Dallas Colleges: Dan Conroy

Best and worst of the Big 12 bowl season

January, 10, 2013
The Big 12 bowl season is over, but just as we did for the weekend rewind all season long, it's time to look back on the best and worst of the bowl season.

Best offensive performance: Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia. West Virginia got stuck in a snowstorm in New York City, and producing offense in that wasn't easy. Still, Bailey put together the best performance, grabbing seven passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns in the Mountaineers' loss to Syracuse.

[+] EnlargeAlex Okafor
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsDefensive end Alex Okafor set the Alamo Bowl record with 4.5 sacks against Oregon State.
Best defensive performance: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas. This was the best performance of any player in the Big 12 the whole bowl season. Okafor was unblockable in the second half, racking up 4.5 sacks and five tackles for loss in the Longhorns' comeback win against Oregon State. He made eight tackles and forced a fumble.

Best play: David Ash, QB, Texas. Ash was nearly dragged down in the backfield, but somehow slipped out of a sack and rolled to his left to extend the play. Running back Johnathan Gray leaked out of the backfield, and Ash threw a perfect strike across his body and hit Gray in the hands for a 15-yard touchdown pass to get the Longhorns to within three points midway through the fourth quarter. Honorable mention: Ash's 36-yard bomb to Marquise Goodwin to take the lead with 36 seconds to play.

Biggest impact play: D.J. Johnson, S, Texas Tech. The Red Raiders hadn't forced a turnover since Oct. 20, but Johnson intercepted a pass in the final minute, returning it 39 yards to set up a game-winning field goal. Minnesota was driving in a tie game, but the Red Raiders' late flurry produced an unlikely comeback win.

Best catch: Isaiah Anderson, WR, Oklahoma State. Anderson caught five balls for 78 yards, but his crazy, spinning, aerial catch in the back of the end zone for a 37-yard touchdown put OSU up 45-0 and provided the best highlight of the Big 12 bowl season.

Worst play: Cornelius Lucas, OL, Kansas State. Kansas State faced a fourth-and-1 at Oregon's 18, but tried to draw Oregon offside and probably planned to go for it anyway after taking a timeout. The Wildcats trailed 15-10, but Lucas inexplicably moved early on a play that probably never would have happened. It backed up Kansas State five yards, and the powerful short-yardage offense couldn't go for it. Anthony Cantele missed the 40-yard kick that ensued, and Oregon answered with a quick touchdown before half to go up 12.

Most boneheaded play: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech. Amaro, who might be Tech's most talented player, missed half the season with a rib injury. He finally got to return, but he didn't seem to take that privilege very seriously. Right in front of an official, he pinned a Minnesota defender and threw a punch. He drew a flag and was ejected, but that flag backed up Texas Tech from the Golden Gophers' 1-yard line to the 16. The ensuing field goal was blocked, and Tech needed a late-game rally to win.

Craziest reaction to a boneheaded play: Texas Tech. According to a report from Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Texas Tech officials had to relay a message to Amaro telling him not to tweet about his ejection. Hours later, he tweeted a weak apology: "I want to apologize for being ejected. As bad as it seems, which it does, I had no intention of a punch. But the idea to get off of him," he wrote.

Best moment: Ash gets the win. It was an emotional bowl week full of distractions for Texas' team as two players were sent home after a police investigation into an alleged sexual assault. Texas' offense struggled for much of the first half, but Ash got hot late and capped the game with a 36-yard touchdown pass over the top to the speedy Goodwin. It gave Texas a huge win, the Big 12's best win of the entire season.

Worst moment: Michigan State takes the game back. TCU inexplicably blew a 13-0 lead when Michigan State's offense came alive, but Jaden Oberkrom gave the Frogs hope with a 53-yard kick to get the lead back, 16-14. It didn't last long. Michigan State strung together a drive and with 61 seconds to play, Dan Conroy boomed a 47-yard kick to take the wind out of TCU's sails after a difficult, emotional season.

Instant analysis: Michigan State 17, TCU 16

December, 30, 2012

Pretty much everybody thought the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl would be a low-scoring game, given the two outstanding defenses and the, uh, challenges facing the offenses. TCU and Michigan State lived up -- or down, depending on your point of view -- to expectations. But the finish was exciting.

The Spartans looked completely lost on offense for the first three and a half quarters, punting on each of their first eight drives. But they rode their workhorse, tailback Le'Veon Bell, and caught a big special-teams break in rallying for two late touchdowns and a 14-13 lead in the fourth quarter. The Horned Frogs answered on Jaden Oberkrom's 53-yard field goal with 2:42 left. But Michigan State won it 17-16 on a 47-yard field goal from Dan Conroy with 1:01 left.

