For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, scouting reports from within the locker room, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.
With two less teams signing players in the Big 12, the talent-hoarding taking place in Austin and Norman has actually gotten worse (or better, depending on the angle). Of the top 30 players to sign with one of the Big 12 ten, 23 are heading to Texas or Oklahoma . This is not a shocking revelation, as the Horns and Sooners have been stockpiling talent for decades. Yet, this season – even with stronger-than-usual classes from Texas Tech, Baylor and Kansas – this league is still dramatically top heavy. Oklahoma and Texas landed 10 of the 11 Athlon Consensus 100 recruits who signed in the Big 12 and 15 of the top 17 overall.
Editor's Note: A nationally rated recruit is a anyone who received at least one AC100 vote. There were 269 in 2011.
2011 Big 12 Recruiting Team Rankings:
1. Texas Longhorns (22 signees – 7 AC100)
As usual, the Longhorns got started early and held on for an elite haul. With 17 nationally rated recruits, Texas finished with an embarrassment of riches. Running back Malcolm Brown is the gem of the class, but playmakers Quandre Diggs, Josh Turner and Jaxon Shipley should also provide plenty of fireworks on the outside. Throw in seven touted line-of-scrimmage recruits and Texas has one of the most balanced groups in the nation. As usual, Mack Brown was able to handpick the local Texas stars to fill his class. Of the 22 signees, only athlete Josh Turner, from Okahoma City, played his prep ball outside of the Lone Star State.
Nationally rated recruits:
No. 4 Malcolm Brown, RB (Cibolo, Texas)
No, 23 Steve Edmond, LB (Daingerfield, Texas)
No. 38 Quandre Diggs, ATH (Angleton, Texas)
No. 49 Sedrick Flowers, OL (Galena Park, Texas)
No. 51 Desmond Jackson, DT (Houston, Texas)
No. 59 Josh Turner, ATH (Oklahoma City, Okla.)
No. 98 Jaxon Shipley, WR (Brownwood, Texas)
No. 107 Garrett Greenlea, OL (Klein, Texas)
No. 125 Leroy Scott, DB (Pasadena, Texas)
No. 134 Sheroid Evans, DB (Sugar Land, Texas)
No. 135 Quincy Russell, DT (San Antonio, Texas)
No. 160 Cedric Reed, DE (Cleveland, Texas)
No. 210 Mykkele Thompson, ATH (San Antonio, Texas)
No. 221 M.J. McFarland, TE (El Paso, Texas)
No. 225 Kendall Thompson, LB (Carthage, Texas)
No. 248 David Ash, QB (Belton, Texas)
No. 267 Josh Chochran, OL (Hallsville, Texas)
2. Oklahoma Sooners (17 signees – 3 AC100)
This was not a vintage Sooner class – as the sheer number limits its upside. But the quality remains the same for Bob Stoops. The defensive line got a lot of help with three nationally rated tackles and one end. The highest ranked prospects in this class, however, will have their hands on the ball as wideout Trey Metoyer and running back Brandon Wililams upgrade the skill positions. Look for scholarship numbers to be back up again next year. Much like Ohio State last year, there is nothing to worry about in Norman - they might have landed an athlete or two.
Nationally rated recruits:
No. 20 Trey Metoyer, WR (Whitehouse, Texas)
No. 21 Brandon Williams, RB (Brookshire, Texas)
No. 91 Jordan Phillips, DT (Towanda, Kansas)
No. 129 Nathan Hughes, DE (Klein, Texas)
No. 163 Danzel Williams, ATH (Arlington, Texas)
No. 176 Marquis Anderson, DT (Cibolo, Texas)
No. 217 Jordan Wade, DT (Round Rock, Texas)
No. 220 Dylan Dismuke, OL (Duncan, Okla.)
3. Texas Tech Red Raiders (27 signees)
After a seventh place finish in the Big 12 recruiting rankings a year ago, Tommy Tuberville made big strides on the trail in 2011. Five nationally-rated recruits highlight a deep and talented group corralled by Big 12 recruiter of the year assistant coach Robert Prunty (according to Rivals). With Texas and OU dominating the Lone State State, it was important for Tech to reach outside of its borders. Tuberville used nine different states to fill out this class. That being said, the top five names in this class still hail from in-state.
Nationally rated recruits:
No. 139 Jace Amaro, TE (San Antonio, Texas)
No. 204 Kenny Williams, RB (Pflugerville, Texas)
No. 226 Michael Brewer, QB (Austin, Texas)
No. 234 Le’Raven Clark, OL (Rockdale, Texas)
No. 256 Bradley Marquez, RB (Odessa, Texas)
4. Oklahoma State Cowboys (27 signees – 1 AC100)
This is a versatile group with a large number of players projecting to either side of the ball. The defense got plenty of help with seven lineman (five defensive tackles), four linebackers and three defensive backs (along with any "athlete" converts). The wide receiver class is small in stature but can make plays in space. Running back Herschel Sims is the crown jewel of Mike Gundy’s haul, however. He may not be the biggest, fastest, strongest or toughest, but can do anything a coach asks him to do. He is a complete player who performed well against top-level competition and is future star.
