December 11, 2008

South rose back to top of Big 12 this season

MORE: All-Big 12 Team

Even after the Big 12 title had been decided with Oklahoma's NCAA-record fifth consecutive game scoring more than 60 points, coach Bob Stoops was having to defend his Sooners as they prepared to play Florida for the national title.

It was that kind of year in the Big 12.

"[The league] went to a [tiebreaker] system we all agreed upon before the season," Stoops told Fox on its BCS selection show Sunday night. "If someone didn't like the system, whether it be the media or some other team, hey, just change it before the season and I'll play by whatever rules they want to play by. Just let me know before the season starts."

After 2007, when the Big 12 North served up some of the season's biggest headlines thanks to Missouri and Kansas, all the attention returned to the Big 12 South - where Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech finished the regular season 11-1.

Heisman candidates, campaigns, airplane banners and even graduation rates were tossed around as each made its case to play in the Big 12 title game. In the end, Oklahoma emerged as the representative in a tiebreaker that league commissioner Dan Beebe said was designed to send the team "with the best chance to play for the national title."

Beebe said he felt sick for Texas and Texas Tech. That did little to console Texas coach Mack Brown, whose team beat Oklahoma head-to-head by 10 points on a neutral field and wants the Big 12 to consider adopting the SEC tiebreaker. It has a head-to-head component for the top two teams in a three-way tie.

"Growing up in this business, I was always taught head-to-head meant something," Brown said.

Texas Tech coach Mike Leach said the tiebreaker should have been graduation rates; Tech is ahead of Texas and Oklahoma in that category.

On the field, it was the "Year of the Quarterback" in the Big 12. At one stage, the league had six of the top 10-rated passers in the country and 11 of the top 20. Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, Texas' Colt McCoy and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell were the three finalists for the Davey O'Brien Award.

The Big 12, which majored in offense in 2008, also had the three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award that goes to the nation's best receiver (Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree, Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant and Missouri's Jeremy Maclin), and the Mackey Award that goes to the best tight end (Missouri's Chase Coffman, Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew and Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham.

It was a year no one associated with the Big 12 will soon forget.

Here's a rundown of the best and worst of the Big 12 in 2008.

Player of the year: Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford. He put up monster numbers for a scary-good offense. Bradford, a third-year sophomore who will at least consider turning pro, threw for 4,464 yards and 58 touchdowns against just six interceptions. He threw at least two TD passes in every game and tossed at least four in eight contests. He also was at the controls of an offense that scored 60 points in an NCAA-record five consecutive games.

Coach of the year: Texas Tech's Mike Leach. Leach helped lead Texas Tech to just its third 11-win season in school history (1953 and 1973) and has turned Tech from a novelty act into a legitimate national title contender. Until Tech lost to Oklahoma on Nov. 22, the Red Raiders were No. 2 in the BCS. Leach also deserves credit for creativity in suggesting Tech, Texas and OU break their Big 12 South tie by graduation rates; the most recent data shows Tech No. 1 at 79 percent, Texas 11th at 50 percent and OU 12th at 46 percent.

Freshman of the year: Baylor QB Robert Griffin. Griffin set a FBS record for most passes without an interception to start a career (209), failing to throw a pick until the ninth game of the season. Griffin finished 160-of-267 (59.9 percent) for 2,091 yards with 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. He also rushed for 843 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Offensive coordinator of the year: Oklahoma's Kevin Wilson. The Sooners set an NCAA single-season scoring record with 702 points and became the first team to ever score 60 points in five consecutive games. It helps when you have Sam Bradford at the controls, but give Wilson credit for striking the right run/pass balance and developing Ryan Broyles at receiver and depth behind tailback DeMarco Murray. Even in Oklahoma's only loss (to Texas), the offense clicked for 35 points.

Defensive coordinator of the year: Texas' Will Muschamp. Muschamp took a defense coming off the worst statistical season in Texas history and turned it into a unit that constantly made adjustments and made life miserable for teams in the third and fourth quarters. Texas' starting defense gave up just 13 points in the fourth quarter this season. Texas finished No. 1 in the Big 12 in scoring defense (18.6 ppg) despite starting two freshmen safeties. Muschamp's blue-collar attitude is a huge reason Texas went 11-1, and he has been named coach-in-waiting for the Longhorns.

