NCF Nation: Justin Tucker
Alas, here's a look at the 10 moments we'll remember most from the 2011 season. These aren't necessarily the best or worst moments, but simply that: memorable. When we look back on 2011, this is what will stick out.
2. Iowa State storms the field ... and bowl season. Oklahoma State looked headed for a showdown with Oklahoma to play for a national title, but Iowa State had other things in mind. Jared Barnett topped 375 yards passing and 75 yards rushing in just his third start to give the Cyclones a win over a top six team for the first time in 58 tries. It set off a party on the field at Jack Trice Stadium and put ISU into its second bowl in three years.
3. Texas A&M and Missouri say adios, muchachos. The Aggies had enough of Texas and wanted some of Alabama. Missouri had enough drama and wanted some stability. Texas A&M made it official in late September and Mizzou followed in early November. Texas A&M called it a "100-year decision."
4. The Big 12 says hello to two new friends. With Texas A&M and Missouri gone, expansion was the obvious necessary step. The Big 12 took it by welcoming Southwest Conference expatriate TCU home into the Big 12 on Oct. 11. And 17 days later, West Virginia followed, announcing its plans to help expand the Big 12's footprint wayyy, wayyy east.
5. The Aggies sound like a broken record. Shattered record, maybe. Texas A&M started as a Big 12 title contender with a top-10 ranking. It led 12 games by double digits. It lost six games. How'd it happen? Nobody knew, and as a result, coach Mike Sherman was fired. Over and over, it was the same story. The 20-3 and 35-17 halftime leads over Oklahoma State and Arkansas evaporated. The Aggies blew big leads over Missouri, Kansas State and Texas, too.
6. Oklahoma State finds new life ... twice. Most were resigned to Alabama and LSU meeting again for the title, but OSU made it interesting with a satisfying 44-10 embarrassment of Oklahoma, putting late pressure on voters and finishing behind Alabama by the slimmest margin in BCS history. And once OSU was in its bowl game, Stanford's Jordan Williamson yanked a 35-yard kick to send the game into overtime, where the Cowboys capitalized in a 41-38 win.
7. Texas grabs Lone Star Showdown bragging rights for...ever? The Longhorns were the underdogs in a veritable powder keg that was Kyle Field on Thanksgiving night. Then Colt, er, Case McCoy got loose for a 25-yard scramble that set up Justin Tucker's game-winning 40-yard field goal that gave Texas bragging rights in the now-defunct rivalry for as long as it would like. The Longhorns say they have no plans to continue the rivalry after the Aggies leave for the SEC.
8. The Little Apple hosts a classic. You never know when the longest game in Big 12 history is going to show up. Kansas State and Texas A&M played it. The Aggies led by 10 midway through the fourth quarter, but Collin Klein rallied the Wildcats and got the 53-50 win on — what else — a QB sneak for a game-winning touchdown.
10. Dan Beebe gets the ax. The damage was done. Beebe was seen as someone who ceded to Texas at all costs, even if he did it as a last option to keep the Big 12 together in the summer of 2010. That hurt the league, and Oklahoma called for Beebe to be removed. He was, and replaced by interim commissioner Chuck Neinas, who had helped many of the league's ADs hire coaches. A permanent replacement still hasn't been named.
Honorable mention: OSU FB Kye Staley and Texas TE Blaine Irby score touchdowns in emotional returns from catastrophic knee injuries, K-State runs out of time in a near upset over Oklahoma State (and an earthquake followed), Kansas State becomes the first team to intercept RG3 and stays undefeated in an "upset" of Baylor, RG3 has his version of the "Immaculate Reception"; Missouri QB James Franklin goes beast mode on a 20-yard touchdown run in a win over Texas A&M; Missouri coach Gary Pinkel "ices" his own kicker in a loss to Arizona State; Kansas reaches a new low and trails Oklahoma State 56-7 at halftime; Ryan Broyles' career meets an unfair end with a torn ACL.
