Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Wrapping up the Big 12 regular season
By Tim Griffin
Whatever happened to the Big 12 and all of those wild offensive numbers and great teams from last season?
With all of the promise from last season, more of the same was expected with many of the key players returning for another season. But an improbable rash of injuries and suspensions left top players like Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham, Baylor’s Robert Griffin and Oklahoma State’s Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter sitting along the sideline rather than playing.
Instead, the defenses bit back in 2009, capped by a wild 13-12 victory by Texas over Nebraska in the conference championship game.
The results were seen on the field where the conference started slowly with a 4-7 record in out-of-conference games. Only one of those nonconference wins came after the first week of the season.
Taking advantage of Oklahoma’s injuries and a tight victory in Dallas on Oct. 17 over the Sooners, the Longhorns remained at the front of the Big 12 for most of the season. The Big 12 finished with only one team ranked among the top 19 teams in the final BCS standings and only three in the Top 25.
Ndamukong Suh finished third in the nation with 12 sacks.
The bowls will provide a tough challenge for Big 12 teams. Only Texas Tech and Oklahoma are favored among the eight teams that were selected for postseason play.
Texas will be a consensus underdog against Alabama in the Citi BCS Championship Game. It’s exactly the position the Longhorns were in five years ago when they stunned USC in the title game.
A Texas triumph in the Jan. 7 matchup will be necessary to help salvage some of the Big 12’s reputation.
Although he struggled in the championship game and against Oklahoma, McCoy was the fulcrum of the league’s best team. Down the stretch he pushed himself into Heisman consideration with 300-yard passing games in three of his last four regular-season games to finish with 3,512 passing yards and 27 touchdowns. But his most impressive number was breaking David Greene’s career won-loss record to set the NCAA mark with a 45-7 record.
After his stellar senior season, Suh might have progressed to a level never approached by a Big 12 defensive player. Suh dominated the game in ways unusual for a defensive tackle as he finished with a team-leading 82 tackles, including 50 solo stops. He was third nationally with 12 sacks, broke up 10 passes and also blocked three kicks. He capped his season with a career-best 12 tackles in the championship game, including a record 4.5 sacks in a performance that earned him a trip to New York City for the Heisman Trophy award ceremony.
Thomas was projected as a quarterback when he arrived at Kansas State this summer from Northwest Mississippi Community College. Coach Bill Snyder thought he could help the team more at running back and he emerged as the focal point of a Kansas State defense that took the Wildcats within a game of the North Division title. Thomas led the league with 1,265 rushing yards, 247 attempts, 11 rushing touchdowns and 105.4 yards per game, accounting for more than 100 rushing yards in five different games.
Coach of the Year -- Texas’ Mack Brown
While some could argue for Paul Rhoads and Snyder as possible candidates, Brown’s ability to lead the Longhorns to a perfect 13-0 season, his second Big 12 title and his second BCS title game appearance elevates him over the rest. The Longhorns excelled from the first game as they charged to the first 12-0 regular-season record in school history. He’s also pushed the Longhorns into another BCS bowl game for the fourth time in six seasons. Texas has won all of those previous games, but will be challenged as it faces Alabama as a decided underdog.
Biggest surprise -- Kansas State
The Wildcats were picked to battle to stay out of the North Division cellar and had to break in new players at quarterback and running back. After a 2-2 start in nonconference play capped by a loss at Louisiana -Lafayette, Snyder’s team caught fire behind quarterback Grant Gregory, Thomas and a plucky defense. The Wildcats led the season with a month to go, but couldn’t nail down a title after losses to Missouri and Nebraska. Those losses cost them a bowl appearance, but Snyder proved he could still coach a little bit -- even at the age of 70.
Biggest disappointment -- Oklahoma
The Sooners entered the season as the nation’s No. 3 team and a potential challenger for the BCS title game. But a preseason injury cost them Gresham for the season, and Bradford played less than two complete games before he was knocked out for the season with a shoulder injury. An injury-ravaged offensive line struggled to remain solvent, and the Sooners’ hopes of claiming an unprecedented fourth straight Big 12 title ended after an early loss to Texas. It didn’t stop there as later road losses to Nebraska and Texas Tech left them free-falling all the way to a berth in the Sun Bowl. It left them with a 7-5 record that marked the most losses in the regular season in Bob Stoops’ coaching tenure.
Game of the Year -- Texas 13, Nebraska 12, Big 12 title game, Dec. 5
The defenses dominated this game as the two teams combined for only 308 total yards and converted only eight of 35 third-down plays. But after a fourth Nebraska field goal by Alex Henery had given the Cornhuskers a 12-10 lead with 1:44 left, Texas answered. McCoy mustered a late drive to put the Longhorns in position for a game-winning kick. But as he attempted to run a final play from scrimmage, McCoy appeared to have allowed the game clock to expire as he threw the ball out of bounds. Nebraska players charged the field thinking they had won the game, but game officials ruled there was one second left. Hunter Lawrence took advantage of the remaining time to drill a 46-yard field goal, pushing the Longhorns into the BCS title game. Memories of the extra play will resonate throughout history for Nebraska fans who already believe they were jobbed out of a chance at a surprise Big 12 title.