Oklahoma Sooners: Tavon Austin
With the BCS done, we've come up with our Big 12 all-BCS era team (1998-2013) below:
RB: Ricky Williams, Texas (1998) -- Williams was part of the BCS era for only one season, but what a season it was. He rushed for 2,327 yards and won the Heisman Trophy going away. Only Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne has more career rushing yards than Williams (6,279).
RB: Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma (2004-06) -- Despite battling injuries throughout his career, Peterson still was a beast in college. After rushing for 1,925 yards while leading the Sooners to the national title game, he finished second in the ’04 Heisman voting, even though there was still a stigma then in voting for a freshman.
WR: Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech (2007-08) -- Crabtree became the first two-time winner of the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top receiver. In '08, he and QB Graham Harrell led the Red Raiders to an upset of Texas and a No. 2 ranking in the polls.
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (2009-11) -- Blackmon became the second and only other two-time winner of the Biletnikoff. In his final two seasons, he finished with 233 receptions, 3,304 receiving yards and 38 touchdowns, and he helped propel the Cowboys to their first Big 12 title in '11.
TE: Chase Coffman, Missouri (2005-08) -- Coffman had a monster statistical college career for a tight end with 247 catches for 2,659 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns. He won the ’08 Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end. Missouri won 37 games during the four years Coffman was in the lineup.
OT: Jammal Brown, Oklahoma (2001-04) -- Brown was a unanimous All-American and a three-time All-Big 12 selection. He became the fifth Sooner to win the Outland Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top interior lineman.
OT: Russell Okung, Oklahoma State (2007-09) -- In Okung’s final two seasons, Oklahoma State led the Big 12 in rushing yards. The Cowboys were also third in the country in ’07 in fewest sacks allowed with Okung at left tackle. He was a unanimous All-American and Outland finalist in ’09 and became the sixth overall pick in the ’10 NFL draft.
OG: Cyril Richardson, Baylor (2010-13) -- Richardson became Baylor’s seventh all-time unanimous All-American. The Outland finalist was also a key piece on the nation’s highest-scoring offense this season.
OG: Justin Blalock, Texas (2003-06) -- Though a guard in the NFL, Blalock actually started 50 games for Texas, most coming at right tackle. He was a three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection and a consensus All-American in 2006.
C: Dominic Raiola, Nebraska (1998-2000) -- Raiola was the inaugural winner of the Rimington Award, named after former Nebraska center Dave Rimington, which recognizes the best center in college football. He was an Outland finalist and a consensus All-American.
APB: Darren Sproles, Kansas State (2001-04) -- One of the most prolific all-purpose performers in college football history, Sproles finished his career with 6,812 all-purpose yards. Among his 39 consecutive starts, his most memorable performance came in the ’03 Big 12 championship, when he had 235 yards rushing and 88 receiving, as K-State upset top-ranked Oklahoma 35-7.
DE: Brian Orakpo, Texas (2005-08) -- Orakpo captured the ’08 Nagurski Award as the most outstanding defensive player in the country, and the Lombardi Award, given to the best college lineman or linebacker. He also was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American while piling up 11 sacks his senior year.
DE: Von Miller, Texas A&M (2007-10) -- Out of a hybrid defensive end/linebacker role, Miller led the nation with 17 sacks in ’09. He was a two-time All-American and won the Butkus Award in ’10 as the nation’s top linebacker.
DT: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska (2005-09) -- There was no more dominant defensive player in college football during the BCS era. Suh finished fourth in the Heisman voting in ’09 and won several national awards, including the Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski (most outstanding defensive player)and Bednarik (defensive player of the year). He was also a unanimous All-American and the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
DT: Tommie Harris, Oklahoma (2001-03) -- Harris was a force from the beginning as a freshman on the OU defensive line. He won the Lombardi his junior year, and he was a two-time consensus All-American, garnering unanimous honors in ’03.
LB: Derrick Johnson, Texas (2001-04) -- Johnson was a menacing linebacker for the Longhorns, earning consensus All-American honors in ’03 and unanimous honors in ’04. He was also a three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection, and won the Butkus (best linebacker) and Nagurski awards as a senior. Johnson finished his career with 458 tackles.
