the Biletnikoff twice. In those two seasons, Blackmon put up 233 receptions, 3,304 receiving yards and 38 touchdowns. Blackmon gets the slight nod over Crabtree, because Oklahoma State won its first Big 12 title with Blackmon at wideout, while the Red Raiders came up just short with Crabtree.
- DT: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska (2005-09) -- There was no more dominant defensive tackle during the BCS era than Suh. After registering 12 tackles and 24 tackles for loss, he placed fourth in the Heisman voting in '09, and won a host of national awards, including the Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski and Bednarik. Suh too went on to become the second overall pick in the draft.
- S: Roy Williams, Oklahoma (1999-01) -- Williams was a major part of Oklahoma's revival at the turn of the millennium. He was one of the Sooners' best players on the 2000 national championship team, before winning the Thorpe and Nagurski awards in '01. That year, he also was the Big 12 defensive player of the year and a unanimous All-American while placing seventh in the Heisman voting.
With the BCS done, we've come up with our Big 12 all-BCS era team (1998-2013) below:
RB: Ricky Williams, Texas (1998) -- Williams was part of the BCS era for only one season, but what a season it was. He rushed for 2,327 yards and won the Heisman Trophy going away. Only Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne has more career rushing yards than Williams (6,279).
RB: Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma (2004-06) -- Despite battling injuries throughout his career, Peterson still was a beast in college. After rushing for 1,925 yards while leading the Sooners to the national title game, he finished second in the ’04 Heisman voting, even though there was still a stigma then in voting for a freshman.
WR: Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech (2007-08) -- Crabtree became the first two-time winner of the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top receiver. In '08, he and QB Graham Harrell led the Red Raiders to an upset of Texas and a No. 2 ranking in the polls.
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (2009-11) -- Blackmon became the second and only other two-time winner of the Biletnikoff. In his final two seasons, he finished with 233 receptions, 3,304 receiving yards and 38 touchdowns, and he helped propel the Cowboys to their first Big 12 title in '11.
TE: Chase Coffman, Missouri (2005-08) -- Coffman had a monster statistical college career for a tight end with 247 catches for 2,659 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns. He won the ’08 Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end. Missouri won 37 games during the four years Coffman was in the lineup.
OT: Jammal Brown, Oklahoma (2001-04) -- Brown was a unanimous All-American and a three-time All-Big 12 selection. He became the fifth Sooner to win the Outland Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top interior lineman.
OT: Russell Okung, Oklahoma State (2007-09) -- In Okung’s final two seasons, Oklahoma State led the Big 12 in rushing yards. The Cowboys were also third in the country in ’07 in fewest sacks allowed with Okung at left tackle. He was a unanimous All-American and Outland finalist in ’09 and became the sixth overall pick in the ’10 NFL draft.
OG: Cyril Richardson, Baylor (2010-13) -- Richardson became Baylor’s seventh all-time unanimous All-American. The Outland finalist was also a key piece on the nation’s highest-scoring offense this season.
OG: Justin Blalock, Texas (2003-06) -- Though a guard in the NFL, Blalock actually started 50 games for Texas, most coming at right tackle. He was a three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection and a consensus All-American in 2006.
C: Dominic Raiola, Nebraska (1998-2000) -- Raiola was the inaugural winner of the Rimington Award, named after former Nebraska center Dave Rimington, which recognizes the best center in college football. He was an Outland finalist and a consensus All-American.
APB: Darren Sproles, Kansas State (2001-04) -- One of the most prolific all-purpose performers in college football history, Sproles finished his career with 6,812 all-purpose yards. Among his 39 consecutive starts, his most memorable performance came in the ’03 Big 12 championship, when he had 235 yards rushing and 88 receiving, as K-State upset top-ranked Oklahoma 35-7.
DE: Brian Orakpo, Texas (2005-08) -- Orakpo captured the ’08 Nagurski Award as the most outstanding defensive player in the country, and the Lombardi Award, given to the best college lineman or linebacker. He also was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American while piling up 11 sacks his senior year.
DE: Von Miller, Texas A&M (2007-10) -- Out of a hybrid defensive end/linebacker role, Miller led the nation with 17 sacks in ’09. He was a two-time All-American and won the Butkus Award in ’10 as the nation’s top linebacker.
