NCF Nation: Josh Stewart


Of the five major conferences, the Big 12 had the fewest players leave early for the NFL draft with only three. The departures of those three players, however, leave massive holes in their former offenses.

Below is a breakdown of those three players and who will be counted on to fill their shoes:

[+] EnlargeJosh Stewart
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsJosh Stewart's decision to go pro might not result in an early selection.
Leaving: Oklahoma State WR Josh Stewart

The replacement: Tyreek Hill

In a mild surprise, Stewart elected to go pro, even though he was given a Day 3 (fourth through seventh rounds) draft grade. Stewart might not get drafted high, but he has been a critical piece on the Oklahoma State offense as a dynamic slot receiver the past three years.

Due to inconsistent quarterbacking early in the season and a foot injury late, Stewart finished with only 60 receptions for 707 and three touchdowns. Stewart still ranked eighth in the Big 12 in receiving. But the season before, he had 101 receptions for 1,287 yards and seven touchdowns. Stewart’s numbers were down, but he was still Oklahoma State’s top playmaker, both as a receiver and a returner (Stewart was fourth nationally in punt returns).

The good news is the Cowboys might have just the player to replace him. Hill is the No. 4-rated junior college player in the country out of Garden City (Kan.) Community College. Hill had offers from Alabama, Florida State and USC, and Texas made an especially strong push to land him late, but Hill ultimately stuck with his commitment to Oklahoma State and signed with the Cowboys.

The 5-foot-8, 190-pound Hill was a running back in junior college, but the Cowboys plan to use him as a slot receiver. Hill has run the 100 meters in 10.19 seconds, which would make him one of the fastest players in college football.

Hill has the speed and the moves. If he can consistently catch the ball, the Cowboys could have yet another dangerous playmaker operating out of the slot -- and as a punt returner -- next season.

[+] EnlargeShock Linwood
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesShock Linwood has already played a key role in Baylor's rushing attack.
Leaving: Baylor RB Lache Seastrunk

The replacement: Shock Linwood

Seastrunk went into this season on the short list of Heisman contenders. While he was never a threat to win the Heisman, Seastrunk still led the Big 12 with 1,117 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns and an average of 7.45 yards per carry as Baylor led the nation in scoring and captured the school’s first Big 12 title.

Even with Seastrunk bolting early for the draft, the Bears figure to feature another prolific offense next season, thanks to the return of quarterback Bryce Petty and wideout Antwan Goodley. If Linwood performs the way he did as Seastrunk’s replacement last season, then the Bears' offense might not miss a beat.

After gashing defenses in mop-up time, Linwood finally got meaningful snaps in a prime-time Thursday matchup with Oklahoma in early November. When Seastrunk strained his groin and Glasco Martin suffered a knee injury, Linwood took over in the Baylor backfield and the Sooners had no answer for him. Linwood cut his way to 182 rushing yards on 23 carries, with most of his damage coming in the second half as the Bears coasted to a 41-12 win.

Linwood followed that up with 187 yards in Baylor’s 63-34 victory over Texas Tech the next week. As a result, despite being Baylor’s third-team tailback, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing and averaged 6.88 yards per carry, second in the league only to Seastrunk.

With Seastrunk and Martin gone for good, Linwood will be the featured back, and he has the talent and skill to put up huge numbers over an entire season.

Leaving: Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro

The replacement: Jakeem Grant

There was no player like Amaro in college football this season. The unanimous All-American had 106 catches for 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns. He was too fast for linebackers; too strong for defensive backs.

The Red Raiders obviously don’t have anyone resembling Amaro’s skill set on their roster. But they do have an inside receiver in Grant who has the talent to replace some of that production.

As a sophomore this season, Grant hauled in 65 passes for 796 yards and seven touchdowns. The 5-foot-6, 160-pound dynamo was also fifth in the Big 12 in plays of 20 yards or more.

Due to some immaturity, Grant was benched for Texas Tech’s regular-season finale against Texas. But he got coach Kliff Kingsbury’s message and responded with 125 all-purpose yards, including six receptions for 89 yards and two touchdowns, in the Red Raiders’ 37-23 upset of Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl.

Grant probably won’t be able to replicate what Amaro accomplished this season. But his unique quickness and speed could make Grant one of the best playmakers in the Big 12 in 2014.

AT&T Cotton Bowl preview

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
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Oklahoma State will want to strike another blow for the Big 12, Missouri will want to defend the SEC’s reputation. It should be a good one.

OSU and Missouri battle in the AT&T Cotton Bowl (7:30 pm ET, FOX) on Friday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Here’s a preview of one of the most evenly matched games of this bowl season.

Who to Watch: Missouri defensive end Michael Sam. Look out Clint Chelf, Sam is coming for you and he’s been a terror for opposing offenses throughout the year. He led the SEC with 10.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. The senior brings a combination of acceleration and athleticism to the table that is very difficult for offenses to stop. If OSU has any hope to win, it can’t let Sam spend his holiday season in the backfield in hot pursuit of Chelf, the Cowboys quarterback, and OSU's running backs.

What to Watch: The interior lines. Missouri has a strong group in the trenches, and OSU’s success has mirrored its ability to control the line of scrimmage. Whoever wins the battle of the big fellas will probably win the game. Both teams have very talented skill players, like OSU receiver Josh Stewart and Missouri running back Henry Josey, who can make plays if given the chance. How do you take those explosive players out of the equation? Win the battle up front.

Why to Watch: The matchup between OSU cornerback Justin Gilbert and Mizzou receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is one reason. The battle between former Big 12 foes is another. These two teams know each other better than the normal bowl matchup, and the Cowboys will be looking to strike another blow for the Big 12 after Oklahoma’s Sugar Bowl win, while the Tigers will be looking to redeem the SEC. The Sooners’ win over Alabama could very well ramp up the intensity in this one.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 35, Missouri 34. The Cowboys prevail in one of the best games of the bowl season. Neither team dominates in the trenches, so this one is decided by turnovers and key plays on special teams. A late turnover by the Tigers helps OSU score a late touchdown to snatch the victory out of the hands of their former conference rival.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 13

November, 21, 2013
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Four Big 12 teams are on byes this weekend, but there is no shortage of storylines in Week 13:

1. Who’s the king of the conference? The Big 12 title race won’t officially be over after this weekend’s big showdown, but by the end of Saturday we should know whether Baylor or Oklahoma State is the conference’s top team. If the Bears win, they’re one big step closer to being No. 3 in the polls and fighting for a spot in the national title game. Oklahoma State sets up a three-way tie at the top of the Big 12 standings with a home victory, and then things get messy and crazy. But the Cowboys would assert themselves as the best of the bunch with that upset.