5. Texas A&M Aggies (22 signees)
The dichotomy of this class is interesting. On offense, the focus was on the line of scrimmage as four of the seven offensive signees slated to block for A&M. On defense, 10 of the 12 signees will be playing in the back seven. The focus of both sides of the ball seems clear. The secondary is the most impressive unit, with nationally ranked DB Floyd Ravern and League City’s safety Howard Matthews leading the way. Of course, Ravern will need to overcome one of the most bizarre NSD stories this recruiting editor has ever heard – his mother forged his signature on an LOI to Ole Miss.
Nationally rated recruits:
No. 202 Floyd Ravern, CB (Reserve, La.)
6. Kansas Jayhawks (26 signees)
Turner Gill did an excellent job landing talent this recruiting session. He went into Missouri and pulled one of the Showme State’s best in running back Darrian Miller. Six offensive lineman, five linebackers and five defensive backs add tremendous depth to key positions of need.
Nationally rated signees:
No. 196 Darrian Miller, RB, Kansas
7. Missouri Tigers (17 signees)
Disappointing, and small, class by recent standards, but Gary Pinkel always finds talent.
8. Baylor Bears (19 signees)
Solid year for the Bears – as in, not last in the league.
9. Kansas State Wildcats (25 signees)
Tons of JUCO's and helped themselves at QB – sound familiar?
10. Iowa State Cyclones (22 signees)
22-man class headlined by four Sunshine State prospects.
Jones will lead the Sooner attack once again in 2011.
Athlon Sports is in the predictions business. We are currently America’s oldest preseason College Football publication (1967) and have been the most accurate NCAA football predictor over the last five years. With this in mind, and the finale of the 2010 football season quickly approaching, Athlon felt the urge to look ahead to the 2011 season.
Here are “The Way Too Early Predictions for 2011” in the Big 12.
Another conference, another set of cataclysmic changes. Nebraska “moved the needle” for the Big Ten in a big way. The Huskers moved the needle for the Big 12 as well — in the wrong direction. Despite both Colorado and Nebraska fitting better, personality wise, in their new conferences, the impact of the losses will have a profound effect on the Big 12.
No title game and no divisions certainly hurts the Big 12 coffers, but it does not necessarily hurt the remaining powers. The path to an undefeated season, BCS bowl and potential national title berth are now easier. And by definition, the round robin system of conference play is the single truest way to crown a champion. So there is a bright side to all this conference realignment. Well, for Texas and Oklahoma at least.
Until the Big 12 expands, Oklahoma and Texas should be the teams to beat nearly every season. While Texas will have to improve dramatically to challenge in 2011 (which isn’t out of the question), the Sooners will not. In fact, with the right names returning, Oklahoma will once again be the preseason favorite in ‘11. Big names like Jones, Broyles, Good and Lewis can leave early and will obviously be Bob Stoops biggest recruits these next few months. That being said, a loaded 2010 freshman class contributed in a big way this fall and should be expected to take big steps in their development. Sophomores-to-be like Roy Finch, Kenny Stills, Gabe Lynn and Tony Jefferson will be household names soon enough.
Texas A&M would have had a huge void to fill when quarterback Jerrod Johnson departs. However, with Ryan Tannehill taking over in admirable fashion midway through this season, the Aggie attack looks to return intact. The young offensive line and tailback tandem of Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray will be arguably the league’s best running game. If Mike Sherman can convince Jeff Fuller to stick around another year and find a suitable replacement for Von Miller (easier said that done), the Aggies could continue their late season surge into 2011.
The next pack of teams is a conglomerate of question marks with big time upside. Quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert, Brandon Weeden and Robert Griffin will give Missouri, Oklahoma State and Baylor a chance to compete at a high level — if they all return.
The Bears and Cowboys have to replace elite running backs in Kendall Hunter and Jay Finley, but return solid offensive lines and excellent pass catchers. Missouri is in a similar situation minus losing the elite tailback. Their offensive line will return for the most part and the pass catchers should be great. Missouri will have the best defense of the three as well and gets the slight edge because of it.
The success or failure, however, of all three programs hinges almost entirely on the return of the quarterback.
Gilbert has to play better football in 2011.
Then there is the Texas Longhorns. With one of the two best rosters in the league (by a wide margin), there will be no excuse for the Burnt Orange NOT to improve next fall. The front seven and the quarterback were young and inexperienced in 2010 – and it was painfully obvious. Up is the only way to go, and Mack Brown will most assuredly take them there. How much better remains to be seen. Can they jump back into Big 12 title contention? Probably not. But could they make a run at second or third place? Definitely.
The biggest issue for Texas will be replacing the entire offensive line and defensive secondary. But since the Horns couldn’t run the ball or stop the pass, maybe this isn’t a bad thing. The names stepping in were prep All-Americans too and could actually prove that turnover is a good thing in this case. Also, expect the running game to get a huge boost from the nation’s No. 1 running back recruit in the form of Adrian Peterson-lite Malcolm Brown.
