OU’s offense had three passing first downs and was averaging 4.63 yards per play before that final drive. Yet, the Sooners matched their previous output with three first downs on the final drive, averaging 7.13 yards per play on an eight-play scoring march (they added a defensive touchdown on the game’s final play).
Here’s a closer look at five key plays, after a film study review of the game, that transformed the Sooners from a potential three-loss squad to BCS bowl participant.
Sterling Shepard’s 9-yard catch on the drive’s first play. A good play call and design got Shepard loose on a receiver screen pass. The sophomore faked outside on a swing pass then dipped inside to catch the ball with three blockers ahead of him. Only a terrific tackle by OSU linebacker Joe Mitchell kept the play from being a big gainer. It was the perfect way to start the drive because it gave Blake Bell and the rest of the Sooners’ offense immediate confidence.
OSU cornerback Justin Gilbert’s non-interception: After the Sooners had moved the ball to the OSU 30-yard line, Gilbert appeared to intercept Bell by outleaping Lacoltan Bester for the ball. But Bester continued to fight, pulling Gilbert’s right arm as the pair hit the ground, to knock the football out of Gilbert’s hands. It was a call that could have gone either way, so the awareness to go up tempo and the execution of a play immediately was the difference. That ability took the option to review the play and reverse the on-field call away from OSU coach Mike Gundy and the officiating crew upstairs. Even though OU hasn’t used it much in games this season, it’s unlikely a team that does not practice tempo, or is not prepared to execute in pressure situations, would have been able to eliminate a potential review. The quick recognition of the scenario and ability to run a play that quickly was easily the best thing OU did on the entire drive.
Bell connects with Saunders on third-and-10: The Sooners quarterback had plenty of time to simply stand in the pocket but scrambled anyway and found Saunders for 13 yards just before he passed the line of scrimmage. It was clear Bell was looking the entire way for Saunders, who has been a third-down conversion machine in the second half of the season. But it was actually his decision to scramble that forced the first level of OSU’s zone defense to react, allowing Saunders to get open and make the key reception. Even though there was no reason to leave the pocket with OSU rushing just three defenders, Bell’s decision to do so allowed the conversion to happen.
Saunders’ game-winning touchdown: Give Bell a ton of credit. He knew before the snap that he had the matchup he wanted with Jalen Saunders lined up in man-to-man coverage with OSU safety Lyndell Johnson. Saunders is a nightmare for the Big 12’s top cornerbacks so having him matched up on a safety with a play call that Bell knew would have Saunders running away from Johnson on a corner route took all thinking out of the equation. It was all about the throw at that point. Bell had a clean pocket, thanks to Brennan Clay and the offensive line, and made a perfect throw to the corner of the end zone.
The Boone Pickens Stadium crowd was stunned, Baylor rejoiced and the Sooners seized the opportunity to earn a BCS berth. The silence in the Cowboys’ home stadium -- outside of the section of Sooners fans -- can be matched only by the silence of the critics of Bell and offensive coordinator Josh Heupel after those critical moments. Bell and Heupel stepped up when the program needed them the most, Heupel with a couple of exceptional play calls and Bell with terrific throws and decision-making on the final drive. In less than two minutes, OU’s offense went from preparing to answer questions about why it didn’t show up to being the reason the Sooners are Sugar Bowl-bound.
Arizona State Sun Devils (10-3) vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders (7-5)
Dec. 30, 10:15 p.m. ET, San Diego (ESPN)
ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS BREAKDOWN
Arizona State hit the 10-win mark in Todd Graham's second season as head coach and won the Pac-12's South Division. Despite a decisive loss in the conference title game to Stanford, the program appears to be on a decided uptick.
After an impressive domination of USC, a 62-41 defeat that got Trojans coach Lane Kiffin fired, the Sun Devils played a flat game against Notre Dame in Cowboy Stadium. That, however, would be their last regular-season defeat. They rolled up seven impressive wins in a row and won the South and earned home-field advantage in the Pac-12 title game.
Most notable was a road victory at No. 14 UCLA -- the Sun Devils had been notoriously inconsistent on the road -- and a 58-21 beatdown of archival Arizona.
While Stanford pushed Arizona State around in both meetings this fall, knocking the Sun Devils out of the Rose Bowl, it clearly was a satisfying season in Tempe. The Sun Devils are led by DT Will Sutton, two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, and QB Taylor Kelly, who earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors. The only bad news over the final part of the season was an injury to RB Marion Grice, who missed the last two games and is questionable at best for the Holiday Bowl.