[+] EnlargeClint Chelf
William Purnell/Icon SMIClint Chelf and No. 10 Oklahoma State are out to prove that they are the Big 12's best team when they host No. 4 Baylor on Saturday night.
2. Can OSU go four quarters? Of all the nine teams the Bears have defeated this season, only Kansas State has taken them deep into the fourth quarter. That was a 35-25 game on the road. Baylor’s average margin of victory in its eight other games has been 48 points. The Cowboys have enough talent in all three phases to challenge Baylor, but can they keep this game close entering the fourth and survive late?

3. Winning the battle of the injury report: Baylor doesn’t know if running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin will be available to play Oklahoma State. Top Bears linebacker Bryce Hager could be out, too. And the Cowboys need top playmaker Josh Stewart back on the field after he missed the win over Texas. Cornerback Justin Gilbert got banged up against Texas but has said he won’t miss Baylor. Don’t expect Mike Gundy or Art Briles to tip their hands until kickoff.

4. Baylor tries to break Stillwater curse: The last time Baylor defeated Oklahoma State in Stillwater was 1939. Since 1994, the Cowboys are 9-0 at home against Baylor and 6-3 in Waco. There’s no obvious reason for the Bears’ longtime futility at Boone Pickens Stadium other than, you know, that BU used to be the cellar dweller of the Big 12. But they have a chance to end that slump on Saturday.

5. Kansas State: Big 12’s fourth-best team? The Wildcats are on quite a hot streak after starting 2-4 on the year. K-State has won four in a row, clinched bowl eligibility last weekend with a win over TCU and has a chance to land a signature win in the home finale against No. 20 Oklahoma. Beat the Sooners head-to-head and KSU can finish 6-3 in league play and as high as fourth place in the Big 12.

6. Trevor Knight time: Or maybe Blake Bell will start. Or it could be Kendal Thompson, which evidently would make a lot of Sooners fans happy. If the Iowa State game is any indication, we could see two or all three make appearances against Kansas State. No matter what, OU needs to find a solution to its QB carousel before the team travels to Oklahoma State on Dec. 7. This is the last chance for an in-game audition.

7. Jayhawks going for two: Kansas went more than 1,100 days between Big 12 victories. Might this program have to wait only seven days for its next one? KU knocked off West Virginia with a heavy commitment to the James Sims-powered run game and has been playing foes much closer than Iowa State has in Big 12 play. This is a big chance for the Jayhawks to notch their first road win since 2009.

8. Iowa State just wants a W: Iowa State remains winless in Big 12 play, and since knocking off Baylor 35-21 last October, ISU has won two of its last 15 games. Cyclones fans are ready for this brutal 1-9 season to end. The home finale against Kansas is as good a chance as any to at least get one win and send the program’s seniors off on a good note.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
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Here's what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 12:

1. Oklahoma State can win the big one: Mike Gundy's team went to Austin, Texas, knowing a loss knocks it out of the Big 12 title picture. It didn't have top playmaker Josh Stewart. But the Cowboys had a sound plan for shutting down the Longhorns on both sides of the ball, and they executed it very well. OSU held a Texas team that was 6-0 in the league to a season-low 13 points and handed coach Mack Brown his most lopsided home loss (38-13) in his Texas tenure. As Gundy put it after the win: This is playoff football. Win one game and the next one gets bigger. Oklahoma State won what might've been the Big 12 semifinals on Saturday. Now the Cowboys get a de facto conference title game at home next Saturday against Baylor and are in firm control of their own destiny.

[+] EnlargeLevi Norwood
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsLevi Norwood scored two TDs, as Baylor rallied for a big win against Texas Tech on Saturday.
2. What's it gonna take to beat Baylor? The Bears kindly spotted Texas Tech a 20-7 lead in the first quarter with Tech touchdown drives of 75, 89 and 75 yards. Baylor punted on two of its first three drives. Normally a start like that spells disaster for even good teams. But Baylor got back to moving the ball and took a 21-20 lead at the end of the first quarter that it never relinquished in a 63-34 victory. And the Bears did all that without Lache Seastrunk, Glasco Martin or Tevin Reese on offense. Even when this team is beating itself, it's still hard to beat.

3. Kansas finally tastes sweet victory: If you don't understand why Jayhawks fans ripped down the South end zone goal posts after KU's 31-19 home win over West Virginia, you don't recognize how much agony this fan base has had to endure in the past few seasons. Kansas won its first Big 12 game since Nov. 6, 2010, and got coach Charlie Weis his first conference win by pounding the rock against a banged-up WVU defense. Unless Kansas loses every Big 12 game from now until the end of the 2016 season, it appears the Jayhawks will not be the ones to break Baylor's record of 29 consecutive conference losses -- at least not for a long time.

4. Welcome back, OU run game: It's getting a little tiresome to constantly fluctuate between the narratives of "Oklahoma has no identity" and "Oklahoma found its identity!" this season, so why don't we just stick to the facts: The Sooners ran the ball well against Iowa State, winning a 48-10 game that was much closer early on. As a team, OU rushed for 405 yards on 44 carries, and 390 came in the game's final three quarters. The trio of Damien Williams, Brennan Clay and backup QB Trevor Knight combined for 337 yards. Going 2-to-1 on the run-pass ratio did the job this week against the Cyclones. That ISU team is also a bit of a mess at this point, so maybe it's safer -- for now -- to hold off on saying OU made some grand discovery in its run game.

5. TCU's nightmare season is almost over: The two newest members of the Big 12 are both now 4-7 and will not go bowling. But we expected West Virginia to take a step back in 2013 after basically overhauling its entire offense. The Big 12 media believed TCU would be the No. 3 team in the league this fall. Wrong on that one. For the third time this season, the Horned Frogs lost a game by three points or fewer. They've lost by more than two TDs only once. They've had bad luck and bad injuries. It's just not their year. TCU finishes with a visit from Baylor in two weeks, and Gary Patterson will have his players treating that one like their bowl game.

Best WR tandems in Big 12 history

November, 4, 2013
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The Big 12 has featured some prolific wide receiver tandems over the years.

Baylor’s Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley, however, have a chance to top that list.

[+] EnlargeAntwan Goodley, Tevin Reese
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsAntwan Goodley and Tevin Reese rank 1-2 in the Big 12 in receiving yards per game.
This season, Reese is second in the Big 12 with 118 yards receiving a game. He trails only Goodley, who leads the league with an average of 128 yards receiving. They are a big reason why the Bears are on pace to break the FBS records for points (56.0) and yards (624.9) per game that were set by Army in 1944 and Houston in 1989.

But Reese and Goodley aren’t the only big-time duos in the Big 12 this year.

Kansas State’s Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett have been lighting it up since returning from injury. The last two weeks the two have totaled five touchdown catches.

Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard lead the Sooners with five touchdowns apiece. Texas Tech’s Eric Ward and Jakeem Grant are fifth and sixth in the league in receiving. Oklahoma State’s Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore are beginning to warm up with Clint Chelf at QB. And Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis have been stalwarts in this league for years.

But who are the best tandems ever to play Big 12? We lay it out below.

Tight ends were not included (sorry Jermaine Gresham and Chase Coffman). The tandems were evaluated on what they accomplished together, not on whether their careers simply overlapped (eliminating Jeremy Maclin and Danario Alexander, for example); and, this is a list for duos, not singles, trios or quartets (apologies to Rashaun Woods, and the 2008 Oklahoma and 2010 Baylor receiving corps).

To the list:

1. Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, West Virginia (2012): In their only year in the league, this tandem was one-two in the Big 12 in receiving, combining for 224 receptions and 2,914 receiving yards. Bailey himself had 25 receiving touchdowns; nobody else in the league had more than 13. Austin, meanwhile, also rushed for 344 yards in one game at running back. As Bailey tweeted out earlier Monday morning on this topic, “case closed.”

2. Michael Crabtree and Danny Amendola, Texas Tech (2007): Crabtree got all the headlines in 2007 on his way to winning his first of two Biletnikoff awards. But out of the slot, Amendola quietly put up 109 receptions for 1,245 yards, as Tech went 9-4.

3. Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby, Texas (2008): Shipley and Cosby starred on one of the three best Big 12 teams that didn’t win a conference title. The two each had 1,000 receiving yards and double-digit TDs from QB Colt McCoy, as the Longhorns finished the year 12-1, their only loss coming on Crabtree’s game-winning touchdown in the final seconds in Lubbock. The two were also prolific on special teams, with Shipley’s kick return touchdown sparking Texas’ 45-35 comeback win over Oklahoma.

4. Justin Blackmon and Josh Cooper, Oklahoma State (2011): As with Crabtree-Amendola, Blackmon got all the attention on his way to a second Biletnikoff award. But Cooper was a pivotal piece in OSU’s first Big 12 title team, as he racked up 71 receptions out of the slot. Blackmon, of course, had a monster year with 121 catches and 18 touchdowns.

5. Kendall Wright and Terrance Williams, Baylor (2011): Reese was actually the third wheel to this duo, which shined with RGIII at quarterback. Wright was an All-American with 108 catches, 1,663 yard and 14 touchdowns. Williams was big time, too, finishing fifth in the Big 12 in receiving before taking over the No. 1 role in 2012.

6. Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills, Oklahoma (2010): Broyles led college football with 131 receptions on his way to becoming the all-time FBS leader in career catches. Stills broke OU’s freshman single-season receiving record, as the Sooners stormed back to capture the Big 12 crown after a pair of midseason losses.

7. Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas (2008): It might be difficult to remember now, but the Jayhawks used to play some ball. Meier tied Crabtree for second in the league with 97 receptions. Briscoe trailed only Dez Bryant with 1,402 receiving yards. This was an underrated duo.

8. Quincy Morgan and Aaron Lockett, Kansas State (1999): On one of the first passing teams in the Big 12, Morgan and Lockett shined. Morgan had 42 receptions for 1,007 yards and nine touchdowns and was a first-team all-conference selection. Lockett, Tyler Lockett's uncle, was a second-team all-league pick for the Wildcats, who went 11-1 and finished the year ranked sixth in the polls.

9. Jarrett Hicks and Joel Filani, Texas Tech (2005): Neither might be a household name around the Big 12 anymore, but these two were both first-team All-Big 12 selections in ’05 along with Iowa State WR Todd Blythe.

10. Mark Clayton and Travis Wilson, Oklahoma (2004): Clayton carried the moniker of best receiver in OU history until Broyles came around. Because of Adrian Peterson, Clayton’s numbers dipped in ’04, but he was still an All-American with 66 catches. Wilson led the Sooners with 11 TD grabs, as OU advanced to a second consecutive national championship game.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 8 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Texas Tech was on the brink of dropping its first game of the season, trailing West Virginia 27-16 in the third quarter. But then tight end Jace Amaro took over, QB Davis Webb made some clutch throws and the Tech defense allowed just one first down over five West Virginia possessions to end the game. Now Tech is ranked in the top 10 of the BCS standings, with a chance to surge even higher this weekend at Oklahoma.

[+] EnlargeJace Amaro
AP Photo/Chris JacksonTight end Jace Amaro caught nine passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns in the Red Raiders' win over West Virginia.
Disappointment of the week: TCU had to win in Stillwater to have any chance of factoring in the Big 12 race. But after another inept performance offensively, the Horned Frogs could be on the brink of missing out on a bowl game instead. Through three quarters, TCU did virtually nothing offensively in a 24-10 loss at Oklahoma State, as Trevone Boykin threw three more interceptions and had the lowest Big 12 Total QBR (5.9) and Adjusted QBR (27.4) of the week. TCU still needs three wins to get bowl-eligible, and as poor as the offense has looked, that might not be so easy.

Big (offensive) man on campus: For the second straight week, Webb broke the Texas Tech freshman single-game passing record with 462 yards through the air. More importantly, he quarterbacked the Red Raiders to their most impressive victory of the season yet, with two huge completions in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. The first converted a third-and-6 on a 27-yard loft to Jordan Davis. The second converted a third-and-goal from the West Virginia 10-yard line into a touchdown, putting the Red Raiders up by two scores to clinch the victory. All told, Webb completed 36 of his 50 passing attempts, and avoided taking a sack or throwing an interception. If he had scored instead of fumbling at West Virginia 1-yard line on a quarterback draw, it would have been a flawless performance.

Big (defensive) man on campus: Linebacker Eddie Lackey spearheaded Baylor’s most impressive defensive performance of the season. Lackey led the Bears with a team-high eight tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery, as Baylor held Iowa State to just 41 yards rushing. Even though the game got out of hand early, Lackey & Co. nearly pitched a shutout. But the Cyclones finally got on the board with 47 seconds remaining on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Grant Rohach to DeVondrick Nealy. The Baylor offense gets all the headlines. But after eight weeks, the Bears also lead the Big 12 in scoring defense (No. 7 in the country).

Special-teams players of the week: Josh Stewart could not be corralled in Oklahoma State’s win over TCU. Basically a one-man show offensively with 10 catches for 141 yards, Stewart also delivered the highlight of the game, taking a punt return 95 yards for a touchdown that put the Cowboys on the scoreboard in the first quarter. Stewart later somehow hauled in a pass from fellow receiver Charlie Moore over three defenders, which set up the Cowboys’ game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter. "We doubled him, we played over the top of him,” said TCU coach Gary Patterson, “and he still found ways to get there.”

