NCF Nation: Quan Cosby
Baylor’s Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley, however, have a chance to top that list.
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.
- No wedge blocks on kickoffs, meaning no more than two players standing closer than two yards from each other. A 15-yard penalty will be assessed if they do, even if there is no contact.
- No more messages on eye black.
- Taunting in the field of play is a live-ball penalty, and if a player scores a touchdown, the points are erased and the ball is spotted 15 yards from the spot of the foul.
Obviously, the final rule change generated the most discussion, and Texas coach Mack Brown weighed in with a nice statement on Thursday that fell short of being overly critical of the rule change, while addressing the real concern. Said Brown in a release:
"I don't disagree with it, but I am worried about the consistency in how the rule is interpreted, especially when it can cost a team a touchdown. It can be looked at so differently by the various officiating groups around the country and a call would have such a major impact on games that in fairness, it's crucial that it is called the same way for everyone."
The idea, as stated by NCAA officials yesterday, is that the rule is reserved for only egregious examples, but Dave Parry, the NCAA's national coordinator of college football officiating, said yesterday this touchdown by Golden Tate (at the :35 mark) would have been flagged. That's hardly "teasing," as Parry called it.
He also said the penalty would be flagged "very rarely." To be fair, it's been flagged "never" as of right now, but I'll join Brown as a mild critic of the rule. Moves like Tate's happen far from "very rarely." Compare that to another example of a celebration that would be flagged: Quan Cosby's dive into the end zone to clinch the 2009 Fiesta Bowl.
While Tate's actions could be classified as mild "taunting," Cosby's are not. I can't imagine the reaction of fans if a core of that significance came off the board for a celebration as insignificant as Cosby's. And what about deciding whether or not a celebration came before or after a score? If it's close, do you go to a replay? How many eye rolls can we expect the first time that happens?
It's likely that after this week, discussion of the rule will go away. The first time it's flagged, especially if the flag is questionable, I'm sure we'll be right back here talking about it.
As for the eye black rule, it seems to eliminate a threat that wasn't really there. Tim Tebow and Reggie Bush aren't the only ones who did it. I don't recall anyone pushing real boundaries with it, and what about when people use it as a way to honor someone? Any chance for an exception to the rule?
A couple of examples that spring to mind are former Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson's "Press On" after the death of his grandfather, and the Connecticut team honoring Jasper Howard with a "6" under one eye and "JH" under the other.
I understand wanting to prevent it from getting out of hand, but it seems a bit premature and unnecessary.
But the Big 12's average in yards per play was down to 5.47 yards per snap. That figure ranks ninth among the 12 FBS conferences and worst among the conferences that receive automatic berths in the Bowl Championship Series.
As shown on Tuesday, most every team in the Big 12 saw a noticeable reduction in offensive production and scoring last season compared to the previous year.
That trend didn't necessarily correlate across the rest of the country, when individual conferences are analyzed.
The number of plays remained the same from 2008 to 2009, but total yards and yards per play increased across the nation. Rushing yardage and passing yardage was up a little bit across the board as well. Scoring did drop, but not by the 20.3 percent reduction that we saw in the Big 12 in 2009.
Obviously, the graduation of top players like Michael Crabtree, Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Graham Harrell, Quan Cosby, Josh Freeman and Joe Ganz had something to do with it. The conference also struggled with injuries to many of its top stars as Jermaine Gresham missed the entire season, Sam Bradford, Robert Griffin, Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter all were gone for most of the season. Even Colt McCoy's injury came at a critical time to limit his team's offensive efficiency when it really could have used him.
Most importantly, the Big 12 had a wealth of top defensive players last season. We'll see that in the NFL draft when Ndamukong Suh is the likely first pick of the draft. Gerald McCoy should follow soon thereafter -- perhaps as quickly as the next pick. It wouldn't surprise me to see Earl Thomas and Sean Weatherspoon both as high first-round picks as well.
For a closer examination, I looked at every conference and compared offensive numbers from 2008 to 2009. The Big 12's figures were noteworthy, when compared to the rest of the nation.
It's interesting to note that the Big 12's per-team averages were down in yards per game, yards per play and scoring from 2008. The only other conferences where this trend occurred were in Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference.
And contrasting with this trend, the Southeastern Conference's figures in all three categories went up in 2009.
These figures are cyclical. But with the departure of so many dominant defensive players in 2010, along with the return of eight of 12 starting quarterbacks next season, we might see an increase from the numbers of this year.
If that happens, maybe we won't hear as much whining from the offensive coordinators, either.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
AUSTIN, Texas -- Jordan Shipley initially didn’t have much go right during his college career.