Best game: Texas Tech 39, Texas 33, Nov. 1 in Lubbock. While Texas-Oklahoma in early October featured three lead changes in the second half and big-time players making big-time plays, nothing compared to the late-game drama of Texas Tech's victory over the then-No. 1 Longhorns. After being outplayed for three quarters, McCoy and Texas erased two 19-point deficits and took a 33-32 lead with 1:29 to play. But that was enough time for Tech quarterback Graham Harrell and wide receiver Michael Crabtree to hook up for one of the most dramatic touchdowns of the college season with one second remaining.

Biggest upset: Oklahoma State 28, Missouri 23, Oct. 11 in Columbia. Mike Gundy's best season as coach of the Cowboys was highlighted by his signature win in four seasons. The Cowboys had become a tough out in Stillwater under Gundy but hadn't shown they could take their show on the road. While OSU's offense - led by quarterback Zac Robinson, running back Kendall Hunter and receiver Dez Bryant - received most of the headlines, it was OSU's defense getting it done against Mizzou. The Cowboys intercepted Tigers quarterback Chase Daniel three times.

Biggest surprise, player: Oklahoma State RB Kendall Hunter. Hunter emerged from a tight competition against Keith Toston and Beau Johnson to rush for 1,518 yards and 14 touchdowns with one receiving TD. Hunter finished the regular season No. 6 nationally with an average of 126.5 yards per game on the ground and a striking 6.7 yards-per-carry average.

Biggest surprise, team: Nebraska. The Huskers bounced back from a 2-6 conference record last season under Bill Callahan to go 5-3 under new coach Bo Pelini and gain a share of the Big 12 North title (they lost the head-to-head tiebreaker with Missouri). Pelini endured a tough three-game stretch, losing to Virginia Tech, Missouri and Texas Tech. However, the Huskers ended the year winning five of six to get to 8-4 and earn a berth in the Gator Bowl against Clemson. Pelini even awarded the Blackshirts to his defense after a 45-35 victory at home against Kansas. It appears good things are happening once again in Lincoln thanks to Pelini and athletic director Tom Osborne.

Biggest disappointment, player: Missouri QB Chase Daniel. Daniel opened the season as a Heisman front-runner (his school spent $25,000 on a campaign that included a Viewfinder) and played like one early − throwing only one interception the first five games of the season. But Daniel threw three interceptions in a home loss to Oklahoma State and started to unravel. Daniel ended up with 14 interceptions in the last eight games, including two picks in four of the Tigers' last five games.

Biggest disappointment, team: Texas A&M. Most probably expected Texas A&M to struggle in its first year under coach Mike Sherman, but not as much as they did. The Aggies lost at home to Arkansas State to open the season and went 2-5 at Kyle Field, once considered one of the toughest places to play in college football. Sherman's team set several records for futility − including giving up a school-record 66 points at home in a loss to Oklahoma in a 4-8 season. They say if you can't run the ball or stop the run, you're in trouble. That was A&M, which ranked 115th nationally (out of 120 teams) in rush offense (88.5 ypg) and 115th in rush defense (219.3 ypg).

Underclassmen liable to leave early: Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford, Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree, Oklahoma TE Jermaine Gresham, Texas LB Sergio Kindle, Missouri WR Jeremy Maclin, Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma RB DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma State OT Russell Okung, Missouri LB Sean Weatherspoon.

Next season's division winners: Texas and Kansas. With Texas QB Colt McCoy saying he'll be back, the Longhorns' offense should be improved thanks to a line that will return four starters and all of its key backups. UT also has some young talent emerging at receiver. The defense loses E Brian Orakpo and Ts Roy Miller and Aaron Lewis, but has good depth in the back seven. Most important, the defense has Muschamp. Kansas QB Todd Reesing, RB Jake Sharp, WR Kerry Meier and WR Dezmon Briscoe will be back to lead an offense that will lose three starters on the line. The front seven on defense must be rebuilt, but Missouri, Nebraska and Colorado share the same problem and also will be trying to resolve quarterback issues. So the Jayhawks get the edge in the Big 12 North because of the proven talent back on offense.

Chip Brown is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at cbrown@rivals.com.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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