Play of the week: Late in the second quarter with the Sooners still trailing Kansas, QB Blake Bell handed off to wide receiver Lacoltan Bester on an end around. Instead of continuing to run, Bester pulled up and floated a pass in stride to Sterling Shepard, who coasted into the end zone to give Oklahoma a 15-13 lead. The play energized the Sooners, who never trailed again. Had Bester not converted the trick pass, Oklahoma probably would have been in a fourth-quarter dogfight with the last-place Jayhawks.

Stat of the week: Over four Big 12 games, TCU is averaging 2.5 points per first half. The Horned Frogs have been shut out in first half already three times this season.

Quote of the week: “That’s great. I hope they keep saying it. I saw 'GameDay,' [Kirk] Herbstreit picked against us. That’s good. I hope they keep giving us that locker room material.” -- Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, on those who say the Red Raiders’ 7-0 start is a bit of fool’s gold.

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 8

October, 20, 2013
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Recognizing the best and brightest from the Big 12 in Week 8:

WR Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State: No matter who’s playing quarterback for the Cowboys, they’ve got one of the best go-to receivers in Stewart. TCU had no answers for him on Saturday. He hauled in 10 passes for 141 yards and got the scoring started late in the first quarter with wild 95-yard punt return touchdown.

Oklahoma Sooners defense: That’s about as good a bounce-back performance as you could ask for from the Sooners, following last week’s Texas loss. After the Jayhawks went ahead 13-0, they were held to 39 total yards on their final 10 drives of the day, including -2 passing yards. An inept day for KU, no question, but just what Oklahoma needed this week.

QB Bryce Petty, Baylor: Petty threw for 343 yards and two scores on 23-of-31 passing and added a rushing touchdown in the Bears’ 71-7 win over Iowa State. He had six completions of 20-plus yards and once again provided Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese with 100-plus yard games. For a guy who’d never started a game entering 2013, he continues to impress.

TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech: The best tight end in the country played up to the hype at West Virginia, catching nine passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns, including the score to finish off Tech’s 37-27 win. He’s now the No. 2 receiver in the Big 12 and leads all tight ends nationally in catches and yards, but Amaro had only one touchdown entering the day.

Baylor returners: For perhaps the first time in school history, Baylor got two returns for touchdowns on Saturday. The first was a 52-yard punt return from Levi Norwood that looked stopped 12 yards in until he cut across the field. In the game’s final minute, the Bears responded to Iowa State’s last-minute touchdown with a 97-yard kick return from Corey Coleman.

STILLWATER, Okla. -- Asked about Oklahoma State’s quarterback situation, offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said it best.

“I think it comes to a certain point where you have to make a decision,” Yurcich said. “I don’t know that it was [specifically] this or that. It was just time, I guess.”

Cowboys quarterback Clint Chelf’s time came Saturday. The senior replaced starter J.W. Walsh in the second quarter and helped spur No. 21 Oklahoma State to a 24-10 victory over TCU at Boone Pickens Stadium.

Was Chelf dominant? No. But he was effective. The Enid, Okla., native entered the game and promptly threw an interception. Yet the Cowboys had scoring opportunities on their next five possessions -- thanks in part to two TCU turnovers -- with a field goal, touchdown, turnover on downs in TCU’s red zone and back-to-back missed field goals before halftime.

[+] EnlargeClint Chelf
Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports Clint Chelf provided a steady performance after coming into the game in the second quarter against TCU.
“We felt like we needed a spark, so we made a change,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “Clint gave us some advantages in attacking their defense. Overall, I thought he managed the game well.”

Oklahoma State's offense changed for the better when Chelf entered, though it still didn’t look like the dominant unit that terrorized the Big 12 for the past few seasons. With Chelf in the game, Oklahoma State gained 278 yards on 51 plays, averaging 5.45 yards per play. With Walsh in the game, the Cowboys gained 137 yards on 28 plays, averaging 4.89 yards per play.

Gundy’s decision to go with Chelf could spark the Cowboys offense and have a major impact on the Big 12 title race. Texas Tech, Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma remain on the Cowboys’ schedule, with Oklahoma State sitting at 5-1 overall and 2-1 in conference play.

Gundy wouldn’t commit to a starting quarterback after the game.

“You gotta do what you gotta do,” said receiver Josh Stewart, who was the star of the game with 265 all-purpose yards, including a 95-yard punt return for a touchdown. “Clint came in and did his thing; now we are rolling with Clint.”

While not the runner Walsh is, Chelf brings a different dimension to the Cowboys offense with his passing skills. He has the ability to make opponents defend the width and length of the field and could force Big 12 defenses to prepare for both quarterbacks. Chelf isn’t the savior for Oklahoma State's offensive attack, but he brings more options to the table.

Gundy’s decision to turn to Chelf also sends a message to his team that nobody’s starting spot is safe. It’s about performance and on-field production.

“It’s good when you have quarterbacks battling,” Stewart said. “Right now, Chelf is our guy. He’s playing pretty good, so we’re going to roll with him.”

Last season, the Cowboys started Chelf then used Walsh in special packages at various times late in the season. A dual quarterback attack would make defensive coordinators’ preparation more difficult.

“That’s a possibility,” Yurcich said of playing both Chelf and Walsh. “They’re both good quarterbacks."

But seeing Chelf enter the game and have success was encouraging for Cowboys players as Oklahoma State begins preparations for a game at Iowa State next Saturday.

“Pretty much any guy we go with, we know we can win with,” cornerback Justin Gilbert said.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 5

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
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The Sooners notched a big nonconference road win for the Big 12, West Virginia’s defense came up big in an upset of Oklahoma State, and TCU finally found some offense against SMU.

What we learned about the Big 12 from Week 5:

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
AP Photo/Darron CummingsQuarterback Blake Bell, making his second career start, was 22-of-30 passing for 232 yards and two touchdowns in leading Oklahoma past Notre Dame.
The Sooners are a different team with Bell: This question has to be asked: How did Blake Bell not win the starting quarterback job during the preseason? Since taking over for Trevor Knight, Bell has been superb, leading the Sooners to a big 35-21 victory Saturday at Notre Dame. Bell completed 22 of 30 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns for a Total QBR of 79.1 (scale of 0 to 100), which almost certainly will go up once the strength of Notre Dame’s defense is factored into the equation. Bell also didn’t turn the ball over, as OU controlled the game from beginning to end. Save for a Nov. 7 showdown in Waco, the Sooners’ remaining slate doesn’t look nearly as daunting as it did a month ago. With Bell running the show at this level, OU is very capable of winning every game left on its schedule.

