Dallas Colleges: Jeff Woody
ESPN Insider KC Joyner named his top five in college football this year, and Texas' Malcolm Brown is the only Big 12 player on the list.
The Longhorns' schedule strength is based on a projection that could change somewhat as the Big 12 finalizes its 2012 slate, but it was still favorable enough to make colleague Ryan McGee's list of the top 10 early schedule winners of 2012.
Add that to the four returning starters on the offensive line and things would seem to look great for Brown the upcoming season.
Well, they would until one reviews Brown's YPC and GBYPA totals, both of which ranked dead last in this comparison. It's not as if the Longhorns had a bad run-blocking win rate, either, so some of this has to fall on Brown. If the schedule stays just as favorable and Brown can improve his yards per carry rates, an All-Big 12 conference honor could be in his near future.
So what about other backs in the Big 12?
Here's a few guys I'd keep an eye on:
Shontrelle Johnson, Iowa State: Johnson had a chance to break out in 2011, but suffered a neck injury early and missed the rest of the season. He's a shifty back with lots of speed, too. James White and Jeff Woody filled in well for Johnson this year, but Johnson is a highlight reel waiting to happen.
Eric Stephens, Texas Tech: Stephens was in the process of breaking out in 2011 before suffering a dislocated knee early in conference play and before the Red Raiders closed the season on a five-game losing streak. He's expected to return in 2012. He was easily on track to become the first Tech running back to rush for 1,000 yards before the injury.
Johnathan Gray, Texas: So, he's not a Longhorn just yet, but Texas has the nation's No. 1 running back coming to campus next year after reeling in Brown, the nation's No. 2 running back, in its 2011 class. Gray broke the national record with 209 career rushing touchdowns, and he figures to score a few times in his first year on campus, too. Carries will be hotly contested in Austin next year, but Mr. Football USA, according to ESPN HS, will try to earn his touches.
Lache Seastrunk/Glasco Martin, Baylor: Seastrunk was another highly recruited player (No. 6 RB in 2010 class), but transferred to Baylor from Oregon and had to sit out 2011. Martin's got plenty of talent, too. They'll join Jarred Salubi in 2012 to try and replace Terrance Ganaway. Baylor's had a 1,200-yard rusher in each of the past two seasons. You have to like one of those three players' chances to continue the streak in 2012.
In this position, unlike quarterback, depth is a major, major factor in these rankings.
1. Texas A&M
The Aggies had the two most talented backs, and despite injuries to both, proved it through an otherwise frustrating 2011. Christine Michael suffered a torn ACL, but still managed 899 yards on just 149 carries. Cyrus Gray injured his shoulder late in the season, but secured his second consecutive 1,000-yard season and ranked third in the Big 12, despite carrying the ball just 198 times. This duo should have easily surpassed 1,000 yards, but even when they were injured, Ben Malena played well in the final two games.
Mizzou dealt with injuries, too, first to Kendial Lawrence and De'Vion Moore. Cue Henry Josey. Josey became the best back in the Big 12 this year before suffering a major knee injury that included torn ligaments. He may not be back in 2012. His 1,168 yards were third most in the Big 12, despite carrying the ball just 145 times. Lawrence finished 12th with 566 yards.
3. Oklahoma State
Joseph Randle stole the show this year, rushing for 24 scores and ranking second in the Big 12 with 1,216 yards. Only Collin Klein ran for more touchdowns and Terrance Ganaway was the only player with more yardage. Still, Jeremy Smith had averaged more than 7 yards a carry, and he'd be able to start for anyone else in the league. Herschel Sims showed promise, too, with 242 yards on 31 carries.
Ganaway led the Big 12 in rushing with huge performances late in the season, including a 200-yard, five-touchdown game in his final outing as a college athlete in the Alamo Bowl. He averaged more than 6 yards on his 250 carries and had 330 more yards than any other back in the league. Jarred Salubi added 331 yards, too.
Texas' Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron were banged-up late in the season, but Fozzy Whittaker played well until suffering a torn ACL against Missouri, too. Scatback D.J. Monroe was effective in the passing game as well. Four running backs topped 300 yards and Brown led the team with 742 yards, despite missing three games and having his carries limited early in the season.
Oklahoma got great contributions from walk-on Dominique Whaley early on, and he proved to be the team's most effective runner and best runner between the tackles. He fractured his ankle in midseason, and finished with just 627 yards to lead the team. Roy Finch emerged late in the seasons after a quiet first half and added 605 yards.