His first two years at Texas were marked by a horrifying series of setbacks that included a season-ending knee injury as a freshman and a hamstring injury that prematurely ended his sophomore season. It seemed like his career with the Longhorns was cursed before it even started.
|Brian Bahr/Getty Images|
|Jordan Shipley has recorded at least 10 receptions in three of Texas’ five games this season.|
“I didn’t have any idea what would happen,” Shipley said. “But I had faith that if I would work hard and handle myself the right way, that hopefully things would work out the way I wanted them to.”
After an excruciatingly long wait, Shipley is making up for lost time, developing into the Big 12’s most explosive player so far this season.
And he wouldn’t trade any of his travails to get to the point where he is at today.
“If I could go back and do it all over, I wouldn’t change anything,” Shipley said. “The injuries just made me stronger.”
Heading into Saturday’s game against Oklahoma, Shipley leads the conference in receptions and receiving yards and ranks second in receiving yards per game. Additionally, he leads the Big 12 with an average of 18.9 yards per punt return and is tied for the national lead with two punt returns for touchdowns.
Combating Shipley already has caught the attention of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.
"It's always a challenge," Stoops said. “He’s a guy you have to account for on every play.”
Last year’s Oklahoma game represented his coming out party. Because the Longhorns lacked a true tight end, he was moved inside to a flex end position where he produced 11 catches for 112 yards to spark Texas’ offensive attack. And his dramatic Red River Rivalry record 96-yard kickoff return pulled the Longhorns from an early deficit, helping to spark Texas’ 45-35 comeback victory.
Shipley played that slot position for most of the rest of the season, producing 89 catches for 1,060 yards and 11 touchdowns.
But with the graduation of Quan Cosby, Shipley has moved outside and has flourished so far this season at the new position.
He produced 11 catches for 147 yards -- his school-record third straight double-digit reception performance -- to spark the Longhorns’ 38-14 victory over Colorado. And for good measure, he also produced a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that help blow open the closer-than-expected game with the Buffaloes.
“That was one of the greatest games in the history of the school,” Texas coach Mack Brown said.
If Shipley continues at his current pace, he would smash every single-season receiving record in school history.
His multiplicity of talents was first showcased in high school in Burnet, Texas, where he was the prime receiver on a team quarterbacked by former Texas A&M star Stephen McGee. Shipley produced the second-most receiving yards in national high school history (5,424), notched 23 interceptions as a defensive back, returned 18 kicks for touchdowns and was his team’s kicker.
His knack for making big plays was apparent early in his career. As a freshman at Class A Rotan, Shipley produced 459 yards of total offense and scored three touchdowns on punt returns in his first high school game.
That was only a start. He's continued in college, developing into the Longhorns’ prime receiver, punt returner and holder for kicks.
Colt McCoy, who finished second in the Heisman last season and is Shipley’s roommate, believes that Shipley deserves a trip to the Heisman presentation.
“Sure,'' McCoy said. "In our offense, Jordan will get the ball. He's playing the position that Quan played last year, and the thing that sets him up is that he can return kicks and punts.”
The move outside has come with some changes in coverage for Shipley. He’s facing more direct man-to-man coverage than when he played in the slot and was mostly matched with slower linebackers and safeties.
The new position and his recent notoriety also are changing how opponents try to combat him. More defenses are relying on press coverage as he tries to get off the line of scrimmage.
That’s a little more difficult for the 6-foot, 190-pound speedster to overcome. But he’s making the most of his opportunities when they come despite the change.
“It’s different being on the outside,” Shipley said. “You’ve got to be really physically to get off the press. I don’t know if it’s harder, but it has a different feel.”
His big season almost didn’t come about. He earned a sixth season of eligibility only after petitioning the NCAA following last season because of the earlier injuries.
Shipley will turn 24 in December, causing his teammates to kid him about his advanced age. When he arrived at Texas in 2004, Cedric Benson and Derrick Johnson were still on the team’s roster, and Vince Young was in his first full season as the Longhorns’ starter.
But Shipley can't imagine being any place but playing for the Longhorns.
“It’s such a rush to be back here,” Shipley said. “I’m just thrilled to be back at Texas for one more year and having fun every week.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Ah. Sitting in a Kansas City airport with my trusty wireless stick as I rifle through Big 12 media sources looking for the best of today's conference information.
It couldn't get much better as I start my North Division swing.
Here a few stories to tide you over until the real stuff starts tomorrow.
- Lubbock business owners aren't happy about Texas Tech moving the Baylor game to Dallas later this season, Joshua Hall of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports.
- After spending the last 3½ months with the Baylor basketball team, inside receiver Kendall Wright is back for the last two weeks of the Bears' spring football practice, the Waco Tribune-Herald's John Werner reports.
- Newsday blogger Adam Abramson ranks the Big 12's quarterbacks heading into spring practice.