The West Virginia defense appears legit: The performance against Oklahoma State was the best by a West Virginia defense since joining the Big 12. The Mountaineers controlled the line of scrimmage to shut down OSU’s vaunted running game, and the secondary laid the lumber, knocking receivers Josh Stewart and Jhajuan Seales out of the game with big hits. The 21 points, in fact, were the fewest scored by a Cowboys offense in a loss since the 2009 Cotton Bowl. West Virginia did give up 37 to Maryland a week ago, but the six turnovers from the West Virginia offense had a lot to with that. In holding the Bedlam schools to a combined 37 points, Keith Patterson’s unit has now locked up, perennially, two of the Big 12’s highest-scoring offenses. The Mountaineers will get their shot at another on Saturday in Waco, and Baylor’s high-flying attack will provide the toughest test to date. But the West Virginia defense will give Baylor its toughest challenge yet as well.

Oklahoma State not the same offensively: The Cowboys have basically played two teams with a pulse and scored only 21 points both times. The Pokes seems to really be missing former coordinator Todd Monken and running back Joseph Randle, maybe even more than anybody thought they would. The Cowboys never found a flow offensively in Morgantown with Mike Yurcich’s play-calling, and Randle’s successor, Jeremy Smith, finished with just 1 yard on 15 carries. Given J.W. Walsh’s limitations throwing the ball downfield, it’s been awhile since an Oklahoma State offense had this many vulnerabilities.

TCU offense gains confidence with new faces: The Horned Frogs offense finally came alive late in the third quarter of a 48-17 win against SMU. And it came alive via plays from some new faces. True freshman Ty Slanina hauled in a 20-yard touchdown with four minutes left in the third quarter to break a 10-10 tie. On TCU’s next possession, former Florida transfer Ja'Juan Story took a 56-yard pass to the house to ignite the rout. Then freshman Cameron Echols-Luper returned a punt 51 yards to set up another touchdown. Going into the SMU game, Slanina, Story and Echols-Luper had a combined five touches through three games. The trio, however, figures to be a big part of the Horned Frogs' attack going forward, including next weekend in Norman.

OU at Baylor looking like the Big 12’s biggest game: With the Cowboys’ loss in Morgantown, OU-Baylor in Waco on Nov. 7 is looking more and more like the game of the year in the Big 12. Several other pivotal matchups remain (TCU-OU, the Red River Rivalry, Tech-OU, Baylor-OSU, Baylor-Tech, Bedlam). And there are still other teams (Tech, TCU, OSU, even Texas) that could play their way to the top of the conference title race. But as of today, OU-Baylor is looking like the game that will have more conference title implications than any other.

Cowboys confident in either QB

August, 8, 2013
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STILLWATER, Okla. -- Last season Oklahoma State became the first FBS team since 1996 to have three 1,000-yard passers.

Two of those passers -- Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh -- are back. But their teammates don’t seem to care which wins the starting quarterback job. They say they can put up the points with either. Or, perhaps, even both.

“Doesn’t matter to me at all,” said Josh Stewart, who led Oklahoma State in receiving last year. “They both put up big numbers without even playing the whole season.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State's Clint Chelf
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsClint Chelf passed for 1,588 yards and 15 touchdowns last season and will compete with J.W. Walsh for the starting job.
“We’re very confident in both of them.”

The Cowboys have reason to be.

After Brandon Weeden set school records during Oklahoma State’s Fiesta Bowl run in 2011, the Cowboys were left without a clear succession plan at quarterback going into 2012. Chelf and Walsh battled incoming freshman Wes Lunt for the job during spring. Then days after spring ball, coach Mike Gundy stunned everyone, even his own players, by naming Lunt the starter.

“We really had no clue what our season would look like because we didn’t have a quarterback until summertime,” Stewart said. “And it was Wes, which was a shocker to everybody because it was a freshman coming in. We had Clint, who was a veteran and J-Dub, who performed really well in the spring game. Wes was the last person we were thinking.

“It was a shocker.”

Lunt showed why Gundy picked him to start by throwing for 436 yards and four touchdowns in a shootout loss to Arizona the second game of the season. But a week later, Lunt was out of the lineup with a knee injury, and Walsh was in. And the offense kept on humming, as the Cowboys racked up 576 yards against Texas, then 625 against Iowa State.

After Walsh suffered his own knee injury -- and Lunt got knocked out again with a concussion -- Chelf was in. And the offense kept on humming. With Chelf at the helm, the Cowboys scored 55 points against West Virginia, 59 against Texas Tech and 48 at Oklahoma in a heartbreaking, overtime loss in which the Cowboys led virtually the entire game.

All told, despite shuffling through three inexperienced quarterbacks, Oklahoma State finished third in the nation in scoring, averaging almost 46 points a game.

“We were very fortunate they didn’t have any experience and still played pretty well,” Gundy said. “You feel a little better this year because they’ve been out there, they’ve played on the road, they’ve been in tough environments, they’ve executed and they certainly know the offense better than they did a year ago.”

Gundy hasn’t made either quarterback available to the media this preseason. He hasn’t indicated when he’ll name a starter, either – although he did say he would have done so already if the Cowboys weren’t facing an SEC opponent in the opener.

Because he ended last season as the starter, Chelf is the favorite to get the nod over Walsh against Mississippi State in Houston. But their teammates hinted a two-quarterback attack isn’t off the table, either.

“I’d be looking out for both of them,” said running back Jeremy Smith. “I think it’s going to be a one-two punch with those guys.”

Walsh is the better runner, and operated Oklahoma State’s goal line package late last season when he returned from injury. Chelf, meanwhile, is more comfortable throwing downfield out of the pocket.

“I think that’s got to be the scariest thing for rest of the Big 12, if we put both those guys back there at different times,” said receiver Blake Jackson. “That’s really dangerous.”

Whether they play Chelf, play Walsh or play both, the Cowboys ought to be dangerous on offense once again. Due in large part to their two quarterbacks.

“This year, we know what we have,” Stewart said. “We know what our quarterbacks can do.

“And we’re very confident, because both are great.”

Oklahoma State stacked at receiver

August, 5, 2013
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STILLWATER, Okla. -- Through the years, Oklahoma State’s high-powered offense has featured better individual receivers. Wideouts like Hart Lee Dykes, Rashaun Woods, Dez Bryant and Justin Blackmon -- who were all first-round draft picks.

Yet top to bottom, coach Mike Gundy agrees his Cowboys have never featured a deeper, more talented overall receiving corps than the one he’ll take into this season.

[+] EnlargeJosh Stewart
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsJosh Stewart is just one of the many solid players returning for the Cowboys' receiving corps this season.
“I think we have a really good group,” he said. “At times it’s a little unfair to compare guys to Dez and Blackmon -- two of the most talented guys to compete in this league.