Best offensive player: Terrance Ganaway, RB, Baylor. Ganaway quite literally "put da team on his back, doe." The 250-pounder rumbled for 247 yards and two touchdowns on a school-record 42 carries. Robert Griffin III was out with a concussion and Baylor needed somebody to step up. Ganaway did it in spectacular fashion, helping the Bears hold off Texas
Best play: Texas kicker Justin Tucker's 40-yard game-winner to beat Texas A&M. No pressure, man. Just the bragging rights of one of America's quintessential football states for a long, long time. Tucker's kick was perfect. A no-doubter as soon as he kicked it. No matter what happens in the future, Tucker will always hold a special place in burnt orange lore. An ugly game with a gorgeous finish for the Longhorns.
Best game: Baylor 66, Texas Tech 42. So, Texas and Texas A&M had all the drama, but it was a pretty unattractive game. The Bears and Red Raiders in Cowboys Stadium was a ton of fun and had a different kind of drama. We had a crazy trick play, a team trying to rally without perhaps the nation's best player, big plays by his replacement, tons of turnovers and lots of offensive talent that put a ton of points on the board. This one was just fun to watch. A lot more fun than the Lone Star Finale.
Coolest play: Texas Tech's mistaken identity TD. Texas Tech backup quarterback Jacob Karam's No. 3 jersey was torn in pregame, and the Red Raiders gave him a nameless No. 85 jersey instead. Quarterback Seth Doege faked a handoff to the running back and tossed it to Karam on the end around, and we can only assume Baylor had no idea who No. 85 was. Karam slung it downfield to Darrin Moore, who caught it over a defender, stayed on his feet and trotted in the last few yards for a 43-yard score that cut Baylor's lead to 24-21 midway through the second quarter.
Best fashion sense: Texas A&M. The Aggies broke out maroon jerseys, maroon pants and maroon helmets for the first time since 2006 in their rivalry finale against Texas. A solid look.
Craziest statistic: Texas A&M. I heard it on Thursday and double-checked it. In the Aggies' six losses this season, they've been outscored 83-0 in the third quarter.
Best team performance: Texas. The Longhorns didn't do it pretty, but the defense kept them in it with a defensive touchdown, and Quandre Diggs added a huge 81-yard punt return to help Texas outscore the Aggies 17-0 in the third quarter. Texas played in one of the most frenzied atmospheres in the league this year, and strung together a huge late drive after the Aggies snatched the lead with 1:48 to play. Texas showed a lot of guts in this one.
Best appearance in relief: Nick Florence, QB, Baylor. RG3 came back in after taking a hit to the head and having it slammed against the turf. He looked dazed, but returned to the game and ran for a touchdown. When the Bears returned from halftime, though, the Bears announced that Griffin was done. Enter Florence. He made plays and threw two 40-plus yard touchdown passes, completing 9-of-12 passes for 151 yards and two scores.
Worst moment: The clock running out in Texas' and Missouri's victories. To me, it's nothing but sad. I watched games like Ohio State and Michigan on Saturday. It's rivalry weekend. The idea of never playing that game again is insanity. In the Big 12, though, it's accepted. The Border Showdown and Lone Star Showdown are done for awhile, and to me, it's the worst aspect of the recent realignment moves.
Best tweets: Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M. Gray was hurt and stuck on the sidelines in a letter jacket after suffering a stress fracture in his shoulder against Kansas. Gray, though, was tweeting and taking photos from the sideline and giving some love to his replacement, Ben Malena, who played outstanding against the Aggies.
Justin Tucker, K, Texas: Tucker's 40-yard kick against Texas A&M will live forever in Texas lore. Case McCoy helped set up the game-winning kick with a 25-yard scramble after the Aggies took the lead with 1:48 left to play, but Tucker's boot was perfect as time expired for the 27-25 victory and the Longhorns got the better of the Aggies in the last Lone Star Showdown for some time.
