Decade's Best In The Big 12

  • Wednesday, December 23, 2009 9:23 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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There's no time like the bowl season to break out the nostalgia and take a look back at the last decade. Big 12 football has gone through a shift in power from the start of the decade -- when Nebraska and Colorado were contenders for a national championship in 2000 -- to the end, when three Big 12 South Division teams were at one point ranked in the Top 5 nationally and Big 12 South teams closed out the decade with two straight national title berths.

Between all that, there was a lot worth remembering, even if it's painful. Here's your quick rundown of the Decade in Big 12 Football:

Team of the Decade: This one goes to Oklahoma. Texas fans might disagree, clinging to its national championship in 2005, its berth in 2009 and Vince Young's historic season. Impressive as that is, Oklahoma tied them in national championships, earned four total title game appearances, won two Heismans to UT's none and collected four straight Big 12 championships. Texas didn't hold a flame to the Sooners.

Top Candidate for Conference Dismissal: Baylor. Hard as I may cheer for the Bears, they haven't done much in the decade, and they've always been undersized.

Greatest Offensive Player: Vince Young. His struggles early in his career benefited him at the end, as he closed out four years at Texas by rushing for 200 yards and defeating favored USC for the national championship.

Greatest Defensive Player: Ndamukong Suh. Nebraska's dominant defensive lineman broke through offensive lines and barriers all season, winning the Bednarik, Nagurski, Outland and Lombardi trophies while becoming just the 15th defensive player to be named a finalist for the Heisman. Earlier this week, he became the first defensive player ever named the Associated Press Player of the Year.

Greatest Upset: In 2003, Kansas State won the North Division and the right to be Oklahoma's stepping stool to a national championship game. The day of the game, numerous newspapers across the country featured articles discussing the Sooners' merits as potentially the best football team in the history of college football for its dominance throughout the regular season. Oklahoma scored a quick seven points against Kansas State, and that was the end of it: The Wildcats scored 35 straight, routing OU and claiming their first Big 12 Championship.

Worst Athletic Director Move: I couldn't cut this any other way than a tie: Steve Pederson's firing of Nebraska's Frank Solich in 2003 and Tim Weiser's hiring of Kansas State's Ron Prince in 2005. Solich's canning came one day after wrapping up a 9-3 season with a revamped coaching staff that seemed built to return Nebraska for glory. It was the first major move in Pederson's long-term abortion of Nebraska's tradition, which ended after he was fired in October 2007. Weiser's folly was hiring a man completely different from the one he was replacing, former Kansas State coach and program architect Bill Snyder. Prince struggled through an abysmal era, gutting the program of its prestige and the values that Snyder used to turn it into a winner. He tied the record for shortest-tenured coach in Big 12 history at three years.

Best Speech: Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy's "I'm a man! I'm 40!" speech earned him YouTube fame, but it also served him well in the recruiting aspect of coaching. Every player wants to play for a guy that stands up for his players. People will remember that speech for years.

One-hit wonder: Kansas, circa 2007. That team went 12-1, claiming an Orange bowl victory. Two years later, their coach was fired after a six-game losing streak sent them home for the bowl season. Outside of 2007, the Jayhawks' record boasts gratuitous amounts of mediocrity, sprinkled with awfulness.

Biggest Recruiting Bust: Every team has a handful, but I'm going to go with Nebraska's Harrison Beck, once an Elite 11 quarterback turned transfer to North Carolina State. He languished behind the Huskers' Zac Taylor, who earned Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year awards in 2006, while trying to progress as a budding punk rocker (so the story goes).

Best Trick Play: Black 41 Flash Pass Reverse, otherwise known as the touchdown pass thrown to Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch in the Huskers' 20-10 victory over Oklahoma in 2001. The catch was the biggest play of the game and a boost of momentum to Crouch's Heisman bid, which he ultimately won. It also kept Nebraska undefeated en route to an 11-0 start and national championship game berth.

Top Off-the-Field Moment: Colorado's fallout. With Katie Hnida kicking field goals, half a dozen rape accusations and the discovery of recruits being bribed with sex and alcohol, the Buffs had more drama than General Hospital. I'll be surprised if the next decade can provide something to top that.