“But from top to bottom ... we have 10 or 12 guys that I think in three weeks could play in a game and go out there with the ones and have success. So we may be as good at that position as we’ve ever been -- without having maybe a potential first-round guy.”

The Cowboys might not have that potential first-round pick, but thanks to the fortuitous timing of an injury, they do have two go-to guys.

Oklahoma State went into 2012 counting on senior Tracy Moore to take over for Blackmon as the No. 1 receiver. Moore proved up to the challenge, hauling in four touchdown passes in a shootout loss at Arizona early in the season. But a month later, Moore’s season was derailed when he suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him for the year.

“Other than (running back) Joseph Randle, before Tracy got hurt, he was our best player on offense,” Gundy said.

Moore getting hurt, however, provided a silver lining that should benefit the Cowboys this season: it cleared the way for Josh Stewart to shine out of the slot. After taking over as Oklahoma State’s primary pass-catcher, Stewart rapidly developed into one of the most dangerous receivers in college football and finished with 101 receptions, third-most in the Big 12.

And because Moore played less than 30 percent of the 2012 season, he was given a medical redshirt to come back, providing Oklahoma State with two playmakers who have shouldered the No. 1 receiver role.

“Not a lot of teams have that,” Stewart said.

Moore and Stewart will have plenty of help, too.

The Cowboys return two other starters at receiver in Charlie Moore and Blake Jackson, who combined for more than 65 receptions and 1,000 yards last season. Oklahoma State also brings back Austin Hays, who filled in admiringly after Tracy Moore got hurt with 29 catches, and Blake Webb, who got the start against Oklahoma.

“It’s crazy because last year I thought that we had great depth at the position,” said Jackson, who plays on the inside opposite Stewart. “Now getting Tracy back for another year, it’s crazy how many good receivers we have. We have 12 guys that could start right now and we’d be productive and keep moving.”

Among those 12 are underclassmen David Glidden, Brandon Sheperd and Jhajuan Seales, who all are vying for time. Seales has been especially turning heads. Gundy singled him out as someone who developed physically during the offseason as much as anyone on the squad.

“Anyone in the starting lineup go down, we’ve got someone that could fill them up at every spot and do good, and I’m not just saying that,” Stewart said. “We’ve had pretty good depth the last three years -- but nothing like this.”

The Cowboys are also about to reap the benefits of more fruitful recruiting efforts. In its most recent signing class, Oklahoma State landed four-star receivers Ra'Shaad Samples and Marcell Ateman, incoming freshmen who appear talented enough to contribute right away.

“The success we’re having has a lot to do with this, the previous success,” Tracy Moore said. “People see what Blackmon did, people see what Dez Bryant did. They want to come here and we’re getting top guys now."

The Cowboys don’t have a Blackmon or a Bryant. But the position in Stillwater has never been better.

“We are so stacked on receivers,” Moore said. “We’re definitely pretty stacked.”
DALLAS -- During this era of realignment, a sense of unfamiliarity has become common. Yet that doesn’t make the getting-to-know-you phase any easier.

In 2012, every Big 12 team faced the challenge of preparing for a conference game against an unfamiliar opponent. As teams prepped for TCU and West Virginia during their first season in the league, there was plenty of uncertainty about the different challenges the newcomers would bring to the table.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” Texas Tech defensive tackle Kerry Hyder said.

[+] EnlargeDana Holgorsen
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsDana Holgorsen and the Mountaineers have had a full season to acclimate to the rigors of Big 12 football.
Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat added, “It’s kind of like those first three games against teams not in your conference. When I first saw West Virginia on film I was like ‘Wow, we’re really playing them.’ Everybody talked about playing them but to actually play them was cool, it made it real.”

TCU brought solid defense, West Virginia brought explosive offense and nobody in the Big 12 had a great feel for their new conference rivals.

“You had to do more studying than usual,” Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard said. “You may have seen that scheme but you haven’t seen their personnel. If I’ve played a guy at Texas three times, you kind of know a little about them, but I hadn’t played against any of them.”

It wasn’t a major issue that decided games, but it was a noticeable change from the weekly routine of preparing for a well-known conference opponent.

“Every year is different,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. “We knew less about TCU and West Virginia a year ago, but this year’s teams [at TCU and WVU] are going to be different than those teams. I don’t know if we have a leg up this year but it’s good to have a library of thoughts and film.”

For the first time since 2010, the Big 12 will enter this football season with the same members as it had the previous season, giving teams a better idea of what it is going to take to win a conference title in 2013.

“This year we’ll have a better game plan for them, we’ll be more prepared for them,” Hyder said of the newest conference members. “Experience helps in every aspect of life.”

On the flip side, TCU and West Virginia will have a much better understanding of what it takes to have success in the Big 12. TCU coach Gary Patterson and WVU coach Dana Holgorsen did their best to prepare their teams with their words, but actually experiencing a Big 12 schedule was a better teacher than anything Patterson or Holgorsen could have said.

After one season in the Big 12, TCU safety Sam Carter came away with a much better idea of what success in the new conference requires.

“One mistake can cost you a game,” Carter said. “Not just on defense, our offense understands that mistakes can kill you in this conference. Our first Big 12 loss [to Iowa State], we gave up a few big plays, and coaches had been telling us the whole summer that one mistake can cost you in the Big 12. And it came up and really cost us in a few games.”

The Mountaineers had a slight advantage with Holgorsen at the helm. He had an extensive Big 12 background with coaching experience at Oklahoma State and Texas Tech before taking over at WVU in 2011. However, Holgorsen believes it will take at least two seasons before the Mountaineers really feel at home in the conference.

“I did my best of explaining what it’s going to be like at the different places,” Holgorsen said. “After a couple years, you start getting some familiarity with it, the fan base understands it, the administration understands it and your players understand it, and they can talk about it with the other guys.”

While the Mountaineers have more experience after one season in the conference, Holgorsen said he’ll still have some teaching do to. For example, since the Mountaineers hosted the Sooners in 2012, the players still don't know what it’s like to play OU in Norman, Okla. Once they have played in stadiums across the Big 12, then he’ll be more confident that his team has a complete understanding of what Big 12 football is all about.

“It’s going to take time for half of our team to understand what it’s like in Lubbock, Texas,” he said. “And be able to relay that to the other kids in the locker room."

All these variables add to what could be one of the most entertaining Big 12 seasons in recent memory.

“It’s the first year with everybody knowing what everybody is going to do,” said OSU receiver Josh Stewart, a junior who has never experienced playing a conference schedule that featured the exact same teams he played the previous year. “It’s going to be some exciting football in the Big 12.”
Every year, we see players take the leap. It's a natural progression in college. Contributors become impact players. Solid starters become superstars and there are plenty of moves in between. Only players who have played two full seasons in college football count. That means no freshmen or transfers. My regrets to guys such as Calvin Barnett, Lache Seastrunk and Devonte Fields.