DT: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska (2005-09) -- There was no more dominant defensive player in college football during the BCS era. Suh finished fourth in the Heisman voting in ’09 and won several national awards, including the Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski (most outstanding defensive player)and Bednarik (defensive player of the year). He was also a unanimous All-American and the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
DT: Tommie Harris, Oklahoma (2001-03) -- Harris was a force from the beginning as a freshman on the OU defensive line. He won the Lombardi his junior year, and he was a two-time consensus All-American, garnering unanimous honors in ’03.
LB: Derrick Johnson, Texas (2001-04) -- Johnson was a menacing linebacker for the Longhorns, earning consensus All-American honors in ’03 and unanimous honors in ’04. He was also a three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection, and won the Butkus (best linebacker) and Nagurski awards as a senior. Johnson finished his career with 458 tackles.
LB: Rocky Calmus, Oklahoma (1998-2001) -- Calmus played a major role in OU’s resurgence under Bob Stoops. He won the Butkus in ’01 and was a finalist for the Nagurski and Bednarik. A three-time All-Big 12 pick, Calmus led the Sooners in tackles in all three of those seasons.
LB: Teddy Lehman, Oklahoma (2000-03) -- Lehman too won the Butkus, beating out Johnson for the award in ’03. He also was Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, captured the Bednarik, was a unanimous All-American and played in two national championship games.
CB: Derrick Strait, Oklahoma (2000-03) -- A four-year starter, Strait finished with a school-record 52 career pass breakups. He also won the Thorpe, and was a unanimous All-American.
S: Roy Williams, Oklahoma (1999-2001) -- Nicknamed “Superman,” Williams was the Big 12’s most dominating defensive player until Suh came along. He won the Thorpe and Nagurski in ’01, and was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a unanimous All-American the same season. He also famously skied over the Texas offensive line to force the game-clinching interception to earn his moniker.
S: Michael Huff, Texas (2002-05) -- Huff became the first Longhorn to win the Thorpe, and was the leader of the ’05 national championship defense. He was also a unanimous All-American that season.
K: Mason Crosby, Colorado (2003-06) -- Crosby was three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection, and twice was a consensus All-American even though he never won the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation's top kicker. He was also the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year as a junior, and converted 66 field goals in his career.
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State (2009-12) -- Sharp became the first three-time All-American in Oklahoma State history, and he earned All-American honors both as a punter and a kicker. He was twice named the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year. In his career, he made 50 of 59 field goals, averaged 45.9 yards per punt and missed only one extra point.
KR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia (2012) -- Austin was in the Big 12 only one season, but he was unstoppable that one season. On top of being one of the most dangerous kick returners in the country, Austin had 1,289 yards receiving and 643 rushing, and finished second in the country in all-purpose yards.
PR: Ryan Broyles Oklahoma (2008-11) -- On top of being a prolific punt returner, Broyles was one of the most efficient receivers in college football history. He finished his career with an FBS-record 349 receptions, and was a two-time consensus All-American before a knee injury cut his senior season short.
See more on my criteria here.
Let's move on with the list:
No. 6: Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma (2004-06)
Why he's on the list: I kind of hate having Peterson this low on the list, because he easily could have been No. 1 if injuries hadn't derailed his college career. Still, though you have to wonder what could have been, what was ... was amazing. He was robbed of the 2004 Heisman, and if he'd put together that kind of freshman season in a post-Manziel world, there's no way he wouldn't have brought home another Heisman to Oklahoma, even with Jason White stealing a few votes from Peterson, who lost out to Matt Leinart. Still, cracking 100 yards in his first nine games ever and finishing a freshman season with 1,925 yards is one of the best seasons ever. In the NFL he finally had a chance to showcase the potential he showed in college. An ankle injury limited him in 2005 and a broken collarbone in 2006 left him just 73 yards short of breaking Billy Sims' career rushing record at Oklahoma.
Peterson ran with anger back then and you still see it in the NFL now. He was drafted seventh overall in 2007, but Peterson is a rare back that runs like he's planning to score a touchdown every time he touches the ball. He's got the speed to break huge runs, but loved lowering his shoulder and leveling defenders. He was a can't-miss recruit from Palestine, Texas who Oklahoma grabbed from their rival Longhorns in a hyped recruiting battle, and he proved to be every bit the player the Sooners hoped. He was a unanimous All-American in 2004 but lost out on the Doak Walker Award to Cedric Benson.