-- Ted Miller
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS BREAKDOWN
Momentum is a strange thing. Texas Tech had an awful lot of it to start 2013, winning seven in a row to kick off Kliff Kingsbury’s debut season. The team climbed as high as No. 10 in the polls.
This bowl game gives Kingsbury a chance to regain some of that momentum entering the offseason, both for next year’s team and the next few months of recruiting. A victory would be Texas Tech’s first since Oct. 19, a win at West Virginia.
It’s also more time to shore up the weaknesses that the Big 12’s best teams were able to expose. The Red Raiders’ run defense gave up 294 rushing yards per game in its losses and should be seriously tested again.
Perhaps the biggest questions the bowl can answer for Texas Tech is this: Who’s the quarterback? Baker Mayfield started seven games in 2013, Davis Webb started five and Michael Brewer could still be in the mix. Getting another game and 15 extra practices could help bring clarity. -- Max Olson
Oklahoma Sooners (10-2) vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1)
Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET, New Orleans (ESPN)
OKLAHOMA SOONERS BREAKDOWN
Outside of his 2000 national championship, this season might constitute Bob Stoops’ best coaching finish.
The way the Sooners won Bedlam underscores just how improbable a finish it was. Oklahoma didn’t even score an offensive touchdown until the final 19 seconds of the game, yet somehow toppled the heavily favored, then sixth-ranked Cowboys, 33-24.
Unlike the Jason White, Sam Bradford and Landry Jones eras, the Sooners are not equipped to win in shootouts. But led by a veteran offensive line, a reliable running back in Brennan Clay and its mobile quarterbacks, Oklahoma does have a strong running game, ranking 18th in the country.
Even without a surefire all-conference player, the Sooners also have their best defense since 2009. They are undersized up front, but the pass defense is prolific. Aaron Colvin is a proven lockdown corner, and Eric Striker is one of the best blitzing linebackers in college football.
The true strength of this team, however, is special teams. Jalen Saunders, who had a touchdown return in Bedlam, is one of the most electric returners in the country. Roy Finch leads the Big 12 in kickoff returns. And Michael Hunnicutt is a reliable field-goal kicker.
It will be interesting, as it has been all season, to see what the Sooners do at quarterback in the bowl. Freshman Trevor Knight won the job late in the season and was terrific at Kansas State. But he suffered a dislocated shoulder just before halftime at Oklahoma State. Knight should be fine for the bowl. But Blake Bell, who struggled in the losses to Texas and Baylor, led Oklahoma on the game-winning touchdown drive in the final seconds of the fourth quarter that beat Oklahoma State. -- Jake Trotter
ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE BREAKDOWN
The sting of losing the Iron Bowl remains. The Crimson Tide didn't expect to fall to the Tigers in the final week of the regular season, miss out on the SEC championship game and, as a result, a trip to Pasadena, Calif., for a shot at a third-straight BCS championship. All of which begs the question: How will Alabama respond now that it has been relegated to the Allstate Sugar Bowl? And does Oklahoma stand a chance?
But Alabama isn't the same team it was then.
On offense, Alabama is actually much better as Doug Nussmeier has guided UA to 38.8 points per game -- the most in the Nick Saban era. AJ McCarron might not win the Heisman Trophy, but he has a shot at making it to New York having thrown for 2,676 yards, 26 touchdowns and only five interceptions. The offensive line that was rebuilt after being the best in college football a year ago has actually allowed 12 fewer sacks this season than the last. And the running back tandem of T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake hasn't disappointed either, combining for 1,857 yards and 21 touchdowns.
The defense, though, has endured its ups and downs. Against Texas A&M, it gave up the most yards in school history, and against Auburn, it allowed the most rushing yards since 2011 (296) and the most rushing yards by a quarterback (99) in the Saban era. Discipline was an issue in those games and the back end of the defense was a troublesome spot throughout as strong safety Vinnie Sunseri was lost to injury midway through the season and the cornerback spot opposite Deion Belue was a revolving door with John Fulton, Cyrus Jones, Bradley Sylve, Eddie Jackson and Maurice Smith all taking unsuccessful turns.
The Tide’s defense will be tested by Oklahoma. With a few QBs that can run, if Alabama doesn't come out ready to play, it could turn into a shootout as the Sooners possesses the kind of spread offense that has given the Tide trouble (http://espn.go.com/blog/sec/post/_/id/75890/alabama-at-loss-defending-spread-offenses). LSU had the best tandem of receivers Alabama faced this season, but Oklahoma might have the best receiver corps with three wideouts with 20 or more catches. Jalen Saunders has 615 yards and five touchdowns of his own and Sterling Shepherd, who has 428 yards and six touchdowns, is the kind of shifty receiver that can hurt you. -- Alex Scarborough
UCF Knights (11-1) vs. Baylor Bears (11-1)
Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET, Glendale, Ariz. (ESPN)
UCF KNIGHTS BREAKDOWN
UCF entered its first year in the American Athletic Conference with high hopes. But nobody outside the program anticipated the Knights would win the conference championship. Not with preseason No. 9 Louisville standing in the way.