Here's a quick review of how it all went down:

It was over when: TCU's Trevone Boykin threw an incomplete pass on fourth-and-18 in the final minute, extinguishing the Horned Frogs' chances. After scoring 13 points on its first four possessions, TCU had just a field goal in its final nine drives. Michigan State's defense limited the Horned Frogs to just 74 yards in the second half.

Game ball goes to: Michigan State's Bell. After a slow start, he carried the ball 32 times for 145 yards and a touchdown. He also threw a 29-yard pass out of the Wildcat formation to convert a key third down on the team's first scoring drive. He accounted for 174 of the Spartans' 227 total yards, which is nothing new. Bell finished the season with a nation-leading 382 carries.

Stat of the game: Michigan State had as many punts (11) as pass completions and yet won the game. Bell had one more passing yard than starting quarterback Andrew Maxwell.

Unsung hero: Speaking of punts, the Spartans' Mike Sadler was a busy man, and he did a great job. Sadler averaged 43.7 yards on his 11 punts and pinned three inside the TCU 20. He boomed a 52-yarder while backed into his own end zone in the second half. And his driving 55-yard punt inside the Horned Frogs' 5 sent returner Skye Dawson backpedaling. Dawson fumbled the punt, Michigan State recovered on the 4-yard line and Bell ran in for a go-ahead score.

What Michigan State learned: After losing five games by 13 points this season, the Spartans looked like they were headed for another heartbreak when Oberkrom hit that 53-yarder. Instead, unlike so many previous games this season, Michigan State found a way to make big plays in all three phases in the final two minutes. The bowl win doesn't erase the disappointment of a 6-6 regular season, and the offense still looked cringe-worthy most of the night. But Mark Dantonio's team has something to build on with a positive closing note. The spring storyline is already set, as there's a quarterback controversy brewing. Freshman Connor Cook, who hadn't thrown a pass since Week 2, gave the team more of a spark than Maxwell. With two minutes left and his team needing a score to win, Dantonio turned to Cook, not the junior he'd started in all 12 games this season.

What TCU learned: This was a rare off-year for Gary Patterson, whose team lost five of its final seven games. The good news is that the Horned Frogs are still extremely young and bring back just about everyone next year. Though facing Michigan State's offense probably seemed like a vacation compared to Big 12 play, TCU still showed that it has an elite-level defense. Improving on offense will be the key for next season. Quarterback Boykin made some big plays early but overthrew several receivers and was limping around late. He completed only 13 of 29 passes and threw an interception. He'll need to make great strides to compete with Casey Pachall next year, assuming a successful return for Pachall.

MSU keys in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

December, 29, 2012
Three keys for Michigan State in tonight's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl matchup against TCU:

1. Balancing act: It has been the Le'Veon Bell show all season for Michigan State's offense, to the tune of a nation-leading 350 carries. The junior running back will be ready to be a workhorse again in what could be his final game in a Spartans uniform. But Michigan State needs to find other dimensions against a talented TCU defense to avoid the results we saw throughout the regular season. Junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell and his receivers have had more than a month to prepare and find the chemistry they had only in stretches this fall. It also would be nice to see offensive coordinator Dan Roushar open up the playbook a bit as the Spartans try to attack a TCU defense more vulnerable to the pass (52nd nationally) than the run (10th nationally). The Spartans really need more of a balanced offense to win this game.

2. Contain Boykin: This isn't a great TCU offense -- 60th in points per game and 63rd in yards per game -- but the Spartans have to pay close attention to quarterback Trevone Boykin. The freshman had some predictable ups and downs after taking over for Casey Pachall in early October, but he had some very big performances (Baylor, Texas Tech) and limited mistakes after his first three starts. Michigan State can't let Boykin get comfortable and needs a strong performance from its defensive front seven. Junior end William Gholston had a breakout game in last year's bowl win over Georgia (five tackles for loss, two sacks). After a somewhat disappointing season, can Gholston replicate his last postseason performance?

3. Special attention: The kicking game likely looms large in a game featuring two strong defenses and two inconsistent offenses. Michigan State likely has to win on special teams to emerge from the desert with a victory. Place-kicker Dan Conroy converted a Big Ten-leading 22 field goals this season, but he also had more misses (nine) and more attempts (31) than any other kicker in the league. Several of those misses really stung in close losses, so the Spartans likely need a flawless performance from Conroy against TCU. Michigan State also must limit Skye Dawson, who ranks 27th nationally in punt returns (10 yards per return) and 61st in kick returns (22.5 ypr) but has some trouble fielding kicks cleanly.