What The Big 12 Title Game Taught Us

  • Monday, December 7, 2009 3:22 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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If you watched the Big 12 Championship Game on Saturday, you watched a classic. You don't see many games where both teams storm the field to celebrate victory. And amid all the excitement, confusion and disbelief the game provided, we learned a lot about both teams (and a little bit about college football). The rundown:

Ndamukong Suh is the best player in the college football. That will have to be enough to satisfy him and his fans, since he won't win the Heisman. But his incredible performance against Texas (which Brent Musburger called the greatest he'd ever seen) has at least earned him support, and a trip to the Heisman Trophy ceremony isn't out of the question.

Cincinnati was one second from playing in the national championship. They may be from the Big East, but the Bearcats get respect like they play in the MWC. Playing for the championship would have been a great opportunity to further prove the increasingly parity of college football. Instead, we got yet another awkward marriage, brought to you by the BCS.

This game's finish was a bone-chilling reincarnation of the 1994 Orange Bowl. Picture this: Nebraska scores and takes a late fourth-quarter lead against a team it has no business competing with. It drives the kickoff out-of-bounds, then pitches in another defensive penalty to set up the favored team for a game-winning field goal. Which game am I talking about? Both. The way Nebraska's 2009 loss to Texas mirrors its 18-16 loss to Florida State more than 15 years ago can mean only one thing: There is a God, and He has a sense of humor. The good news for Nebraska: After that loss, the program went 49-2 and won three national championships in four years.

Colt McCoy was about as nervous and skittish as a punted kitten. Who could blame him? He was sacked nine times and tossed three interceptions, and he very nearly lost the game for his team by extending his final snap almost until the clock expired (technically it did, but was resuscitated upon further review). He spent most of his time on the sidelines holding his head in his hands and spent most of his time in the pocket running out of it and away from Nebraska's mammoth defensive line. Was there ever a moment when McCoy's feet were planted behind center and he wasn't hurried by pressure coming at him from all directions? Ask him in 10 years: This will go down as the most flustered performance of his career.

Adi Kunalic's net contribution to Nebraska is officially and forever negative. No amount of touchbacks can make up for kicking the ball out-of-bounds on a kickoff with less than two minutes left. Without that penalty, there's no way Texas scores and wins the game. Kunalic's error gave Texas the ball at the 40-yard line, which was almost all the help Texas needed to get itself into field goal range. Why do I say almost? Well ...

Larry Asante has a one-personal-foul-per-game quota to fill. His horsecollar of Jordan Shipley after a catch moved the Longhorns another 15 yards down the field, putting them in field-goal range. Had Larry Asante simply sat on the ground and cried, another Husker defender would have grabbed Shipley after another two or three yards. "The Assassin" picked up where Kunalic left off, completing the screw job.

The Longhorns' offense is one-dimensional against formidable defenses. Colt McCoy is UT's rushing leader this season. Except for a few timely quarterback draws, that facet of offense was lacking -- and Nebraska was only bringing four defenders into the backfield on most plays. I don't see how McCoy can light it up through the air against any team that drops back six defenders, much less seven, and I don't see why Alabama would have any reason not to drop back and swarm the Texas receivers in coverage.

Nebraska will be a powerhouse soon enough. The Huskers have got all the right components, the most important being a stable, swarming defense. If you look around college football, all the great programs of the moment have great defenses. Great teams might get by with great offenses (Missouri had its moments in the past; same with Kansas; and Texas Tech has always knocked at the threshold) but great programs are built on defense. Nebraska's offense could be worse, sure, but it could be a lot better. A friend pointed out that if Nebraska's offense from 2008 had taken the field with this year's defense, that team would be in the national championship game. No truer words have been spoken.

Texas will lose to Alabama. The Horns have been far short of amazing this season, and Alabama is too strong all-around.

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McCoy, Suh Lead All-Big 12 Awards

  • Thursday, December 3, 2009 10:47 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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2009 ALL-BIG 12 FOOTBALL INDIVIDUAL AWARDS

Coach of the Year Mack Brown, Texas

Offensive Lineman of the Year Russell Okung, Oklahoma State

Defensive Lineman of the Year Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska

Offensive Freshman of the Year Christine Michael, Texas A&M

Defensive Freshman of the Year Aldon Smith, Missouri

Special Teams Player of the Year Brandon Banks, Kansas State

Defensive Newcomer of the Year David Sims, Iowa State

Offensive Newcomer of the Year Daniel Thomas, Kansas State

Defensive Player of the Year Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska

Offensive Player of the Year Colt McCoy, Texas

2009 ALL-BIG 12 FOOTBALL FIRST TEAM

Offense

Pos. Player School Class

QB Colt McCoy Texas Sr.