Terrance Ganaway, RB, Baylor: Ganaway's previous career highs were 24 carries in this season's opener against TCU and 200 yards in an October victory over Iowa State. With Robert Griffin III out after taking a hit to the head, Ganaway had to carry the load, and he did exactly that. He carried the ball 42 times for 246 yards and a two touchdowns in Baylor's 66-42 win over Texas Tech. Big-time performance in a big spot. The 42 carries were a school record and the 66 points were the most in a conference game in school history.
James Franklin, QB, Missouri: You've got to love some redemption. Franklin threw three first-half interceptions and two of them helped provide Kansas with an early 10-0 lead. Franklin rebounded, though, and threw touchdown passes of 25 and 53 yards to help Missouri beat Kansas 24-10 in the last chapter of that rivalry for awhile, too. He also ran for 45 yards on 17 carries and finished with 187 yards on 14-of-22 passing.
Oklahoma's defense: When the only touchdown of the day is a pass off a defensive lineman's helmet, that's a good day. Iowa State's Jared Barnett put Iowa State up 6-3 off a fortunate bounce, but the Cyclones didn't score again in a 26-6 loss to Oklahoma. The Sooners suffocated the Cyclones and forced four turnovers during a lackluster day for the offense without receiver Ryan Broyles. The defense picked up the slack after a rough outing last week against Baylor.
As it should after 118 games between Texas and Texas A&M.
But when history finally did arrive it wrapped it arms around Justin Tucker, Case McCoy, and the Texas football team.
Texas 27. Texas A&M 25.
"Instant classic," linebacker Keenan Robinson said.
More like a game and a moment forever frozen in time. With one 48-yard drive and one 40-yard kick as time expired, a middling Texas team became instantly unforgettable.
"To know that's what we accomplished, to know what this means and you hardly have the words for it," cornerback Carrington Byndom said.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The script was so familiar and all too painful for the Aggies.
Texas A&M wasn't perfect in the first half, but it played well enough to firmly be in control, just like it was in four of its earlier losses this season.
And then ... there went that third quarter again. Followed by some big-time fourth-quarter drama.
Time for some instant analysis:
How the game was won: Justin Tucker hit a 40-yard field goal as time expired to beat the Aggies 27-25. Texas A&M took the lead with 1:48 remaining, but the Longhorns' offense awakened with a huge drive, highlighted by a 25-yard scramble by Case McCoy.
Turning point: Texas got the ball back with 1:48 left and a fresh-faced quarterback. The Longhorns made a history-changing drive to seize control of the rivalry for who knows how long. So long to Texas University, indeed.
Stat of the game: Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill completed 20 of 49 passes for 224 yards and three interceptions. The normally solid, reliable senior had his worst career outing in a huge spot against a tough defense. His two turnovers helped swing the game in favor of the Longhorns as well.
Player of the game: Justin Tucker, K, Texas. He'll go down in history for that one. His 40-yard kick silenced the Kyle Field crowd and emptied the stands with amazing speed before being mobbed by his teammates as "The Eyes of Texas" blared through Aggieland.
Best call: Bryan Harsin's first-half trickery. The Longhorns had done almost nothing offensively through the first quarter and change. After a muffed punt, though, Harsin called a double pass and Jaxon Shipley found a wide-open Blaine Irby for a 41-yard touchdown pass that got the Longhorns on the board. A&M never saw it coming.
What Texas A&M learned: It still can't hang on to a second-half lead. It truly is unbelievable. Texas A&M has put itself in position to be 11-1 this season. Instead, it falls to 6-6 with five losses in which it held a double-digit lead. Four of those losses featured a second-half, double-digit lead, and the Aggies led by nine at the half against Texas Thursday night. The Aggies rallied for a huge late drive, but it didn't matter. Texas got the best of them again, and the rivalry stands 76-35-5.
What Texas learned: Even when its backed up in its own territory, the defense can make plays. The Aggies had better field position all game, but the Longhorns held strong and gave the offense a chance. The offense took advantage.
What it means: The eyes of Texas won't be upon Texas A&M for quite some time. The Aggies leave for the SEC with a 6-6 season and have standing wins over every FBS team in Texas except ... Texas.