UCF went on the road and never flinched, not after falling behind 28-7. Blake Bortles calmly led a 38-35 comeback win, throwing the winning touchdown pass to Jeff Godfrey with 23 seconds remaining. The win paved the way for UCF to earn the American title outright and its first BCS bid as new league members. It also served as the biggest win in school history given where the Knights stand today.
Bortles keyed the season. The junior from Orlando threw for 3,280 yards this season, with 22 touchdowns to seven interceptions. He has risen up through NFL draft boards with his performance and now faces a decision about whether to return to UCF. But he wasn’t alone. The Knights have one of the deepest receiving groups in the league, as three players have at least 600 yards. Storm Johnson ran for 1,000 yards, and the Knights ranked in the top 20 in the nation in total defense, scoring defense, pass efficiency defense and rushing defense.
But the season was not without its share of drama. Five times UCF needed to come from behind in the second half to win conference games. That includes victories over Memphis, Temple and USF -- three of the worst teams in the league.
The Temple victory was perhaps the closest UCF came to seeing its BCS dreams end. The Knights trailed 36-29 with 2 minutes to go, but J.J. Worton made an acrobatic, one-handed touchdown catch to tie the game, and Bortles got the Knights into field goal range with 2 seconds left to lead the win.
History has been made. As the American moves forward into a new era, UCF gives the league plenty to build on. -- Andrea Adelson
BAYLOR BEARS BREAKDOWN
Dreams came true in Waco, Texas, this season, as Baylor rose from the conference cellar to Big 12 champions under the direction of Art Briles. The Bears could win 12 games for first time in program history with a Tostitos Fiesta Bowl win over UCF.
Quarterback Bryce Petty was easily the best signal-caller in the conference and played a major role in the Bears’ FBS-leading 53.3 points per game and 624.5 yards per game this season. He will lead a passing attack that could be a handful for a UCF defense that allowed 229.83 passing yards per game, tied for 61st in the FBS.
Even though Briles’ squad featured the nation’s most productive offense, the real foundation of Baylor’s first Big 12 championship was its defense. The Bears defense ranked among the top three in the Big 12 in most categories and led the conference in yards per play allowed (4.53) and yards per rush allowed (3.26).
Safety Ahmad Dixon brought a physical tone and unyielding confidence to the defense, while its front seven, led by defensive end Chris McAllister, was underrated throughout the fall.
After its strong finish to the 2012 season, Baylor was viewed as an Big 12 sleeper heading into the 2013 season. Turns out the Bears were the Big 12’s sleeper team. And much more. -- Brandon Chatmon
Duke Blue Devils (10-3) vs. Texas A&M Aggies (8-4)
Dec. 31, 8 p.m. ET, Atlanta (ESPN)
DUKE BLUE DEVILS BREAKDOWN
As expected, Duke was overmatched in the ACC championship game and lost convincingly to Florida State, but the loss didn’t define the season, which includes a school-record 10 wins.
Although Duke lost to Florida State for the 19th time and remains winless against the Noles, what happened in that game wasn’t reminiscent of the “old Duke.” Instead, Duke just got a taste of what FSU had been doing to its opponents all season. Duke still has a much-improved defense, which was evident in the first quarter, when it held the Noles scoreless for the first time since they played Florida in 2012. Duke also forced Florida State into three turnovers, including one fumble in the red zone and two interceptions. Duke has now had four takeaways in the red zone this season. Duke’s biggest problem was that it couldn’t capitalize on Florida State’s mistakes or sustain a drive.
That wasn’t the case for most of the season, as Duke was able to score more than 20 touchdowns on the ground and in the passing game for the first time in school history. Despite the loss to FSU, it was an unprecedented season for Duke and coach David Cutcliffe, who was named the ACC’s Coach of the Year. -- Heather Dinich
TEXAS A&M AGGIES BREAKDOWN
This is not quite where Aggies fans thought their team might end up when they were previewing the season.
But an extremely young defense that was hit hard by graduation (at least in terms of key players) struggled throughout the season, and a beaten-up Manziel lost steam in the final two regular-season games, which led the offense to do the same.