KU's James Sims led the team in rushing again with 727 yards. Darrian Miller was excellent, too, with 559 yards, though he was dismissed after the season. Freshmen Tony Pierson and Brandon Bourbon have plenty of promise, both averaging more than 5.5 yards a carry in 2011. The bad news: All their carries were limited by an awful defense that limited KU's chances to run the ball.
8. Kansas State
K-State's rushing attack centered around Klein, but John Hubert, a slippery back from Waco, Texas, had a good year. Hubert was seventh in the Big 12 with 970 yards. Bryce Brown offered basically nothing to K-State, and beyond Klein and Hubert, the Wildcats were pretty thin. Additionally, without Klein, would Hubert have duplicated his success?
9. Texas Tech
An awful knee injury derailed Eric Stephens' likely 1,000-yard season, and the rest of Texas Tech's backfield got banged-up, too. Stephens will probably return in 2012 from his dislocated knee, and finished with 565 yards, 17th in the Big 12. Aaron Crawford and DeAndre Washington both topped 300 yards.
10. Iowa State
ISU lost Shontrelle Johnson for the season early on, but James White filled in well. He finished with 743 yards, which ranked ninth in the Big 12. Jeff Woody had 380 yards and provided quality carries late, including the game-winning touchdown against Oklahoma State.
1. Kansas State 53, Texas A&M 50 (4 OT): Kansas State erased a double-digit lead in the final half of the fourth quarter to force overtime. Collin Klein burrowed into the end zone on a quarterback sneak to earn a huge win and a memorable night in Manhattan.
2. Baylor 50, TCU 48: The first game of the entire season for the Big 12 began in style. Robert Griffin III began his Heisman campaign with five touchdown passes, but the Bears blew a 47-23 lead in just over 11 minutes, giving up 25 fourth-quarter points. Griffin, though, hauled in his only catch of the season to extend a game-winning drive on third down, and Aaron Jones booted a 37-yard game winner with just over a minute left, cueing the Baylor fans to storm the field after a game-clinching interception.
3. Oklahoma State 41, Stanford 38 (OT): This was what we thought it was. Neither defense could stop the opposing offense, and Oklahoma State converted a fourth down from Brandon Weeden to Justin Blackmon to extend the game and take the lead, but Stanford drove back down the field and missed a 35-yard field goal as time expired. It missed another kick in overtime, and OSU kicked a game-winning field goal after Colton Chelf's game-winning touchdown was overturned to just a 24-yard gain.
4. Baylor 45, Oklahoma 38: This gave way to the signature moment of Robert Griffin III's Heisman campaign, and it wasn't the 87-yard touchdown pass to Kendall Wright off Tevin Reese's helmet. The teams traded second-half leads and Oklahoma erased a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead before Griffin extended a play and hit Terrance Williams for a 34-yard, game-winning touchdown pass with eight seconds left.
5. Iowa State 37, Oklahoma State 31 (2 OT): This game made our top 10 moments of 2011, too. The Cowboys lost a 24-7 second-half lead and missed a game-winning field goal. Brandon Weeden threw an interception in the second overtime and Jeff Woody set off the biggest party in Ames in a long while with his game-winning, four-yard touchdown run in the second overtime.
6. Texas 27, Texas A&M 25: The Aggies led 10-0 and 16-7, but once again, it didn't matter. Jeff Fuller gave the Aggies back the lead with a big 16-yard touchdown with 1:48 to play. The two-point conversion failed, though, and Case McCoy got free for a 25-yard scramble that set up a 40-yard, game-winning field goal by Justin Tucker as time expired to give the Longhorns bragging rights in the heated rivalry for as long as they want, perhaps forever. The two teams aren't scheduled to meet again after A&M leaves for the SEC.
7. Oklahoma State 52, Kansas State 45: OSU fell behind 24-14 early after a pick six by Weeden, putting the undefeated season in doubt. The teams traded three touchdowns in just under two minutes, and Joseph Randle's 23-yard run gave OSU the lead for good with 3:16 to play, making it four touchdowns in three minutes. Kansas State drove to tie the game and possibly win it with a two-point conversion, but two Collin Klein passes fell incomplete, and OSU survived to move to 9-0.
8. Baylor 31, Kansas 30 (OT): This game wasn't televised, but it was quietly a classic. Baylor struggled to stop the run, and trailed 24-3 in the fourth quarter before RG3 broke a 49-yard run and hit on two long touchdown passes to tie the game. The two teams traded touchdowns in overtime, but Kansas failed to convert a game-winning two-point conversion, and Turner Gill's guts went unrewarded. Kansas also went without a win in conference play. Baylor loses this game, and RG3 doesn't win the Heisman.