Big 12 Midseason Review: Coaches

  • Tuesday, October 20, 2009 1:29 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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What I love about college football is the emphasis and control coaching has. There aren't GMs or contracts to blame. Coaches build their teams, select every player. Coaches develop players. Coaches win games. Coaches. In the NFL, mediocre coaches can make it to the Super Bowl when they have a good team -- Sam Wyche, Jim Fassel and Bill Callahan are sterling examples -- but few coaches in college football reach the highest levels of achievement by accident.

Credit the slim margin of error. You can lose seven games in the NFL and win the Super Bowl. In college football, you might be able to withstand two losses, but you'll need a lot of upsets, a tough conference to play in and hype.

I've never been a huge fan of midterm grades -- they've always woken me from a daydream in which I believe I'm doing well in school -- but when it comes to coaching, I inhale them. I put a lot of emphasis on the direction a school seems headed, rather than where they stand. It's not the records that matter, it's the progress of rebuilding schools and the standing of established programs in regards to their expectations.

And since nothing makes or breaks a program like coaching, there's no better way to forecast a school's future. So here you go -- the best coaching jobs in the Big 12 this season:

1. Bill Snyder: I'm not afraid to say I love this coach. I love his dedication to his school, I love the charred remains of a football team he inherited, and I love that he has them chugging along like the tortoise vs. the hare. Kansas State seems to get better every week -- remember, it lost to Louisiana-Lafayette 17-15 earlier this season. Now the Wildcats are dropping 62 on a Big 12 school? Part of it is that the depth chart is sorting itself out, but make no mistake: This team has tons of momentum. They're better than everyone thought. They're probably better than Snyder thought. But he's a legendary coach who made a career out of achieving unexpected things. He's doing it again.

2. Paul Rhoads: Let me reiterate what I've said in past blogs: Iowa State could so easily be 3-0 in Big 12 play. The Cyclones missed an extra point at the end of the game with Kansas State. A game-winning touchdown pass against Kansas sailed just beyond an open receiver. They're playing good defense, and they're doing it with a roster that Rhoads has admitted to be too thin and weak for the Big 12. Plus, Rhoads was an assistant under former ISU coach Dan McCarney. He was already familiar with the school, brought a ton of energy, and got his players to commit to his style. They've accomplished more halfway through the season than I thought they would all year.

3. Mack Brown: You could do a lot worse than being undefeated and in the heat of the national title race, so it's hard to discredit Brown's coaching efforts. But even then, Texas hasn't exactly blown anyone out. The Horns beat Texas Tech and Oklahoma by a combined 10 points, struggled at Wyoming and were down 14-3 to Colorado at one point. But as unimpressive as they are, they've still passed two huge tests, and they're in the position every team America covets. Besides, it's tough to please people when you're in the Longhorns' shoes. They can't go anywhere but down, yet despite everyone's best efforts, they remain at the top.

4. Mike Gundy: They've drifted into obscurity after their loss to Houston, but Oklahoma State is still plugging away, undefeated in conference play, and is one upset of Texas away from being in the division driver's seat. It handled Missouri well, stands a good shot against Texas Tech and Oklahoma this season, and currently has a Top 10 recruiting class coming in next February.

5. Art Briles: That Baylor program is changing, and Briles is the catalyst. Never mind if the Bears lose the rest of their games this season (they won't); if they hadn't lost their starting quarterback -- arguably the brightest star in Waco since they joined the Big 12 -- we'd be hearing and fearing Baylor's resurgence. Briles shouldn't be faulted for an on-field injury. And aside from Robert Griffin, the coach has assembled a decent defense and is developing his talent -- a key for the only Big 12 South school outside Scout.com's current Top 25 recruiting classes for 2010.

6. Mike Leach: People had middling expectations about Texas Tech, and the results have been equally middling. So placing Leach smack in the middle of this list seems appropriate. He does seem to have found a solid option at quarterback, and the Red Raiders' two losses are by a combined eight points. Leach makes the top half by virtue of a win over No. 7's program.

7. Bo Pelini: I've always thought Pelini was a sure thing. He seems poised for success, and he's got a coaching staff with an offensive background that nicely complements his strengths as a defensive coach. And even though I think Pelini will eventually put together a power program at Nebraska, the results this season have been sub-par. The offense is struggling, the defense is good but prone to big errors, and the Huskers followed up their first big win of Pelini's era with a letdown at home. We can talk about being headed in the right direction, and it seems the Huskers are. But they're also good enough that they should be producing now, and they're faltering.