All that being said, 8-4 isn't bad, and the fact that it's a "disappointment" in Aggieland speaks to how much progress the program has made in a short time. This team still has a high-powered offense, ranking sixth in the nation in points per game (43.6) and fourth in yards per game (538.2).
The defense has had its ups and downs but ended the regular season on a solid note on the road against a talented Missouri team, keeping the game within reach for its offense.
And this could be the last hurrah for Manziel, who seems destined to declare for early entry into the 2014 NFL draft. It could also be the final salvo for Evans, a Biletnikoff Award finalist, who is also draft-eligible. -- Sam Khan Jr.
WACO, Texas -- For the second year in a row, Texas players watched and walked away. Another team celebrated a Big 12 championship after beating the Longhorns. Another team got to party at home.
Last year, Kansas State. This time, Baylor. Both headed off to the Fiesta Bowl while Texas is left to wonder where this is all going.
This time, coach Mack Brown had to address and assess the future. He didn't convey much worry about where he fit into the Longhorns' future.
"Just got to keep playing, keep winning," Brown said. "We had our chance to get in the Big 12 championship this year. Guys will go out recruiting tomorrow. Go back to work, try to win the bowl game, get your ninth win and go back to spring practice. We've got spring practice in February, so it happens fast."
The game, the day, the season -- all opportunities missed. And Brown acknowledged that, to some extent. He opened his postgame press conference by running through the laundry list of costly mistakes.
What he didn't want to speak to, though, was whether he has decided if he wants to come back and give it another go in 2014.
"I'm not talking about any of that tonight," Brown said. "I'm in the same position I was when I've been asked the other 15 times. We'll talk about the team tonight."
The hard, complicated question isn't whether Mack Brown should come back. It's this: Why would he want to?
That Texas got this far was admirable, considering all the injuries and hurdles. It was truly a crazy, unpredictable season, all the way down to the final quarter of this game.
But does Brown want to do this all over again? Why would he sign up for another season of this?
If Texas president Bill Powers and athletic director Steve Patterson give Brown another season, it's hard to envision a 2014 campaign that won't be just as rough and challenging as this one, if not more so.
The schedule next season is awfully similar, with the marquee non-conference game a showdown with UCLA at AT&T Stadium next September. Lose that game -- to a Bruins program that went 9-3 this season, has serious momentum and began Mack's misery in 2010 -- or stumble against BYU, and we'll go right back down this road again.
Week after week of scrutiny and distractions and fires to put out. A fan base growing more discontent and apathetic each Saturday. Who wants to coach in that culture?
Brown already will be tagged and tarred as the coach on the hottest hot seat this offseason if he returns. The national chatter that he's running out of time will undermine his efforts in recruiting. The doubters can cause the same kind of prove-yourself mentality that doomed former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
That's not to say he can't win next year. That's not to say that, if Texas struggles early, Brown can't unleash another masterful performance of crisis management and coax his players to go on another run.
But he has coached 50 games since the BCS championship game against Alabama. Texas is now 30-20 in the last four years and one game above .500 (18-17) in Big 12 games. Brown restructured after 2010 around two coordinators who now are gone. If things go downhill from here, is he really interested in rebuilding his rebuild?
Texas lineman Trey Hopkins said Brown still has the full support of the locker room. His players aren't bailing on him. But 10 senior starters will graduate. David Ash will have to lead the offense after missing 10½ games this season with a concussion.
And if you want to go deeper, recognize the hole Texas could be in if Ash has issues. Case McCoy is gone. Tyrone Swoopes wasn't entrusted to contribute much as a freshman. ESPN 300 commit Jerrod Heard can't enroll early for spring ball. Jalen Overstreet moved to running back. Bringing in an experienced transfer quarterback seems like a must now.
Brown will do this kind of math, calculating whether Texas can win with what returns. He wants to win and win big.
He thought the Longhorns could do that this year, and in all fairness, it has been a hell of a season. If Brown had been on this job only a few years, he'd get the injury mulligan that Will Muschamp received at Florida. Heck, he still might. Brown's team fought and overcame and came up short.
Just as important, though, the guy wants some respect. Brown put up with an awful lot this season. He put his pride on the line and tried to shoot down all the speculation as best he could. But at a certain point, when is it no longer worthwhile?
Forget legacy and statues and ego for a moment. Signing up for another year of this carnival would make any coach miserable over time.
Brown will travel to New York this week with Powers and Patterson for the College Football Hall of Fame inductions. At some point, there will be a discussion about the future.
But Brown has a decision of his own to make. He has to search his feelings. Even if he's given the choice, does he really want to do this again?
