Dallas Colleges: Ndamukong Suh
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. 3: Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska (2005-09)
Why he's on the list: Suh's career had modest beginnings, and coach Bo Pelini famously almost told the Oregon native to take a hike when he took over the Huskers job before the 2008 season. Instead, Suh bought in and became the Big 12's most decorated and best defender ever in two years as a starter. We're not taking his NFL career into account, but colleague Mel Kiper called Suh the most dominating defensive tackle in college football he'd seen in 32 years. Suh's greatest achievement was becoming a Heisman finalist as a defensive tackle in 2009, and I've always believed he should have won the award ahead of Alabama's Mark Ingram, who was arguably the second-best running back on that Alabama team that won the national title. Suh was simply the most dominant player in college football that season, impacting every game he played and just about every snap.
Do you know how hard it is to lead a team in tackles as a defensive tackle? Suh did it twice. He had 43 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks in two seasons as a starter. In 2009, he collected an absurd amount of hardware: He was the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year and he won the Lombardi Award, the Nagurski Trophy and the Bednarik Award. He was also a unanimous All-American and a finalist for the Camp Award as college football's best player. Nebraska's defense in 2009 was one of the best in Big 12 history, and the team fell just short of the Big 12 title. That's not Suh's fault. His performance against a big-time Texas offense in the title game was one of the best I've ever seen. Against the Longhorns, led by senior quarterback Colt McCoy (No. 5 on our list of top Big 12 players), he made 12 tackles and 4.5 sacks, racking up a school record seven tackles for loss. He was everywhere, and it seemed like he was in McCoy's face on every snap.
All season long, Suh was unblockable. Only two players are blocking him from being the greatest Big 12 player of all-time.
The rest of the list:
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.
- A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State
- Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State
- Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State
- Nigel Malone, CB, Kansas State
- Demontre Hurst, CB, Oklahoma
- Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma
- Brodrick Brown, CB, Oklahoma State
- Stansly Maponga, DE, TCU
- Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
- Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
- Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
That's a pretty good list. The biggest snubs in my book are all cornerbacks. Where is Texas' duo of Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs? And what about Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert. All deserving.
Last season, Tyrann Mathieu became the second consecutive LSU player to win the award, following up Patrick Peterson in 2010.
Ndamukong Suh (2009) was the last Big 12 player to win the award. Teddy Lehman of Oklahoma (2003) was the last player among current Big 12 teams to take home the trophy.
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.
The Oklahoma quarterback threw for 245 yards. His counterpart, Zac Lee, threw for 35 yards. The Sooners outgained Nebraska 325-180.
But, and it was a big but, Jones finished with five interceptions. Oklahoma lost 10-3.
Three more came in Nebraska territory and the fifth came on an odd, early Hail Mary on second down with time for a few more plays from midfield.
"We moved the ball well against them when we played them in Lincoln, but they really stuffed us and we didn’t get a lot out of it once we neared the red zone," said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. "They made more plays and stopped us."
Nebraska finished last season as the nation's No. 18 pass defense. The Blackshirts are at No. 2 this year.
"They do a great job in their structure, they’re very disciplined, how they play," Stoops said. "Their coverage is outstanding, in how they cover you and work their coverage. So, they really make you work to execute to play well to move the football."
Nebraska is better, but Jones is, too.
He's a sophomore with 22 starts under his belt, no longer a freshman learning how to fill a Heisman winner's shoes on the fly.
"He's got a huge arm. He's got a quick release. What I love here in this last half of the season is he's really feels his way in the pocket really well," Stoops said. "He's been really stepping up and buying himself more time in a good way. He's smart in what he's doing."
And in the past two weeks, he's been able to do what he couldn't do as a freshman: be the same quarterback away from Owen Field. His quarterback rating was a plump 160.04 at home in 2009, but slimmed to 110.25 on the road.
His touchdown-to-interception ratio was particularly skewed. In six home games, he threw 18 touchdowns to four interceptions. In seven games away from home, he threw just eight touchdowns to 10 picks, including the five in Lincoln.
Jones struggled early with interceptions against both Baylor and Oklahoma State, but rebounded particularly well against Oklahoma State, tossing a pair of long touchdown passes late in the fourth quarter to help Oklahoma clinch the South on its rival's home field. He also tied a school record with 468 yards against an improving Oklahoma State secondary.
Now, he'll face the toughest secondary in the Big 12, with more on the line than any game this season. Nobody will blink at a pick or two, but if Jones makes the plays necessary for Oklahoma to win and reach a BCS bowl once again, that nightmare in Lincoln as a freshman will be a hazy memory in the minds of Sooners fans.