The fact he never won one of the major national awards is a minor footnote on a career for a player who has a case for the best running back to ever play the game.
The rest of the list:
Fellow expert Todd McShay has the same two as Kiper and also is optimistic about the chances of West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Tavon Austin.
So let’s split the difference and label the potential Big 12 first-round picks as an optimistic three, with Johnson being the only absolute first-round lock.
Those three would represent the fewest Big 12 players taken in the first round of the NFL draft since 2008. Even if four went, the Big 12 still would have the fewest since 2008.
That year, only Kansas -- yep, the Jayhawks -- managed a first-rounder, Aqib Talib to Tampa Bay with the 20th pick. In the four drafts that followed, the Big 12 has always put at least five players into the first round, including the first four overall picks in 2010.
How well this year’s group of first-round picks will fare might not be known for years. What is known, though, is how well Big 12 players have done when they are selected in the first round. With that in mind, here is a ranking -- from worst to best -- of the Big 12’s best first-round draft classes over the past 10 years.
2008: It’s all about quantity, and a little bit of quality. In 2008, the Big 12 only produced one first-round pick, Talib. He has not produced dramatic returns in the NFL. In the past two years, he has only started nine games. He was somewhat productive for Tampa Bay in the previous three seasons, starting 41 games and playing in 53. But, again, he was the only Big 12 player taken in the first round in 2008.
2006: Vince Young is working out at Texas’ pro day at the end of March. Enough said. Davin Joseph and Michael Huff have been solid producers. But when the No. 3 overall pick is out of the league and having to work out at his alma mater's pro day, it means it was a bad year for the Big 12 in the first round of the NFL draft.
2004: Tommie Harris and Marcus Tubbs, the two defensive tackles taken in the first round, were productive for a few years, with Harris selected to Pro Bowls in 2005, '06 and ’07 before he was beset by injuries. Tubbs lasted four seasons in the NFL. Roy Williams had 5,715 receiving yards but never lived up to the hype he generated coming out of Texas. Rashaun Woods played only two years and had seven career catches.
2005: The lack of numbers might be what hurts this group the most. Cedric Benson, Jammal Brown, Derrick Johnson, Mark Clayton and Fabian Washington all proved they could play at the NFL level. Benson has had three 1,000-yard-plus seasons. Johnson is one of the top linebackers in the game. Brown remains a solid option on the offensive line. Clayton played seven NFL seasons; Washington played six. But there were only five guys selected and that isn't enough to push 2005 to the top of the list.
2007: It wasn’t the biggest group, but it did include Adrian Peterson, so there could be some quibbling that maybe 2007 should be higher in the rankings. Throw in Aaron Ross and Michael Griffin and the debate could get even more heated. Adam Carriker was also taken this year. He started his career strong but suffered an injury and only played in two games last season.
2003: Kevin Williams has been the standout of this group. The defensive tackle has started every game but four in his 10-year career. Terence Newman has been effective as a defensive back, first in Dallas and last season in Cincinnati. Tyler Brayton played at least 15 games on the defensive line in a nine-year career. Ty Warren played eight solid seasons for New England but tailed off last season with Denver. Andre Woolfolk lasted four seasons, mostly as a reserve.
2011: Von Miller, who was the highest pick among Big 12 players this year, has proved to be the top player so far. Aldon Smith is not far behind. Add in Prince Amukamara, Phillip Taylor, who when healthy is a starter at defensive tackle, a somewhat productive Blaine Gabbert and Nate Solder as well as reliable backups Danny Watkins and Jimmy Smith and this proved to be a successful year for Big 12 first-round selections.
2012: Three quarterbacks, and all were not only starters as rookies but also made huge differences for their respective squads. Clearly, Robert Griffin III made the most dramatic impact, but Ryan Tannehill, with the Dolphins, and Brandon Weeden, with Cleveland, were both solid. Kendall Wright and Justin Blackmon each had 64 catches, for Tennessee and Jacksonville, respectively. Blackmon was targeted more (133 to 104) and had 200 more receiving yards.