AUSTIN, Texas -- The great unknown of Texas’ future remains unsolved two days after Texas’ loss to Baylor. But the imminent future was at least settled Sunday: Texas is returning to the Valero Alamo Bowl, this time to take on No. 10 Oregon.
And that proposition looks about as scary as anything Mack Brown and his loyalists might see in the next few weeks.
We don’t know what’s next for Brown. He traveled to New York on Sunday with UT president Bill Powers and athletic director Steve Patterson for the College Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. He’s supposed to hit the road this week for in-home visits with recruits.
The response from fans and pundits on Sunday night was relatively consistent: Texas (8-4) is going to get smoked by Oregon (10-2). It won’t be pretty.
Oddsmakers have made the Ducks a two-touchdown favorite, which is familiar territory for the Longhorns by now. This team liked playing the underdog role in 2013, so perhaps there’s no better way to end the year than with Texas’ most difficult matchup yet.
Oregon has a two-time All-Pac-12 quarterback in Marcus Mariota. He ranked No. 2 in the nation in QBR this season behind Florida State's Jameis Winston. If not for an MCL sprain that limited his game late in the season, Mariota would likely be New York-bound as well this week. The way this Heisman field fell apart, he still might.
The Ducks' famously fast tempo won’t be what causes this Texas defense trouble. The Longhorns have seen faster this season, and Oregon’s plays-per-game-average of 75 is down from a year ago.
The problem will be the option. Among spread offenses, nobody does that better in college football than the Ducks. It’s a big reason they’re 56-9 since 2009, the year former coach Chip Kelly took over.
Mariota rushed for 695 yards excluding sacks this season, his second as the starter. He says the knee injury that prevented him from running effectively should be 100 percent healed by the Dec. 30 bowl game.
And he’s surrounded by options: Three running backs surpassed 500 yards this season, led by second-year back Byron Marshall’s 995 yards. He has an ankle injury, but also plenty of time to recover.
And don’t forget De’Anthony Thomas, as explosive a player as there is in college football. He’s healthy again after missing four games with an ankle injury. Miss him once in space and he’ll hit the home run. And when you sell out to stop the run, Josh Huff (1,036 receiving yards, 11 TDs) can sneak behind the defense and make you pay.
“These guys are like Baylor," Brown said. "They can score fast and they do a tremendous job."
Read option, speed option, triple option, veer, packaged plays – the Ducks do it all. No other bowl team has more 20-yard runs this season than Oregon.
And few bowl teams struggled more to stop the option and the quarterback run than Texas. For all the progress Greg Robinson and the defensive staff made in the past 10 games, this remains the team's Achilles’ heel.
The Longhorns gave up the ninth-most rushing yards to quarterbacks in the bowl subdivision. As Brown joked midway through the season: If Texas’ opponents don’t run the option, they’ll put it in the playbook.
It was just too easy, even against a defense with a pair of All-Big 12-caliber ends. Injuries have rendered this unit thin at linebacker and defensive tackle. Robinson, his coaches and his defenders will need these 15 bowl practices to find answers.
Oregon’s defense is far from flawless, but it did hold foes to 19 points per game in its wins. It’s a top-three scoring defense in the Pac-12 and No. 4 in total defense. At the moment, though, the attention of Texas’ offense will be on fixing itself.
Case McCoy is coming off the worst start of his career. The Longhorns gained 59 yards in the second half Saturday at Baylor. Their only touchdown drive began at Baylor’s 11-yard line, and they still needed seven plays to score.
They’ll need every practice and film session afforded to them this month. Stanford beat Oregon with pure power. Arizona blew out the Ducks with an elite running back. What’s it going to take for Texas to pull this one off?
The Longhorns have their own problems to solve first, and plenty of preparation ahead. If you think the next three weeks will be rough and messy off the field, it can get a lot worse if Texas doesn’t stay focused on its toughest test yet.
OSU’s yards per play on third down: OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops had his defense ready to go on third down as the Cowboys finished with negative yardage on third down. OSU ran 13 plays for minus-12 yards on third down, an average of minus-0.92 yards per play. The Pokes converted just 2 of 13 third down-conversion attempts. The Sooners secondary was so solid it held Clint Chelf to an raw QBR of 9 on third down after he entered the game leading the Big 12 with a 91.8 QBR on third down plays, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
OU won the turnover battle: The Sooners finished plus-1 in turnover margin after head coach Bob Stoops had repeatedly mentioned the turnover battle heading into Bedlam. True enough the Sooners got their final turnover on OSU’s final desperation play but to play OSU even in the turnover battle through 60 minutes of action changed the game. The Cowboys success this season was largely built upon forcing turnovers, and they fell way short of their four-turnover-per-game goal as the Sooners had one giveaway, a Kendal Thompson interception.