LB: Rocky Calmus, Oklahoma (1998-2001) -- Calmus played a major role in OU’s resurgence under Bob Stoops. He won the Butkus in ’01 and was a finalist for the Nagurski and Bednarik. A three-time All-Big 12 pick, Calmus led the Sooners in tackles in all three of those seasons.
LB: Teddy Lehman, Oklahoma (2000-03) -- Lehman too won the Butkus, beating out Johnson for the award in ’03. He also was Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, captured the Bednarik, was a unanimous All-American and played in two national championship games.
CB: Derrick Strait, Oklahoma (2000-03) -- A four-year starter, Strait finished with a school-record 52 career pass breakups. He also won the Thorpe, and was a unanimous All-American.
S: Roy Williams, Oklahoma (1999-2001) -- Nicknamed “Superman,” Williams was the Big 12’s most dominating defensive player until Suh came along. He won the Thorpe and Nagurski in ’01, and was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a unanimous All-American the same season. He also famously skied over the Texas offensive line to force the game-clinching interception to earn his moniker.
S: Michael Huff, Texas (2002-05) -- Huff became the first Longhorn to win the Thorpe, and was the leader of the ’05 national championship defense. He was also a unanimous All-American that season.
K: Mason Crosby, Colorado (2003-06) -- Crosby was three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection, and twice was a consensus All-American even though he never won the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation's top kicker. He was also the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year as a junior, and converted 66 field goals in his career.
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State (2009-12) -- Sharp became the first three-time All-American in Oklahoma State history, and he earned All-American honors both as a punter and a kicker. He was twice named the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year. In his career, he made 50 of 59 field goals, averaged 45.9 yards per punt and missed only one extra point.
KR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia (2012) -- Austin was in the Big 12 only one season, but he was unstoppable that one season. On top of being one of the most dangerous kick returners in the country, Austin had 1,289 yards receiving and 643 rushing, and finished second in the country in all-purpose yards.
PR: Ryan Broyles Oklahoma (2008-11) -- On top of being a prolific punt returner, Broyles was one of the most efficient receivers in college football history. He finished his career with an FBS-record 349 receptions, and was a two-time consensus All-American before a knee injury cut his senior season short.
Baylor’s Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley, however, have a chance to top that list.
Depending on how they finish, Reese and Goodley could wind up becoming the best duo in Big 12 history. But they 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. 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.
10. 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.
He’d just learned that receiver Jalen Saunders, who had transferred from Fresno State, had been granted a waiver by the NCAA and was eligible to play immediately. Few outside of the program knew how explosive the California native would be, but Stoops reaction to his clearance was the first sign OU had something special.
Jones' heroics overshadowed the defensive struggles a bit, but there was no hiding from an embarrassing 41-13 blowout loss at the hand of ex-Big 12 rival Texas A&M, lowlighted by 229 rushing yards and 287 passing yards from Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, who also accounted for four touchdowns.
"You can’t give up that many yards and that many points and expect to win. We’ve got to find ways to be better against those kinds of teams. That’s what we’re concentrating on [this spring]," Stoops said. "A lot of teams you can go out there and it doesn’t matter what you play, you can beat a lot of teams, but when you go up against the top-level teams, you’ve got to come up with something a little different and variations and that’s where we came up short, those kinds of games."
There's no excusing the points, but how much of those struggles were the Sooners playing poorly, and how much of it was going head-to-head with four teams that ranked in the top 10 in total offense and scoring offense?
"Our plan was off against Tavon Austin, they kind of caught us with our pants down, and we didn’t have really an answer. Structrually, you’ve got to be better than that," Stoops said. "A&M, I think that was probably one of the hardest teams we’ve had to defend here ever, maybe."
Austin spent almost all his time at West Virginia as a receiver, but the Mountaineers moved him to running back against the Sooners. He promptly racked up a school-record 344 rushing yards and had 572 all-purpose yards, seven short of the NCAA record. Against the Aggies, the Sooners' pass rush went absent and the linebackers and secondary consistently lost contain on Manziel, who turned broken plays into big plays on countless occasions in the Aggies' romp.