8. Bob Stoops: Landry Jones is a good quarterback. So as good as Sam Bradford is, I'm surprised that the Sooners have gone 3-3 to this point. I don't think the switch from Bradford to Landry can be entirely blamed, even if the Sooners have lost their three games by only five points. The reality is that the offensive line isn't what it was last year, and neither are the Sooners. They're better than their record shows, but this season is still a nightmare.

9. Gary Pinkel: Missouri started off fast, but Nebraska and Oklahoma State have cooled it quickly. This was a big year for Pinkel, who was supposed to show the country that his system was built to reload with talent every year, rather than wait for a few exceptional athletes to boost Missouri up into relevancy. Maybe that system is still in place, but they're not showing it. Missouri is the only Big 12 North team without a conference win, and there's still plenty of difficult season remaining.

10. Mark Mangino: Kansas is 5-1 and nationally ranked, so why would they be this low? Pure inference, my friend, and it goes like this: If we are to assume Kansas' record is weak, then we can assume that their record is not representative of their talent level. If we assume that Iowa State and Colorado are both bad teams, and we look at Kansas' record to discover that the Jayhawks lost to Colorado and were lucky to beat Iowa State, then we can conclude that while anything can happen in one game, two games goes a long way towards identifying a trend. And the trend I'm seeing is that Kansas can't play defense well, and its offense isn't what it used to be. That they are nationally ranked blows my mind.

11. Mike Sherman: Remember my general inclination to appreciate everything Bill Snyder does? I have a similar inclination to assume Sherman will fail at Texas A&M. It's nothing personal. He was a fine NFL coach, but many NFL coaches struggle to acclimate to college football, and I've always expected Sherman would struggle to adapt. He's got a strong roster, he's got good recruits coming in, but he just isn't a college football coach. I don't blame him for trying, but like 98 percent of romantic comedies, we know how this one will end. I'm already looking ahead to the next guy.

12. Dan Hawkins: Now here's a guy you blame for his own predicament. I'm talking more about the 10 wins prophecy that is currently being supplanted by the seven losses reality, but that has more to do with public embarrassment than job security. In fact, the statement suggests that Hawkins himself understood the urgent need to win and rolled the dice. Nevertheless, this program is mired in a free-fall, and Hawkins has been there long enough to absorb complete blame. I don't see a future in which he's not the next Big 12 coach fired.

Friday Forecast: Texas-Texas Tech Open Big 12 Play

  • Friday, September 18, 2009 8:04 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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The season's first Big 12 Conference match-up is Saturday night, with Texas Tech traveling to Texas for a likely punishment after the Red Raiders shattered the Longhorns' BCS Title hopes last season. Like last year, it's a prime-time game that will be shown across most of the country, but unlike last year, it shouldn't be expected to deliver solid entertainment, as close games go.

Of course, we could be wrong about Texas Tech and the long fall they're assumed to have taken. TTU won't be alone when they stand up next to the yardstick. Baylor and Nebraska both have games that will test them and possibly burn them. A couple other teams will enter their games as underdogs. The predictions:

Duke at Kansas: Fans of the color blue will love this game. Even though Duke seems to be making small strides with its program, the Blue Devils are nowhere near ready to handle a team like Kansas, which is on a campaign to assert itself as the nation's greatest flyswatter. Perhaps someday the Jayhawks will trip into a compelling non-conference match-up.

Furman at Missouri: You're probably not as quick to pull the Missouri trigger now as you were last week. But that was when we thought Missouri had reloaded with a great team on both sides. Now we have no idea what to think, although we know not to place bets on Missouri either way. Alas, I'm obligated. Missouri it is, though there's no money riding on it.

Tulsa at Oklahoma: It's more of a challenge than Idaho State, mostly on the Sooners' defensive side. Meaning, expect Tulsa to actually score. That'd be about it, though.

Nebraska at Virginia Tech: That's what I'm talking about, a toss-up. Say what you want, but Virginia Tech's never impressed me that much. It should have lost in Lincoln last year, and even though the Hokies have a dynamic run game, I think Nebraska has the best defensive line they'll have faced this season. I'll take Nebraska ending VT's 31-game home non-conference win streak.