OSU’s 3 yard per carry average in the second half: OU’s run defense buckled down after halftime. OSU had 14 carries for 42 yards and one touchdown in the second half and really couldn’t regain the rhythm it had to open the game. Desmond Roland had nine carries for 34 yards (3.78 ypc) and one touchdown after amassing 12 carries for 110 yards (9.17 ypc) and one touchdown in the first 30 minutes.
OSU’s percentage of drives without a first down or touchdown: The Cowboys entered Bedlam with just 30.5 percent of their drives ending without a first down or touchdown. Against the Sooners, 46.7 percent of their drives ended without a first down or touchdown. Texas Tech, Texas and Baylor, three top 25 teams who suffered November losses to the Pokes, were unable to force more than 30 percent of the Pokes drives to end in that fashion. The Sooners did, and they headed home with another Bedlam victory.
Team of the week: Baylor was unranked to begin the season and picked to finish fifth in the Big 12. Instead, with a convincing 30-10 victory over Texas, the Bears won 11 games for the first time in school history to capture the program’s first outright conference title in 33 years. Baylor will cap its magical season against Central Florida in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Disappointment of the week: Oklahoma State had a chance at a second Big 12 title and BCS bowl berth in three years. And all the Cowboys had to do was beat Oklahoma in Stillwater as 10-point favorites. Instead, despite shuffling through three quarterbacks and not scoring an offensive touchdown until 19 seconds left in the game, the Sooners knocked off their instate rival yet again. The Cowboys have lost 10 of 11 to Oklahoma, but given the circumstance and the ending, this one hurt worst of all.
Big (defensive) man on campus: Cornerback K.J. Morton returned from an abdominal strain to deliver the exclamation point to Baylor’s season. Morton picked off Texas quarterback Case McCoy twice, returning the second 57 yards in the fourth quarter for an apparent touchdown. The score was nullified on his celebration penalty. But by then, the party had already begun in Waco.
Special teams players of the week: The field goal tandem of Grant Bothun and Michael Hunnicutt converted Bob Stoops’ first successful fake field goal attempt in 11 years. After their drive stalled at the Oklahoma State 8-yard line, the Sooners lined up for a field goal. Instead, Bothun, the holder, took off running with the ball left and threw the ball to Hunnicutt, the kicker. Hunnicutt backed into the end zone before getting belted by two Cowboys, tying the score 17-17.
Play of the week: Cornerback Justin Gilbert appeared to have ended Bedlam with an Oklahoma State victory, as he came down with an apparent interception on a jump ball to Lacoltan Bester. But instead of landing on the turf, Gilbert landed on Bester, who tapped the ball out of Gilbert’s hands at the last moment. Officials ruled it an incompletion, and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy inexplicably didn’t challenge the call. Five plays later, Bell hit Saunders for the game-winning score.
Stat of the week: As Oklahoma State’s head coach, Gundy’s record against Oklahoma is 1-8. Gundy’s record against the rest of the Big 12: 44-22
Quote of the week: “A defining moment for our program and one I think we'll be able to repeat many times." -- Baylor coach Art Briles, after the school’s first Big 12 championship
Baylor needed Oklahoma to top Oklahoma State in the annual Bedlam Series, but when Saturday came to an end, the Bears were the new Big 12 champion. While Baylor didn’t add to its recruiting tally for the 2014 class, TCU, West Virginia, Iowa State and Kansas landed commitments throughout the week. The Cyclones picked up three pledges, while the Horned Frogs and Jayhawks added two apiece.
Here are some of this past week’s highlights:
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
UNLV Rebels (7-5) vs. North Texas Mean Green (8-4)
Jan. 1, noon ET, Dallas (ESPNU)
Getting bowl eligible earned Bobby Hauck a three-year contract extension through the 2016 season.
A 7-5 finish now has UNLV playing in the postseason for the first time in 13 years. The Runnin' Rebels will ring in the new year against North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl at the Cotton Bowl. There they will try to extend the program's postseason unbeaten streak to four.
They can do that thanks to a five-win improvement from last year's 2-11 squad, which has done a good job of containing some of the Mountain West Conference's potent aerial attacks. UNLV ranks first in the MWC in pass defense and fifth in scoring defense, as they finished tied for third in the West Division with a 5-3 record in conference play. -- Matt Fortuna
NORTH TEXAS MEAN GREEN BREAKDOWN
The Mean Green are one of the better defensive teams in the country, allowing only 18.1 points per game, which ranks No. 9 nationally.