9. Missouri 31, Texas Tech 27: This is a sneaky pick for our top 10 list. Texas Tech jumped out to a 14-0 lead, and Missouri trailed by 10 in the fourth quarter, but James Franklin threw one touchdown pass and ran for another to take the lead. Texas Tech drove inside the Missouri 10-yard line in the final minute, but a tipped Seth Doege pass was intercepted to give Mizzou a dramatic win.
10. Missouri 38, Texas A&M 31 (OT): The SEC bowl helped bury Texas A&M's season and spark Missouri's. The Tigers trailed by 14 early and 11 points at half before taking the lead in the fourth quarter. Randy Bullock tied the game with a field goal in the final minutes to force overtime. James Franklin hit Marcus Lucas for an 11-yard score and Ryan Tannehill's final pass was batted down as Missouri stormed the field and celebrated the end of their three-game losing streak. The Tigers would win four of their final five games, and that bounced Mizzou to 4-4 instead of 3-5. That loss for then-No. 16 Texas A&M keyed off four in the final five regular-season games, including two in overtime (K-State, Mizzou) and another as time expired (Texas).
Honorable mention: Kansas State 28, Miami 24; Baylor 67, Washington 56; Iowa State 44, Iowa 41 (3 OT); Texas 17, BYU 16; Arkansas 42, Texas A&M 38; Oklahoma State 30, Texas A&M 29.
Maybe it's unfair, but conferences are most often judged by their top teams. Glance at Oklahoma and Texas, the two teams that won every Big 12 title since 2003, and you'll see a combined eight losses in 2011.
The Longhorns improved from 5-7 to 7-5. Oklahoma? A 2010 Big 12 title bled into a national title chase in 2011 that ended with a third loss in its regular season finale, and a particularly embarrassing one, too.
The league ain't what it used to be, in lots of good and bad ways. The newfound parity is a good sign.
Texas A&M and Missouri leaving for the SEC? A profoundly bad sign.
Texas A&M and Missouri's combined 0-6 record against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State? Another good sign.
TCU and West Virginia (probably) join the Big 12 next season, and will find a league that looks much different than it did even two years ago.
Texas' ascent still looks in-progress, and until the Longhorns find a quarterback, can't reasonably count on having any real shot at a Big 12 title. Oklahoma will be strapped for experience next season without Ryan Broyles and three of its best defenders. It will only get more difficult if Landry Jones, projected as a top-10 pick, leaves early for the NFL.
Oklahoma State broke the proverbial glass ceiling this year in resounding fashion, challenging the idea that 2011 was a "down year" in the Big 12. Oklahoma was a disappointment. Texas A&M tanked. The Longhorns were still too young and lacked enough offense.
But there's a reason why, even without a team in the national championship game for the second consecutive year, this was far from a down year for the Big 12. You just have to look a little harder.
Oklahoma State surpassed last year's 10-win regular season with 11 this year, the most in school history. Kansas State is one of the nation's biggest surprises, and was robbed of a spot in the BCS by the Hokie-loving Sugar Bowl. Baylor? All the Bears did was win more Big 12 games (5) than any year before, and put themselves in position for the program's first Heisman winner ever.
Injuries morphed Oklahoma from great to just good, but this year, the Big 12's identity was much deeper than "How did Texas and Oklahoma do?"
The league went 27-3 in nonconference play, winning the eternal love of the BCS computers and landing eight teams in bowl games, despite switching to a nine-game conference schedule. In other words, every team replaced a likely nonconference win with a Big 12 opponent. The league, top to bottom, still put together an outstanding season. That .900 percentage was the best nonconference winning percentage of any league since the SEC in 1997.
Two of those losses, by the way, came from Texas A&M and Missouri, who will be gone to the SEC after this season.
The Big 12 missed out on the national title race, but it wasn't down this year. It was way, way up. You just had to look a little harder to tell.
Time to look back on the season that was:
Offensive MVP: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Griffin might be the nation's offensive MVP, so why would it be any different here? The Heisman finalist (and likely favorite) helped carry the Bears to a 9-3 season and broke the NCAA record for pass-efficiency rating, at 192.31. He racked up 3,998 yards, 36 touchdowns and six interceptions on 267-of-369 passing.
Defensive MVP: Frank Alexander, DE, Oklahoma
Alexander played through a painful shoulder injury in Bedlam, and suffered a knee injury in the game, but he was outstanding throughout the season as the biggest wrecking ball on defense of anyone in the Big 12. He's got all the physical measurables, using his speed, flexibility and quickness at 6-foot-4, 255 pounds to lead the Big 12 with 8.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss.