2010: This list maybe doesn’t have the star power and is not littered with offensive playmakers, but six of the nine players picked were selected for the 2013 NFL Pro Bowl: Gerald McCoy, Trent Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Earl Thomas, Russell Okung and Jermaine Gresham. And the other three players -- Dez Bryant, Sam Bradford and Sean Weatherspoon -- were vital pieces for their respective teams.
The man known as "AD" for "All Day" because of his energy as a youngster was being recruited by everyone, but the Palestine, Texas native narrowed it down to the three biggest programs in the Big 12: Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M.
You know the rest of the story, Oklahoma won out, Peterson became the greatest freshman in Big 12 history and a Heisman finalist before a stellar Sooner career and a top 10 NFL draft selection years later.
Colleague Bob Przybylo says its impact is still being felt today. Any running back in Texas knows Peterson and knows how special he was at Oklahoma. The Sooners can show what they did with his talents, and it certainly resonates with younger players who still watch him dominate the NFL today.
The Aggies and Longhorns made last-ditch efforts to earn a signature from the future superstar, but the Sooners won out in what our crew calls the greatest recruiting battle of all-time. Bob Stoops won that one back in 2004, and grabbed commitments from other big-time backs like DeMarco Murray in the years to come.
Very cool stuff from our staff on names you'll surely recognize. Check out the full post for the top 10.
Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel is the heavy favorite heading into Saturday night's trophy presentation, and though Peterson doesn't have a vote because he never won the award, he wasn't shy about declaring who he thought should win.
"Hopefully, they don't rob him like they did me," Peterson, who lost by 328 votes to junior Matt Leinart in 2004, said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I hope he wins."
Peterson is perhaps the greatest victim ever of the "I'm not voting for a freshman!" ideal that permeates Heisman voting. Back in 2004, when Peterson lost, a sophomore had never even won the award. He's absolutely right that he was robbed for no good reason besides his age, though having teammate Jason White finish third in voting didn't help his case.
Tim Tebow in 2007 was the first of three consecutive sophomores to win the award, including Oklahoma's Sam Bradford.
Now, another barrier might fall. I'd argue that Peterson's 1,925-yard freshman season was more impressive than Manziel's. He set an NCAA record for 100-yard games by a freshman, with 11, and went down as one of the all-time Sooner greats, though the rest of his career was marred by injuries and he never got an opportunity to bring home a Heisman.
You never know what's ahead, and Peterson wants to see Manziel get his opportunity now.
Oklahoma and Texas players can do a lot during their careers, but ultimately, many write their legends on the field at the Cotton Bowl on a Saturday in October at the State Fair of Texas.
Adrian Peterson made his mark back in 2004 when, as a freshman, he rumbled for 225 yards in a 12-0 win against the Longhorns.
Vince Young threw three touchdown passes back in 2005 as Texas ended a five-game losing streak to the Sooners and went on to win the national title.
Oklahoma's Sam Bradford threw for three touchdowns in a win in 2007 that announced this curly-headed redshirt freshman was for real.
DeMarco Murray capped a huge career in 2010 with a pair of touchdowns and a 100-yard game, validating his status as a Sooner great.
Who will it be this year? Call it a Texas Trio.
Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron had a combined 51 yards and no touchdowns in last year's game. Johnathan Gray has never even suited up for a Red River Rivalry.
This week, the three of them will be too much for Oklahoma and take the next step on Texas' road back from a 5-7 season in 2010. The past two years, Oklahoma has earned victories at the Cotton Bowl, but it's Texas' turn and Brown, Bergeron and Gray will lead the way.
Brown is coming back from an ankle injury and his status is shaky, but Bergeron and Gray filled in admirably against West Virginia last week. Gray showed the best burst of any back in a long, long time with a 49-yard sprint against the Mountaineers.
He might break another one this week, and the freshman's long wait for his first career touchdown ends on Saturday. Bergeron has embraced his status as a touchdown vulture this season, leading the Big 12 with nine rushing touchdowns.
The three of them can be difficult for any defense to stop, and they'll prove that to Oklahoma on Saturday, transforming into players who have written a solid legacy in the Red River Rivalry with a performance that carries the Longhorns to a victory against their biggest rival.
Sanders' dominance came all the way back in 1988, eight years before the Big 12 began competition.
What did fans think was the greatest Big 12 season ever? It wasn't even close.
Vince Young's 2005 campaign blew away the competition, taking home 45 percent of the vote, three times its closest competition.