They're also No. 6 nationally in preventing touchdowns once teams enter the red zone, allowing them on just 45.5 percent of opponent's red zone trips.
Special teams is also an area of strength for North Texas.
The Mean Green have blocked eight kicks in 2013, and they have one of the country's best return men in Brelan Chancellor. The senior has a kickoff return touchdown and a punt return touchdown and ranks 11th in yards per kick return (28.14) and fifth in yards per punt return (16.82).
-- Sam Khan Jr.
Oregon Ducks (10-2) vs. Texas Longhorns (8-4)
Dec. 30, 6:45 p.m. ET, San Antonio (ESPN)
OREGON DUCKS BREAKDOWN
During an 8-0 start, Oregon fans had only one thought in coach Mark Helfrich's first season: We want Bama. During a 2-2 finish, they started missing Chip Kelly.
Not only were the Ducks again in the thick of the national title hunt, but QB Marcus Mariota was also the nation's leading Heisman Trophy candidate.
But in that win over the Bruins, Mariota sprained his knee. While the injury didn't force him to miss a game, it severely limited his ability to run either on designed plays or scrambles. That put a major part of the Ducks’ offense on ice.
Stanford dominated the Ducks on both sides of the ball in a 26-20 win on Nov. 7, the Pac-12's marquee date of the year. Mariota struggled mightily, but the real issue was the line of scrimmage. The Cardinal owned it.
The low point, however, was a 42-16 defeat at Arizona that proved the death knell of the Ducks' BCS bowl hopes. It was Oregon's first loss to an unranked team since 2009. The 26-point margin of defeat was their biggest since losing 44-10 to USC in 2008.
The Ducks bounced back with a victory in the Civil War, but that 36-35 nail-biter at home over a reeling Beavers team was hardly suggestive of the team that dominated foes through the first eight games. It will be interesting to see how the Ducks respond in the postseason. It should help that Mariota should be close to full health. -- Ted Miller
TEXAS LONGHORNS BREAKDOWN
The Longhorns had everything on the line against Baylor, including a Big 12 title and a trip to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. They couldn’t get the job done. The bowl matchup that the 30-10 loss leads to is immaterial to Texas fans now. All they want to know is whether the Mack Brown era is over.
Despite losing five starters to season-ending injuries, the Longhorns turned around a rough start with a 7-2 record in Big 12 play. They made that run with a potent power run game, now led by Malcolm Brown (774 yards, nine touchdowns). Whether or not Mack Brown is done, this is the final game for nine senior starters and an opportunity for Case McCoy to end his up-and-down career on a high note.
Texas’ defense underwent a revival in 10 games under Greg Robinson and did hold Baylor’s top-ranked scoring offense to three points in the first half. Jackson Jeffcoat finished with a Big 12-leading 12 sacks in his senior season and anchors a unit that has plenty of experience defending high-tempo spread offenses. -- Max Olson
Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-4) vs. Syracuse Orange (6-6)
Dec. 27, 6 p.m. ET, Houston (ESPN)
MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS BREAKDOWN
The Gophers were the surprise team in the Big Ten this year, as they overcame low expectations and fought through uncertainty surrounding coach Jerry Kill to clinch their first eight-win season in a decade.
It's not as though this team is loaded with stars. Only one player -- DT Ra'Shede Hageman -- was a unanimous selection on the All-Big Ten team. But, week after week, the Gophers relied on a bend-but-don't-break defense (No. 17 in the nation in the red zone) and a run-heavy offense (200.9 ypg) to find a way to win.
Their bread and butter has been the run game, but the Gophers have played their best football when they have struck a balance. During their key four-game winning streak during the conference season -- against Northwestern, Nebraska, Indiana and Penn State -- the Gophers averaged 182.5 passing yards per game compared to 121.5 yards outside of that streak.
Minnesota is still not one of the best teams in the Big Ten, as it lost to both Wisconsin and Michigan State. But, behind quarterback Philip Nelson and tailback David Cobb, the Gophers have taken a step forward -- and are now hoping for their first bowl win since 2004. -- Josh Moyer
SYRACUSE ORANGE BREAKDOWN
The Orange not only had key personnel losses to fill when the season started, they also had a new head coach and a new conference to call home. Doubters wondered how Syracuse would get back to a bowl game given all the questions.
It was not pretty at times. Drew Allen started the season at quarterback but threw too many interceptions and was benched after three starts. Hunt was better, but he was nowhere near elite. He didn’t throw his first touchdown pass in league play until the second-to-last game of the season. There were ugly losses to Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech, too.
