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.

What The Big 12 Title Game Taught Us

  • Monday, December 7, 2009 10:22 AM
  • 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 5:47 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.

Big 12 North Turned Upside Down

  • Monday, October 19, 2009 12:57 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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Seven weeks of college football, and who leads the Big 12 North? Kansas State, the team some picked to finish last (I was not far behind, tabbing them 11th). A couple weeks ago it looked like the Big 12 North was split in two, with half the teams rising to the Top 25 and half slumming it in obscurity. Instead, we've got three teams at 1-1 in conference play, another at 1-2, with Kansas State leading and Missouri in the basement.

Unfortunately, parity doesn't earn you respect -- at least not this early in the season, in this division. Maybe the SEC East could get away with a logjam, but the Big 12 North has been the dunce for a few years now. And we've seen too many poor performances to buy stock in the belief that perhaps it's back to being highly competitive. More likely, what we have is a few C-grade teams trying to pull down a few B-grade teams to their level. And so far, so good.

Week 6 record: 2-4, 2-4 Big 12

Overall record: 42-18, 10-4 Big 12

Hits

Oklahoma State 33, Missouri 17: Missouri's had a hard run. Nebraska and Oklahoma State are a hard way to open Big 12 play. Nevertheless, the Tigers are still 0-2, and clearly not a Top 25 team -- for now, at least. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State is 2-0 in conference play, but that counts for very little when your wins are over Mizzou and A&M (see below).

Texas 16, Oklahoma 13: Texas was a little less than inspiring. Even against Oklahoma, I expected more than 16 points. On the other side of the ball, I imagine Bob Stoops wants to choke a doctor right about now. Preferably the one that said Sam Bradford ran no risk of re-injuring his shoulder.

Misses

Iowa State 24, Baylor 10: Sure, it's Baylor, but Iowa State is competing well. Paul Rhoads is doing a great job with the Cyclones, who have been in the game for every second of Big 12 play this season.

Colorado 34, Kansas 30: In the preseason, this wouldn't have seemed so unlikely. But that was before the Buffs fell apart. And Kanssa was supposed to have a solid defense. So does this mean Colorado's turned it around? No, not at all. Rather, the Jayhawks are no good this year. Cue the Iowa State footage if you don't believe me. They don't deserve their Top 25 ranking.

Kansas State 62, Texas A&M 14: Talk about a flashback to 2003. This has to be the most unlikely line score I've seen this season. Never mind how pitiful Texas A&M is -- Kansas State is supposed to be running on fumes, limping through 2009. Guess what? The Wildcats are 4-3, a bowl game is a possibility, they're recruiting well, and Bill Snyder has a long-term contract. Things are looking sunny in Manhattan.

Texas Tech 31, Nebraska 10: A lot went wrong for Nebraska, but the Huskers did their fair share wrong. Like failing to commit to the run. Having an ineffective offensive gameplan. Playing Zac Lee too long. Letting Ndamukong Suh get handled in the second half. The list goes on. But at the end of the day, Nebraska blows it right when it seems on the cusp of reaching the next level.

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Every Week Matters For Suh's Heisman Hopes

  • Thursday, October 15, 2009 5:28 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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Nebraska Chokes On Big Opportunity

  • Wednesday, September 23, 2009 4:21 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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All game long last weekend, ABC's broadcasting team discussed Nebraska 12-year drought since its last road win over a ranked opponent. It's hard to believe, considering nine bowls in the 11 seasons since and an appearance in the 2001 BCS Championship game, but it's true. And with every stifled Virginia Tech drive, fans became more confident in Nebraska's defense, which effectively shut down an offense that ran all around and over it last season.

Then third-and-nine happened. Don't expect many Husker faithful to remember who caught that 81-yard pass from Tyrod Taylor (it was Danny Coale). But the image of that play's blown coverage still burns bright. Matt O'Hanlon -- the safety who drifted too far toward the middle of the field and left Coale wide open on a fade route -- made a touchdown-saving tackle that ultimately only hurt Nebraska, after Taylor connected with Tyrelle Roberts in the end zone with 21 seconds left.

And let's not forget that third-down play, which Taylor extended by stuttering in the backfield and freezing NU lineman Ndamukong Suh for a split second. Given enough time to re-stitch the football, Taylor capped off the Hokies' only sizable drive of the game. Final alcohol sales figures for the weekend aren't yet available, but it's a good guess Nebraska kicked the Miller family fortune up into the strata shared by Gates and Buffet.

Once again, the Huskers find themselves looking to the future, hoping a few wins strung together will help nudge Nebraska back into the national spotlight. Gotta be frustrating, though, losing a Top 20 match-up that you dominated the same weekend historical arch-nemesis Miami climbed into the Top 10 in its third season after bottoming out.

Of course, we have Nebraska's loss to thank for this video, which I've seen 100 different places this week:

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Big 12 Preview | Nebraska No. 4

  • Sunday, August 30, 2009 3:05 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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

2009 projection: 10 wins and division supremacy, but NU will need another season to climb back among the elite.

Reason to get excited: The defense made a huge leap in Coach Bo Pelini's first year, cutting its average yards allowed by more than 125 yards per game, and finished the season on a 6-1 tear.

Reason not to get worked up: The secondary will have to prove it can defend against big arms.

The gist: Nebraska is ranked in most everybody's preseason Top 25 with an unknown, unproven quarterback. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson raves about quarterback Zac Lee's abilities, and he has the arm strength and passing abilities that Joe Ganz lacked last year. He's also got a bulked up Roy Helu Jr., who looks ready to become a star all-purpose back. Fellow running back Quentin Castille's dismissal from the team will put more pressure on Helu, but the impact of his loss on the run game has been exaggerated. The offensive line loses Matt Slauson and Lydon Murtha but reloads to form one of the strongest O-lines in the Big 12. The receivers are loaded with talent but a little light on experience. Defensively, Ndamukong Suh is one of the best players in the country. He led or was tied for the team lead in sacks, tackles and interceptions last season, and leads a strong defensive line. The Huskers' secondary and passing game is the point of concern. Even with senior safety Larry Asante and returning cornerback Anthony West, Nebraska might struggle if the passing defense can't get stops -- and picks.

Rallying point: Suh. They're already engraving his name on the Lombardi Award trophy.

Cover your eyes: If Helu's hamstring troubles put him on the bench.

For what it's worth: The only game on Nebraska's schedule that is a highly probable loss is Oklahoma. The division is getting better, but NU is getting better, faster. They've got Texas Tech at home, and the game at Virginia Tech looks much more winnable with Hokie running back Darren Evans out for the season. Watch out on the road at Baylor and Kansas, but if they win every game they should, Nebraska will end the regular season will 10 wins, maybe 11.