RB Daniel Thomas Kansas State Jr.

RB Keith Toston Oklahoma State Sr.

FB Bryant Ward Oklahoma State Jr.

WR Jordan Shipley Texas Sr.

WR Danario Alexander Missouri Sr.

WR Dezmon Briscoe Kansas Jr.

TE Jeron Mastrud Kansas State Sr.

OL Russell Okung Oklahoma State Sr.

OL Trent Williams Oklahoma Sr.

OL Nick Stringer Kansas State Sr.

OL Brandon Carter Texas Tech Sr.

OL Nate Solder Colorado Jr.

PK Grant Ressel Missouri So.

KR/PR Brandon Banks Kansas State Sr.

Defense

DL Ndamukong Suh Nebraska Sr.

DL Gerald McCoy Oklahoma Jr.

DL Von Miller Texas A&M Jr.

DL Brandon Sharpe Texas Tech Sr.

DL Jared Crick Nebraska So.

LB Sean Weatherspoon Missouri Sr.

LB Jesse Smith Iowa State Sr.

LB Travis Lewis Oklahoma So.

DB Earl Thomas Texas So.

DB Perrish Cox Oklahoma State Sr.

DB Dominique Franks Oklahoma Jr.

DB Prince Amukamara Nebraska Jr.

DB Larry Asante Nebraska Sr.

P Derek Epperson Baylor Jr.

Huskers Win Battle Of Top Defenses

  • Tuesday, November 10, 2009 2:14 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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Oklahoma's visit to Nebraska represented the top two defenses in the country taking on offenses with more than their fair share of offensive struggles. The Sooners' issues are well-documented: the careers of Sam Bradford and tight end Jermaine Gresham were prematurely ended by injuries, putting a freshman quarterback behind a sub-par offensive line. Nebraska's woes are largely from a tactical point of view -- they haven't settled on a starting quarterback because neither is able to move the ball down the field, though that assignment has grown tougher as the season has progressively neutered the running game. First Quentin Castille was dismissed for failing his fifth drug test, and then Roy Helu Jr., probably their best offensive weapon, is hampered by a shoulder injury that's reduced his effectiveness and caused him to miss snaps.

So there shouldn't be much surprise that the game was low-scoring, a 10-3 Nebraska win, given their offensive reputations. Oklahoma finished first nationally in scoring last season, averaging more than 51 points per game. The Huskers scored 35.4 points per game and were ranked 25th nationally.

The game was also significant in regards to the disparity between the Big 12 North and South Divisions. Nebraska's win was the first time since 2007 a Big 12 North team beat Oklahoma, and the first Nebraska win over the Sooners since 2001, when Eric Crouch caught a touchdown pass on his way to a 20-10 win and a Heisman.

It's a down year for Oklahoma, but if the North wants to rebuild its reputation, games like this must be won. Nebraska can rest easy, now that it has a signature win under coach Bo Pelini.

This week: 3-3 overall, 2-3 Big 12

Overall: 55-23, 22-9 Big 12

Hits

Oklahoma State 34, Iowa State 8: Keith Toston is a nice storyline in the Big 12. The senior got his chance to start after running back Kendall Hunter went down injured in the second game of the season. He had his day in the sun against the Cyclones, rushing for 206 yards and three touchdowns.

Kansas State 17, Kansas 10: Manhattan and Lawrence are only a few hours apart, but they might as well be at the North and South poles. You'd think they're cashing each other's checks every weekend, with the Wildcats soaking up all the success the Jayhawks were supposed to have and KU wallowing in KSU's shoulda-been failure. Back to the same old mantra for Kansas: When does basketball start?

Texas 35, Central Florida 3: I can't help but feel that a game against Central Florida after a schedule featuring Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech has to feel like a vacation. I doubt Jordan Shipley would disagree. The wide receiver decimated the school record for receiving yards in a game, finishing with 273.

Misses

Nebraska 10, Oklahoma 3: How many teams can upset a ranked team with only 39 passing yards and seven first downs? About as many as can boast the top defense in the nation. Nebraska's offense was completely inept, but it took care of the ball and did what it needed to win. Best stat: The lone touchdown drive was one yard long.

Colorado 35, Texas A&M 34: There's just no telling what these teams will do. A&M had the win and was running away with it, but they tripped over themselves and let Colorado surge back for the win.

Baylor 40, Missouri 32: I can tell you Gary Pinkel's having trouble sleeping. This was supposed to be the Tigers' "let's get back on track" game. Instead, Baylor quarterback Nick Florence turned it into the "who's Robert Griffin?" show. Next up for Mizzou: Kansas State. Uh oh.