Newcomer(s) of the year: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State and Nigel Malone, CB, Kansas State
I couldn't decide between these two. Both helped completely revitalize a K-State defense that struggled last year. Brown transferred to K-State from Miami and Malone arrived via the City College of San Francisco. Brown was arguably the Big 12's surest tackler, ranking ninth in the league with 95 stops, including 7.5 for loss, two sacks and his first pick was a game-changer against Baylor to help K-State get the victory. He was the first player all season to intercept RG3, and one of just six all season. Malone, meanwhile, snatched seven picks, two more than any player in the Big 12. He also broke up nine passes and made 57 tackles (46 solo).
Easy pick here. The numbers say it all. Kansas State was loaded with unknowns. Lots of first-year players, especially on defense (see above), and one of his most hyped players, running back Bryce Brown, left the team at midseason. He also had a former receiver at quarterback, Collin Klein, who became one of the nation's most valuable players. The big man took a beating, but ran for 1,099 yards and a Big 12-best 26 touchdowns. The Wildcats were picked to finish eighth in the Big 12, and don't exude talent as much as most other Big 12 teams do. They nearly won the Big 12, though, and finished eighth in the BCS standings.
Biggest Surprise: Iowa State 37, Oklahoma State 31 in 2OT on Nov. 18.
This one had the biggest impact, too. The Cowboys were 28-point favorites and raced to a 24-7 third-quarter lead. They didn't score again until overtime. Iowa State rallied to tie the game, and the usually reliable Quinn Sharp missed what could have been a game-winning 37-yard field goal with just over a minute to play. After Brandon Weeden threw an interception in the second overtime, Iowa State pounded the running game and Jeff Woody crossed the goal line to win the game, put Iowa State into a second bowl game in three years, and knocked Oklahoma State out of the national title chase. The morning of the game, Oklahoma State learned that women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna had been killed in a plane crash. After the gam, the Cowboys were left trying to stomach a painful, shocking loss on the field, where the stands at Jack Trice Stadium had emptied for an epic field rush.
Biggest Disappointment: Texas A&M
No question about this one. Texas A&M was a Big 12 contender and had the talent to possibly win a national title. The mental makeup, though, didn't exactly reek of toughness. The Aggies were favored in 11 games and led by double digits in all 11 of those games. They lost six, including five losses with double-digit halftime leads. They saved the most painful loss for last. Hated rival Texas, a catalyst for the move to the SEC, erased a 10-0 and 16-7 halftime lead to beat the Aggies 27-25 on a last-second field goal after a late two-minute drill. Less than a week later, Texas A&M fired coach Mike Sherman and is looking for his replacement before moving to the SEC next season.
Best Game: Kansas State 53, Texas A&M 50 in 4OT on Nov. 12
This might be the best game in Big 12 history. With just 6:38 to play, Kansas State trailed, 31-21. Klein hit Chris Harper for a 53-yard score to get the Wildcats within reach, and K-State forced overtime on a 44-yard kick by Anthony Cantele with just 2:12 to play. The two teams traded touchdowns in the first and third overtimes, sandwiched around field goals in the second overtime. In the third, though? Texas A&M elected to kick a 20-yard field goal on 4th-and-1 at the K-State 3-yard line. Kansas State answered with all running plays and drew a pass-interference penalty before Klein pushed the pile for a 1-yard touchdown to win the game.
No other word for that than unbelievable.
Oklahoma State goes down in double overtime to Iowa State 37-31.
National championship hopes: Over, barring more madness.
Brandon Weeden Heisman hopes: Dashed.
The field at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa: Rushed.
Last month, it was Oklahoma losing to Texas Tech as a four-touchdown favorite. Friday night, it was No. 2 Oklahoma State, squashing a good bit of the hype surrounding a season-ending Bedlam matchup in Stillwater on Dec. 3.
A crushing day for Oklahoma State got worse. Four lives were lost on Thursday night in a plane crash, including OSU women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna. Armed with that news, it's easy to see that this was just a football game.
It still hurts for the Cowboys, though, and a historic season — they were 10-0 for the first time in school history — meets an unceremonious end.
Don't show up one week in college football, and you can lose. Oklahoma State led 24-7 in the third quarter and didn't score the rest of regulation. Weeden threw for 476 yards and three touchdowns, but three interceptions were too much to overcome. The third was the most costly, a ball tipped by Jake Knott and intercepted by Ter'Ran Benton in the second overtime, setting up the game-winning run from Jeff Woody.