Young was the first player in college football history to throw for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards, and was the only player on our list to lead a Big 12 team to the national title.
Adrian Peterson's 2004 season grabbed 15 percent of the vote, tying Ricky Williams' 1998 season, which checked in at No. 3 on our list of the greatest college football seasons of the past 50 years.
Sam Bradford's record-breaking 2008 season was fourth with 13 percent of the vote after quarterbacking Oklahoma to the most points of any offense in the history of college football, as well as a national title game appearance.
Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh grabbed only 12 percent of the vote to come in fifth place among the five candidates after a season as the Huskers' resident wrecking ball, collecting the Lombardi Award, Bednarik Award, Outland Trophy, AP Player of the Year and earning an invitation to the Heisman ceremony.
Did the fans get this one right?
For now, though, let's revisit that top five. I put Vince Young's 2005 season at the top, but does it belong there? He was the first player in NCAA history to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards, and he capped it off with a national title.
But what about the House of Spears? Ndamukong Suh singlehandedly demolished Texas' offense in the 2009 Big 12 championship game, but was undone by a late field goal and a second added to the clock. Still, he collected just about every possible award for a defensive tackle, and crashed the Heisman ceremony despite being both a defender and an interior lineman. That's unbelievable.
Did Ricky deserve a spot at No. 1? Williams' career-long excellence culminated in a Heisman in 1998 and a 2,000-yard season, one of just eight players in college football history to top the mark. He also walked into the Sea of Red and continued Texas' inexplicable dominance over Nebraska, ending the Huskers' 47-game home winning streak. That's not very nice for the new conference mates. (I bet that relationship ended badly.)
All Sam Bradford did was quarterback the highest-scoring offense in the history of college football and throw for 50 touchdowns. Is that the best performance in Big 12 history? You could make the case. Do it by voting.
Adrian Peterson demolished the idea that a freshman couldn't be the best player in the country, even if he wasn't given a Heisman for his efforts. Along with Suh, he makes two players on this list completely robbed of a Heisman. Young was a third, but to a much lesser level. Was Peterson's first year the best in Big 12 history?
Vote in our poll.
Think another season was the best? Tell me here, or tell us your favorite memories from the seasons we've already mentioned.
The Big 12 is the youngest major league, so I'll keep this list to seasons that occurred in the actual Big 12. That means the season had to come during 1996 or later. Missouri, Texas A&M, Nebraska and Colorado are all in the mix on this list. TCU and West Virginia are not.
This was really, really difficult. I'll be polling the rest of you to pitch your best seasons ever later on this week, but here's my top five for now.
1. Vince Young, QB, Texas, 2005
Young takes home this award, breaking a tough set of ties, for carrying his team to a national title. No player outside the SEC has earned a ring since Young knocked off USC (aka The Greatest Team Ever) on the Trojans' home turf in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl. He completed 65 percent of his passes and threw for 3,036 yards with 26 touchdowns. He also added 1,050 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns, none bigger than his 8-yard touchdown on fourth-and-5 to beat the Trojans and send Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush home without any championship hardware. Young finished that game with an absurd 267 yards passing and 200 yards rushing, his second game of the season with at least 200 yards of each.
2. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska, 2009
No defensive player was more destructive during his time on the field. Just ask Colt McCoy. Suh is the most dominant defensive player in the history of the Big 12, and let's just get this out of the way: He should have won the Heisman Trophy in 2009. Instead, Mark Ingram earned Alabama's first Heisman Trophy. Suh, whose name means "House of Spears," became the first defensive player to ever earn the AP Player of the Year honors and became the first defensive tackle invited to the Heisman ceremony since Warren Sapp in 1994. He finished fourth in the voting, but he didn't end the season empty-handed. Anything but. He had 85 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, 10 pass breakups and an interception that changed a season-defining, comeback win at Missouri. For his efforts, he took home the Lombardi Award, the Nagurski Trophy and the Bednarik Award and was a finalist for the Walter Camp Award and Lott Trophy.