- The Austin American-Statesman's Suzanne Halliburton reports a couple of interesting tidbits from Texas' pro day. Defensive end Henry Melton ran a 40 in the high 4.5 range and defensive tackle Roy Miller has boosted his weight to 313 -- up 23 pounds since the Fiesta Bowl. And American-Statesman columnist Cedric Golden opines about how Quan Cosby hopes to ascend in the draft despite being one of the oldest and smallest draft-eligible players.
- Lincoln Journal-Star columnist Steve Sipple writes that it appears that the starting quarterback job is Zac Lee's for the taking after Nebraska's first spring practice.
- B.G. Brooks of In Denver Times reports that Colorado coach Dan Hawkins isn't backing away from his "10 wins and no excuses" mantra for the upcoming season. But Sporting News blogger Spencer Hall wonders how far that confidence will carry the Buffaloes against tough Big 12 South opponents.
- Oklahoman beat writer and new papa Scott Wright writes of the development of Oklahoma State's defensive line, particularly junior defensive tackle Chris Donaldson and redshirt freshman Nigel Nicholas.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Before putting a sleepy Big Ten bowl season to bed, it's time to recognize some of the memorable moments from the last few weeks. Contrary to the 1-6 record, the Big Ten produced its share of highlights. And lowlights.
Here they are.
Best closing performance -- Iowa running back Shonn Greene capped a tremendous 2008 season in fitting fashion with his 13th consecutive 100-yard rushing performance. Greene punished South Carolina for 121 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the Outback Bowl. The junior then confirmed what many had believed for months and declared for the NFL draft.
|Scott A. Miller/US Presswire|
|Shonn Greene punctuated his college career with a victory over South Carolina.|
Best catch -- Ross Lane's leaping grab in the back of the end zone secured a 23-yard touchdown and gave Northwestern a 23-20 lead over Missouri entering the fourth quarter of the Alamo Bowl. Lane used his entire 6-foot-3 frame to make the reception and managed to get a foot down before tumbling beyond the end line. His catch would have been the signature image had Northwestern held on for the win.
Best catch by a quarterback -- OK, Terrelle Pryor is the only Big Ten signal caller who qualified, but he showed impressive athleticism to haul in a 5-yard fade pass from Todd Boeckman for a touchdown. Ohio State's use of Pryor and Boeckman together gave the offense a boost at times, and Pryor's leaping ability had some wondering whether he would be better used as a wide receiver.
Best preview of the future -- Michigan State backup quarterback Kirk Cousins continued to boost his stock for the 2009 season with a solid effort in limited action at the Capital One Bowl. Cousins spelled Brian Hoyer for a series and completed 4 of 5 pass attempts, leading Michigan State into Georgia territory and setting up a long field-goal attempt. Though he'll have to beat out Keith Nichol for the starting job in the offseason, Cousins looked game-ready this fall.
Best performance by a secondary -- Iowa's back four continued to cause problems in the Outback Bowl, as they did throughout the second half of the season. Safety Tyler Sash recorded two interceptions and cornerback Bradley Fletcher had an interception and a forced fumble. Cornerback Amari Spievey added a pass breakup as the Hawkeyes flustered South Carolina's Stephen Garcia.
Best comeback: Had Ohio State held on to beat Texas, Boeckman would have been the top story. After sitting on the bench for the final nine regular-season games, Boeckman returned to meaningful action and gave the Buckeyes' offense a much needed boost against Texas. He sparked the offense with a 48-yard pass to Brian Robiskie and hit Pryor for the team's first touchdown.
Worst quarter -- The Big Ten's second-quarter blues continued in BCS games as Penn State was outscored 24-0 in the second quarter of the Rose Bowl. Penn State had taken USC's first punch and mounted an impressive scoring drive, but the Nittany Lions committed out-of-character mistakes in the second quarter and couldn't stop Mark Sanchez and the Trojans, who took a 31-7 halftime lead.
Worst turnover -- It seems hard to fathom given the final score, but Wisconsin outplayed Florida State for the first quarter of the Champs Sports Bowl and had the ball inside the Noles' red zone early in the second quarter. Quarterback Dustin Sherer attempted a lateral that fell incomplete, and Florida State's Derek Nicholson wisely picked up the ball and raced 75 yards to the end zone. Wisconsin players thought Sherer had thrown an incomplete forward pass and didn't bother to chase Nicholson. They would never catch Florida State.
Worst tackle -- Safety Anderson Russell had been one of Ohio State's defensive standouts in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, recording an interception, a forced fumble and a pass breakup to go along with nine tackles. But unfortunately, Russell's lasting image will be a missed tackle on wide receiver Quan Cosby that allowed Texas to score the game-winning touchdown with 26 seconds left. Ohio State had tackled extremely well until the final minute, limiting big plays, but Cosby scooted by Russell and into the end zone.