Tommy Tuberville’s first season in Lubbock was a tumultuous one to say the least. Fans have been boisterous about how the team performed in 2010, but Tuberville is a good coach and should turn that ship around eventually (if he stays long enough). Tubes had two quarterbacks last season and it hurt him. He will have none heading into 2011 and it could hurt him again. Not too worry too much, however, as there is plenty of talent there with Scotty Young, Jacob Karem and Seth Doege competing for that job. Replacing wideouts Detron Lewis and Lyle Leong hurts — as does filling the void six departing seniors on defense will leave.
Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State will sustain key losses at many key positions. But all three coaches have proven to be underrated and will have their teams ready to go again in 2011.
2011 Predictions (key losses):
1. Oklahoma: QB Landry Jones*, RB DeMarco Murray, WR Ryan Broyles*, OL Stephen Good*, OL Cory Brandon, DE Jeremy Beal, DT Adrian Taylor, LB Travis Lewis*, S Quinton Carter, CB Jamell Fleming*
2. Texas A&M: QB Jerrod Johnson, LB Von Miller, WR Jeff Fuller*
3. Missouri: QB Blaine Gabbert*, OL Tim Barnes, TE Michael Egnew*, DE Aldon Smith*, CB Kevin Rutland, S Jasper Simmons, LB Andrew Gachkar, CB Carl Gettis
Athlon will be awarding postseason honors to each BCS conference in the country. Today we look at the Big 12’s best for 2010.
For the sake of this exercise, the Heisman and Bednarik will function as MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards. The Outland will be given to the offensive lineman of the year while the Lombardi will be given to the defensive lineman of the year. Two fictitious awards, the Adrian Peterson Freshman of the Year honor and the Desmond Howard return specialist of the year award, will be given as well.
Heisman Trophy (MVP/POY): Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State
The most important player in this league could have easily been the quarterback for Baylor, yet for similar reasons, Weeden gets the nod. Weeden had his team within one score of a Big 12 title berth after shattering the single-season passing mark for the Cowboys. His veteran, mature presence undoubtedly helped with the 17 new starters.
Chuck Bednarik Award (Def. POY): Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
The league’s best coverman was the Prince from Lincoln. He led the league in passes defensed with 13, adding a sack and 47 total tackles. Teams consistently ignored his side of the field as he matched up with the opponent’s top wideout. Amukamara could be the top pure coverman in the nation and could be the first cornerback taken in the NFL Draft.
Davey O’Brien Award (QB): Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State
Weeden’s 4,037 passing yards were first in the league (until the title game when Landry Jones passed him with the extra game) and his 156.53 passer rating was the league’s best this season. His 32 TD passes were second only to Jones — who, again, had a extra game.
Doak Walker Award (RB): DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
This was going to go to Kendall Hunter or Murray. Murray led the league in yards from scrimmage (1,716 yards) and trailed only Justin Blackmon in scoring by a non-kicker. Murray also finished in the league’s top ten in receptions per game (5.31). His final line of 257 carries, 1,121 rush yards, 69 receptions, 595 yards and 19 total TDs makes him the top RB in the league.
Fred Biletnikoff Award (WR): Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
This one was a tough call. No, seriously. Blackmon was the nation’s best wideout, leading the country in receptions per game (9.27) and yards per game (151.4) and finishing first in the Big 12 in scoring by a non-kicker (fourth nationally with 10.9 ppg). Yet, Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles was deserving as well. They were the best two wide receivers in the nation, but you have to give the edge to a guy who had no fewer than 105 yards in every game he played.
John Mackey Award (TE): Michael Egnew, Missouri
The Tigers’ tight end trailed only Ryan Broyles and Justin Blackmon for catches per game in the Big 12 this fall (6.92). He was arguably the most productive pass-catching tight end in the nation as his 83 receptions were 29 better than next in line (Collin Franklin – 54). He finished second nationally in yards for a tight end with 698.
Outland Trophy (O-Lineman): Nate Solder, Colorado
The lone bright spot on the Buffalo squad, Solder led the way for Rodney Stewart and his 1,318 yards — good for third in the Big 12. With very little else around him on the offense, the fact that Stewart averaged over 100 ypg is extremely impressive. Look for Solder to be a first-round selection the upcoming NFL draft.
Miller led the league in sacks this fall.
Dick Butkus Award (LB): Von Miller, Texas A&M
There is a small bit of confusion at this spot since names like Von Miller and Sam Acho are technically listed as linemen but play the hybrid role. Miller led the league in sacks with 9.5. He forced three fumbles, picked off one pass, recovered a fumble, deflected six passes and totaled 46.5 tackles. He finished third in the league in tackles for loss as well with 14.5. If Miller counts as only a lineman, then this award probably goes to Orie Lemon of Oklahoma State.
Jim Thorpe Award (DB): Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
See the Chuck Bednarik award above.
Lombardi Award (D-Lineman): Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma
Oklahoma has never had a Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year, and Beal was the Sooners’ first this fall. He led the league in tackles for loss with 18 and finished third in sacks with 8.5.