Here are my picks for the Big 12's most improved players:

[+] EnlargeJosh Stewart
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports Oklahoma State's Josh Stewart stepped in at receiver and delivered a 101-catch, 1,210-yard season.
Josh Stewart, WR, Oklahoma State: Stewart takes the honor of being the Big 12's most improved player by a landslide. A year ago, he was a bit player on a high-powered offense, grabbing 19 catches for 291 yards. The Cowboys lost their three best receivers from last season's team (Justin Blackmon, Josh Cooper, Mike Harrison) and needed somebody to step up. This season, Stewart answered the bell for an offense that needed him, catching 101 balls for 1,210 yards and seven scores.

Kerry Hyder, DL, Texas Tech: Hyder was arguably the biggest reason for Texas Tech's defensive resurgence this season, racking up 14 tackles for loss to rank fifth in the Big 12. A year ago, he had just five among his 42 tackles. This year, he made 56 stops, but had 5.5 sacks alone and broke up four passes.

Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor: Williams was a really good receiver a year ago, putting together maybe the quietest 900-yard receiving season ever. This year, though, he was better than anyone could have predicted. I voted for him for the Biletnikoff Award after leading the nation with 1,832 yards and 12 scores on 97 catches, up from 59 a year ago. He made the jump from great player to true superstar. He'll be an NFL first-rounder.

Jason Verrett, CB, TCU: Verrett had a nightmare start to 2011, getting burned by Robert Griffin III in a painful loss in Waco to begin the season. This year, he was unquestionably the Big 12's best shutdown corner and arguably one of the best in the country. Ask any Big 12 receiver. He's fast, physical and his great hands helped him grab six interceptions (fifth-most nationally) and break up a ridiculous 16 passes. That's 22 pass defenses. No other Big 12 player had more than 15.

Tony Pierson, RB, Kansas: Pierson was a great complement to power back James Sims, and ranked 10th in the league with 760 yards on just 117 carries. While Sims was suspended to begin the season, he had a pair of 120-yard games and topped 200 yards against Texas Tech, but his yards per carry (6.5) gets him on this list. Among the 25 Big 12 backs with at least 75 carries this year, only Seastrunk had a higher yards-per-carry average.

Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma: Johnson was a good tackle last season, but he made a decent argument for being the best in the Big 12 this year. He was solid all season long, but seeing him shut down Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields in the regular season finale made a big impact on me. He also played well against possible top-five pick Damontre Moore, who was largely quiet in the Cotton Bowl loss to Texas A&M.

Bryce Hager, LB, Baylor: Hager's tackle numbers are a little inflated because of Baylor's early defensive struggles, but he led the Big 12 with 124 stops after making just 13 in limited duty a year ago as a freshman. If you watched him late in the year against K-State or UCLA, you saw how good Hager and his partner in crime at linebacker, Eddie Lackey, could be. It seemed like he was in Collin Klein's face all day, and the game may have been different without him.

Big 12 players to watch in 2013

January, 15, 2013
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As we finish wrapping up the 2012 season, it's time to look forward today. Here's a look at a few players you need to keep an eye on in 2013:

Casey Pachall, QB, TCU: If Pachall returns to form, you can bet on TCU as the Big 12 favorite in 2013, especially after Joseph Randle left Oklahoma State. He's officially back on the team after spending last fall in a treatment facility for drug and alcohol addiction, and we'll see what reports are out of spring in Fort Worth. He'll have to prove he's the same player and earn his job back, but if he is and he does, and TCU's defense does what it did in 2012 ... look out. Pachall was completing 66 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and a pick before his season ended following a DUI arrest in early October. The entire Big 12 race could very well shift on Pachall's return and subsequent development.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
Michael C. Johnson/US PresswireJohnathan Gray rushed for 701 yards and three touchdowns during the 2012 season.
Johnathan Gray, RB, Texas: Gray emerged as the most consistent back for the Longhorns this past season, becoming the second consecutive true freshman to lead the Longhorns in rushing. Gray rushed for more touchdowns than any back in high school football history, and if he can build on his 700 yards on fewer than 150 carries from 2012, he'll look more and more like the player Texas hopes he can be. He also might help Texas look like a real Big 12 title contender.

Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor: No player in the Big 12 was hotter at the end of 2012, and Seastrunk already made a well-publicized statement that he's planning on winning the Heisman Trophy in 2013. We'll see about that, but Seastrunk began November with fewer than 200 yards rushing. He ended the season as one of three Big 12 backs with at least 1,000 rushing yards. Craziness.

Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia: West Virginia's defense got all kinds of heat from critics and opposing offenses last year, but Joseph was the bright spot and a piece to build around for the future. He and fellow true freshman Isaiah Bruce showed real promise, but Joseph was sixth in the Big 12 with 102 tackles, forced three fumbles and had a pair of picks and seven tackles for loss. He's a stud.

Josh Stewart, WR, Oklahoma State: Stewart takes my title as the Big 12's most underrated player entering 2013. He doesn't have the same reputation as an elite receiver, but he has put up the numbers to support the idea that he's exactly that. He caught 101 balls for 1,210 yards and will be the Big 12's leading returning receiver in 2013 by more than 150 yards. Only three Big 12 receivers hit triple-digit receptions last season, too. No returning receiver had more than 82.

Jake Heaps, QB, Kansas: Heaps is a wild card, but if KU is truly going to get out of the Big 12 basement (or win a game in Big 12 play), it needs Heaps' transition after transferring to go better than Dayne Crist's. The BYU transfer, who signed on with the Jayhawks and Charlie Weis after Weis' hiring, threw 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in almost two seasons as the Cougars' starter. He very nearly quarterbacked BYU to a win at Texas in 2011, too.

Aaron Green, RB, TCU: Green is another high-impact transfer this year, or at least could be. The San Antonio native sat out last year after transferring in from Nebraska. He was the No. 3 running back in the 2011 recruiting class and No. 11 on the ESPN 150. We saw this year the kind of impact a super recruit like Seastrunk can have, and TCU needs a big hitter in the backfield. We'll see what Green can do after rushing for 105 yards and two scores on 24 touches at Nebraska in 2011.

Michael Brewer, QB, Texas Tech: Brewer followed in Garrett Gilbert's footsteps in high school with a huge career at Lake Travis in Austin, but here's guessing his college career will be much more impressive. Brewer earned a little time this year behind Seth Doege, but I love what I saw from him in spot duty, and he'll be responsible for what kind of a start the Kliff Kingsbury Era gets off to in Lubbock. Here's guessing it'll be a good one.