Worst special teams play -- Northwestern's Stefan Demos was supposed to punt the ball out of bounds late in the first half, but his kick instead went high and short, right into the hands of dangerous return man Jeremy Maclin. The Missouri star raced 75 yards to the end zone with a minute left in the half, and Northwestern went to the locker room tied at 10-10 after dominating the first 30 minutes. A missed extra point in the third quarter also stung the Wildcats in their overtime loss.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
After watching or listening to every play of every Big 12's bowl game, here are 10 observations gleaned from this bowl season.
|Sam Greenwood/Getty Images|
|Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz turned in the performance of his career in a Gator Bowl win over Clemson.|
2. Surging Jayhawks: Kansas provided the best overall performance by a Big 12 team with an impressive 42-21 victory over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl. Ed Warriner's offense was as strong as ever with Todd Reesing passing for 313 yards and Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier combining for 24 catches and 314 yards and three touchdowns. But the biggest revelation was the play of the Kansas defense. After allowing touchdowns on the first two drives, the Jayhawks allowed only one scoring possession on Minnesota's final nine drives as Kansas allowed only 331 yards en route to the victory.
3. Pinkel erupts: Missouri coach Gary Pinkel had the fieriest in-game reaction when he verbally berated a Missouri fan who was expressing his displeasure at Chase Daniel as the Tigers left the field after struggling in the first-half against Northwestern in the Valero Alamo Bowl. The coach's response helped stoke the Tigers' overtime victory, which came despite a off-night by Daniel. After the game, it was revealed that Daniel sprained a ligament at the base of his right thumb the previous game against Oklahoma and had gamely played through the injury.
4. OSU can't overcome loss of Bryant: The most significant game-changing injury occurred when Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant sustained a knee injury against Oregon in the Cowboys' 42-31 Holiday Bowl loss. Oregon's leaky secondary didn't have an answer early as Bryant ripped them for seven first-quarter catches as the Cowboys jumped to an early lead. But after Bryant's injury, things certainly got easier for Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. No Big 12 team was as dependent on a single receiver as the Cowboys were on Bryant. And his loss enabled the Ducks to zero in and eventually tee off on OSU quarterback Zac Robinson, who could no longer utilize Bryant on the quick routes that were blistering the Ducks earlier in the game. Robinson was the victim of several huge hits, sustaining a separated shoulder as the game continued. And it might not have happened if Bryant hadn't gotten injured in the first place.
5. Yes, Suh: Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh provided the Big 12's best individual defensive game, helping stake the Cornhuskers' victory over Clemson with dominant inside play. Suh accounted for eight tackles, including 3.5 for losses and two sacks. For good measure, he provided a blocked field goal and a quarterback hurry and even played a little offense as a short-yardage blocking back. Suh is poised for an All-American season as a senior after his national coming-out party in the bowl game.
6. Maclin saves the Tigers: Jeremy Maclin's 75-yard punt return was not only the longest scoring play in a Big 12 bowl game, but also one of the most significant. Northwestern inexplicably kicked to Maclin despite dominating most of the first half while nursing a 10-3 lead in the Alamo Bowl. The Tigers had been limited to two interceptions and two punts in their first five drives to that point, gaining only 136 yards to that point of the game. But with 1:00 left in the first half, Maclin's TD return resuscitated his team after struggling early. Missouri overcame a sputtering offense for a 30-23 victory capped by Maclin's 7-yard touchdown grab from Chase Daniel in overtime. But his return earlier in the game was an even bigger play.
7. Colt does it again: The Big 12's most dramatic comeback came from Colt McCoy of Texas, directing the Longhorns' late victory over Ohio State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. McCoy's 26-yard touchdown pass to Quan Cosby was a fitting conclusion to the former minor-league baseball player's career and capped a career-best 414-yard passing game for McCoy as well. But Cosby's late heroics on his touchdown grab never would have happened without the crucial fourth-down catch by sophomore James Kirkendoll two plays before.
8. Oklahoma's red-zone blues: The most surprising in-game trend in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game was the way that Oklahoma struggled in the red zone against Florida. Coming into the game, the Sooners were the one of the nation's most proficient teams inside opponents' 20-yard line, scoring on 76 of 80 drives with 69 touchdowns. But two huge stops inside the Florida 6 in the first half helped turn around momentum in the Gators' 24-14 victory. The Sooners never could recover from their self-inflicted mistakes, paving the way for their fifth-straight BCS bowl loss.