Adrian Peterson Award (freshman): Taylor Martinez, Nebraska
Martinez experienced some bumps in the road — injuries, inconsistency, his coach publicly berating him on national TV — but also led his team to the Big 12 title game. He finished with 1,578 yards, 9 TDs, 6 INTs, 942 yards rushing and 12 TDs on the ground.
Lou Groza Award (K): Dan Bailey, Oklahoma State
The Pokes kicker led the league in scoring (11.42 ppg) and was second nationally in that category. His 2.0 field goals made per game (24 total) led the league and were third nationally. Again, the Cowboy was an easy selection.
Ray Guy Award (P): Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
The Pokes punter finished third nationally — and led the league — with an average of 46.24 yards per punt.
Desmond Howard Award (KR/PR): Williams Powell, Kansas State
Even though he didn’t return punts, Powell led the nation at 34.6 yards per kick return. His 726 kick return yards were second in the league, and he took one back against Baylor.
Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year (HC): Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Replacing 17 new starters, including the school’s all-time leading passer at quarterback, was a tall order. But Gundy had his team within two plays of the Big 12 title game, and he got a win in Austin for the first time in decades. This was an easy choice.
Broyles Award (Asst Coach): Dana Holgerson, Oklahoma State
All Holgerson did in his first season in Stillwater was generate the most offense of any team in the nation. Oklahoma State boasted the nation’s top unit, averaging over 537 yards per game. The Cowboys also led the league in scoring at nearly 45 ppg.
Big 12 Championship: Oklahoma vs. Nebraska, 7 p.m., Saturday
Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Maybe the football gods are sentimental. In what — for now — projects as the final Big 12 championship game, Oklahoma and Nebraska come together for one more major matchup with big-bowl implications.
Next year, Nebraska will be banging heads with the likes of Ohio State and Michigan and Penn State for Big Ten supremacy, leaving behind long-term ties and rivalries, none richer than the one with the Sooners.
The two haven’t clashed as often on the big stage of late, with only 2006 featuring an OU-Nebraska title-game pairing in the Big 12.
But the two are used to high stakes games, meeting 20 times to end the season since World War II with the conference title on the line.
Of course, the 1971 “Game of the Century” remains the magical moment in the series, which OU leads 44-38-3. But many more memorable games both preceded and followed that one, typically sending the winner to a major bowl.
And so it is this time — one last time — with the winner earning a Fiesta Bowl bid. For old time’s sake.
Big 12 Breakdown:
Quarterback: OU’s Landry Jones has been labeled inconsistent, due to some measure of struggle on the road. Still, he’s thrown for 3,947 yards and 34 touchdowns, with just 10 interceptions. His yardage total ranks No. 2 at OU all-time, and he’s coming off a school record-tying 468 yards at Oklahoma State. The Huskers are unsettled at the position, with Taylor Martinez battling foot injuries and backup Cody Green more of a caretaker quarterback. Still, Green led Nebraska’s win over the Sooners in 2009, which also represents Jones’ worst career game as a Sooner. Edge: Sooners.
Running back: Nebraska’s two-pronged approach with Roy Helu Jr. (1,120 yards) and Rex Burkhead (822) ranks among the best combinations in the country, combining for 17 rushing touchdowns. Burkhead has also been a factor in the Wildcat formation, throwing for two TDs last week against Colorado. The Sooners counter with their own talented tandem, senior DeMarco Murray and freshman Roy Finch. Murray owns OU’s career records for total offense and touchdowns and is a threat as a receiver. Finch offers a change-of-pace as a shifty speedster. Edge: Huskers.
Receivers: Sooner wideout Ryan Broyles is a Biletnikoff finalist and a big-play threat who leads the nation in receptions per game. He must be accounted for at all times. Kenny Stills, Trey Franks and tight ends James Hanna give Jones more reliable targets in one of the nation’s top passing attacks. Nebraska’s receiving corps took a hit when leading receiver Niles Paul went down with a foot injury in practice a week ago, forcing him to miss the Colorado game and leaving him unlikely to play against OU. Without Paul, the pressure shifts to Brandon Kinnie, Kyler Reed and Mike McNeill to make plays. Edge: Sooners.
Offensive line: The Sooner and Husker offensive fronts are opposites with differing strengths. OU’s line is strong in pass protection, yet struggles to provide consistent running lanes. Nebraska’s front specializes in run blocking, but can allow pressure, a problem if Martinez doesn’t play or is at less than 100 percent. Edge: Huskers.
Defensive line: This isn’t the same Husker front that dominated with Ndamukong Suh wrecking game plans, but it remains solid, led by standout tackle Jared Crick, who leads the team with 7.5 sacks. And pressure is the key against Jones, who becomes erratic when hurried. The strength of the Sooner line is outside, led by end Jeremy Beal, voted Defensive Lineman of the Year by the league’s coaches. Edge: Even.
Linebacker: OU’s Travis Lewis is a run-stopping fool, working on a third straight season of leading the team in tackles. The return of Austin Box seems to have solidified the unit as a whole for the Sooners. For the Huskers, Lavonte David, the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, has been a major addition, leading the team in tackles and ranking among the leaders in almost every major stat category. Edge: Even.