The All-Big 12 Bowl Team

January, 10, 2013
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The Big 12 had nine teams in bowl games this season, and here is the best of the best in the Big 12's postseason. Let's get to it.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsDavid Ash's big plays fueled Texas' comeback against Oregon State.
QB: David Ash, Texas: He edges out Clint Chelf because of his game-changing plays in the Longhorns' win against Oregon State. Ash had the best play of the entire bowl season with a crazy escape and acrobatic touchdown pass to Johnathan Gray, and he hit Marquise Goodwin on a 36-yard bomb to put the Longhorns ahead in the final minutes. He finished 21-of-33 with 241 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 22 yards and a score.

RB: Lache Seastrunk, Baylor: Seastrunk helped Baylor rout UCLA with 138 yards and a score on 16 carries in the Bears' Holiday Bowl win.

RB: Glasco Martin IV, Baylor: How many rushers did the Big 12 have this bowl season who had at least 95 yards? Two, and both played for Baylor. Martin scored three touchdowns in the Holiday Bowl and carried the ball 21 times for 98 yards. Heck of a night for the Bears backs.

WR: Darrin Moore, Texas Tech: Moore was the most consistent receiver in the bowl season with 11 catches for 84 yards, keeping the chains moving for the Red Raiders in their Meineke Car Care Bowl win against Minnesota.

WR: Stedman Bailey, West Virginia: Despite playing in a snowstorm, Bailey had the best performance of any Big 12 receiver. He caught eight balls for 121 yards and a pair of touchdowns. It wasn't enough to get the Pinstripe Bowl win, but no other Mountaineer scored a touchdown.

WR: Marquise Goodwin, Texas: The track star's touches were limited, but he had a huge impact. His 36-yard grab with 2:24 to play proved to be the game winner, and he finished with four catches for 68 yards. He also had one carry -- which he turned into a 64-yard touchdown, looking as fast as any player in college football while streaking to the end zone.

TE: Ernst Brun Jr., Iowa State: Brun caught four passes for 102 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown, to get the first-quarter party started for the Cyclones, which scored 17 points in the quarter. The rest of the game was forgettable, but Brun had one of the longest plays of Iowa State's season.

OL: Cyril Richardson, Baylor: The Bears' left guard was a big reason why Baylor had so much success running the ball. Baylor racked up 306 yards on the ground against UCLA.

OL: Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State: Purdue's Kawann Short is a stud and arguably the team's best player, but Taylor helped Oklahoma State rack up 58 points and helped hold the Boilermakers defensive tackle to just one tackle and one sack. Short had minimal impact throughout the game.

OL: LaAdrian Waddle, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders ran the ball well -- on the few occasions they did -- and Seth Doege had plenty of time. Waddle was a big reason why for both.

OL: Lane Johnson, Oklahoma: Texas A&M wrecking ball Damontre Moore declared for the NFL draft before the Cotton Bowl, but credit Johnson at tackle, who helped hold him to five tackles, one tackle for loss and zero sacks, despite Landry Jones throwing 48 passes.

OL: Ivory Wade, Baylor: Those 306 yards rushing for the Bears didn't come easy. Most of them came on the interior, and Wade was a solid presence in the middle of the line.

DEFENSE

DL: Chris McAllister, Baylor: He was one of a handful of guys to hold UCLA's Johnathan Franklin to 34 yards on 14 carries, had five tackles, including two sacks, and batted down a pass to help keep UCLA's passing game grounded.

DL: Alex Okafor, Texas: Okafor is my defensive MVP of the Big 12 bowl season. He gave Oregon State's offensive line nightmares and helped the Longhorns stage a late comeback with 4.5 sacks, five tackles for loss and eight stops. He also forced a fumble.

DL: Meshak Williams, Kansas State: The Wildcats had a rough night against Oregon, but Williams played pretty well with nine tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.

DL: Terrance Lloyd, Baylor: Lloyd was part of the Baylor gang who helped UCLA have its worst running game of the season. He had four tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack. No zone read for you.

LB: Terence Garvin, West Virginia: Garvin was everywhere for the West Virginia defense, which largely struggled in a blowout loss to Syracuse. He forced a fumble, recovered a fumble, broke up a pass, had two sacks, made three tackles for loss and had 15 tackles.

LB: Tyler Johnson, Oklahoma State: Johnson blew up what Purdue likes to refer to as its "passing game." He made six tackles, had two sacks and forced two fumbles, including a huge hit on Purdue quarterback Robert Marve.

LB: Eddie Lackey, Baylor: Lackey was another part of Baylor's defense that put together one of its best games of the season. He made 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack and five tackles.

DB: Jason Verrett, TCU: Most of Michigan State's night was frustrating in the passing game before some late success, and Verrett was a big reason for those struggles. He broke up two passes, made a tackle for loss and had 12 tackles.

DB: D.J. Johnson, Texas Tech: Johnson made 14 tackles and is on this team for one of the biggest plays of Texas Tech's season. The defense hadn't forced a turnover since Oct. 20, but Johnson picked off a Gophers pass in the final minute with Minnesota driving and the game tied. He returned it 39 yards, helping to set up the winning field goal as time expired.

DB: Jeremy Reeves, Iowa State: Reeves returned a Cody Green interception 31 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter of the Liberty Bowl loss. He had six tackles with a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.

DB: Daytawion Lowe, Oklahoma State: No second-half comebacks for Purdue. Lowe opened the half with a 37-yard fumble return for a score and made seven tackles with half a tackle for loss.

SPECIALISTS

KR: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech: This one is pretty simple. Grant returned a kickoff 99 yards for a score, giving Texas Tech a 7-3 lead early in the first quarter of its Meineke Car Care Bowl win.

PR: Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State: Purdue faked a punt to keep its opening drive alive but punted on its next set of downs. The always-shifty Stewart delivered a 64-yard punt return, giving Oklahoma State the ball on the Purdue 19-yard line. The Cowboys scored for a 7-0 lead to kick off the Heart of Dallas Bowl rout.

K: Jaden Oberkrom, TCU: He edges out Texas Tech's Ryan Bustin, who kicked a 28-yard winner, for making all three of his attempts, including a crazy 53-yarder for a 16-14 lead with 2:42 to play. He also made kicks of 47 and 31 yards.

P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State: He narrowly edges out Oklahoma's Tress Way (five punts, three inside 20, long of 58 yards, average 49.4 yards) for this award after pinning Purdue inside its 20-yard line on two of his three punts. He boomed a 65-yarder and averaged nearly 53 yards on his three punts. He was more valuable for Oklahoma State because field position mattered to Purdue. It didn't to Texas A&M.

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