Every Week Matters For Suh's Heisman Hopes

  • Thursday, October 15, 2009 9:28 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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I read at least three new articles every day telling me that Ndamukong Suh should win the Heisman or could win the Heisman. None, of course, say that he will, since no Heisman winner has ever exclusively played defense. That's what makes this quest so compelling -- the quest taken on by the media and fans, since Suh's only a football player, not a campaign manager. The stakes and significance are not as high for Suh as they were when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, but the circumstances are the same: Suh is the centerpiece of an uphill battle, and today's poster boy for an under-represented side of college football. Defense wins championships, but stars play offense -- that's what the Heisman award tells us.

Robinson didn't break his barrier by being good. It took being great -- that's usually a prerequisite to changing people's minds. If Suh wants to win the Heisman, it won't be enough to be the best player in the country. He'll have to be far and away the greatest, not only of this season, but of all time.

These parameters almost demand perfection from Suh. At the very least, he'll need to ace these three circumstances:

Have a good game every week: It sounds like common sense, but think about it: Few Heisman winners performed well in every single game. For Suh, that has to happen. Nationally-televised games have to be killer outings for the big man.

Emphasize the uncharacteristic stats: Tackles, tackles for loss and sacks are traditional stats for a defensive tackle. That is, they won't get you anywhere close to the Heisman. Suh needs to continue dominating in the unusual ways that have garnered him national attention, such as interceptions and passes defended, where he ranks sixth nationally (and is the only defensive tackle in the top 97).

Ten wins for Nebraska: And only on the condition that the Huskers lose to Oklahoma despite Suh hounding Sam Bradford for a full 60 minutes. The more Nebraska wins, the more credit Suh will get. The more they lose, the more his bright star will fade, no matter how spectacular he is.

And even then, the best he can expect from voters is an invitation to New York.

The picks:

Texas Tech at Nebraska: The Red Raiders only plan to put one lineman on Suh and don't seem overly concerned about him getting into the backfield, where Texas Tech leads the Big 12 in most plays per sack. But you could also argue that Suh can cause just as much disruption batting throws and complicating passing over the line. He and the Blackshirts will find a way to slow down Tech's offense and let Nebraska get ahead for the win.

Texas vs. Oklahoma: Unlike last year, Oklahoma's trying to play spoiler in this game. And while Texas has stayed out of national headlines so far this year, the Colt McCoy-Jordan Shipley combination will carry Texas past the Sooners.

Texas A&M at Kansas State: Neither of these teams have much reason for optimism this season, but A&M played well against Oklahoma State and has far too much for Kansas State to handle.

Baylor at Iowa State: Robert Griffin goes down for the season, and suddenly, this is a tough game to call, particularly given how well Iowa State played against Kansas. But Baylor's not a one-man team and still has a decent defense. I can't imagine Iowa State can feel good about itself after the letdown against the Jayhawks.

Kansas at Colorado: Does Dan Hawkins get fired before the end of the season? Kansas suffered a moral loss last week, lowering its profile. The Jayhawks take out their frustration on Colorado.

Missouri at Oklahoma State: Missouri has to be kicking itself for its letdown against Nebraska. Both these teams have similar offenses and similar inconsistency. Given the home field and more experienced starting lineups, Oklahoma State wins.

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Mountain West Gives It To The Big 12

  • Monday, September 7, 2009 11:52 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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So much for Big 12 domination, right? It fell on its face when the Mountain West Conference came to town, with two teams losing to MWC schools over the weekend. Orrin Hatch never made so much sense -- the Mountain West deserves an automatic bid. It keeps getting better despite the BCS' efforts to keep it at bay. It's at least better than the ACC, right? We'll put that conversation on hold until TCU plays Virginia next week.

In the meantime, consider this: Boise State joining the MWC, maybe Fresno State, too. Now that's a football conference. San Diego State and New Mexico would still be hanging around at the bottom, but hey: the Big 12 has dealt with Baylor as long as its existed.

Ahh, Baylor. What a great show this weekend. What, you missed it? Well, so did America. Baylor-Wake Forest isn't a big pull, but maybe the Bears will get more airtime with Robert Griffin playing quarterback. The first week is always a bit of an unknown, and it doesn't get easier when the former Heisman winner goes down in a Top 25 match-up. Here's the weekend wrap-up for the Big 12, starting with what I got right before bemoaning my errors:

Week 1 record: 7-4

Overall record: 7-4

Money Shots

Oklahoma State 24, Georgia 10: I'm proud of this prediction, and it went much the way I had expected. OSU's offense is good even against a good defense, and its defense is strong against a mediocre offense, picking up three turnovers. Dez Bryant caught for 77 yards and two touchdowns on three catches.