But first-year coach Scott Shafer was able to keep his team together. What got his team four ACC wins was its physical play. Jerome Smith had 840 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season, and the rushing defense played inspired. In three of those wins, Syracuse held its opponents to a combined 13 points.
In addition, Jay Bromley posted nine sacks and forced three fumbles to lead the defense. The Orange ended up in a tie for third in the Atlantic Division. Certainly not a bad way to open Year 1 in the ACC.
-- Andrea Adelson
Here are our Week 15 bowl projections for the Big 12:
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1): Baylor vs. BCS at-large
Allstate Sugar Bowl (Jan. 2): Oklahoma vs. SEC champion (or replacement)
AT&T Cotton Bowl (Jan. 3): Oklahoma State vs. SEC No. 3/4
Valero Alamo Bowl (Dec. 30): Texas vs. Pac-12 No. 2
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Dec. 28): Kansas State vs. Big Ten No. 4/5
National University Holiday Bowl (Dec. 30): Texas Tech vs. Pac-12 No. 3
Texas Bowl (Dec. 27): None available vs. Big Ten No. 6
New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Dec. 28): None available vs. American No. 4
Heart of Dallas Bowl (Jan. 1): None available vs. Big Ten No. 7
1. Baylor is the one and only champ: The last time Baylor won an outright conference championship, Mike Singletary was its middle linebacker. Until Saturday. With a little help from their friends from Norman, the Bears captured their first Big 12 title, and won’t have to share it with anybody. Baylor faces some adversity with the loss at Oklahoma State, but Art Briles’ bunch showed some gumption, bouncing back for a hard-fought win at TCU before closing out Floyd Casey Stadium in style.
3. The Mack Brown speculation is about to ramp up: It has been a storyline all season. Now it’s about to reach a fevered pitch. It would have been interesting to see what Texas would have done had the Longhorns upset Baylor, captured the outright Big 12 title and gone to the Fiesta Bowl. Instead, Texas finished with less than nine regular-season wins for the fourth straight season, which requires a thorough internal review from the burnt orange brass. Will Brown be forced to resign before the bowl game? Let the speculation commence.
4. Oklahoma owns Bedlam: The Cowboys have made great strides with their program under Mike Gundy. But one fact remains: They cannot beat the Sooners in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma really had no business winning this one. Oklahoma State was the heavy favorite. At home. With the superior quarterback. And a senior-laded defense. The Sooners didn’t even score an offensive touchdown through the first 59 minutes, 41 seconds of the game. But Oklahoma's defense hung tough, and the Sooners reeled off a pair of remarkable special teams plays to keep the score close. Then, like so many times before in this game, Oklahoma broke Oklahoma State’s back in the final two minutes. Even with all their recent success, the Cowboys have now lost 10 of 11 in Bedlam. And the Sooners still own their instate rivals.
5. Bob Stoops can still win big games: People often needle Stoops’ “Big-Game Bob” moniker. But Saturday, Stoops proved again he can still win the big games. Even the ones nobody expects him to win. Despite rotating three different quarterbacks and playing without the starting left side of his offensive line, Stoops manufactured a win in Stillwater with bold special teams calls and a defense that gave up yards but never broke. The Cowboys had the advantage over the Sooners in many different ways -- quarterback, experience, defense and home field -- but Stoops outcoached his Oklahoma State counterpart. And somehow, someway, added another big-game win to his resume.
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Part 2 of the articles on OSU's involvment in academic fraud was released. Some claim the expose is unfounded. Ian and Richard warn that there are two sides to all stories.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss Mack Brown, Manny Diaz and all the latest with the Texas Longhorns.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett give you the latest on the Johnny Manziel story and Charles Barkley weighs in. You won't believe who the outspoken NBA Hall of Famer is disappointed in and what he thinks about the autograph allegations.
Play Podcast Kirk Herbstreit joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett for his weekly visit to preview the 2013 college football season.
Play Podcast Former TCU and current Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the expectations for the Bengals this season, give a prediction for the TCU-LSU game and talk about what it's like having the Hard Knocks cameras follow him.
Play Podcast Randy Galloway, Matt Mosley, and Mark Friedman react to Dez Bryant's comments regarding the NCAA's ongoing investigation of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Play Podcast Richard Durrett, Ian Fitzsimmons and Glenn "Stretch" Smith react to Dez Bryant sounding off yesterday after practice about Johnny Manziel and the shadiness of the NCAA.
Play Podcast Former NCAA investigator and Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to weigh in on the Johnny Manziel drama and give some insight as to what goes on during an NCAA investigation.