9. Tech's Cotton Bowl nightmare: The Big 12's worst collapse came from Texas Tech, which was unable to maintain its early success against Mississippi in the Cotton Bowl. The Red Raiders jumped to an early 14-point lead against the Rebels, but couldn't sustain that momentum as Jevan Snead's passing and a sure-tackling Mississippi defense gradually took control in Mississippi's 47-34 victory. It was a masterful in-game performance by Mississippi coach Houston Nutt, who thoroughly outcoached Mike Leach.
10. Harrell's ill-advised QB sneak: The worst single decision in a Big 12 bowl game came with Texas Tech's fourth-and-4 quarterback sneak by Graham Harrell early in the third quarter. Trailing 31-21, the Red Raiders had snatched momentum away from the Rebels after a missed field goal. But on fourth down, Harrell inexplicably tried a quarterback sneak that fell more than a yard short of the first down. Brandon Bolden scored on a 17-y
ard run for Mississippi three plays later and Tech would come no closer than 10 points during the rest of the game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The Big 12 received unprecedented publicity earlier this season as the nation's best conference.
|AP Photo/Mark Humphrey|
|The Sooners came up short again in a BCS bowl.|
It was particularly present in the South Division, where a slew of offensive weapons and cutting-edge strategies elevated the conference above all others nationally.
That notoriety, and some supposedly favorable bowl matchups, were expected to allow the conference to carry that momentum into the bowl season.
But something happened before the crystal ball was lifted at the end of the season. The Big 12 couldn't back up those boasts with a disappointing 4-3 bowl finish that was capped by another debacle from its championship team in the BCS title game.
Oklahoma has dominated the Big 12 during its recent run, claiming an unprecedented three straight titles and six league championships in the last nine seasons. But some of those accomplishments have been diminished nationally by the Sooners' struggles in BCS championship games. It continued again this season with a loss to Florida in the BCS title game -- the Sooners' fifth-straight BCS bowl loss.
The Sooners weren't alone. Big 12 South tri-champion Texas Tech looked ill-prepared in a loss to SEC middle-feeder Mississippi in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Oklahoma State was physically whipped by Oregon in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl. And Texas was lucky to escape the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl with a triumph over Ohio State only by the grace of a dramatic comeback orchestrated by Colt McCoy and Quan Cosby.
The most surprising trend was the lift that the Big 12 received from the North Division, which went 3-0 in the bowls after struggling to a 3-15 record against the South in the regular season.
Kansas jumped all over Minnesota in the conference's most impressive bowl triumph in the Insight Bowl. Missouri stormed back from some early struggles for an overtime triumph over Northwestern in the Valero Alamo Bowl. And Nebraska capped coach Bo Pelini's first season with an impressive conquest of Clemson in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl.
But those victories couldn't change the Big 12's national perception. Too much was lost by the bowl disappointments of its power teams.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The Big 12's 4-3 record in bowl games wasn't quite as good as the conference might have liked. But several players had performances worthy of collecting the last of this season's helmet stickers.
Texas quarterback Colt McCoy -- Passed for a career-high 414 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner to Quan Cosby with 16 seconds left to spark the Longhorns' 24-21 victory over Ohio State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon -- Contributed 17 tackles (eight solo), including 2.5 tackles for a loss and ½ of a sack in Missouri's 30-23 overtime victory over Northwestern in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Weatherspoon also notched two quarterback hurries and deflected a pass.
Kansas' passing game -- It's hard to differentiate between QB Todd Reesing (313 passing yards, four TD passes), WR Dezmon Briscoe (14 catches, 201 yards, three TD grabs) and WR Kerry Meier (10 catches, 113 yards, one TD reception). All were responsible for the Jayhawks' impressive 42-21 victory over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl -- arguably the best bowl performance by any Big 12 team.
Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh -- Produced eight tackles, including 3.5 for losses and two sacks in the Cornhuskers' 26-21 comeback victory over Clemson in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl. Suh also blocked a kick and produced a quarterback hurry in Nebraska's first Jan. 1 bowl victory since 1995.
Texas wide receiver Quan Cosby -- The 26-year-old former minor-league baseball player capped his career by producing a school bowl-record and career-best 14 receptions for 171 yards, including the game-winning grab, to lead the Longhorns' comeback victory over Ohio State.
Missouri wide receiver/kick returner Jeremy Maclin -- Capped his college career in style with a game-winning 7-yard TD grab in overtime and a 75-yard punt return for another score that helped kick-start his team's dormant offense. Maclin accounted for 187 all-purpose yards in the Tigers' triumph over Northwestern.
Kansas linebacker James Holt -- Notched eight tackles, including four for losses and three sacks in the Jayhawks' victory over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl.
Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz -- His numbers (236 passing yards, two TD passes) were surpassed by many other bowl-winning quarterbacks. But Ganz bounced back from several injuries to lead his team in a gutsy, dramatic comeback victory, charging back from a 14-3 halftime deficit.
Nebraska I-back Quentin Castille -- Rushed for 125 yards -- more than any other Big 12 back in a bowl game -- on 18 carries to spark Nebraska's comeback over Clemson in the Gator Bowl.
Texas safety Earl Thomas -- The freshman notched a team-high nine tackles and produced two pass deflections, including the game-saving one on the final play of the game, to preserve the Longhorns' Fiesta Bowl triumph.
Ultimately, a team must win to receive helmet stickers. That's why performances like those produced in the bowls by Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell, Oklahoma safety Nic Harris, Oklahoma running back Chris Brown, Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant and Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson have gone unrewarded. All had strong performances in their bowl games, despite their teams' losses.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten probably wants to forget this postseason after going 1-6 in bowls. But several players stood out, even in defeat, and they deserve recognition. Let's hand out helmet stickers for the final time this season, beginning with the one Big Ten team (Iowa) that actually won its bowl.
Iowa running back Shonn Greene -- Playing in what would be his final collegiate game, the Hawkeyes' junior went out with a flourish, racking up 121 rushing yards and three touchdowns against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. Greene eclipsed 100 rushing yards in all 13 games and set a single-season school rushing record with 1,850 yards.
Iowa strong safety Tyler Sash -- South Carolina was in a giving mood (five turnovers), and Sash capitalized with two interceptions, raising his season total to five. Sash, a redshirt freshman who became one of the team's top playmakers, picked off Stephen Garcia's first pass of the game and had interception returns of 45 and 29 yards.
Iowa cornerback Bradley Fletcher -- The senior recorded an interception and a forced fumble in his final game in a Hawkeyes uniform. With Iowa up 14-0, Fletcher squashed any chance of a South Carolina rally by intercepting a Garcia pass in the end zone for a touchback. He also forced a fumble on South Carolina's first play of the second half.
Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman -- He hadn't taken significant snaps since September but gave Ohio State a big lift in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Texas. The offense was sputtering until Boeckman found Brian Robiskie for a 48-yard completion on the first play of the fourth quarter. Boeckman later threw a touchdown to fellow quarterback Terrelle Pryor and nearly helped Ohio State to a big upset.
Ohio State's defense -- Colt McCoy and Quan Cosby had the final word in Glendale, but Ohio State held the high-powered Texas offense well below its season scoring average. The Buckeyes racked up three sacks and nine tackles for loss and limited big plays until Cosby's 26-yard touchdown with 16 seconds left.
Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher -- Bacher ended an up-and-down senior season with arguably his best performance in the Valero Alamo Bowl. He threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns against Missouri in a 30-23 overtime loss. Bacher threw only one interception and spread the ball well to his veteran targets.
Northwestern's senior wide receivers -- Rasheed Ward, Ross Lane and Eric Peterman combined for 19 receptions, 261 yards and three touchdowns in the Alamo Bowl. All three had scoring receptions of 20 yards or longer, highlighted by Lane's circus catch in the back of the end zone late in the third quarter.
Penn State linebacker Navorro Bowman -- The Rose Bowl was a rough one for Penn State's defense, but Bowman certainly did his part with five tackles for loss and a sack. Bowman finished the season with 106 tackles and 16.5 tackles for loss. Next season he'll form the Big Ten's top linebacker tandem with Sean Lee.
Michigan State safety Otis Wiley -- Wiley and his fellow defenders held Georgia to three first-half points in the Capital One Bowl and gave the Spartans offense a chance to create some distance on the scoreboard. Michigan State eventually caved against Matthew Stafford, but Wiley had a forced fumble and seven tackles to go along with 87 return yards in his final collegiate game.
Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker -- Decker returned from knee surgery and an ankle injury to boost the Gophers in the Insight Bowl with eight receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown. The junior set Minnesota bowl records for receptions and receiving yards and will return in 2009 as one of the Big Ten's top targets.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Ohio State's impressive effort Monday night came up short, and a forgettable 2008 Big Ten season is over. Today's links have a Scarlet and Gray tinge to them.
- After two blowout losses in the national title game, Ohio State's narrow defeat Monday is easier to swallow, Bob Hunter writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
"The Buckeyes badly needed to play well in this one. Their national reputation was in tatters. Against a Texas team that many think belonged in the national championship game, few considered the possibility of an Ohio State win.
It didn't happen, but it at least restores some lost respect. The Buckeyes' high-profile failures no longer seem so conclusive; instead, they blend back into a wider range of big games under [Jim] Tressel that show the Buckeyes both winning and losing their share."