3. Ricky Williams, RB, Texas, 1998
Ricky ran and ran and ran. He finished his senior season with 2,124 yards, an average of just under 200 yards a game, becoming the eighth player in NCAA history to top 2,000 yards in a single season. He had two consecutive 300-yard rushing games (an NCAA record) and memorably set the NCAA career record for rushing that season with a long touchdown run against Texas A&M. That season, he earned the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Award and the Walter Camp Award and became the first two-time winner of the Doak Walker Award. Over a decade later, Texas coach Mack Brown still talks about the time Ricky ran for 150 yards to upset No. 7 Nebraska 20-16 and break the Huskers' 47-game home winning streak. Nebraska fans responded by chanting "Heisman" as Williams walked off the field.
4. Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma, 2008
Bradford broke out as a sophomore in 2008 and took home just about every piece of hardware imaginable. He threw for 4,720 yards and an absurd 50 touchdowns to just eight interceptions, while completing 328 of 483 passes (67.9 percent). For his work, he earned the Heisman Trophy (Oklahoma's fifth winner), the Davey O'Brien Award and the Sammy Baugh Trophy. Oklahoma won the Big 12 and staked its claim as the highest-scoring offense in the history of college football. The Sooners reached the national title that season but lost to Tim Tebow's Florida Gators.
5. Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma, 2004
Can you imagine a true freshman leading the nation in rushing and carries, breaking NCAA freshman rushing records along the way, and being named a unanimous All-American. Well, it happened not too long ago. The latter seasons of Peterson's career were marred by injury, but Peterson broke the mold of college football in his first year on the field, steamrolling opponents and finishing second in the Heisman voting as a true freshman back in 2004, which was unthinkable. Back then a sophomore had never even won the greatest individual award in sports. He rushed for 1,860 yards and 15 touchdowns, carrying the Sooners to the national title game. He ran for 100 yards in nine consecutive games and 11 times as a true freshman, both NCAA records. He was also the first freshman finalist for the Doak Walker Award.
So, what about the Big 12? I'm glad you asked.
I love the NFL, and it's time to take a look at the Big 12's top players at the next level. This isn't about what you did in college. This is about what you've done at the next level. Sorry, Vince Young.
You must be active, and I'm judging this team based on how good players are right now. However, I included players from teams in the Big 12 during the 2011 season.
Let's start with the offense:
QB: Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (Oklahoma)
Bradford edges out Kansas State's Josh Freeman for this award. Bradford won Rookie of the Year honors after winning the Heisman at OU, but had a rough sophomore season. Either way, it's Bradford's spot here.
RB: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (Oklahoma)
Peterson's recovering from a serious knee injury, but he's got a case as the game's best running back.
RB: Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (Texas)
Charles is coming back from a torn ACL, but he rushed for 1,467 yards in 2010, his second consecutive 1,000-yard season.
WR: Wes Welker, New England Patriots (Texas Tech)
I hated to leave Michael Crabtree off this list, but there's no doubt Welker belongs. His 1,569 receiving yards in 2011 were a career high, and his fourth 1,000-yard season.
WR: Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles (Missouri)
Maclin is a deep threat for Michael Vick and dangerous as a runner, too. Anybody who saw him at Mizzou isn't surprised. He dealt with a cancer scare in 2011, but should get back to his form in 2012 like he was in 2010, catching 70 passes for 964 yards and 10 scores.
WR: Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (Oklahoma State)
Bryant's a rising star, but health issues have slowed him a bit. He nearly doubled his production in 2011, his second season, with 928 yards and nine touchdowns.
TE: Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers (Texas)
Finley's been a big target for MVP Aaron Rodgers, and caught eight touchdown passes on 55 catches for 767 yards.
OL: Jammal Brown, Washington Redskins (Oklahoma)
Brown is a two-time Pro Bowler and a one-time All-Pro who left OU as an Outland Trophy winner in 2004. Most impressive? He's started 84 of a career 85 games.
OL: Davin Joseph, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Oklahoma)
Joseph made two Pro Bowls (2008, 2011) and helped pave the way for LeGarrette Blount and a powerful Bucs rushing offense. He only took a season as a part-time starter before earning full-time honors in his second year in Tampa.
OL: Jeromey Clary, San Diego Chargers (Kansas State)
Clary started 60 games since being drafted in the sixth round in 2006.
OL: Phil Loadholt, Minnesota Vikings (Oklahoma)
Loadholt was a juco transfer who made a big impact on one of the best O-lines in Big 12 history for the 2008 Sooners. He's started every game of the first three years of his career for the Vikings helping pave the way for Adrian Peterson.