Secondary: The Huskers boast one the nation’s top units, led by Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and Thorpe Award finalist Prince Amukamara at cornerback. Safety DeJon Gomes ranks second on the team in tackles and nickel back Eric Hagg has made 32 career starts. The Sooner DBs are solid, with safety Quinton Carter an AFCA All-American who plays physical, a necessity against Nebraska’s power running game. Edge: Huskers.
Special teams: There may be no better dual-threat kicker than Nebraska’s Alex Henery, who is 66-for-74 in career field goals and is adept at dropping punts inside the 20-yard line. OU punter Tress Way is one of the nation’s best, but placekicking has been a major problem for the Sooners, particularly anything beyond 35 yards. With Paul ailing, neither team’s return game is anything special. Edge: Huskers.
Bottom line: This game offers intriguing matchups of strengths on strengths. Nebraska’s great secondary against Jones and Broyles and Co. The Sooner run stoppers against Helu Jr. and Burkhead. Injuries, however, could swing the outcome decidedly one way, with Martinez needed to offer an added element to the Husker attack. Without him, the Huskers are in trouble.
Since 1921, Nebraska and Oklahoma have been together, sharing a conference and mostly sharing the spotlight as league rivals and championship contenders.
The Big 12 is breaking up, in number if not in name. Nebraska and Colorado head for the exits after this school year. So, fitting it is that the Sooners and Huskers ready for one final showdown in the Big 12.
That’s the matchup — Saturday, 7 p.m., Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas — in what is being billed as the league’s last championship game. A wild, surprise-filled season sending out new-era vibes eventually returned an old-school matchup, as Oklahoma and Nebraska clinched division titles on the final weekend.
The Huskers tied with Missouri in the North, but advances based on their head-to-head win over the Tigers, after rolling Colorado 45-17 in the regular-season finale. The Sooners emerged from a three-way tie with Oklahoma State and Texas A&M in the South based on the BCS standings, after surviving a wild Bedlam game in Stillwater, 47-41.
So now it’s on, Oklahoma-Nebraska, again.
Overall, the Huskers own 43 conference crowns; the Sooners 42. And 20 times previously since World War II, the OU-Nebraska game were all but de facto conference title game, whether in the Big Six, Big Seven, Big Eight or Big 12.
“It doesn’t get any better than Oklahoma and Nebraska for the Big 12 championship,” said Sooners linebacker Travis Lewis. “The rivalry goes way back to even before the Big 12 started. Who better to play than Nebraska?”
Texas A&M 24, Texas 17
Nebraska 45, Colorado 17
Oklahoma 47, Oklahoma State 41
Missouri 35, Kansas 7
Kansas State 49, North Texas 41
Texas Tech 35, Houston 20
Player of the Week: Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M. The Aggies back ran for a career-high 223 yards on 27 carries in A&M’s win over the Longhorns. It was the most yards by an Aggie back against Texas and the fifth-best rushing day in school history.
They call it Bedlam when Oklahoma and Oklahoma State meeting in anything. The tag started with football. And it played out Saturday night, with the Sooners finally prevailing in a game that featured 31 points in the final 4:06.
“Wow, what a game,” said OU coach Bob Stoops.
And then some.
The Sooners ran a school-record 107 plays and quarterback Landry Jones tied the OU passing record with 468 yards.
And still it nearly wasn’t enough.
The Cowboys kept coming, making big plays to stay in the game, including an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by freshman Justin Gilbert to make it 40-38 with 2:34 to play, after the Sooners had seemingly delivered a knockout blow with a third-and-long, 86-yard scoring pass to Cameron Kenney.
Then came another blow, with Jones finding tight end James Hanna running free for a 76-yard scoring pass.
Again, the Cowboys weren’t finished, marching to a field goal that pulled them within the final score and set up an onside kick try with 36 seconds left.
Only then, when the Sooners’ Ryan Broyles secured the kick, did OU breathe easily.
Throughout the Big 12 schedule, Nebraska and Colorado embarked on farewell tours of sorts, before both head off to new conferences for 2011. Friday in Lincoln, the tours came together, signaling the end of what became a solid rivalry.
It wasn’t the classic showdown like many before, but it was important, with Nebraska seeking the North title and the Buffs battling to become bowl-eligible.
The Huskers prevailed behind the passing of running back Rex Burkhead, who rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown, but also passed for two more scores out of the Wildcat formation, with starting quarterback Taylor Martinez sitting out with an ankle injury.
“Nothing Rex Burkhead does surprises me,” said Huskers coach Bo Pelini. “He’s what a football player is supposed to be. They ought to put his picture next to it in the dictionary. He just does so many things to help you.”
Colorado couldn’t help itself, with three second-half turnovers a killer after a late-season rally under interim coach Brian Cabral, who replaced Dan Hawkins with three games to go, two of them wins.
The Buffaloes need a coach to lead them into the Pac-10. Maybe Cabral made a case to be that coach.