- No one likes the prevent defense, but Ohio State's decision to keep the pedal down might have cost it against Texas, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
"On the final touchdown, linebacker James Laurinaitis blitzed, linebacker Marcus Freeman stepped to the line like he was blitzing then dropped into coverage, but not far enough to help on [Quan] Cosby, and then [safety Anderson] Russell was alone. Cosby caught the ball only 6 yards past the line of scrimmage, but that was enough."
- Running back Dan "Boom" Herron scored the apparent game-winning touchdown Monday and is ready to step in if and when Chris "Beanie" Wells bolts for the NFL, Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
- Illinois offensive line coach Eric Wolford is leaving for South Carolina, where he will coach the line and coordinate the run game, Bob Asmussen writes in The (Champaign) News-Gazette.
- With Shonn Greene gone, Iowa's offense will be the hands of quarterback Ricky Stanzi, The Gazette's Marc Morehouse writes in his blog.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|Kirby Lee/US Presswire|
|Quan Cosby pulled in the winning 26-yard touchdown pass with 16 seconds to play.|
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- They made it back to the team hotel Sunday minutes before curfew and headed straight for the water.
"The night before a game, that's all that's on your mind really," Shipley said. "We feel like it could always come down to a play like that."
Added Cosby: "People say, 'I dreamed about it,' and all that stuff. Everybody dreams about it. We talked about it [Sunday] night as we were sitting in ice, which wasn't very fun."
Cosby had plenty of fun Monday night as he lit up Ohio State's defense for 171 receiving yards on 14 receptions, none more important than the last, a 26-yard touchdown with 16 seconds remaining. The score lifted Texas to a dramatic 24-21 win against Ohio State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and capped a stellar senior season for Cosby, who notched career highs in both receptions and yards in his final collegiate game.
The 5-11, 200-pound senior had three receptions on Texas' game-winning drive, and he found a way to slip behind Ohio State defenders who employed an aggressive scheme but did an excellent job of keeping plays in front of them all night. The Buckeyes had prevented big plays with textbook tackling, but Cosby got free of safety Anderson Russell and leaped into the end zone.
|Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire|
|Cosby torched Ohio State's defense for 171 yards and 14 receptions.|
"Quan is as good a football player as I've ever been around," Shipley said. "He always seems to make plays. He just kind of slipped through. He caught a slant and just slipped off the tackle and then it was nothing but green grass from there."
As he trotted off the field following Texas' trophy presentation, Cosby was asked what he saw on the game's decisive play.
"A touchdown," he replied, smiling.
McCoy was named the Offensive Player of the Game, but the award easily could have gone to Cosby, who nearly broke free several times and set a Texas bowl record for receptions. Cosby became the first Texas receiver to eclipse 100 yards in a bowl game since Roy Williams in the 2003 Cotton Bowl against LSU.
"He is the MVP in my mind," McCoy said. "On that last play when [Ohio State] brought everybody, he kind of said over and over, 'If I catch the same look give me a slant behind the linebacker. If he comes, you just make that miss, we will score.'
"We had confidence in each other. We have done that all year long."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Quan Cosby punctuated his college career with an exclamation point.
Cosby, a 26-year-old who played four years in the Los Angeles Angels minor-league system, has always provided stability and leadership for the Longhorns. And on Monday night, he gave them his very best on-field performance.
Cosby snagged a career-high 14 receptions for 171 yards, including a game-winning 26-yard touchdown reception from Colt McCoy with 16 seconds left to boost the Longhorns to a 24-21 victory over Ohio State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Throughout the season, Cosby had been the complimentary receiver to Jordan Shipley. But his big game enabled the Longhorns to punctuate a 12-1 record that is the second-winningest season in the school's history.
Colt McCoy proved some mettle in the game-winning drive, directing a 79-yard touchdown drive after getting the ball for the final time with 1:58 left.
The victory came despite a struggling defensive performance down the stretch. The Longhorns denied Ohio State a touchdown for the first three quarters before the Buckeyes charged back from a 17-9 deficit to claim the lead on two scoring drives in the fourth quarter. The Texas defense looked gassed on drives that consumed 80 and 73 yards.
But the Longhorns' late rally enabled them to escape with the victory, stretching their bowl winning streak to five games.
McCoy's heroics might have boosted his Heisman hopes for next season by throwing for a career-high 413 yards.
The Longhorns' second-half comeback marked the 22nd such comeback victory for Texas under Mack Brown, including 12 fourth-quarter comebacks.
After the victory, Brown started spinning his team's national title hopes. The Texas coach said he would vote his team No. 1 because of the grit it showed in the comeback victory.
Something about sleepwalking through the first half likely didn't impress many voters who might have had some doubt -- particularly with the impressive performances earlier in the bowl season by USC and Utah.