Oklahoma State made mistakes but had its chances. Quinn Sharp missed a late field goal. Iowa State hung around and struck when the time was right.
Fans from Oregon and Alabama say thank you. A one-loss team will play for the national title.
Paired with that, Iowa State made a little history of its own. For the second time in three seasons, Iowa State is bowling. It took a win over the nation's No. 2 team — the first in 19 tries for Iowa State football — to do it, and the Cyclones get another benchmark triumph under Paul Rhoads.
There was the victory over Nebraska in 2009; in 2010, a win over Texas and a near-miss against the Huskers. This year, it was a rivalry win over Iowa and now this game.
"It continues to move us forward," Rhoads said. "They continue to add credibility to what we're teaching."
Now, he'll get a chance to teach it a little longer.
Iowa State's season gets extended by a month.
Oklahoma State's? Almost certainly shortened by one painful, painful week.
Last year's class was one of the best in recent history, but this year's class? Unassuming to begin the season. There are a few possible stars looming, but very, very little talent returning. Cyrus Gray ranked seventh in rushing yards last year (thanks to an insane finish), but he's the only player returning to the Big 12 from the conferences' top 10 rushers in 2010.
The Aggies are the only team with a truly elite backfield tandem, though I could see Oklahoma and/or Oklahoma State joining that group by the end of the year.
The rest of the league? Every team has at least a couple of players to get excited about, and teams 5-10 are all pretty close. No one is really understaffed at the position, but obviously, they're fit to be ranked.
Here's where I have them:
1. Texas A&M
Oklahoma will try and replace do-everything forever (or whatever) back DeMarco Murray with a platoon likely led by shifty Florida native Roy Finch. True freshman Brandon Williams made a big impact in spring camp, and Brennan Clay will likely earn a few touches, too. Health concerns raise questions about a pair of other OU backs' knees (Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller), but walk-on Dominique Whaley led the team in rushing in the spring game.
3. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys have a great pair in sophomores Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, and a nice set of backs to spell them if needed, too. Kye Staley, once a top-flight recruit, returned this spring after quitting the team following a severe knee injury, and might earn a few touches this spring. Also, Abilene, Texas, native and 2011 ESPNU 150 signee Herschel Sims arrives this fall and may jockey for time and the opportunity to shed a redshirt.
What the Tigers lack in a truly elite back, they have in depth. Missouri has four backs who are all capable of being very good in the Big 12, even though neither of the four topped 600 yards a year ago. A big reason for that was none of the four got more than 100 carries, but with the carries they did get, every back averaged more than five yards per carry. The platoon approach works for Missouri, but senior De'Vion Moore and junior Kendial Lawrence will lead the way with sophomores Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy not far behind.
6. Texas Tech
The Red Raiders lose backfield constant Baron Batch, but have a good group lined up for 2011. Tommy Tuberville's effort to establish a more efficient running game is a realistic possibility with Eric Stephens as the likely feature back, and Aaron Crawford, Ben McRoy and Harrison Jeffers in the mix. True freshman Ronnie Daniels' strong spring likely earned him some time, too, rather than a redshirt.
Baylor loses a 1,200-yard rusher in Jay Finley, and figures to use a thunder-and-lightning approach with 6-foot, 240-pound bowling ball Terrance Ganaway and shifty, 5-foot-9, 205-pound Jarred Salubi. Glasco Martin, a more balanced back, may earn a few carries, too. Regardless of who has the ball, life is good for Baylor backs, who get a bit more room from defenses that are forced to respect Robert Griffin III's legs.
8. Kansas State
The Wildcats' top two rushers, including two-time league rushing champ Daniel Thomas, are gone. Hopes are high for Wichita native and former blue-chip back Bryce Brown, but he's still entrenched in a position battle with John Hubert and Robert Rose heading into fall camp.
Texas brings back a pair of seniors in Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson, but if the Longhorns are going to climb up this ladder by year's end (and they might) it's likely to be on the back of hyped incoming freshman Malcolm Brown, who is on campus and set to begin fall camp. D.J. Monroe might be the fastest player in the Big 12, but he'll have to master the nuances of pass blocking to get more than a few touches every game. Jeremy Hills can offer some depth at the position, too, after Tre Newton was forced to quit the game because of concussions.
10. Iowa State
Shontrelle Johnson showed some flash last year, but he still brings just 35 career carries into his 2011 effort to replace Alexander Robinson. Jeff Woody and James White offer a bit more depth, too. Florida native DeVondrick Nealy might get into the mix if he can put together a strong fall camp.
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