Best defensive player: Byron Landor, S, Baylor. Landor made 15 tackles and broke up a pair of passes in the Bears' 30-22 win over Texas. Honorable mention: Cody Davis, S, Texas Tech
Best special teams player: Quinn Sharp, P, Oklahoma State. Sharp averaged 63 yards on five punts, and pinned Kansas State inside its 10-yard line four times. Honorable mention: Justin Tucker, K, Texas.
Best team performance: Nebraska. The Huskers had a whole lot on the line and played like it, racing to a 24-0 lead against Missouri and suffocating the Tigers' passing game for 60 minutes. That early spurt was needed after the Huskers had to play without an injured Taylor Martinez for the second half.
Best offensive freshman: Roy Finch, RB, Oklahoma. Not an outstanding group of freshmen this week, but Finch carried the ball 10 times for 59 yards against Colorado in his first start.
Best play: Roy Helu Jr., RB, Nebraska. Just like Missouri last week, Nebraska rode an early huge play to a win. Helu broke a 66-yard run down the left sideline on the first play of the game.
Worst quarter: Missouri's first quarter. I haven't seen a team get so thoroughly dominated for 15 minutes this season. The Tigers were outscored 24-0, and had just two first downs and an interception in the opening 15 minutes of a game that Missouri had to win to earn a North title.
Best game: Baylor 30, Texas 22. The Bears took the lead on a third-down sneak at the goal line early in the fourth quarter and stretched their lead to 11 with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Kendall Wright. Texas had a late opportunity to tie after a Curtis Brown muffed punt stayed with the Longhorns, but Marquise Goodwin fumbled at the end of a long reception to end the game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It's a beautiful day in San Antonio this afternoon.
So nice, in fact, that I'm taking care of these links on my back porch thanks to the marvels of a strong wireless signal.
I can't send the sunshine, so how about some news to wrap up this week?
- Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads picked up his biggest recruit yet as College of San Mateo (Calif.) junior college All-American linebacker Matt Taufoou announced he will join the Cyclones. Ames Tribune beat writer Bobby La Gesse reports that Taufoou canceled a trip to Tennessee to sign with the Cyclones.
- College Football News reporter Pete Fiutak wonders if the Big 12 really was overrated last season.
- De'Vion Moore's groin injury left Missouri shuffling walk-on running backs in the 11-on-11 part of the Tigers' workouts Thursday afternoon, Dave Matter of the Columbia Daily Tribune reports.
- Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle/San Antonio Express-News opines about the departures of defensive lineman Kellen Heard, receiver E.J. Shankle and running back Keondra Smith from the Texas A&M program over the past two months.
- Among the interested spectators at Baylor's scrimmage Thursday afternoon was San Francisco 49ers coach and former Baylor All-American linebacker Mike Singletary, the Waco Tribune-Herald's Brice Cherry reports. Singletary's son, Matt, is a sophomore receiver for the Bears.
- Richetti Jones is one of the emerging defensive linemen at Oklahoma State as new coordinator Bill Young attempts to retool his defense, the Oklahoman's Scott Wright reports.
- Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls writes about Texas punter Justin Tucker, who is attempting to become game-proficient at kicking both left-footed and right-footed.
- Colorado linebacker Michael Sipili has got his academics in order and dropped weight in his bid to claim a starting position with the Buffaloes, Boulder Daily Camera beat writer Kyle Ringo reports.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Maybe there really is something about the Dawg Pound and hating Pittsburgh. The devotion of a Cleveland Browns fan really has no bounds.
Former Missouri defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus told the Columbia Daily Tribune's Dave Matter that the chance to join the Browns as their linebackers coach helps fulfill a childhood fantasy. Eberflus remembers watching two or three Browns games per season at old Municipal Stadium during his childhood in nearby Akron.
So when Eric Mangini offered Eberflus a chance to join his organization, it really was a no-brainer -- even after eight years on Gary Pinkel's staff at Missouri and 17 years working with Pinkel at other jobs.
Such a childhood connection is a tough one to overcome.
