Here’s what we learned in the Big 12 during the bowl season:
!. The league was better than expected. The Big 12 finished with a .500 record (3-3) despite watching its conference champion, Baylor, lose to UCF, a clear underdog in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Oklahoma’s upset of Alabama is the national story of the bowl season and Texas Tech’s impressive upset of Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl was one of the most unexpected outcomes. Kansas State joined the Sooners and Red Raiders as bowl winners and Oklahoma State was a key play or two away from knocking off Missouri. Things could have turned out badly for the Big 12 but the conference more than held its own during the holiday season.
2. Big game Bob is back. That moniker was rarely used to describe OU coach Bob Stoops in recent years but it jumped back onto the lips of national analysts during his team’s 45-31 win over Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Stoops bested Nick Saban using an offensive game plan that relied on a quarterback who entered the game with 171 passing yards as his best passing performance during the regular season. Redshirt freshman Trevor Knight responded by stealing the show with 348 passing yards and four touchdowns against the Tide.
3. Some future stars emerged. Knight wasn’t the only young player who looked like a future star during the bowl campaign. Kansas State safety Dante Barnett was all over the field during his team’s 31-14 win over Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Oklahoma State defensive end Jimmy Bean used his length and athleticism to be a terror against Missouri in the Cowboys’ 41-31 loss in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Red Raider quarterback Davis Webb was throwing darts in Texas Tech’s 37-23 win over ASU. Baylor receiver Corey Coleman was one of the few bright spots during the Bears’ 52-42 loss to UCF. If those players continue to improve and start to consistently play at that level, they could see All-Big 12 alongside their names in the future.
4. There could be a new favorite in the Big 12. Heading into the bowl season, Baylor or Kansas State looked like the Big 12 favorite in 2014. The Bears return the conference’s top quarterback in Bryce Petty and coach Art Briles will still have BU on his chest next season, two strong reasons why the Bears cannot be overlooked, and the Wildcats return several playmakers on offense and Bill Snyder is second to none. Yet with OU’s strong Sugar Bowl performance, the Sooners could have catapulted themselves into preseason conference favorite status. The rest of the world finally saw what Stoops and Co. had seen in Knight, and if the young quarterback plays that way as a sophomore he’ll combine with a talented and experienced defense to make a combination that could be hard to beat.
5. Alamo Bowl showed why Mack Brown is no longer at Texas. The Longhorns were the only Big 12 squad to lose by more than 10 points as Oregon ran them off the field, 30-7, in the Valero Alamo Bowl. UT’s offense never looked like a threat to anyone but themselves against the Ducks, who had two interception returns for touchdowns, which overshadowed a solid performance from the defense. The Ducks looked better prepared, more confident and more competitive while UT looked unsure with confidence that could be easily shaken. Not a good look and not the way Brown wanted to end his time in Austin.