“Would I like to be the next head coach? Yes, but that’s not up to me,” Cabral said after the game. “I just had a wonderful ride these last three weeks. I had the best seat in the house for three weeks.
“There isn’t a Buff alive that wouldn’t give anything for that. I just feel so privileged to have been in this position. Where this goes, only God knows.”
Texas Two Step
The Lone Star showdown sent Texas A&M and Texas in different directions. And into different scenarios, drastically different than we’re used to, or we even expected as few as six weeks ago.
A&M’s 24-17 win kept the Aggies streaking, the Longhorns reeling.
Once 0-2 in the Big 12, A&M won six straight to close the regular season, finishing in a tie for first in the Big 12 South and positioning itself for a possible Cotton Bowl berth.
For the first time since 1998, the Aggies beat two Top 10 teams (Oklahoma and Nebraska) and were a major player in November.
“We set out at the beginning of the season to do this,” A&M senior center Matt Allen said. “Beat Texas and win in November.”
The Longhorns won but once in November (and that was against Florida Atlantic) on their way to a 5-7 finish, the worst of the Mack Brown era. Texas had won at least twice as many games every season since 2001.
“We’re sick of this,” Texas offensive lineman David Snow said. “We’re not used to this, and I for darn sure do not want to stay used to this, so it’s going to get fixed.”
Only one week remains in the Big 12 regular season. One momentous week. The North and South titles and the corresponding spots in the final Big 12 Championship game remain up for grabs. And major clashes are on tap, with rivalries the rule in finalizing the conference title picture, as well as the bowl picture with BCS bids and more at stake.
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State took care of business — in a big way — setting up a Bedlam showdown in the South. The Cowboys rolled past Kansas 48–14, while the Sooners routed Baylor 53–24.
Up next: Bedlam, before a prime-time national television audience, with GameDay heading for Stillwater. For the Cowboys, it’s a shot at their first Big 12 South crown, not to mention their best shot at the Sooners in years.
“It’s all about OU,” Cowboy defensive end Richetti Jones told reporters after the KU game. “All week, that's all we are going to do — eat, sleep, drink OU.”
Said OSU defensive tackle Shane Jarka: “It’s definitely the biggest game of my life. I’m not exaggerating that at all.”
Texas A&M impacted both races, knocking off Nebraska 9–6 to keep the North in play, while also maintaining slim hopes for itself in the South.
Still, for the Cowboys and Huskers, the scenarios are simple: Win and they’re in. The Huskers must fend off suddenly hot Colorado, or have Missouri lose at home to the Jayhawks. Nebraska owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Missouri by virtue of its 31-17 victory over the Tigers on
The Big 12 scenarios:
Can clinch the North Division with a victory over Colorado or a Missouri loss to Kansas.
Needs to beat Kansas and for Colorado to beat Nebraska. That would make the Tigers North Division champions.
The Cowboys can clinch the South with a victory over Oklahoma. A loss to the Sooners, plus a loss by Texas A&M, would put Oklahoma and Oklahoma State into a first-place tie but Oklahoma would have the head-to-head tiebreaker edge.
The Cowboys would fall into a three-way tie for first with a loss to the Sooners and a Texas A&M victory over Texas.
The Sooners must beat Oklahoma State on Saturday in Stillwater. If Texas beats Texas A&M on Thursday, an OU victory over Oklahoma State would give the Sooners the South title.
The Aggies would finish 6–2 in league play with a victory at Texas on Thursday. If Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State, that would create a three-way tie in the South Division that would be broken as follows…
* If three or more teams are tied, steps 1 through 7 will be followed until a determination is made. If only two teams remain tied after any step, the winner of the game between the two tied teams shall be the representative.
1. The records of the three teams will be compared against each other
2. The records of the three teams will be compared within their division
3. The records of the three teams will be compared against the next highest placed teams in their division in order of finish (4, 5 and 6)
4. The records of the three teams will be compared against all common conference opponents.
5. The highest ranked team in the first Bowl Championship Series poll following the completion of Big 12 regular season conference play shall be the representative in the Big 12 Championship Game, unless two of the tied teams are ranked within one spot of the other in the BCS poll. In this case, the head-to-head results of the top two ranked tied teams shall determine the representative in the Big 12 Championship Game.
6. The team with the best overall winning percentage (excluding exempted games) shall be the representative.
7. The representative will be chosen by draw.
Oklahoma State 48, Kansas 14
Oklahoma 53, Baylor 24
Texas A&M 9, Nebraska 6
Missouri 14, Iowa State 0
Colorado 44, Kansas State 36
Texas 51, Florida Atlantic 17
Texas Tech 64, Weber State 21
The regular season ended for two schools — Baylor and Iowa State — with losses. Still, the Bears should play on, earning a bowl bid for the first time as a member of the Big 12. After a strong start, Baylor stumbled to the finish, losing all three November games to ranked teams.
“You never want to go out like that,” said Bears quarterback Robert Griffin III.
The Bears did wrap up their first winning season since 1995 and will await a call on their postseason fate.