"Those three teams average more than 550 yards a game so that’s their average. You’ve got to look at it, but certainly we want to have our expectations," Stoops said of the Aggies, Cowboys and Mountaineers. "It’s a little bit of us not being good enough schematically and position by positon. When you get stressed like that when you play good teams, you get stressed across the board, and we have to be better than we were a year ago, and that’s individually and schematically."
“You’re never going to get everyone you want but we feel like we’ve helped ourselves in some critical areas,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said.
Cornerback Stanvon Taylor (Tulsa, Okla./East Central) joins safeties Ahmad Thomas (Miami, Fla./Central) and Hatari Byrd (Fresno, Calif./Central East) as signees who appear poised to step right in and play in the secondary. Taylor, in particular, drew a lot of praise from Mike Stoops while drawing comparisons to All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin from OU head coach Bob Stoops on signing day.
“We’re projecting him to come in and solidify that corner position for us,” Mike Stoops said. “I can’t say enough about this guy, he has all the qualities you want in a superstar.”
Yet those impact signees in the secondary won’t mean much if the Sooners cannot solidify their defensive front. To that end, OU signed seven defensive linemen (four defensive tackles, three defensive ends) on Wednesday, with junior college transfer Quincy Russell (Athens, Texas/Trinity Valley) looming as the biggest potential impact player along the defensive interior.
Today's question: Which game in 2013, outside of at Notre Dame and at Oklahoma State, should be considered a land mine for the Sooners?
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Oklahoma's defense had heard the legends about Johnny Football. They'd seen the highlight reels and trophy acceptance speeches.
Until Friday, though, they had never stepped on the same field with the first freshman to win a Heisman Trophy. After Texas A&M's 20-year-old superstar rolled over the Sooners for 516 total yards (229 rushing, 287 throwing) and four touchdowns in a 41-13 Cotton Bowl victory, Oklahoma couldn't help but be glad his college years will be spent on fields across the SEC and not the Big 12 -- where the Aggies would have been if not for some conference upheaval over the past two years.
"Johnny Manziel is everything he was billed to be," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "He makes everybody miss him. He was what you've seen on tape the whole year."
Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops called Manziel the best player he'd ever played, which carries a special significance considering Stoops' defense gave up 344 rushing yards and 572 all-purpose yards to a shifty, speedy receiver named Tavon Austin from West Virginia barely six weeks ago, the second-most all-purpose yards in a game in FBS history.
Stoops' defense refused to blitz Manziel for most of the night, but the Aggies' strong offensive line -- led by bookends and future NFL first-round picks Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews -- hardly allowed Oklahoma's defensive linemen to make Manziel notice they were even trying to chase him down. For much of the game, Oklahoma's secondary would cover the Aggies' receivers, but Manziel would find a crease and turn a broken play into a big gain.
"It's hard if you've got an angle on him," Bob Stoops said. "He stops, goes the other way. If you don't he outruns you."
Despite spending the past month making a post-Heisman nationwide media circuit and losing his offensive coordinator, Kliff Kingsbury, Manziel strung together one of the best highlight reels in bowl history, which was set to a soundtrack of "Johnny B. Goode" from Chuck Berry on the big screen at Cowboys Stadium as the final minutes of the game ticked away and Texas A&M fans serenaded the exiting Oklahomans with an "S-E-C" chant.
More like Johnny B. Great.
"There wasn't anything holding us back. No rust. There was no nothing," Manziel said.
He energized the crowd as few have ever had the ability to do, the volume level in Cowboys Stadium rising quickly any time he fled the pocket. Oklahoma's defense could do little to stop him or to quiet the Aggies-friendly crowd of 87,025, the biggest Cotton Bowl crowd ever at the venue.
A media flock hounding him while he did required postgame TV and radio interviews couldn't catch him either after he sprinted from midfield to the corner of the stadium to finish the last few bars of the "Aggie War Hymn" with his teammates in front of the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band.
"This is kind of a game that turned the page again," Manziel said. "People asked me earlier in the year about what game made it all click. There was the Arkansas game, and this game tonight made me flash back to that."
That's a scary thought for the rest of the SEC, which could spend the next three years chasing a quarterback nobody can seem to catch, inside or outside the pocket. He helped Texas A&M become the first offense in SEC history to amass 7,000 total yards, and there's no reason he won't do it again. With Manziel taking snaps and breaking tackles, there will be plenty of national title talk in Aggieland over the next few months, with a blowout victory over the Sooners serving as springboard. Texas A&M proved it was better than national title game favorite Alabama on a November afternoon in Tuscaloosa. Can it be better than everyone in the nation for three months next fall?
"For everybody next year, this is the first game of the new year," A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "It sets the bar."
Manziel will be around to help us all find out if the Aggies will clear it.
With all the success he’s had during his career in Stillwater, Mike Gundy is still searching for his first win in Norman, Okla. as a head coach. And OU coach Bob Stoops is 5-1 against the Cowboys during his tenure.
During the Cowboys' last trip to Norman in 2009, they appeared to have their best chance of giving Gundy his first win with the Sooners playing a makeshift offensive line in the midst of a disappointing 8-5 season.
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Those six words describe the Oklahoma quarterback’s play in the final minutes of OU’s 50-49 win over West Virginia at Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday night. WVU star Tavon Austin gave OU’s defense fits throughout the night, placing the game on Jones’ shoulders. The fifth-year senior responded with arguably the best performance of his career.
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MORGANTOWN, W.V. -- The Sooners escaped their maiden voyage to Morgantown with a 50-49 victory over the Mountaineers in one of the craziest shootouts in Big 12 history.
It was over when: West Virginia QB Geno Smith's Hail Mary pass fell to the turf two yards in front of the end zone. The two teams combined to score 31 points in the fourth quarter, including Landry Jones' 5-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills on fourth down with 26 seconds remaining.
Game ball goes to: West Virginia's Tavon Austin, who was unbelievable in a losing effort. Austin rushed for 344 yards and two touchdowns on just 21 carries. He also had 82 yards receiving.
Stat of the game: This was the first time since 1993 the Sooners surrendered at least 250 rushing yards in back-to-back games. OU gave up 252 to Baylor last weekend and 458 to the Mountaineers. West Virginia’s 778 total yards were also, by far, the most against a Sooners defense in OU history.
Record performance: Austin shattered the Big 12 record for all-purpose yards in a game with 572. Texas’ Hodges Mitchell held the previous record of 375 yards since 2000. On top of having a monster game rushing and receiving, Austin had 146 yards in kickoff returns.
Unsung hero: Stills, who hauled in four touchdown passes to keep pace with Austin and Stedman Bailey. Stills had 10 receptions, but none bigger than his final one, which gave OU the lead for good.
What it means: The Sooners leave Morgantown with their BCS bowl hopes still intact. But a huge test awaits next weekend in Oklahoma State, which beat OU 44-10 last season. West Virginia is still searching for its sixth win to become bowl eligible. The Mountaineers have now lost five in a row.
At the beginning of the year, this looked like it would be OU's toughest challenge. That was before West Virginia's unraveling. The Mountaineers are still dangerous, but they don't have the look of a team that can either slow the Sooners down or score enough to prevail in a shootout.
- Jake Trotter
Oklahoma 49, West Virginia 35
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Austin is one of the most explosive players in college football. A week after Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk caused them fits, the Sooners face an even tougher test in Austin.
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• Bob Stoops said it. Josh Heupel said it. Jay Norvell said it. The Sooners were adamant all the week that they were going to feature Damien Williams at running back. Saturday, they made good on that promise. Williams got his first career start and manned the position almost exclusively, and to sparkling results.
He rushed for just 48 yards on 14 carries, but caught six passes for 82 yards, including a 38-yarder down the sideline that set up OU’s fourth touchdown in the third quarter.
