Baylor's season was a work of Art. (Photo courtesy: USA Today Sports)
The Big 12 looked to be wide open heading into 2013. In terms of the race for the conference title, the league didn't disappoint. Nothing was decided until the final week of the season, which saw Oklahoma State fall to in-state rival Oklahoma and Baylor beat Texas in the final game at Floyd Casey Stadium, giving the Bears their first Big 12 crown.
Big 12 at a Glance
Led by Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, Big 12 backers spent the offseason touting the league’s depth. That sales pitch took some serious hits early in the season when Big 12 teams struggled in non-conference games in September. Embarrassing losses for the conference included defending champion Kansas State falling to FCS foe North Dakota State, alleged contender Texas getting waxed by BYU and Ole Miss and West Virginia taking a vicious beating from Maryland.
The struggles of West Virginia and Texas didn’t end there. UT’s disappointing 8-4 regular season finally extinguished Mack Brown’s hot seat, as the veteran coach was sent packing. Meanwhile, WVU’s Dana Holgorsen now gets his turn under the gun in what could be a make-or-break year in Morgantown.
Other Big 12 teams finished the year strong: Baylor won its first conference title; OU ended the season on a roll, beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl; and Texas Tech showed some promising signs under rookie coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Biggest Surprise: Baylor
Baylor was considered a darkhorse for the Big 12 crown before the season, but the Bears played like the class of the conference for the majority of the season. The relentlessly uptempo offense torched opponents, but Baylor’s D turned into surprisingly staunch unit in 2013. The Bears lost some of their momentum down the stretch, including a loss to Central Florida in Baylor’s first trip to a BCS bowl game. Still, a conference title made it the best season in school history.
Biggest Disappointment: Texas
Mack didn't want to go out this way. (Photo courtesy: USA Today Sports)
Mack Brown came into the season telling anyone who’d listen that his Longhorns were all growns up. Aside from an inspired performance in the Red River Shootout, they played as though their coach forget to inform them of whatever rite of passage had occurred in the offseason. With Brown now dedicating himself to a new career in tweeting, Charlie Strong is trying to rebuild the program.
Best Game: Oklahoma’s Bedlam comeback
Bob Stoops continued his mastery over Mike Gundy this year, but the Sooners had to throw the kitchen sink at the Cowboys to get it done. OU used a bevy of well-timed trick plays and better-timed defensive stops to claw its way to a late lead, but the Pokes marched down the field on an 89-yard touchdown drive to go back on top with less than two minutes remaining in the game. Junior quarterback Blake Bell came off the sidelines to lead OU on a clutch TD drive late, capped by a pretty throw to Jalen Saunders in the corner of the end zone that put the Sooners back on top for good.
Relative to expectations, the Big 12 couldn’t have asked for much more in bowl season. While heavily favored Baylor lost in the Fiesta Bowl, OU and Texas Tech both scored high-profile upset wins. Kansas State also throttled Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The Longhorns looked pretty uninspired in a blowout loss to Oregon, while OSU didn’t quite have enough in the tank to beat Missouri. Considering Big 12 teams were underdogs in four games, tough to argue with 3-3.
Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year: QB Bryce Petty, Baylor
Offensive productivity took a nosedive across the conference this season, leaving relatively few standouts on that side of the ball. Petty gets the nod over Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro for operating the Baylor O at such a high level all year. To the victor go the spoils, and the Bears won the league.
Honorable Mention: TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year: LB Caleb Lavey, Oklahoma State
Lavey had a whale of a senior year for the Cowboys. (Photo courtesy: USA Today Sports)
Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas’ speed-rushing demon, won most of the postseason accolades in this category. However, Lavey is the pick here due to the sheer number of game-changing plays that he made from his position in the middle of the field for OSU. The Pokes D thrived off of big plays, and Lavey made a ton.
Honorable Mention: CB Jason Verrett, TCU
Big 12 Freshman of the Year: LB Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma
Not a lot to choose from here. Alexander stepped in at linebacker after Corey Nelson, arguably OU’s best defensive player, tore a pectoral muscle in the fifth game of the season against TCU. The true freshman had his share of tough moments early on, but he improved significantly as the season wore on. Alexander finished the year with 80 tackles from the inside linebacker position, good for 16th overall in the conference. He will be holding it down for the Sooners’ defense for three more years.
Honorable Mention: RB Shock Linwood, Baylor
Big 12 Coach of the Year: Art Briles, Baylor
Briles was already a hot coaching commodity before this season, which saw his stock get pushed up even higher. Under the care of one of the true gurus of the spread offense, Baylor fielded its most dangerous attack yet in ‘13. Working with his third quarterback in three years, Briles took the Bears to the highest heights ever experienced by the school.
Whereas pundits pegged the Big 12 as wide open heading into last season, looking for a consensus to develop around Oklahoma as the class of the conference in ‘14, followed by Baylor and Kansas St. The Red Raiders should generate some darkhorse buzz, too. With a slew of experienced quarterbacks returning, things should look a bit more like the Big 12 of old. One team will likely emerge from the scrum with, at worst, one loss and find itself squarely in the discussion for a spot in the new playoff.