Hopefully these lunchtime links are earning that kind of attachment, too.
- Lincoln Journal Star columnist Steve Sipple reports that the main reason disgruntled quarterback Patrick Witt has decided to leave the Nebraska program is that Cornhusker coaches were unwilling to name their starting quarterback for the upcoming season at the end of spring practice. Instead, Sipple writes that Nebraska coach Bo Pelini plans to continue the competition through the start of the season.
- Kansas State will feature two nonconference road games this season for the first time of Bill Snyder's coaching tenure at the school. Mark Janssen reports that Snyder's team has played 10 true nonconference road games in his previous 17 seasons coaching at the school.
- Dugan Arnett of the Lawrence Journal-World catches up with 8-month-old Bode Lubbers of Wichita, Kan., famous in internet lore as" Baby Mangino."
- Recent suspensions and dismissals have turned Oklahoma State's wide receiving corps into a major question mark this spring, Bill Haisten of the Tulsa World reports.
- After a sparse turnout for a "town meeting" with Colorado students to discuss the school's athletic department, Colorado coach Dan Hawkins had a quick remedy for better attendance, according to Doug Bonham of the Colorado Daily. Just bring free food.
- Don't be surprised if Texas punter Justin Tucker continues his rugby-style punting with both his left and right foot, depending on game situations, Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls reports.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It's hard to believe, but Texas Tech coach Mike Leach might be the most influential person in the Big 12's brief history.
Veteran Tulsa World columnist John Klein brings up that point this morning, and I think it's a good one.
Let's revisit the Big 12 when Leach arrived as a member of Bob Stoops' original coaching staff. Stoops remembered how much he hated preparing for Leach's passing offense when he was Florida's defensive coordinator and Leach was calling plays as Kentucky's offensive coordinator.
So he hired him. And the Big 12 hasn't been the same since.
Leach helped transform Josh Heupel from a journeyman junior college quarterback into a player who would win the national championship the following season with the Sooners.
By then, Leach had already been hired as Tech's head coach. Those with long memories will recall that Leach beat out Rich Rodriguez for the job.
His quirky coaching style helped transform a probation-ravaged program that had lost five games in each of its previous four seasons before he arrived. Since then, Leach has helped the Red Raiders make a bowl trip each of the eight seasons he's been coaching there. He hasn't won a Big 12 title or a South Division championship, but appears to have his best chance this season to do it.
The Big 12 hasn't been the same, either. The conference, once dominated by stodgy run-heavy, defensive-dominated philosophies, now is on the cutting edge offensively of what we see today.
If you check the NCAA's current team scoring averages, five of the nation's top six scoring teams and five of the nation's top 10 passing teams are from the Big 12. The conference will likely have three Heisman Trophy finalists this season and conceivably could have even more.
It took some time and a collection of quarterbacks to do it.
But Leach helped push it along more forcefully than anybody else in the conference's history. And he's made it fun for those of us who've watched it happen.
Here are some links to get you primed for tomorrow's games. Enjoy them.
- Jake Sharp's 181-yard effort against Kansas State last week revealed how to attack the Wildcats' defense, the Kansas City Star's Mike DeArmond writes.
- Natalie England of the San Antonio Express-News writes about how about how Justin Tucker's unique rugby-style punting enabled Texas to dictate field position for much of the game last week against Texas Tech.
- Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star spells out the doomsday scenario for Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe - one team from the conference in the Bowl Championship Series. It could happen if Oregon State wins the Pac-10, leaving USC as an attractive BCS at-large team.
- The big-play offensive firepower of the current Oklahoma State team is reminiscent of the school's celebrated 1988 team. Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News reminds us that Barry Sanders was the running back on that team, Hart Lee Dykes was at wide receiver and, yes, Mike Gundy was its starting quarterback.
- The Topeka Capital-Journal's Tully Corcoran writes that Kansas players aren't intimidated as they face a 19-game losing streak at Nebraska that dates to 1968.
- Steve Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star advises Turner Gill to listen if Kansas State should call him about the Wildcats' vacant coaching job.