LSU and Alabama are set to square off tonight for the national championship, but for the Big 12 the bowl season officially came to a close Friday night with Arkansas' victory over Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl.
Overall however, it was an impressive run for the Big 12 this bowl season, its first as a ten-team conference. Eight teams qualified for a bowl and six walked away with a win, a dramatic improvement over last season's 3-5 record as a conference.
So without further ado, it's time to hand out the grades. I like to try and be tough when it comes to this, but it was simply hard to hand out anything but passing grades this year. The class was filled with a bunch of overachieving National Honor Society students this year. Here we go.
The Honor Students:
Baylor: Grade A
Result: beat Washington in the Alamo Bowl, 67-56
Winning 10 games and a bowl game hasn't exactly been commonplace in Waco during Baylor's football history but that is exactly what happened with the Bears victory over Washington in this year's Alamo Bowl. It was their first bowl victory since the 1992 Sun Bowl and only their ninth in school history. Giving up 56 points and 620 yards as the Baylor defense did isn't exactly something to be proud of, but then again when you are scoring 67 points and racking up 777 yards yourself, you have some margin for error. As for entertainment value, this had to be the top of the list among this year's bowl games. And based on that alone, the Bears pass with flying colors.
Oklahoma State: Grade A
The Cowboys will be watching tonight's national championship game wondering what could have been had they not lost to Iowa State, but they still had the next best thing which was a Big 12 championship and matchup against fourth ranked Stanford. The Cardinal missed a couple field goals to help the Cowboys out while Justin Blackmon did what he's done over the past two seasons which is dominate. The junior had 186 yards receiving and two scores before announcing after the game he was entering the NFL draft. It was Oklahoma State's second straight bowl win. A BCS win over a top five team? It's tough to top that.
Making the Grade
Texas: Grade B+
Result: beat Cal 21-10 in the Holiday Bowl.
It was an interesting year for the Longhorns but they finished it off in the same fashion most of their games had went this season; a little offense and a whole lot of defense. Manny Diaz' crew created five Cal turnovers and held the Golden Bears offense to just 195 years in the 21-10 win. Heading into the game, it was thought the Longhorns' offense would play both David Ash and Case McCoy at quarterback, but they went all the way with Ash who caught a touchdown pass himself and also threw a 47 yard strike to Marquise Goodwin for the Texas win. It may be baby steps, but still a solid way to head into winter workouts.
Missouri: Grade B+
Result: beat North Carolina in the Independence Bowl, 41-24.
The Tigers exited the Big 12 with a relatively easy win in their last game as a member of the conference, downing North Carolina in a game they led 31-10 at halftime. Generally if you run the ball well on offense and stop the run on the other side, you're going to a win a football game and that's exactly what the Tigers did. North Carolina came in only giving up 106 yards on the ground but it didn't matter to Mizzou who repeatedly gashed the Tar Heels racking up 337 yards on the ground. Defensively, the Tigers only surrendered 36 yards themselves, a potential good sign with the move to the SEC straight ahead. James Franklin should have a good offseason finishing with one of his better performances of the season, running for 142 yards and throwing for another 132. Best of luck in the SEC, Tigers.
Oklahoma: Grade B
Result: beat Iowa 31-14 in the Insight Bowl, 31-14.
The Insight Bowl wasn't exactly the place the Sooners envisioned themselves prior to the season, but it's where they ended up after dropping three regular season games and being favored to win it all this year. That being said, Oklahoma came out and took care of business in a game in which they could have done nothing more than go through the motions. Oklahoma led 21-0 after three quarters and held Iowa's offense 292 yards before holding on in the fourth quarter for the victory. It wasn't a banner day for Oklahoma's offense that only tallied 275 itself, but it was enough to give OU its 10th win of the year. How do you know your program is in good shape? When people yawn when you win 10 games.
Texas A&M: Grade B-
The Aggies final season in the Big 12 won't be remembered as a good one due to a 6-6 regular season record that got coach Mike Sherman fired, but Texas A&M still managed to head off to the SEC on a winning note with their victory over Northwestern. It was their first bowl game in their last six tries. Texas A&M held a very good Northwestern to 278 yards and Jeff Fuller played like many thought he would most of the year hauling in seven passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. Now if they can just figure out how to keep a running back healthy, they should be in decent shape heading into a brutal SEC schedule next season.
Kansas State: Grade C+
Result: lost to Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl, 29-16.
It wasn't the result the Wildcats hoped for after a phenomenal season, but they have nothing to hang their head about after sticking right with one of the better teams in the SEC for four quarters. Kansas State got to where they are by limiting mistakes and unfortunately, they didn't happen in the first half against the Razorbacks. Kansas State had two turnovers, dropped four passes, and had several costly penalties in the before halftime when they fell behind 19-9. Their defense was outstanding, however, and kept them in the game until the offense could find their groove. Other than the first drive after halftime, that never really happened, a credit to a good Arkansas team. Kansas State still finished the season far exceeding anyone's expectations and they have a good core of those players back next season.
Iowa State: Grade C-
Result: lost to Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl, 27-13.
Turnovers and missed field goals had hurt the Cyclones a good chunk of the season and those issues reared up again in the Big Apple. The Cyclones had a costly first half fumble and missed two field goals heading into half and never really developed any consistency on offense despite switching quarterbacks early in the second quarter. It wasn't how Iowa State wanted to head into winter conditioning, but it was still another step in the right direction for a program on the upswing under Paul Rhoads.
So that's it. No D's or F's at all in this year's round of games? Usually there are a couple, but there just weren't any teams that fell flat on their face during the bowl season and there wasn't one upset. Both of the Big 12' losses, Iowa State and Kansas State, were underdogs going in and each held their ground.
Overall, it was an impressive showing for the conference. And it's even more impressive considering both of the Big 12's newest members next season, West Virginia and TCU, had solid showing,s as well, so there wasn't much not too like. That is, other than not playing for the national championship, of course. That is an SEC riddle they'll need to continue trying to figure out in 2012.