- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
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Dealing with the likes of Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Landry Jones had become commonplace for Big 12 defenses in previous seasons. In 2013, defensive coordinators around the conference got their revenge, kind of, as the Big 12 scoring average dropped to 31.7 points per game, the lowest since 2010.
Uncertainty at the quarterback position was the overriding theme throughout the Big 12 except at one school: Baylor. The Bears featured the best quarterback in the league in Bryce Petty, the junior who took control of Art Briles’ offense and looked like a veteran in his first season as a starter while leading the Bears to their first Big 12 championship. While quarterback troubles handcuffed several offenses, playmakers such as Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, West Virginia’s Charles Sims and others around the conference still found ways to impact games.
The defenses became the foundation of Big 12 title runs as Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas used improved defenses to put themselves in title contention on the season’s final day. Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat were among the Big 12’s best defenders.
The season began with Oklahoma State as the favorite in a wide-open race but few foresaw the Bears’ 11-1 season and outright conference title. BU played the role as the Big 12’s most impressive team week after week until a disappointing loss in Stillwater but didn’t let it derail their hopes for a title, defeating TCU and Texas to capture the title when OSU lost to Oklahoma to end the season.
Things weren’t quite as rosy at TCU, where a combination of injuries and turnovers took the Horned Frogs out of the conference title race early in the year. Cornerback Jason Verrett & Co. did their job on defense but got very little help from the offense on the way to a disappointing season for a team that Big 12 players picked as the league favorite.
Offensive MVP: Petty. The quarterback position was the lone question about the Bears' offense heading into the season. Could their new triggerman excel like Griffin and Nick Florence? Petty passed the test with flying colors, passing for 3,844 yards and 30 touchdowns with just two interceptions.
Defensive MVP: Jeffcoat. The Longhorns’ senior didn’t run away from the competition for this award the way Petty did for the offensive version. But a strong end to the year and sitting atop top the Big 12 in sacks (12) and was second in tackles for loss (18) made him the Big 12's top defender in 2013.
Newcomer of the year: Sims. The Houston transfer didn’t envision the struggles he experienced during his lone season in Morgantown, W.Va. Yet, he was one of the league’s best and most consistent playmakers despite the musical chairs alongside him. His 129.1 all-purpose yards per game average was second in the Big 12.
Biggest surprise: Baylor. The Bears finished fifth in the Big 12 preseason poll as question marks about Petty and their defense dragged them down in the minds of many. Yet Petty and the defense rose to the occasion, becoming the driving forces behind the program’s breakthrough season that sees them playing in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Biggest disappointment: TCU. Bigger things were expected from Gary Patterson's squad. Injuries to Casey Pachall and Devonte Fields hurt TCU’s chances but sloppy, uncreative offense did more damage. While the defense played well enough to be in the title hunt, the offense dragged the squad into the bottom half of the Big 12 standings.
Best game: Bedlam. Few people gave Oklahoma a chance to knock off OSU, which entered the game with the chance to make its second Fiesta Bowl berth in three years. But OU answered a late touchdown from the Cowboys with a touchdown of its own in the game’s final moments to destroy OSU’s Fiesta Bowl dreams and catapult OU into the Allstate Sugar Bowl.