Nebraska 49, Florida Atlantic 3: I expected a win, but this score is a bit beyond what I thought possible. FAU doesn't have a slouch offense (and it didn't look like one against the Huskers, gaining more than 350 yards) but Nebraska locked down on defense and kept them out of the end zone. That says good things about its division title hopes.

Kansas 49, Northern Colorado 3: Everything I just said about Nebraska you can say here. Except for: Reesing is solid out of the gates.

Texas 59, Louisiana-Monroe 20: Colt McCoy accounted for 381 yards and left the game early. But I'm more impressed by Jordan Shipley's eight passes for 180 yards and a touchdown.

Wholly uninteresting games I was right about

Texas A&M 41, New Mexico 6: Maybe Mike Sherman will put it together down there this season.

Iowa State 34, North Dakota State 17: This game gets stricken from my personal record book since I failed to make a prediction before the game.

Texas Tech 38, North Dakota 13: I remain fully committed to my stance of ignoring all football games played by schools from North Dakota. I have nothing else to say.

Kansas State 21, Massachusetts 17 I barely got this one right, after the Wildcats gave up three interceptions and a blocked punt for a touchdown.

Incompletes

Baylor 24, Wake Forest 21: Holy Mike Singletary, it's happening. Baylor is rising from the muck like Swamp Thing. I thought Griffin and coach Art Briles could put something together, but here's what I didn't expect: the Bears' defense thrice picking off the all-time ACC leader in completion percentage. Now they get two weeks to prep for UConn, and then two easy wins that could lead them to a 4-0 record when they travel to face Oklahoma -- a possibly Sam Bradford-less, weak, broken, defenseless, ripe-for-the-taking Oklahoma (more on that later). Shudder.

Missouri 37, Illinois 9: Alright, either Illinois is a mess of poor-color-schemed suckage, or criticism of Missouri's offense was premature. That did not look like the third-best team in the Big 12 Conference. That looked like a team that will be tough to beat.

BYU 14, Oklahoma 13: On the one hand, I really hate this game. To watch Heisman winner Sam Bradford go out of the game in the first half, and to see that team lose by one point playing the entire second half with a freshman quarterback who found himself in a heck of a situation, is too bad for everyone. But on the other hand, I don't know why everyone's condemning Oklahoma's season. After all, the Sooners lost to Texas last season but proceeded to win a tiebreaker for the division title and, ultimately, a spot in the national title game over Texas. They've got all season to climb the rankings, and if they win out, don't you think voters would have sympathy over the way they suffered their only loss? Of course, the key to all this is the Sooners going undefeated from this point on, which I don't think they can do. Exhibit A on why that can't happen is currently undergoing a battery of diagnostic tests.

Synonyms for "Awful" don't do this game justice

Colorado State 23, Colorado 17: Wow. Wow wow wow. Ten wins, right? That's the goal? Going off this game, I'd bet five before 10. The two-back, run-heavy offense was uglier than Oregon's last Thursday night. Just awful. Pack up and go home. It's over.

Just awful.

Big 12 Preview | Texas No. 1

  • Thursday, September 3, 2009 7:25 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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2008 record: 13-1 overall, 7-1 Big 12 Conference, co-Big 12 South champions

2009 projection: Chip or not, the Longhorns are the best team in the country, and my pick to win the BCS Title Game.

Reason to get excited: "... my pick to win the BCS Title Game."

Reason not to get worked up: High expectations leave no room for error. One loss could derail the Longhorns' season.

The gist: I wouldn't choose anyone other than Colt McCoy to be my quarterback, even though two others in the NCAA have Heismans. He's got more balance than either Sam Bradford or Tim Tebow. But he probably won't have to lead the team in rushing again this season as the running backs mature and take on a greater workload. Jordan Shipley will once again be McCoy's favorite target, and the attention he draws will create a perfect situation for sophomore wideout Malcolm Williams -- who has drawn comparisons to former Longhorn Roy Williams -- to become the star he's expected to be. The offensive line will once again be strong, let by tackles Adam Ulatoski and Kyle Hixx. Sergio Kindle leads the defense, playing both defensive end and linebacker. Lamarr Houston joins him on the line, and linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy returns after leading the team with 112 tackles. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp's unit is solid overall but needs to improve on forcing turnovers.

Rallying point: McCoy. The senior says the right things, does the right things and could put together a memorable season if he can lead his team to a national title.

Cover your eyes: At the Red River Shootout. Losing to Oklahoma would be the ultimate suckerpunch to a team who watched the Sooners play in the BCS Title Game last year after beating them in the regular season.

For what it's worth: Texas' schedule this season is favorable, particularly the non-conference. The Longhorns have the benefit of sympathy running in their favor, this year -- expect the voters to give them an extra boost if they find themselves on the fringe of the title game. If they win the Big 12 Championship Game, McCoy will win the Heisman.