“They told me last-minute, ‘You're gonna be the guy, be prepared to do your assignments,’ ” Williams said. “It feels great, just knowing that I'm gonna be that guy. They're putting more carries on me and letting me do more with the ball.”
Dominique Whaley, who had started OU’s first three games, got only two carries for 22 yards. Brennan Clay played sparingly, too.
• Cornerback Aaron Colvin has been stout throughout his career but might have had his finest game yet as a Sooner. On top of providing stifling coverage, he had a hand in two turnovers. On the first, Colvin came on a corner blitz and snagged an interception instead of batting down the ball. The turnover led to an OU field goal just before half that put the Sooners up 24-13 just before halftime.
In the second half, Colvin helped deliver the dagger. He tipped a Seth Doege pass in the air and into the arms of teammate Javon Harris, who raced 46 yards into the end zone, giving the Sooners a 38-13 lead with still eight minutes to play in the third quarter.
“He's got that ‘it' factor,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said of Colvin. “He shows up every game and is ready to play.”
Stoops brought more blitzes than usual to try to disrupt Doege's rhythm. Because Colvin and fellow cornerback Demontre Hurst stuck to their receivers like glue, the ploy worked beautifully, as Doege was under duress from the second quarter on.
“We tried to blitz a lot,” Colvin said. “So the corners were left out on the island, somewhat, a lot. Me and Demontre preached no deep balls, not making anything easy. Our preparation, I feel like, allowed us to play well today.”
Colvin has been OU’s best player through four games and should warrant All-America consideration if he continues to play this way. He will have plenty of chances to prove his mettle, especially on Nov. 17, when the Sooners travel to Morgantown, W.Va., and face Mountaineers receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin.
“Aaron is a special player,” Bob Stoops said. “He’s one of the best corners that I’ve coached, and I believe in the long run, from now through whenever he leaves, he’s going to show that. He’s a real player.”
• Linebackers Tom Wort and Corey Nelson have played a lot of football. But they were outdone by redshirt freshmen Frank Shannon and Aaron Franklin, who got the most extensive playing time of their careers. Shannon had six tackles and Franklin had four, as the Sooners opted to go with as much speed as possible.
Shannon was especially disruptive, coming through with a critical fourth-down sack in the third quarter. From the second quarter, the Sooners went almost exclusively with Shannon at middle linebacker.
“Frank had a heck of a game,” Stoops said.
It will be interesting to see how the Sooners rotate Wort and Shannon. Wort has had difficulty covering the pass and allowed a Kansas State receiver to cross in front of him for a first down on a critical third down late in the fourth quarter. He struggled covering Tech’s slot receivers early Saturday, too, prompting OU to make a change.
• By most accounts, freshman wideout Trey Metoyer was OU’s most impressive skill player of the spring. That, however, has not translated to this season. He finished without a single reception. He had a chance on OU’s opening drive, but couldn’t haul in a fade route in the end zone.
Sterling Shepard, LaColtan Bester and Durron Neal, meanwhile, all finished with catches.
It’s puzzling that Landry Jones has not gotten in sync with Metoyer. During the off week, the two placed extra emphasis on completing the go route in bounds, which had been a problem through the first three games. But after Saturday’s incomplete pass, Jones is now 1-of-7 when targeting Metoyer on passes of 15 yards or more.
• Other than Metoyer, the Sooners did a fabulous job spreading the ball around to playmakers. Damien Williams, Dominique Whaley, Trey Millard, Brennan Clay, LaColtan Bester, Durron Neal, Sterling Shepard, Kenny Stills and Justin Brown all touched the ball. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel did an especially good job getting Millard involved.
Going into the weekend, Millard had touched the ball seven times for the season. Saturday, he got four rushes for 19 yards and two catches for 26 yards.
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Colt McCoy's shoulder suffered a freak injury on a usually harmless hit, and when McCoy trotted to the sideline, the Longhorns' chances of beating Alabama came off the field with him.
A season earlier, Florida twice stuffed Oklahoma on the goal line, giving Tim Tebow his second national title and denying the Sooners the school's eighth.
