- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
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It could have been an ugly bowl season for the Big 12.
Instead, the conference held its own during the season finale, finishing 3-3 in six bowl games, including 1-1 in BCS contests. The SEC led the way among automatic-qualifying conferences with a 7-3 record, followed by a 6-3 mark from the Pac-12, with the Big 12 third, then the ACC (5-6) and Big Ten (2-5).
The Big 12’s national reputation needed a boost -- and it got it with Oklahoma’s Allstate Sugar Bowl win over SEC power Alabama and Texas Tech’s National University Holiday Bowl victory over a 10-win Arizona State squad from the Pac-12.
The eerie silence around Norman, Okla., is Bob Stoops still awaiting the “S-E-C, S-E-C” chant that many expected to rain down upon his Sooners when OU was matched with the Crimson Tide. Outside of BCS champion Florida State, OU was the story of the bowl season thanks to its 45-31 upending of Alabama. And somewhere Stoops is still smiling. His team validated his words about quality quarterback play against SEC defenses; redshirt freshman Trevor Knight validated Stoops' confidence in naming him the starter before the season; and his defense validated the decision to move from a 4-3 to 3-4 with strong performances throughout the year. Nobody had a better bowl experience than Stoops and Co.
Baylor entered the bowl season as the conference's lone clear favorite, with the Big 12 champions expected to take care of business against UCF in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. But Blake Bortles and the Knights had other ideas, upsetting the Bears 52-42 and knocking the Big 12’s reputation back a step in the process. To see the Big 12 champions fall, and look defenseless doing so, kept the bowl season from being an exceptional few weeks for the conference.
Texas Tech could be the overlooked surprise of the conference with its 37-23 win over Arizona State, which finished the season with a loss in the Pac-12 title game. The Red Raiders entered the contest with shaken confidence, having lost five straight games to close out the regular season, yet were undeterred, jumping on the Sun Devils from the outset and dominating the game with a stellar quarterback performance from freshman Davis Webb.
Kansas State took care of business against Michigan and its true freshman quarterback, Shane Morris, cruising to a 31-14 win in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and snapping its five-game bowl losing streak to join the Sooners and Red Raiders in the win column. And Big 12 secondaries can feel better about themselves, because a Big Ten foe couldn’t seem to stop Tyler Lockett, either.
Oklahoma State’s AT&T Cotton Bowl loss to Missouri wasn’t a surprise in a game that was tough to pick as soon as it was announced. The Cowboys had opportunities to win, but ultimately came up short thanks to Missouri’s ability to consistently force OSU’s offense into game-changing mistakes.
And Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl ... um, well, it was good to see Mack Brown walk off the field to cheers after his final game in burnt orange despite a 30-7 thrashing at the hands of Oregon.
Ultimately it was a terrific bowl season for a conference that needed it. OU reminded the nation it can play with anyone, an upstart Tech knocked off a 10-win team, Bill Snyder finally got to end his season with a bowl victory, and future Big 12 stars may have emerged at the quarterback position in Knight and Webb.
Did the Big 12 prove to be the best conference in the nation? No. But it proved to be better than many people thought it was when the season kicked off in August.
3dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
5dTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney