Texas Longhorns: Bob Stoops

Finally, football is back. Well, fútbol, actually.

The World Cup will consume sports fan across the globe for the next month, taking us right up to the outskirts of the college football season.

Many in Big 12 country know little about the World Cup, or what team to pull for outside the United States. So to give you soccer novices a rooting choice, we’ve come up with the fútbol counterparts for every team in the Big 12 (thanks to soccer aficionados Royce and Russ for their help in putting this list together):

BAYLOR

Belgium: Baylor has been the up-and-coming squad in the Big 12, winning its first conference title last year. The Belgians are the up-and-comers of this World Cup, and a popular sleeper pick to win it all. Both have lethal offensive attacks, but still must prove their staying power this year.

IOWA STATE

South Korea: On its home soil in 2002, South Korea pulled off three of the bigger upsets in World Cup history, knocking off Portugal, Italy and Spain to reach the quarterfinals. The Cyclones under coach Paul Rhoads have also been a giant killer at home, most recently upsetting second-ranked Oklahoma State to bounce the Cowboys from the 2011 national title race. With 21-year-old forward Son Heung-min leading the charge, South Korea boasts a potentially formidable offensive attack. And with nine offensive starters back this year, Iowa State has the chance to feature its best offense in a long time.

KANSAS

Australia: Both had their finest moments around the same time -- the Aussies advancing out of its World Cup group in 2006; the Jayhawks winning the Orange Bowl in 2007 -- but the hearts of both fan bases lie in another sport (basketball for Kansas, rugby for Australia).

KANSAS STATE

Greece: Greece is not flashy. But emulating the Bill Snyder playbook to success, the Greeks grind out victories (and ties) with stout defense, fundamental play and by avoiding mistakes. Like K-State, the Greeks have been defined by their coach (Otto Graham/Fernando Santos) more than any star player. And Greece’s improbable 2004 Euro Cup title run might be the soccer equivalent of K-State’s Manhattan Miracle.

OKLAHOMA

Germany: The Germans have been the epitome of consistent success, advancing to the semifinals in eight of the last 11 World Cups. The Sooners have matched that level of consistency during the Bob Stoops era, with eight conference titles and a dozen double-digit win seasons over the last 14 years.

OKLAHOMA STATE

Portugal: In recent years, both have piled up the wins and have featured plenty of star power. But they have failed to breakthrough when the spotlight has been the brightest. Portugal’s “golden generation” flopped in the 2002 World Cup, losing to the U.S. in the opener before failing to advance out of the group stage. Oklahoma State could have clinched the 2010 and 2013 Big 12 titles, but slipped at home against rival Oklahoma. The Cowboys and the Portuguese have also had to exist in the shadow of two preeminent powers in their sports (Sooners/Spain). Still they have become two clubs nobody wants to play, and have reached enviable levels of year-to-year success.

TCU

Uruguay: Uruguay is a small country surrounded by some of the giants in World Cup soccer. The same goes for TCU, which doesn’t have the enrollments or resources of the likes of Oklahoma or Texas. But just like Uruguay, TCU has carved out success with a hardnosed style of play. Furthermore, Uruguay won the first World Cup ever played in 1930, while both of TCU’s national championships came in the same decade (1935, 1938).

TEXAS

England: All the tradition, history and resources. And yet in recent years, these two have been massive underachievers. In South Africa in 2010, the English surrendered the top seed in its group to the Yanks, then got obliterated 4-1 by Germany in the first game of the knockout round. The Longhorns, meanwhile, have failed to win more than eight regular-season games the last four seasons. Because of these struggles, both squads are flying somewhat under the radar, and the talent is still there for either to ignite a run. But first, someone -- anyone -- has to light the fuse.

TEXAS TECH

Mexico: After an emotional roller-coaster ride through the qualifying stages, Mexico is feeling optimistic following a manageable World Cup draw and cleaner play of late. Texas Tech rode the roller coaster of a five-game losing streak last season, but is feeling confident these days coming off its dominating bowl performance against Arizona State.

WEST VIRGINIA

Ivory Coast: Les Éléphants bring the fireworks with Didier Drogba and Yaya Touré the same way the Mountaineers have through the Pat White and Geno Smith eras. But while West Virginia dominated the Big East the way Ivory Coast has Africa, neither has been able to take that next step against the big boys. In its first two appearances in the World Cup in 2006 and 2010, Ivory Coast failed to advance out of its group. Likewise, the Mountaineers have struggled their first two years in the Big 12. Both have the individual talents of a championship-caliber club, but neither will contend until the depth improves.

Big 12 lunchtime links

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
12:00
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Michael Bradley makes a dream come true.
The college football offseason is way too long. But we’re here to help with your suffering. With spring ball done and the season still months away, we’re giving you a taste of the 2014 season, with the long-awaited Big 12 Ultimate Road Trip series.

To those unfamiliar with this series, we both pick a game featuring a Big 12 team in every week of the season that we’d cover if the travel budget were unlimited and there were no editors telling us where to go.

We’ll be basing our choices on a number of factors, including the quality of the matchup and the stakes that could be involved. The only restriction is that each of us can pick only one game per week.

Let’s continue with Week 3.

Sept. 12-13

Baylor at Buffalo
West Virginia at Maryland
Kansas at Duke
Texas vs. UCLA (in Arlington, Texas)
UTSA at Oklahoma State
Minnesota at TCU
Iowa State at Iowa
Arkansas at Texas Tech
Tennessee at Oklahoma

Jake Trotter’s pick: Texas vs. UCLA (Arlington, Texas)

In Week 3, I’m headed to Arlington, Texas, to get a glimpse of what the Longhorns will be made of under coach Charlie Strong.

UCLA will likely be in the top 10 in the polls for this game, giving the Stronghorns a tremendous opportunity to earn back national respect.

Of course, such a difficult early-season schedule could also set the stage for another calamitous start for Texas.

With BYU the week before, and Big 12 co-favorites Baylor and Oklahoma looming the first two weeks of October, it’s not unthinkable the Longhorns could get off to a 2-4 start.

But a win over the Bruins could send a loud message that Texas is on the way back.

Brandon Chatmon’s pick: Tennessee at Oklahoma

I strongly considered a trip to Lubbock, Texas, to see the other SEC vs. Big 12 battle in Week 3, Arkansas at Texas Tech.

But the opportunity to see the Vols try to derail OU’s College Football Playoff hopes was too good to ignore.

This will be Trevor Knight's first opportunity on a big stage to prove his Sugar Bowl performance was no fluke but, instead, a sign of things to come. The sophomore played like a Heisman Trophy candidate in the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama but played like a redshirt freshman for much of the rest of his debut season in 2013. This game will show if he’s taking steps toward consistency.

Tennessee will have enough athletes to give the Sooners trouble if OU doesn’t bring its “A” game. And the Vols will be carrying SEC pride on their shoulders because, as a team that finished in the bottom half of the conference last fall, they are exactly the type of SEC squad OU coach Bob Stoops has questioned when wondering about the overall depth of the SEC.

The Vols can send a message or Stoops can say “I told you so.”

And I’ll be on hand to see it all.

Previous weeks:

Week 1: Trotter -- SMU at Baylor; Chatmon -- West Virginia vs Alabama (Atlanta)

Week 2: Trotter -- Kansas State at Iowa State; Chatmon -- Kansas State at Iowa State

Big 12 lunchtime links

May, 19, 2014
May 19
12:00
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"I'll send a nasty email about it." Good idea, those always work.
We've been doing something different with Friday's Big 12 mailbag. From now on, we'll be including Twitter questions with the regular mailbag submissions. To submit a mailbag entry via Twitter, simply include the hashtag #big12mailbag. You also still can send in questions the traditional way here, too.

To the 'bag...
Trotter: So far, Oklahoma State running back/receiver Tyreek Hill, TCU safety Kenny Iloka and Kansas receiver Nick Harwell. With his speed, Hill could lead the league in all-purpose yards. Iloka is going to be a key piece in the best secondary in the Big 12. And Harwell should finally give the Jayhawks that go-to receiver they haven’t had since Dezmon Briscoe.

Trotter: The Cyclones get K-State in Ames the second week of the season, which could be a dangerous game for the Wildcats, who might get caught looking ahead to that Thursday night clash with Auburn. Another team that must pay heed is Oklahoma. The Sooners go to Iowa State the week before hosting Baylor in a game that could determine the Big 12 crown. OU can't afford to be looking ahead, either.

Trotter: I'm going to set it at 1 1/2, and I think I would actually bet the over. The Jayhawks are going to be better this season, and quite possibly good enough to steal two conference wins.

Trotter: Right now, the Red Raiders have one on campus, and that's well below the national average. I don't see an issue. The way Davis Webb has improved in the last five months, he's going to be the guy the next three seasons barring something unforeseen. That would still give Jarrett Stidham three seasons of eligibility to be the starter, if he redshirted next year. Patrick Mahomes will get this chances, too. Seems like what TTU is going to do is be really good at quarterback the next six years.

Trotter: I have no inside info here, but if the game is at 11 a.m. again, hit me up in the fall and I'll share with you my shortcut to the Texas State Fair.

Trotter: It was a move that had to be made. Sams is too talented to be standing on the sidelines. He's not going to instantly become an All-Big 12 receiver. But if they can devise ways to get Sams the ball in space, the move could work out well. I see Sams getting a lot of his touches through flares, screens, reverses and maybe a handoff or Wildcat formation here or there. If they can get Sams the ball 10 times a game, that will only help the K-State offense. Think Trevone Boykin in TCU's offense late last year. That's how I see Sams best fitting in.

Trotter: Playing? Yes. Starting? No. I think Williams ultimately favors one side of the ball. The most likely scenario is he still keeps a major role at running back, then gives coordinator Matt Wallerstedt 15-20 plays at outside linebacker, which is more than I would have predicted at the beginning of the spring. Williams can really help the defense, but not at the expense of playing 130 snaps.

Trotter: Bob Stoops, Art Briles, Mike Gundy, Bill Snyder and Gary Patterson have ironclad job security. Paul Rhoads and Kliff Kingsbury have nothing to worry about, either, and Charlie Strong is too new to have to worry (though in Austin, that could change fast). That leaves Charlie Weis and Dana Holgorsen, whose seats are warmest among Big 12 coaches. I think Weis just has to show improvement this season. He can't go 0-12. Holgorsen is the most interesting to watch. Considering the brutal schedule, it's very possible West Virginia is better than last year and still goes 5-7, which might not be enough for Holgorsen to keep his job. But if the Mountaineers go, say, 7-5 against that slate, then I would think Holgorsen would be deserving of another year. West Virginia has been recruiting at an impressive clip, and the schedule will line up more favorably in 2015.


jrodxc07 in Dallas writes: Jake, love the blog, nice work sir. I think you could make a case for incoming Baylor receiver K.D. Cannon as Offensive Newcomer of the Year. Can you explain why you left him off your list?

Trotter: Appreciate it, sir. Cannon was actually on the poll for Offensive Freshman of the Year two weeks ago. The newcomer poll was for transfers, which is why you didn't see him there.


I only care about the Big 12 writes: Please go ahead and give us your way-too early power rankings? That is, if you haven't already...

Trotter: I actually released a power poll in January that went this way: OU, Baylor, K-State, Texas, Oklahoma State, Tech, TCU, Iowa State, West Virginia, Kansas. I'll be updating it, though, after spring ball concludes.

Athlon ranks the Big 12 coaches

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
4:00
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Athlon Sports has always been big on lists. And this week, Athlon’s Steven Lassan ranked all 128 FBS coaches. He also pulled out the top 10 Big 12 coaches.

As a disclaimer, this is NOT our list. This is Athlon’s. So forward all hate tweets and emails to them. Not me. I already get enough.

[+] Enlarge Art Briles
Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty ImagesArt Briles' status has grown in the eyes of Athlon.
Without further ado:

1. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

2. Art Briles, Baylor

3. Bill Snyder, Kansas State

4. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

5. Gary Patterson, TCU

6. Charlie Strong, Texas

7. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State

8. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech

9. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia

10. Charlie Weis, Kansas

Some observations:

  • Athlon prefers coaches who win conference championships. Briles, Snyder, Gundy and Stoops, the top four on this list, have won the past four Big 12 titles.
  • I went back and checked and noticed some interesting changes. Snyder was No. 1 in 2013, but dropped two spots this year (why, I’m not sure; K-State did win six of seven to close out the season). Mack Brown was No. 6 -- the same slot that Strong opened up here. Kingsbury moved up only one spot after going 8-5 in his first season.
  • In the eyes of Athlon, Patterson’s stock is falling. He was the No. 2 coach going into his first year in the Big 12 and was ranked third going into last season. On the flip side, Briles has made the biggest rise in the last two years, going from sixth to second after winning the Big 12 last season.
  • Athlon actually had Snyder fifth in 2012, which is hard to believe. We’re talking about one of the best coaches of all-time, right?
  • As you can see, I have a bigger beef with the 2012 and 2013 rankings than the 2014 one.
  • Kingsbury has the potential to ascend the most of anyone on this list. I don’t know that the No. 8 spot is completely unfair, considering he’s only been a head coach one season. But if he can turn Texas Tech into a Big 12 contender on a quasi-regular basis, he could jump several spots.
  • This is obviously not an easy list to compile. How do you weigh what Briles has done the last five years against what Snyder has the last 25? It’s all a matter of subjectivity.
There was a time when the notion of not holding a spring game was uncommon.

Fans and recruits could circle the date on their calendars, young players and new coaches saw it as the first opportunity to make a lasting impression.

[+] EnlargeCharles Tapper
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiOklahoma is one of fewer and fewer Big 12 teams that will hold a full-fledged spring game.
More recently, however, the value of the spring game has been challenged with various coaches pondering if a traditional spring game is the most efficient use of time as they aim to prepare their rosters.

This spring, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy raised eyebrows when the Cowboys announced their “Orange Blitz” open practice session would replace their traditional Orange-White spring game. TCU has rarely held a traditional spring game under Gary Patterson, with the Horned Frogs preferring intra-squad scrimmages.

Patterson values the opportunity to watch other team’s spring games on television but refuses to give other coaches that advantage over his team and doesn’t view the event as essential for the Horned Frogs program. TCU has not finalized its plan for this spring, but a traditional spring game seems unlikely.

Although his program normally holds an event, OSU opened the spring with a young, battered roster, which was the main reason for Gundy’s decision to shun a spring game this year. For Gundy, engaging fans with a spring game had to take a backseat to the overall development of the young players in the program during the 15 practices the Cowboys will hold in March and April.

“At some point I have to make a decision based on what's best for our team first and then our fans and people that follow us second,” Gundy said earlier this week.

Other Big 12 coaches point to health concerns as obstacles to holding a traditional spring game featuring two separate squads.

“Spring games are always a trying time due to depth at certain positions,” said Kansas coach Charlie Weis, who will hold KU’s spring game on April 12. “Concern for injuries is always an issue, not being able to field two entire competitive teams is a problem.”

Postponing the spring game can become a real option, particularly after losing a large class of seniors off the roster thus crippling the overall depth of the program until February signees arrive in the summer. Quarterbacks end up switching teams in the middle of the game, a lack of available linemen waters down the quality of the action and fears of a season-changing injury can cloud these spring finales.

“Everyone says, ‘Well I would love to have a draft and have my guys go on each side of the ball,’” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “You can’t, you don’t have the personnel. Sometimes you have so many injuries or you may be thin that you can’t afford to have a spring game and get somebody hurt. Some other years, when we are a little bit down, I don’t want to take a chance on it. It is all great until someone gets hurt and blows a knee out, and then it is, ‘Why did I do that?’”

The Sooners are one of the Big 12 programs that are all-in on the spring game, selling tickets to the event, televising the action and creating a game-like atmosphere at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. But even OU dumbs down the efficiency of the actual football in the game, sitting starters and simplifying schemesto avoid lurkers, such as Patterson, who are aiming to gain useful tidbits on the Sooners that they can use in the fall.

Even with all those drawbacks, the spring game remains valuable for the majority of the conference, with several Big 12 coaches pointing toward the game-like atmosphere, not to mention the recruiting value, of the traditional spring game as assets too useful to ignore.

“I think it's great for the fans,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “You only get six home games in the regular season, sometimes we only get five some years. So to have another game at Jones Stadium so that everyone can come back and tailgate, have some festivities, I think it's great for the university and great for the fan base. And I like to see our players when the lights come on. Anybody can do it in practice, but when the lights come on and there's some pressure and people are watching, let's see how you perform."

Kansas State won’t kick off its spring drills until April 2 but will hold its spring game on April 26. Head coach Bill Snyder believes the tradition of the spring game outweighs any cons.

“The positive attributes of having a spring game for us include tradition, for our young people and our fan base, the benefits it provides our local community and the experience our players get by playing in front of a large crowd,” he said.

Charlie Strong is convinced his team can still get quality work done with a traditional spring game. The Longhorns will hold their version on April 19, with UT’s new head coach convinced it will be just another day for his players to get better.

“The most important thing is that the spring game is another opportunity to get out on the field and coach your team,” Strong said. “It's another practice, more reps and more video to look at as you get ready for the season. It is the final spring practice and having a chance to go in the stadium with a great crowd gives you an opportunity to see how the team responds to that as well."

Realistically, while opinions about the spring game vary when it comes to its value in terms of developing the current roster for the upcoming season, its recruiting value cannot be understated. There is no better spring event to put all the positives of the program on full display and intrigue potential recruits to make a special trip to campus.

“When you can bring players in and see people in the stands cheering and excited, it really helps,” Kingsbury said.

Big 12's best of 2013

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
11:35
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The college football season is over, and what a season it was. Picked fifth in the preseason, Baylor won its first Big 12 championship. Oklahoma, left for dead in early November, rose out of the ashes to win 11 games. Oklahoma State had some of the most puzzling losses and most dominant wins, as well. And Texas, well, the soap opera is finally over.

Here’s a look back at the 2013 season with our Best of the Big 12:

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
Chuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsBob Stoops and Trevor Knight delivered the Big 12 a signature BCS win in 2013.
Best coach: Art Briles, Baylor. Bob Stoops deserves a bunch of credit for how his Sooners surged late in the season, but Briles' leading Baylor to its first Big 12 championship was no small feat. The Bears led the nation in scoring, and beat Oklahoma and Texas convincingly. The bowl game was disappointing. The season overall was not.

Best player, offense: Even though he cooled off later in the year, Baylor’s Bryce Petty still finished fifth nationally in QBR in his first season as a starting quarterback. He threw 32 touchdown passes and did a masterful job taking care of the ball, tossing only three interceptions.

Best player, defense: There wasn’t really anyone who clearly stood out here. TCU cornerback Jason Verrett, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State linebacker Caleb Lavey, Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller and Baylor linebacker Eddie Lackey all had their moments. Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, however, was the only defensive player from the league to win a national award. He was given the Ted Hendricks Award, which goes to the defensive end of the year in college football. Jeffcoat tied for third nationally with 13 sacks.

Best moment: The league has been waiting for a signature victory to hang its hat on. Oklahoma finally gave the Big 12 that victory in the Allstate Sugar Bowl with a stunning 45-31 win over Alabama. Behind freshman quarterback Trevor Knight, the Sooners controlled the game from the second quarter on. Defensively, linebacker Eric Striker and end Geneo Grissom were unblockable, combining for five sacks of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. Offensively, Knight carved up the Crimson Tide for 348 passing yards and four touchdowns. It wasn’t even that Alabama played poorly. It was that Oklahoma played terrifically.

Best rivalry game: Maybe new Texas coach Charlie Strong will bring some more juice to the Red River Rivalry. Lately, it’s been second fiddle to Bedlam. In quality. In drama. In impact. Once again, Bedlam carried major Big 12 title implications, and once again, the game delivered a thrilling ending. Backup quarterback Blake Bell found Jalen Saunders in the corner of the end zone with 19 seconds remaining for the Sooners’ first offensive touchdown of the game, lifting Oklahoma to a win and spoiling Oklahoma State’s shot at a Big 12 title.

Best play: Late in the third quarter of Kansas State’s game against Baylor, Mueller stripped Petty while simultaneously recovering the fumble near the sideline. The acrobatic play gave K-State good field position in Baylor territory, and the Wildcats would go on to take a 25-21 lead. Baylor ultimately outlasted the Wildcats, but Mueller, who also had two sacks in the game, was a big reason why the Bears' high-powered offense was held in check most of the afternoon.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Jasen VinloveUSA TODAY SportsKansas State's Tyler Lockett had seven 100-yard receiving games this season, including two games with more than 200 yards receiving.
Best performance in a loss: The Wildcats eventually lost, but K-State receiver Tyler Lockett could not be covered by the Sooners in their game in late November. Lockett kept the Wildcats in the game, reeling in 12 catches for 278 yards and three touchdowns, prompting Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops to go ballistic on the sideline multiple times. Lockett was also a monster against Texas and Michigan. All told, he totaled 35 catches, 631 yards and six touchdowns against those three programs alone.

Best individual defensive performance: Mueller against Baylor, Verrett shutting down Baylor wideout Antwan Goodley, and Gilbert picking off Texas twice all deserve honorable mention. But Striker gets the nod for wreaking havoc on the two-time defending national champ in New Orleans. Striker had three sacks and forced a fumble after barreling around the edge to slam into McCarron’s blind side. The ball popped loose and Grissom returned the fumble for the game-winning touchdown.

Best true freshman: Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb had to split time with fellow true freshman Baker Mayfield for most of the season. When Mayfield left unexpectedly in December, the job was finally Webb’s to run with. And run he did. Actually, he threw. Against No. 14 Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl, Webb completed 28 of 41 passes for 403 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in one of this year’s best bowl performances from a quarterback. Webb had a solid freshman season, leading the Red Raiders to fourth-quarter wins over TCU and West Virginia. But if the bowl was any indication, the best is yet to come.

Best quote: “So much for the big bad wolf, huh?” -- Bob Stoops, after the Sooners defeated Alabama.

Best and worst of the Big 12 bowls

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
10:00
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Below, we break down the best and the worst of the Big 12’s bowl season:

Best win: The Oklahoma Sooners have been searching for a victory that would signal their return to the nation’s elite. They finally got such a victory in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, as Oklahoma smoked the two-time defending national champs from Alabama, 45-31. With tons of young talent returning, notably quarterback Trevor Knight and linebacker Eric Striker, the Alabama victory could propel Oklahoma toward a national title run in 2014.

Worst loss: Baylor had a chance to put the finishing touches on a fabulous season. Instead, the Bears lost to UCF, one of the biggest underdogs in BCS history, 52-42 in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl as the conference champion Bears ended their season on a sour note. It was still a great season for Baylor, yet one that didn’t end so great.

Best offensive performance: Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Kansas State’s Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett were all terrific, but nobody had the bowl game Knight did. Oklahoma’s redshirt freshman quarterback completed 32 of 44 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns. He did have one interception, but even that pass bounced off his receiver’s hands. Those would be great numbers against anybody, and Knight didn’t produce them against just anybody. He produced them against Alabama.

[+] EnlargeEric Striker
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesOklahoma's Eric Striker dominated Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Best defensive performance: Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker was an absolute menace in the Sugar Bowl. On top of a team-high seven tackles, he sacked Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron three times and forced a fumble in the game’s final minute that sealed the victory. Striker was virtually unblockable all night.

Best special teams performance: Texas Tech dominated most of the National University Holiday Bowl. But the game became tense early in the third quarter when Arizona State scored on a 44-yard run to cut Tech’s lead to 27-20. Those tense moments lasted for just moments. That’s because Reginald Davis returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, putting the Red Raiders back up by two scores. Arizona State never threatened again as the Red Raiders cruised to a 37-23 upset victory.

Best play: With just a minute to play, Alabama got the ball back at its 18-yard line with a chance for game-tying touchdown drive. Instead, on the first snap, Striker came barreling around the edge and crashed into McCarron’s blind side. The ball popped to the ground, and defensive end Geneo Grissom scooped it up and rumbled eight yards for a game-clinching touchdown. It was Oklahoma’s seventh sack of McCarron.

Worst play: The Big 12 had a similar play go the other way. Down 34-31, Oklahoma State drove into Missouri territory with a chance of – at worst – lining up for a game-tying field goal. Instead, the Cowboys called a pass on third-and-7, and before quarterback Clint Chelf could unload the ball, he was sacked from behind by SEC defensive player of the year Michael Sam, who knocked the ball loose. Missouri’s Shane Ray gobbled up the fumble and raced 73 yards for the touchdown, as the Tigers won the game 41-31.

Best catch: On second-and-goal from the Michigan 8, Kansas State wideout Tyler Lockett was lined up across from Michigan cornerback Raymon Taylor. Lockett drove right into Taylor, then looked back to quarterback Jake Waters. The ball came sailing low, but Lockett went down to get his hands under the ball before it touched the ground, giving him his third touchdown catch of the game and putting K-State ahead 21-6.

Worst play-calling: The Cowboys were just 9 of 22 on third down against Missouri, and curious play-calling from offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich seemed to be a big reason why. Twice on third-and-3, Yurcich called running plays up the middle, which Missouri’s powerful defensive line stuffed to snuff promising Oklahoma State drives. Yurcich called another running play up the middle on third-and-1 at the end of the quarter, which the Tigers obliterated again. With the Cowboys defense dominating Missouri through the third quarter, Oklahoma State missed an opportunity to take command of the game. Third-down play-calling was a big reason why.

Best bounce-back performance: The Texas Tech defense had capitulated during a five-game losing streak, giving up 38, 52, 49, 63 and 41 points. But finally healthy again, Tech bucked up in the National University Holiday Bowl, holding Arizona State to 18 points below its season average.

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesArt Briles and the Baylor defense had a nightmarish evening in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Worst disappearing act: Baylor had claimed its defense was actually the best in the Big 12. But in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, the Bears were lit up by UCF for 52 points and 556 yards. UCF had six touchdown drives of 75 yards or longer, the most long drives Baylor gave up in a game all season.

Best quote: “So much for the big bad wolf, huh?” – coach Bob Stoops, after Oklahoma defeated the two-time defending national champion Crimson Tide.

Worst official’s call: With the AT&T Cotton Bowl knotted at 24-24 in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma State cornerback Tyler Patmon appeared to have delivered the play of the game. He stepped in front of Missouri's Dorial Green-Beckham to intercept James Franklin’s pass and returned it 37 yards into the end zone. Officials, however, flagged Patmon with pass interference – a ticky-tack call at best on Patmon, who on replays appeared to be going for the ball. With new life, Missouri capitalized to drive for a field goal, and the Tigers eventually won the game.

Best fan showing: The Longhorns didn’t have the kind of season they had hoped for. But in Mack Brown’s final game, burnt orange filled the Alamodome, turning the Valero Alamo Bowl into a sellout. The bowl game didn’t go the way the Longhorns had hoped, either -- a 30-7 loss to Oregon. But Texas fans sent out their coach in a classy way.
It could have been an ugly bowl season for the Big 12.

Instead, the conference held its own during the season finale, finishing 3-3 in six bowl games, including 1-1 in BCS contests. The SEC led the way among automatic-qualifying conferences with a 7-3 record, followed by a 6-3 mark from the Pac-12, with the Big 12 third, then the ACC (5-6) and Big Ten (2-5).

[+] EnlargeHead coach Bob Stoops of the Oklahoma Sooners
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAfter Bob Stoops and Oklahoma celebrated a win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, it was obvious the Big 12 had a better bowl season than expected.
The Big 12’s national reputation needed a boost -- and it got it with Oklahoma’s Allstate Sugar Bowl win over SEC power Alabama and Texas Tech’s National University Holiday Bowl victory over a 10-win Arizona State squad from the Pac-12.

The eerie silence around Norman, Okla., is Bob Stoops still awaiting the “S-E-C, S-E-C” chant that many expected to rain down upon his Sooners when OU was matched with the Crimson Tide. Outside of BCS champion Florida State, OU was the story of the bowl season thanks to its 45-31 upending of Alabama. And somewhere Stoops is still smiling. His team validated his words about quality quarterback play against SEC defenses; redshirt freshman Trevor Knight validated Stoops' confidence in naming him the starter before the season; and his defense validated the decision to move from a 4-3 to 3-4 with strong performances throughout the year. Nobody had a better bowl experience than Stoops and Co.

Baylor entered the bowl season as the conference's lone clear favorite, with the Big 12 champions expected to take care of business against UCF in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. But Blake Bortles and the Knights had other ideas, upsetting the Bears 52-42 and knocking the Big 12’s reputation back a step in the process. To see the Big 12 champions fall, and look defenseless doing so, kept the bowl season from being an exceptional few weeks for the conference.

Texas Tech could be the overlooked surprise of the conference with its 37-23 win over Arizona State, which finished the season with a loss in the Pac-12 title game. The Red Raiders entered the contest with shaken confidence, having lost five straight games to close out the regular season, yet were undeterred, jumping on the Sun Devils from the outset and dominating the game with a stellar quarterback performance from freshman Davis Webb.

Kansas State took care of business against Michigan and its true freshman quarterback, Shane Morris, cruising to a 31-14 win in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and snapping its five-game bowl losing streak to join the Sooners and Red Raiders in the win column. And Big 12 secondaries can feel better about themselves, because a Big Ten foe couldn’t seem to stop Tyler Lockett, either.

Oklahoma State’s AT&T Cotton Bowl loss to Missouri wasn’t a surprise in a game that was tough to pick as soon as it was announced. The Cowboys had opportunities to win, but ultimately came up short thanks to Missouri’s ability to consistently force OSU’s offense into game-changing mistakes.

And Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl ... um, well, it was good to see Mack Brown walk off the field to cheers after his final game in burnt orange despite a 30-7 thrashing at the hands of Oregon.

Ultimately it was a terrific bowl season for a conference that needed it. OU reminded the nation it can play with anyone, an upstart Tech knocked off a 10-win team, Bill Snyder finally got to end his season with a bowl victory, and future Big 12 stars may have emerged at the quarterback position in Knight and Webb.

Did the Big 12 prove to be the best conference in the nation? No. But it proved to be better than many people thought it was when the season kicked off in August.

Big 12 lunchtime links

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
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It's so cold, the Great Lakes are freezing over, from Chicago to Toronto:

Big 12 lunchtime links

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
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Worlds collided for Nebraska coach Bo Pelini.
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.

Big 12 predictions: bowl edition

December, 26, 2013
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I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and is having a happy holiday. I would have a happier holiday if I could emerge victorious over all you guest pickers.

Like Texas Tech, I suffered a late-season slide to fall behind in the standings. Like Tech, I’m hoping to make it all better here during the bowl season with a big win.

In keeping with the holiday spirit, I charitably selected a final guest picker whose team sadly did not qualify for a bowl. Justin’s submission:

I’m from Iowa and have been a Cyclone fan all my life (Look out for the Cyclones in next year’s bowl picks – we’re going to be a dangerous team in the next few years with Grant Rohach getting more comfortable in the pocket). I have been in the Air Force 11 years and stationed all over the place. My wife Kassie (a Duck fan) and I have been stationed in Turkey for two years and will be getting stationed back in the U.S. next July. I read the Big 12 blog daily and would love the chance to be the guest picker.

To the bowl picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last game week: 1-1 (.500)

Guest picker (Bookworm Jason) last game week: 1-1 (.500)

Trotter overall: 55-19 (.743)

Guest picker overall: 43-14 (.754)

SATURDAY

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Kansas State 35, Michigan 30: The Wildcats surprisingly have lost five straight bowl games, including Bill Snyder’s last four bowl appearances. For that reason, this game appears to mean more to Kansas State than it does to Michigan, which had a disappointing season overall. More times than not, the more motivated team prevails in these midlevel bowl games. With Michigan QB Devin Gardner ailing and questionable for this game with turf toe, the Wildcats win a bowl game for the first time in 11 years, and defensive Ryan Mueller makes good on his promise to dump Gatorade on Snyder with the victory.

Justin’s pick: This will be the least exciting Big 12 game. Snyder will have the Wildcats ready for this game, but Michigan will be too much at the end with a game-winning field goal. Michigan, 27-24


MONDAY

Valero Alamo Bowl: Oregon 44, Texas 28: The Longhorns will play hard in coach Mack Brown’s final game. But Texas faced a version of Oregon (Baylor) just a few weeks ago, and got blown out. Just like they did in Waco, the Longhorns will hang around through halftime. But without the adequate offensive firepower, the game will eventually get away from them again.

Justin’s pick: Texas needed a miracle no-call from the refs to bat my Cyclones. Not even a miracle can save the Horns here. Texas will play with a lot of emotion. But talent wins over emotion every time. Oregon, 48-17

National University Holiday Bowl: Arizona State 48, Texas Tech 31: Other than Texas, no Big 12 team has endured more December drama than the Red Raiders. First, QB Baker Mayfield stunningly decided to leave the program. Then, coach Kliff Kingsbury’s right-hand man Sonny Cumbie bolted for TCU to coach quarterbacks. Now comes a difficult bowl matchup with a team that has legitimate top-10 talent. The only teams that have given Arizona State problems this season have been mashers (Stanford, Notre Dame, Stanford again). The one thing Tech cannot do is mash.

Justin’s pick: Tech comes out scoring in the first half, but Arizona State proves to be too much. Tech has a late surge but comes up short. Arizona State, 31-24


WEDNESDAY

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Baylor 56, Central Florida 33: The only comfortable favorite among Big 12 bowl teams, Baylor must win for the conference to have any chance at a successful bowl season. UCF, however, is better than people in Big 12 country think, with road wins at Penn State and Louisville, and a near upset of South Carolina. Blake Bortles is a big-time QB, and he has playmakers around him. But Baylor has a big-time QB, too, in Bryce Petty. And he has more playmakers around him, including Tevin Reese, who is back from a dislocated wrist. As a result, “America’s Top Offense” goes out with a bang.

Justin’s pick: A lot of people think Baylor is going to smash UCF, and I’m one of them. Bryce Petty has a huge day and the Baylor D smothers the Knights. Baylor 52-24


JAN. 2

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Alabama 41, Oklahoma 17: Bob Stoops has often thrived when his team has been the underdog. Just ask Kansas State and Oklahoma State, whom the Sooners vanquished as road dogs the final two games of the season. Alabama, however, is not K-State and Oklahoma State. And unlike the 2008 Sugar Bowl, when the opponent was Utah, the Crimson Tide should be motivated for this one. The Sooners -- with their quarterback carousel -- struggle to move the ball against the Tide, and Alabama runs the ball at will against an Oklahoma run defense that’s been suspect all year.

Justin’s pick: As much as I love the Big 12, this isn't an Oklahoma team that can hang with a team many feel is still the best team in the country. AJ McCarron gets hot and throws all over Oklahoma's secondary. Alabama, 38-17


JAN. 3

AT&T Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma State 31, Missouri 30: Coach Mike Gundy has been terrible against Oklahoma. But he’s been stellar in bowl games, with three straight bowl wins and a 5-2 record overall. Missouri’s defensive line has gotten plenty of publicity this season, and deservedly so. But Oklahoma State’s defense has been prolific, too. The Cowboys also boast the perfect cornerback to match up with Dorial Green-Beckham in Justin Gilbert, who might be a first-round pick in the spring. Quarterback Clint Chelf also bounces back from a subpar Beldam performance, and the Cowboys land the Big 12 a solid victory over the SEC.

Justin’s pick: Oklahoma State can put up big numbers on any team, but Mizzou has proven itself by beating up on the SEC. The Cowboys won’t be able to handle the pressure from Missouri’s defense. Mizzou, 41-38.
Five underdogs.

Three by double digits.

And only two favorites.

With this bowl season comes a prime opportunity for the Big 12 to earn national respect. Yet also, an opportunity for calamity.

This year, even though Baylor remained undefeated until the final month and Oklahoma State had just one loss until the final game, the Big 12 was never a factor in the national championship race.

[+] EnlargeStoops
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsBob Stoops and the Sooners are heavy underdogs against SEC power Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
One reason why is no Big 12 team opened in the preseason top 10. And that was due in part to a lackluster bowl showing from the conference in 2012.

Big 12 co-champ Kansas State couldn’t hang with Oregon in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Johnny Manziel wiped out the Big 12’s other co-champ, Oklahoma in, the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

All told, the Big 12 went 4-5, with its only impressive victory coming courtesy of Baylor in the Holiday Bowl.

In the spring, despite the poor showings at the top, Sooners coach Bob Stoops championed the depth of the conference. But unable to fill out its quota this year with bowl-eligible teams, the Big 12’s depth argument has dissipated.

And another poor bowl showing from the conference will do nothing but widen the Big 12’s national perception gap with power conferences like the SEC.

Of course, with several premier matchups, the chance is also there to narrow the gap -- starting with a pair of matchups against top teams from the SEC.

Oklahoma gets defending national championship Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and Oklahoma State faces SEC East Division champ Missouri in the Cotton.

Sweeping those would be a huge step forward for the Big 12, as college football transitions into next year’s College Football Playoff, where perception will play a major part.

But if the Bedlam schools get waxed the way K-State and Oklahoma did last year it would do major damage to the Big 12’s case for de facto annual inclusion into the four-team tournament.

“There’s always a lot of talk because there has to be because newspapers have to be filled and air time has to be filled,” said Stoops, when asked about carrying the Big 12 banner in New Orleans. “You have to talk about something, but we don’t concern ourselves with it.”

Yet whether Stoops cares to admit it, his Sooners will in fact be carrying the Big 12 banner as two-touchdown underdogs against college football’s preeminent program of the last five years.

“Being a competitor and going up against a team like this is going to be a challenge, but it’s going to be a lot of fun, as well,” Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin said. “We’re pretty anxious and we’re just excited to get out there and play.”

The Cowboys will be carrying the banner against the SEC, too. Even though they’ll be playing a team that was in the Big 12 just two years ago.

“We've always had a lot of respect for Missouri,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. ““It's interesting that they made the change of going into the SEC and having tremendous success right away.”

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesMike Gundy and the Cowboys have drawn former Big 12 rival Missouri in the Cotton Bowl.
“It certainly makes us feel good about ourselves being in the Big 12.”

Missouri might be a former Big 12 team proving its chops in the SEC. But style points the Tigers rack up count for their current conference, not their previous one.

And as only one-point underdogs, Oklahoma State might have the best opportunity of any Big 12 school to land the conference a landmark bowl win.

“With as many games as they've won and their current ranking,” Gundy said, “they're talked about as a really good football team.”

The Big 12 has opportunity elsewhere to garner respect by toppling a pair of “name” teams.

Like fellow Big 12 flagship Oklahoma, Texas is a two-touchdown underdog to Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl, even though the Longhorns will be playing just 80 miles from their Austin campus.

Texas rallied to defeat Oregon State in the Alamo last year. But the challenge here will be far greater in coach Mack Brown’s final hurrah. The Ducks ranked second in the polls for much of the season, and despite some midseason struggles still boast one of the top offenses in college football.

The Longhorns averaged 31 points per game. Oregon scored that few only twice all season.

“They are someone you definitely have to keep up with or you'll get left behind quickly,” said Texas guard Trey Hopkins. “It will be a big challenge for us against a talented opponent.”

K-State is back in the desert for the postseason, this time the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Even though it’s not a BCS bowl, the Wildcats can also give the Big 12 a big win over a big name.

“As a kid growing up, Michigan is one of those poster programs that you see all over TV, you watch them growing up,” said K-State receiver Curry Sexton. “You kind of almost idolize them – one of those programs that every kid in the country likes to watch play.”

Arizona State might not be idolized the way Michigan is. But this season, the Sun Devils are more talented, and were a fringe top 10 team late in the season. That’s a difficult National University Holiday Bowl challenge for a Texas Tech team that closed out the season on a five-game losing streak and lost starting quarterback Baker Mayfield to transfer two weeks ago.

Which is why for the Big 12 it’s incumbent Baylor prevails as the conference’s only comfortable favorite in the Fiesta over Central Florida.

Tough matchups abound elsewhere. Which is an opportunity for the league to prove its playoff mettle. But also one to lose precious ground in college football’s perception wars.

“It always helps,” Stoops said of beating the likes of an Alabama. “It’s definitely something that could boost you.”

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