The Sooners are simply the best team, even though Oklahoma is loaded with flaws. Question marks on the offensive and defensive lines as well as at linebacker could prove problematic in a showdown with one of the SEC titans, but the Sooners would love for the play of four-year starting quarterback Landry Jones to answer it. He's got the skills to decipher complex SEC defensive schemes and the pocket presence to elude the rush. His arm strength assures that SEC secondaries will have to cover the whole field.
The Sooners would have to get past Texas in the Red River Rivalry to make that happen. (Never mind 2008. Just humor me here.) If the Longhorns can survive a brutal Big 12 schedule with six 10-win teams on the docket, they're probably the best Big 12 team suited to beat one of the SEC's best teams in a national title game.
The problem is producing enough offense to beat Big 12 teams. In an SEC matchup, though, it's all about the line of scrimmage. Texas' defensive line may challenge LSU as the nation's best, and the Longhorns have a crazy duo at defensive end in Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat, two of the nation's best at the position.
Texas' depth at defensive line is huge, too, but it likely has the Big 12's best offensive line. The loaded backfield of Joe Bergeron, Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray is a good sign, too. Mack Brown brought in assistants with SEC ties like Manny Diaz (defensive coordinator), Bo Davis (defensive tackles) and Stacy Searels (offensive line) to offer his team a little SEC flavor. You want power football, Nick Saban and Les Miles? Texas would love to play some power football.
What about a Big 12 newcomer who's never won the league and never played for a national title in the BCS era?
West Virginia is all about speed. There are plenty of questions on the defensive line, but the Mountaineers will test the mettle of any SEC defense that's feasted on weak offense all season. Geno Smith's got a big arm and the Big 12's two best receivers in Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin.
West Virginia has to play its best, but if Dana Holgorsen's team can hang 70 on Clemson like it did at the Orange Bowl, the Mountaineers' biggest stage last season, you've got to like its chances to at least put 30 or 40 on the board against an SEC team. Do that, and WVU will have a shot. Just have to survive the first year in the Big 12 and win a league title first.
There's no USC in the Big 12, a team built for a title run in 2012. The Big 12 does have plenty of contenders, though, and if any of these three teams gets a shot, they won't take it lightly.
2011 record: 10-3 | 2011 conference record: 5-2 (Big East)
OU’s all-time against West Virginia: 2-2
Top returners: QB Geno Smith, RB Dustin Garrison, WR Stedman Bailey, WR Tavon Austin, WR Ivan McCartney, C Joe Madsen, DT Jorge Wright, CB Pat Miller, SS Terence Garvin
Key losses: OT Don Barclay, OG Tyler Rader, DE Bruce Irvin, DT Julian Miller, LB Najee Goode, LB Casey Vance, CB Keith Tandy, FS Eain Smith
2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Dustin Garrison* (742 yards)
Passing: Geno Smith* (3,978 yards)
Receiving: Steadman Bailey* (1,197 yards)
Tackles: Najee Goode (87)
Sacks: Bruce Irvin (8.5)
Interceptions: Keith Tandy (4)
What they’re saying: "It sounds like everybody in the room thinks that we're pretty good, or that Geno is pretty good. It's a compliment to Geno. ... He progressed and he's got a chance to be pretty good." – head coach Dana Holgorsen on Geno Smith being voted preseason All-Big 12 QB over OU’s Landry Jones
Three things to watch:
1. Despite playing West Virginia four times, the Sooners never have been to Morgantown. Going there figures to be OU’s toughest test of the season. The Mountaineers have a formidable home-field advantage, and OU will be West Virginia’s biggest conference home game in years. Will the Sooners be up to the challenge?
2. The two best quarterbacks in the league – Landry Jones and Geno Smith – face off in this one. Both can sling it around the field. But whoever takes care of the ball best figures to be the one who leads his team to victory.
3. The Sooners secondary will be on the spot against Dana Holgorsen’s high-flying attack. The Sooners succumbed to the spread attacks of Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State in 2011, giving up huge plays in the passing game to all three. What will the unit do in its toughest test of the season?
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Oklahoma State Upsets Oklahoma In OT
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
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