OL: Louis Vasquez, San Diego Chargers (Texas Tech)
Vasquez was the only rookie starter for the Chargers in 2009, and he's started all 34 games of his career. He already established himself as one of his division's top linemen.
Come back later this week when we tackle the defense.
Who would you have on the team?
First things first: Texas, to me, looks like a seven- to eight-win team. The defense in 2010 was better than it gets credit for, but the truth is the talent on offense isn't there, and unless Malcolm Brown is quite literally the reincarnation of Adrian Peterson, I don't see it happening right away. Maybe Texas proves some people wrong and exceeds expectations. Maybe not. If so, they're going to have to do it as the season goes along. A month of fall camp and improving over the summer isn't going to give the Longhorns enough offense to compete in a league that should be as high-scoring as ever next season.
That said, when fall comes around, Texas will get votes in the preseason poll. Big 12 fans, just be ready for it. Those that do put Texas in their preseason top 25 though, simply aren't paying attention to anything more than the name on the front of the jersey. Texas could certainly improve over the course of the season and play their way pretty quickly into the top 25 with BYU and UCLA on the nonconference schedule along with a likely early-season conference game on the slate. But to start the season, the only teams in the Big 12 that Texas looks markedly better than are Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and ... well for now, that's it. To beat anyone else (i.e., Missouri, Baylor, Texas Tech) they'll have to overachieve a bit and improve rapidly, especially on offense. It's really, really hard to envision the team I watched on Sunday knocking off Oklahoma, Texas A&M or Oklahoma State next season.
Texas isn't far off. I believe Mack Brown when he says turnover ratio (-12 in 2010, ranking 116th nationally) is the biggest thing they have to fix. But fixing that will only get them to 7-8 wins. The talent level across the board on offense, quarterback, running back, receiver and offensive line, just isn't what it was in past years. Bringing in more guys like Mike Davis or perhaps Darius White and Malcolm Brown can help change that, but looking back, Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley carried the Longhorns offense perhaps even more than any of us knew.
So, that's where I see the Longhorns right now. That's not to say there weren't plenty of positives on Sunday.
- For all the pressure he's under, Brown did a nice job of not showing it too much on Sunday. He was all smiles and even left the media room just after entering for interviews to visit with some recruits who were making visits rather than begin answering questions again. "You all are a really important part of our lives, but not nearly as important as recruits," Brown joked when he returned. "I know that's disappointing, but it’s fact." He also joked about being undefeated a few times. I'm sure part of him has to be at least a little rejuvenated by what should be a big challenge next year.
- Everyone had to be really impressed with both defensive end Alex Okafor and early-enrolling freshman cornerback Quandre Diggs. Okafor looks like he and Jackson Jeffcoat should be great up front, though Jeffcoat's two tackles on Sunday pale in comparison to Okafor's five sacks, a feat he said he never even duplicated in high school. Okafor is even more impressive when you consider he was planning on remaining at defensive tackle until a few days before spring practice began. "We saw that he had the ability to move around and change direction where he could be that guy that can move around. And he is a big imposing figure out there at defensive end," defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. "The thing is this: he has to be that guy for us. If you look around, he is it. He is our elder-statesman at defensive end. If he feels like he can be good some of the time, then we're going to be good at defense some of the time. For us to be really great on defense, we need him to be great on defense."
- As for Diggs, I don't mean to overhype him, but the coaches did it plenty after the game. He looks a lot like a player who could leave Texas with "All-American" affixed to the front of his name. "Quandre is a guy who was born to play defensive back. He just has the knack," Diaz said. "Some guys you have to draw them a map, but Quandre understands what it takes to play there."
- Of Diggs, Brown later added: "He does get it," Brown said. "You would never think he's a guy who should be a high school senior." Brown credited Diggs being around his brother, NFL defensive back Quentin Jammer, who was in attendance on Saturday. Texas' secondary is replacing three corners next season, and I'd be shocked if, at the very least, Diggs wasn't in the rotation along with Adrian Phillips and Carrington Byndom. I wouldn't rule him out as a starter, even. Considering everyone is starting on even ground this spring, I doubt he's far behind either.