Wyoming at Colorado: Alright, another toss-up! I wish I were kidding. Colorado's accounted for two of my seven miscues this season, and the Buffs are looking worse than ever. Wyoming's coming off a game where it got pounded by Texas after a close first half but managed to walk away feeling good about itself. I can't begin to tell you how tempting Wyoming is. But if I bet against Colorado and it decides to win, I'll never get over it.

Connecticut at Baylor: Connecticut has had a tough go in this early season and comes off a 12-10 loss to North Carolina, but that's still a good football team. They won't make it easy, but Baylor's had two weeks to prepare for UConn, and if Wake Forest's defense couldn't contain Robert Griffin, I'm not seeing the Huskies making much headway.

Iowa State at Kent State: There's no way I'm betting against a Mid-America Conference team playing Iowa State. The Cyclones were terrible in every way against Iowa, and the MAC seems to be steadily improving top-to-bottom.

Utah State at Texas A&M: The battling of rebuilding Aggies programs will probably go down as a big TAMU win. We won't know until they start playing games of consequence, but Texas A&M seems to have improved after last year's disappointment.

Rice at Oklahoma State: If Oklahoma State struggles, I guess we call that a letdown following a letdown following a win. After a fast start last season, Oklahoma State sputtered to four losses. Expect them to win this one, but watch to see what team steps onto the field. That'll tell us how well coach Mike Gundy has rallied his team.

Texas Tech at Texas: We've gone over this already, but let's set it in stone: Texas will win, and Texas will not relent. Texas fans will go wild, and it will not be pretty. But it will be a fun atmosphere, and that's key to those prime-time games.

Kansas State at UCLA: Boy, the Bruins are going to take it to the Wildcats. We're going to see just how bad K-State is under the lights in southern California. Hopefully at the end of the day, Kansas State fans remember to blame Ron Prince.

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Big 12 Preview | Oklahoma State No. 3

  • Tuesday, September 1, 2009 6:14 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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2008 record: 9-4 overall, 5-3 Big 12 Conference

2009 projection: In any other conference, OSU might be outside national title contenders in 2009. In the Big 12, they're underdogs for a division title.

Reason to get excited: While the Cowboys' explosive offense returns big weapons, a Top 10 preseason ranking is all it takes to be optimistic.

Reason not to get worked up: Texas and Oklahoma still form a soul-crushing 1-2 punch.

The gist: Oklahoma State's offense may be the best in the nation. Quarterback Zac Robinson is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation (but then, so are half the Big 12's QBs) and has a buffet of talent around him. Wide receiver Dez Bryant, a potential All-America candidate, running back Kendall Hunter and tackle Russell Okung help provide balance and stability across the field. Hunter and Okung are near-locks to go in the first round of the NFL draft next year and could be all-conference athletes, if not All-Americans with Bryant. The Cowboys will need to make sure the rest of the line fills in with talent, but even an average one will be enough to keep the motor running. The defense needs to improve from last year, when they were prone to lapses that led to 176 points being scored against OSU in the last four games. Andre Sexton, Patrick Lavine and Orie Lemon form a linebacking core that is the strength of the unit, but passing defense is a concern, both in coverage and quarterback pressure.

Rallying point: Gundy. His "I'm a man! I'm 40!" rant is getting smaller in the rearview mirror, but it's only helped the influence, authority and dedication his players continually give him. It helps that he's been there, as a Cowboys QB in the 1980s.

Cover your eyes: When OSU faces a passing offense. Here are the points allowed last season to offenses led by prolific passers: 37 points to Houston; 23 to Missouri; 28 to Texas; 56 to Texas Tech; 61 to Oklahoma; 42 to Oregon.

For what it's worth: Though it really only had one impressive win last season, Oklahoma State is a threat to every team it faces. The Cowboys could make the Big 12 South interesting if they can knock off Texas or Oklahoma, but until that happens, many fans will remain hesitant. After all, the Cowboys did lose to the Longhorns, Sooners, and Texas Tech by a combined 60 points last season. The season-opener against Georgia could derail their ambitions, but I don't see Georgia pulling that game out on the road.