"That’ll be a big key, if we can move the ball, but also in the red zone," Stoops said. "Are you able to score?"
"As coaches, we knew that Suh was a really good football player. We did not anticipate him dominating the game like he did so that’s on us as coaches, it’s not on those kids," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "If you put a young man in a position where he can’t hold up and you don’t change it then that’s us."
Texas coaches hope to have an answer for a dominant Alabama front line that has similar personnel to that of Nebraska, only Brown described Alabama as having three Suhs up front. "That's the problem," Brown said. At the forefront of Alabama's line is "Mount Cody," the Crimson Tide's 6-foot-5, 365-pound nose guard Terrence Cody.
Texas will get their one and only look at Cody on Jan. 7 when No. 2 Texas faces No. 1 Alabama in the BCS national championship at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Brown joked that Cody and Co.'s performances are so fearsome that he can't show it all to his team. It's just too much to stomach.
"Everywhere you look they're knocking people down," Brown said. "We've been afraid to show it to our kids. We'll try to limit how much film we show them. Cut some plays out and go real slow with them. We're not going to feed them all of it at once."
Alabama's Mark Ingram took the trophy home in the closest vote in the history of the award. Reports said 89 percent of the voters waited until after the SEC and Big 12 championship games to vote.
That was good news for Ingram, who did not play well against Auburn and had another chance to impress Heisman voters in an afternoon game against Florida. He did that with 189 total yards and three touchdowns in the 32-13 win.
That same day, Colt McCoy's Heisman chances were probably hurt as well. His team won the game, but anybody that watched it was amazed by Ndamukong Suh and his 4.5 sacks of McCoy. Suh was all over the field that night, no doubt helping him gain votes. And with both players from the Big 12 conference, he had to take some votes away from McCoy.
It's just interesting how one day can alter the Heisman race.
And talk about a game of inches. The hard-charging Ingram won the 75th Heisman Trophy by the smallest margin ever, barely nudging by another tough runner, Stanford's Toby Gerhart.
Texas quarterback Colt McCoy had to settle for third place, finishing ahead of Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. McCoy likely lost any shot at the trophy with his three-interception game in the Big 12 title squeaker.
For the Texas gunslinger, however, there remains unsettled business on the field. McCoy will try to equal his predecessor Vince Young, who also left New York empty handed, but left Pasadena, Calif., with a national championship.
McCoy, who finished second in the Heisman voting a year ago, and Alabama's Ingram will meet on Jan. 7 at the Rose Bowl to settle one last score.
He finished his second consecutive season having completed more than 70 percent of his passes. That statistic is even more remarkable considering the Longhorns haven't had much of a running attack either year. Every defense knew Colt was going to put it in the air and he still completed every 7 of 10 passs. Consider what Colt had to do on Thanksgiving night just for Texas to get by Texas A&M: 24-of-40 for 304 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions AND 175 rushing yards and a touchdown. Incredible.
Problem is the Texas offense played inconsistently at the start of the season, then took off in the middle and stunk it up in their last-second 13-12 win over Nebraska in the Big 12 title game. McCoy threw three interceptions with no touchdowns and amassed just 184 passing yards in a game that everyone watched.
McCoy finished second in the voting last season to Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, who has said his vote this year went to McCoy.
Alabama running back Mark Ingram appears to be the lead horse with Nebraska defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh garnering tons of attention late, especially after his dominating, 4.5-sack performance against Texas in the Big 12 title game, a performance that just might have kept McCoy from winning his first Heisman in his second consecutive trip to New York.
Suh would become the first defensive lineman to win the award and the first defensive player to take home the Heisman since Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson in 1997.
Florida quarterback and 2007 Heisman winner Tim Tebow does not appear to be a factor this time around. Punishing Stanford running back Toby Gerhart, the nation's leader with 1,736 rushing yards and 26 rushing touchdowns, could challenge.
The Heisman clock is ticking. Less than four hours to go.
When Suh wasn't sacking the quarterback, he was forcing him to hurry throws or to roll another direction and into another tackler. He changed the game by himself. But can outplaying McCoy on the same field be enough to win the Heisman?
There are other finalists, of course. Alabama's Mark Ingram put on a show against Florida in the SEC title game. Toby Gerhart has been consistent all season. Tim Tebow leads his team like few other players.
But who's the best in the country this season? I really don't know. But I do know Suh is in that conversation. ESPN's Mark Schlabach wrote about his chances.
No defensive player has won the Heisman since 1997 when Michigan's Charles Woodson claimed the prize. But Suh's play this season -- and on the big stage in the Big 12 title game -- gives him a shot.
Where do you think he'll finish?
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