For Iowa State, done at 5–7, the season’s end won’t be easy to digest. The Cyclones stood at 5–4 after beating Texas and Kansas to end October, but lost in overtime to Nebraska, then failed to get a needed sixth win in closing defeats to Colorado or Missouri.
Against Missouri, the Cyclones were without quarterback Austen Arnaud, who had torn knee ligaments in the loss to the Buffaloes.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” said Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads. “College football is about bowl games. Not having that opportunity is very disappointing because we had opportunities to get the six and beyond and we didn’t do that.”
Trips To Win
Texas A&M and Nebraska, two of the nation’s top scoring teams, managed nothing but field goals in College Station. Aggie kicker Randy Bullock’s boot late in the fourth quarter was the difference.
A record crowd of 90,079 roared when Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez threw incomplete on fourth down of a final drive, then stormed the field after the game.
A&M, once 0–2 in conference play, won its fifth straight game heading into a Thanksgiving Day battle with Texas.
“The consequences of winning are the expectations get higher,” said Aggies coach Mike Sherman. “We jumped over another hurdle and have taken another step. We still have another step to take.”
Nebraska returned home wobbly, with Martinez hampered by an ankle injury that forced him to miss much of the first half and play tentative afterward. And the Huskers will get a Colorado team riding a two-game winning streak and hungering for a bowl bid, after another spirited win over Kansas State put the Buffs at 5–6.
The Huskers quickly tried to move on from what happened at A&M.
“The game’s irrelevant,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said, echoing a message to his squad. “At the end, we still control our destiny.”
Player of the Week: Trent Hunter, S, Texas A&M. The Aggies junior picked off two passes in A&M’s win over Nebraska, helping stretch his team’s winning streak to five games to stay alive in the Big 12 South title hunt. Hunter also added four tackles as A&M held the Huskers to two field goals and 306 total yards of offense.
Game of the Week: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State. They call it Bedlam, for good reason, and this meeting is the most meaningful since 1984, when the team’s were ranked Nos. 2 and 3 and involved in the national title picture. The winner likely wins the Big 12 South and advances to the conference championship game with a BCS bowl on the line.
On the Spot: Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska. The Huskers freshman left the game at A&M, took a nationally televised berating from coach Bo Pelini on the sideline and later limped through the second half of a touchdown-less loss. Now the Huskers need a win over Colorado, which has suddenly rediscovered its offense.
In the Spotlight: The Cowboys Triplets. Only now are people catching on to Oklahoma State and its talented trio — quarterback Brandon Weeden, running back Kendall Hunter and wideout Justin Blackmon — even though they’ve been lighting up teams all season. They’ll get lots of love Saturday, with GameDay in Stillwater and the Bedlam showdown set for prime time TV.
Brian Cabral, Colorado. Maybe the school should look inward in its coaching search to replace the fired Dan Hawkins. Cabral is a devoted Buff, as a former player and long-time assistant at the school. And there’s no arguing the results since he took over for Hawkins, with stirring wins over Iowa State and Kansas State.
Texas tickets. Once a coveted commodity, tickets to Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium can now be had on the cheap. Apparently, only one struggling season is all it takes to keep Horns fans away. Premium seats were available for pennies on the dollar when Oklahoma State rolled into Austin two weeks ago and gaps of empty seats were seen for Saturday’s tilt against Florida Atlantic, when the Horns actually won 51–17. Now comes the real test: Will UT fans actually sell their seats to Aggies?
By the Numbers
10: Wins for Oklahoma State, the program’s most ever in the regular season.
18: Consecutive years of bowl eligibility for Texas Tech, attained with Saturday’s rout of Weber State.
90,079: Attendance for A&M’s game against Nebraska, a Kyle Field record.
Oklahoma State (9-1, 5-1) at Kansas (3-7, 1-5), Saturday, 11 a.m.
The term “trap game” gets tossed around much too much. That said, it applies here, and the Jayhawks have one such conquest (Georgia Tech) to prove it.
Still, don’t expect it, with this Oklahoma State team proving repeatedly that its leaders know how to maintain focus. And the focus is clear: rolling through Lawrence on the way to a South Division showdown with archrival Oklahoma.
It’ll be Senior Day at KU, which can be good for a minor emotional boost. But the Jayhawks simply don’t have the firepower (Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon, Kendall Hunter, et al) on offense to keep pace, unless OSU stumbles.
Once upon a time, the road was rough on the Cowboys. But they’ve won 10 of their last 13 away from home, including all four games this season, claiming victory in places that had been their Waterloo for decades.
The Pokes are too close to the prize to lose their way now. By beating Kansas, they’ll face OU for their first South title in the Big 12. And that will set them up with a likely rematch with Nebraska for the school’s first conference title.
Kansas State (6-4, 3-4) at Colorado (4-6, 1-5), Saturday, 1:10 p.m.
The Buffaloes claimed their first Big 12 win in more than a calendar year last Saturday. Now, how about No. 2?
What a difference a week — and a win — makes, as Colorado climbed out of the mess of a mid-season coaching change to convincingly beat Iowa State. Now, going back-to-back doesn’t seem like such a stretch, especially if quarterback Cody Hawkins can repeat his solid performance and interim coach Brian Cabral can maintain an emotional re-focus.