- And one final note on Diggs, a rousing endorsement from senior safety Blake Gideon: "Quandre’s going to be a very good player. He’s got a chance to do some great things while he’s here. There’s only so much you can coach. Coach [Duane] Akina tells us that all the time, and he seems to have that natural part, that instinct, that knack for the game, stems on routes and feeling a receivers hips, and that’s something that, for a young defensive back is pretty rare,” he said. “I think everybody is pretty excited about Quandre and what he brings, and he keeps his mouth shut, which is a very important aspect of being a freshman here."
I'd caution fans not to put a ton of stock in Case McCoy's performance on Sunday for two reasons:
- It was one scrimmage, albeit an important one.
- The numbers were good, but the performance left a lot to be desired.
I was really impressed with McCoy's ability to keep the chains moving and make completions, which is definitely important. But he still looked uncomfortable in the pocket, unwilling to set his feet and throw despite no threat of taking any big hits in a spring game that protected Texas' quarterbacks. He threw off his back foot often, and mechanics like that will have to be fixed if he's going to have consistent success and put up the kind of numbers he did on Sunday throughout next year.
It was a nice step for the quarterback, but when Texas' coaches insist there's no real leader in this competition, I don't believe they're slow playing anyone and trying not to show their hand. I do believe the coaches really have no idea who's going to start next season and need someone to step up and play. With this new system being as complex for quarterbacks as Brown says it is, I don't see last season's experience for Garrett Gilbert being a huge advantage.
Finding a quarterback will be a good test for offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, who found a freshman named Kellen Moore in 2008 and got to the Fiesta Bowl the last time he had one of these competitions. In practices, Harsin will let his quarterbacks throw until they have an incompletion in pass skeleton drills, a move to make separation more obvious and one Brown called "genius."
Coach Bob Stoops hardly feels it's a gamble to load up on the 6-foot-1 Las Vegas native, who might have been playing in the NFL this season if not for various injuries throughout his career. With Chris Brown gone, Murray is the focal point. He's set a goal for himself of 2,000 rushing yards, a mark Adrian Peterson missed by 75 yards in 2004. Murray has rushed for 2,471 yards in his career.
Murray is also a dangerous receiver out of the backfield. He enters the season with 4,661 all-purpose yards, 1,220 yards away from matching OU's all-time record held by Joe Washington.
"I really believe coming into this year, with his experience, his ability to not only run, but to catch the ball out of the backfield, we really anticipate him having a really big year for us," coach Bob Stoops said during Wednesday's Big 12 Media Days. "We're hoping in th eline of similar to a guy like Adrian Peterson, that kind of opportunity to run the ball or have his hands on the ball that number of times is what we're hoping for."
The biggest test for Murray is staying on the field. A toe injury ruined his freshman season in 2006. Then itwas a dislocated knee cap and the past two seasons he's dealt with hamstring issues, plus a sprained ankle last season. His best season was 2008 when he rushed for 1,002 yards and caught 31 passes for 395 yards.
Last year he gained 705 yards on 171 carries, plus a career-high 41 receptions for 522 yards. He had a combined 12 touchdowns.
"All I can do is go hard every day, practice every day and continue to try to get better," Murray said. "I'm feeling great this year. I have a lot of momentum coming into training camp. I'm looking forward to kicking things off and having a great year."
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Part 2 of the articles on OSU's involvment in academic fraud was released. Some claim the expose is unfounded. Ian and Richard warn that there are two sides to all stories.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss Mack Brown, Manny Diaz and all the latest with the Texas Longhorns.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett give you the latest on the Johnny Manziel story and Charles Barkley weighs in. You won't believe who the outspoken NBA Hall of Famer is disappointed in and what he thinks about the autograph allegations.
Play Podcast Kirk Herbstreit joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett for his weekly visit to preview the 2013 college football season.
Play Podcast Former TCU and current Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the expectations for the Bengals this season, give a prediction for the TCU-LSU game and talk about what it's like having the Hard Knocks cameras follow him.
Play Podcast Randy Galloway, Matt Mosley, and Mark Friedman react to Dez Bryant's comments regarding the NCAA's ongoing investigation of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Play Podcast Richard Durrett, Ian Fitzsimmons and Glenn "Stretch" Smith react to Dez Bryant sounding off yesterday after practice about Johnny Manziel and the shadiness of the NCAA.
Play Podcast Former NCAA investigator and Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to weigh in on the Johnny Manziel drama and give some insight as to what goes on during an NCAA investigation.