The Longhorns struggled early as Ohio State won the battle in the trenches early in the game, piling up an early 135-2 edge in rushing yardage in the first half. But Ohio State needed to produce more points as the Buckeyes had 22 plays in Texas territory but produced only six points. Texas was limited to minus-9 yards rushing as running backs Chris Ogbonnaya and Cody Johnson produced only 10 yards.
But the Longhorns took control in the second half, accounting for two touchdowns on their first three drives of the second half to claim the lead. The biggest reason was a no-huddle offense that flummoxed the Buckeyes' defense.
Texas also did a better job on massive Ohio State tailback Chris Wells, who rushed for a game-high 105 yards but produced only nine of them in the second half. Wells struggled with injuries and missed the fourth quarter.
It forced Ohio State to rely on freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor too much. Pryor snagged a touchdown reception but had trouble passing the ball as he completed only 5 of 13 passes for 67 yards and was sacked twice.
It wasn't the most artistic performance, but was still a victory. And after its early struggles in the bowl season, the Big 12 really can't complain much about any kind of win.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Texas needed one final push against a staunch Ohio State defense that had kept Longhorns receivers in front of it all game.
The Longhorns got it from wideout Quan Cosby, who wriggled free of Ohio State safety Anderson Russell and sprinted to the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown pass with 16 seconds left. Quarterback Colt McCoy led a masterful drive as Texas marched 78 yards in 11 plays without using a timeout. Cosby had a huge performance in his final game in a Longhorns uniform.
Though Texas failed to make the statement it needed for a split national title, the favored Longhorns survived to notch their fifth straight bowl victory and third in a BCS game.
Ohio State mounted an impressive fourth-quarter comeback behind quarterbacks Todd Boeckman and Terrelle Pryor, who hooked up for a touchdown with 7:26 left. The Buckeyes' ground attack secured the lead despite a concussion suffered by Chris Wells, but a defense that had stepped up all game couldn't get the final stop.
The Buckeyes weren't embarrassed like the last two seasons and had control for most of the game, but they ended up dropping their third consecutive postseason contest. The Big Ten did absolutely nothing to improve its national reputation with a 1-6 bowl record, arguably the worst postseason performance in league history. The league has lost six consecutive BCS bowls.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are my picks for the second round of Big 12 bowl games, beginning with Thursday's Konica Minolta Gator Bowl
Konica Minolta Gator Bowl -- Clemson 31, Nebraska 28
Dabo Swinney has energized the Clemson program after taking over as interim coach -- a little like Bo Pelini's job with the Cornhuskers from earlier this season. Both of these teams are playing their best football of the season. But I expect Clemson to beat Nebraska with a taste of its own medicine by controlling the clock thanks to a heavy dose of tailbacks James Davis and C.J. Spiller. If the Tigers can do this and keep quarterback Cullen Harper out of too many long-yardage situations, I expect them to nose past the Cornhuskers and fulfill a little of their early promise expected of them. It just took a different coach to get them there.
AT&T Cotton Bowl -- Texas Tech 34, Mississippi 20
It will be good for the Red Raiders to get back to football after some of the travails of the last several weeks. But Graham Harrell's surgery and Mike Leach's contract squabbles should be long forgotten by the team that many forgot still earned a share of the Big 12 South Division title. Look for a healthy Michael Crabtree to be the difference in this game, if the Red Raiders can keep a salty defensive front from pressuring Harrell. And even if the Rebels get ahead early, remember that Harrell has directed two wild bowl comebacks in the last two seasons, rallying the Red Raiders from a 31-point deficit to win the 2006 Insight Bowl over Minnesota and a 17-point deficit in the final four minutes to direct a comeback in last season's Gator Bowl over Virginia. Houston Nutt has directed a nice renaissance with the Rebels this season, leading them to victories over the last two national championship teams. But the chore of beating Texas Tech will prove too much for them on Friday.
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl -- Texas 41, Ohio State 20
After being snubbed for the Big 12 title game, the Longhorns will approach this game with a chip on their shoulder. That's not a pretty proposition for an Ohio State team that has been blown out of its last two BCS bowl games by a combined score of 79-38. The key for the game will be the play of streaky Ohio State freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the return of tailback Chris Wells. I expect Texas' defensive front keyed by Brian Orakpo and Roy Miller to exert enough pressure to keep Pryor discombobulated most of the game. And if Texas can get receivers Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby open against a tough Ohio State secondary keyed by Malcolm Jenkins, the Longhorns should have the edge on offense, too. This game will be close at the half, before the Longhorns pull away in the second half.
My bowl picks last week: 1-1* (50.0 percent)
My picks for the season: 85-14 (85.9 percent)
* Not including Wednesday's Kansas-Minnesota game