The Wildcats take one of the league’s top rushing offenses into Boulder, with running quarterback Colin Klein adding another element to go with tailback Daniel Thomas. Klein has given the ’Cats a boost, rotating at quarterback with Carson Coffman.
Still, the lack of a passing attack limits K-State. And the Buffs slowed Iowa State’s ground game a week ago, although the ’Cats present a much more physical challenge in their run game.
Weber State (6-4) at Texas Tech (5-5), Saturday, 2 p.m.
The Red Raiders are still seeking another win to reach bowl-eligible status. Thankfully, this one, against FCS-level Weber State, counts.
Tech has completed conference play in a quirky scheduling twist that features back-to-back non-conference home games, Saturday and again next week against Houston. In an uneven season, this presents an opportunity to build some momentum for the Red Raiders and for inconsistent quarterback Taylor Potts.
Weber State won’t be fazed by the step up in competition, with games against FBS schools a regularity in its scheduling. The Wildcats opened this season with a 38-20 loss at Boston College.
Still, don’t expect an upset. Weber State is just 3–43 all-time against the big boys, with the last breakthrough coming in 1993.
Florida Atlantic (4-5) at Texas (4-6), Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
The Longhorns’ mighty fall leaves them with this unlikely scenario: a must-win game against, get this, FAU. Must-win in terms of avoiding a losing season.
Must-win in terms of maintaining hope for — gasp! — a bowl bid. Must-win in terms of avoiding complete and total embarrassment. That’s where Texas stands, having lost four straight games and four of five at home this season.
The Horns continue to scuffle offensively, due to a lack of playmakers that would seem impossible considering the school’s annual recruiting hauls. Still, quarterback Garrett Gilbert’s struggles have fans and media calling for a look at backup Case McCoy. There would be similar calls at other positions, if only options existed.
FAU has rebounded from five straight losses to win three in a row and at least carry momentum into Austin.
Missouri (8-2, 4-2) at Iowa State (5-6, 3-4), Saturday, 6 p.m.
Week 11 was rough on the Cyclones. They lost as a favorite at Colorado and they lost injured quarterback Austen Arnaud in the process, robbing them of their gritty and respected leader, not to mention the program’s No. 2 passing leader in terms of career yards and touchdowns. That puts replacement Jerome Tiller on the spot, as Iowa State gets one final shot at gaining bowl eligibility. Tiller, of course, will need help, from running back Alexander Robinson and a cast of receivers and a defense that ranks No. 92 nationally in total defense.
Missouri, meanwhile, maintains hope for a North Division title, although its needs assistance from Texas A&M and Colorado in overtaking Nebraska. Still, it’s hope. And the Tigers seem to have rediscovered their offense, with Blaine Gabbert and Co. and a spiced-up playbook producing big numbers in a 38-28 win over K-State.
Oklahoma (8-2, 4-2) at Baylor (7-4, 4-3), Saturday, 7 p.m.
The Sooners are tiring of the “road struggle” questions, to the point that a testy Bob Stoops limited media access to just five players this week. But the questions aren’t going away, not until Oklahoma proves capable of stepping out of its Jekyll-Hyde routine. At home, the Sooners are superb. On the road, they’re susceptible, with losses in their last two trips outside of Norman.
OU Quarterback Landry Jones is just 1–5 in true road games as a starter, where he’s struggled with inconsistency and interception woes.
Not that it’s all on Jones. The Sooners defense has allowed 69 points in those two road losses (at Missouri and Texas A&M).
Baylor, however, would figure to provide a level of comfort. OU hasn’t lost to Baylor. Anywhere. Ever. And suddenly, the arguments that this is a different Baylor are fading. The Bears are better, clearly, yet have failed mightily against the best of competition, including the past two weeks in losses to Oklahoma State and A&M.
Baylor maintains a shot, with its explosive Robert Griffin III-led offense capable of putting up points. The Bears defense, however, is banged up, stressing an already difficult challenge of slowing the Sooners, who look to stay on track for a South Division title shot.
The Aggies have rebounded to win four straight games and put themselves in the South title chase. An improving defense and the move to Ryan Tannehill at quarterback have transformed a team that once stood 0–2 in Big 12 play. And a win over Nebraska would further cement A&M’s status as a program on the rise, not only this season, but also going forward.
The Huskers can clinch the North title with a win, yet seek a return to form as well. Nebraska’s four-game winning streak has revealed some rocky moments, and quarterback Taylor Martinez has slowed down following his early season breakout.
And for all the references to the “Blackshirts” on defense, the Huskers haven’t been a shutdown defense at all, except against the league’s lightweights.
For Nebraska, this trip to College Station will be a test. Along with Tannehill’s impact, the Aggies have given running back Cyrus Gray a heavier workload and benefitted. And with the Huskers headed for Kyle Field — perhaps for the last time — in an ABC prime-time television slot, a full and frenzied house is expected in what amounts to the Big 12’s Game of the Week.