Big 12 Football: What We Learned from Bowl Season

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterJanuary 8, 2014

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02:  Head coach Bob Stoops celebrates after defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide 45-31 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 2, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Just like that, another college football season is over. It's been a fun one, and some of the best bowl games involved Big 12 teams. 

Nothing will top Oklahoma's 45-31 over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, the most improbable upset of the bowl season. However, the 41 fourth-quarter points in the Cotton Bowl between Missouri and Oklahoma State comes in a close second. 

Texas Tech also had a solid win over Arizona State, who won the Pac-12 South Division, in the Holiday Bowl.

Texas, meanwhile, sent head coach Mack Brown out after 16 years with a 30-7 loss to Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. 

There were plenty of highlights and lowlights for the conference, which finished 3-3 in the postseason. Here's what we learned about the Big 12 in bowl season looking forward to 2014. 

Start the Oklahoma Hype Machine

While announcing that the Sooners are "back" is both a kiss of death and unfair to the 11-win season they just finished, expectations will nevertheless be higher in Norman next season.

That's what happens when you knock off Alabama in the Sugar Bowl as a 17-point underdog. 

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02:  Trevor Knight #9 of the Oklahoma Sooners celebrates after defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide 45-31 during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 2, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Street
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The most impressive part was the development of quarterback Trevor Knight.

The redshirt freshman was the definition of a run-first quarterback when he began the season. After getting benched midway through the Week 2 game against West Virginia because of a knee injury and general ineffectiveness, many questioned why head coach Bob Stoops named Knight the starter over Blake Bell in the first place.

If Knight can continue to develop as a passer and remain healthy, he will be a dangerous offensive weapon.

He'll have an excellent supporting cast on offense too. Running back Keith Ford, who played well in limited action, will be a sophomore. Sterling Shepard returns as well to lead a relatively new wide receiver group. Losing center Gabe Ikard will hurt, but the Sooners' offensive line remains mostly intact. 

On defense, most of Oklahoma's front seven should return, though replacing cornerback Aaron Colvin and safety Gabe Lynn in the secondary will be tough. 

It would be surprising not to see Oklahoma named the Big 12 preseason favorite for next season. 

Baylor Becomes a Team to Watch in 2014

Baylor's first Big 12 championship and BCS bowl appearance was made possible by the tremendous building job of head coach Art Briles.

He'll return as the Bears' coach next season after being linked to the Texas job. However, a lot of the players that made 2013 so special won't be. 

Jan 1, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Baylor Bears quarterback Bryce Petty (14) throws during the first half against the UCF Knights in the Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Running back Lache Seastrunk declared for the draft and Glasco Martin is a senior. There are three seniors along the offensive line, including Cyril Richardson, who are departing. Senior receiver Tevin Reese is gone too. Quarterback Bryce Petty returns, however. 

Seven seniors on defense will leave, including safety Ahmad Dixon, and linebacker Bryce Hager could easily declare for the NFL as a junior.

This was a group that has grown together over the past couple of years to become one of the best defenses in the conference. However, they got exposed by UCF in a 52-42 loss in the Fiesta Bowl. 

So what will Baylor look like in 2014?

Depth wasn't an issue for the Bears, so thanks to a number of blowouts, there was plenty of playing time to go around. Next year's Baylor team won't be brand spankin' new, never having seen the field before. Still, there was so much star power on this year's team. It will be fascinating to follow how well Baylor plays, especially on defense. 

Oklahoma State's Defense was a Special Group

It's not often Oklahoma State and great defense are mentioned together, but the 2013 group under first-year defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer was something special. 

That defense, featuring cornerback Justin Gilbert and linebacker Caleb Lavey, ranked No. 4 nationally in turnover margin and swarmed to the ball every play. It was a well-coached group with some tremendous athletes. 

Through three quarters of the Cotton Bowl, which the Pokes ultimately lost 41-31, Oklahoma State held Missouri to 17 points despite continuously losing the field position battle. Things got out of hand in the fourth quarter when the Tigers scored 17 offensive points as part of an exciting back-and-forth, but the Cowboys defense gave the team a chance to win. 

After all the offensive success Oklahoma State has had over the years, it was fun to watch such a sound defensive team. 

Texas' Quarterback Situation is Dicey

Nov 28, 2013; Austin, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns quarterback David Ash (r) talks with offensive coordinator Major Applewhite (l) prior to the game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Malone
Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

The most important hire for new Texas head coach Charlie Strong will be the offensive coordinator because Texas' offense was awful in the final stretch of the season. 

Quarterback David Ash returns after suffering a season-ending concussion. He will definitely have the edge over freshman Tyrone Swoopes heading into spring practice. 

Ash has been inconsistent in his career, but he has all the physical tools to be successful: size ( 6'3", 223 pounds), mobility and a strong arm. Now he just needs to continue to develop. But what happens if he gets hurt again? Swoopes is also physically gifted, but he didn't look ready to play in limited action. 

The Longhorns' Alamo Bowl loss to Oregon showed how dire the quarterback situation is. If Ash doesn't improve and/or stay healthy, Strong's first season in Austin could be tough. 

Other Happenings From Around the Big 12 in Bowl Season

Best Offensive Performance: Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight. He was dropping dimes and slinging the pigskin for 348 yards and four touchdowns against Alabama. What else do you need?

Best Defensive Performance: Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker. As a heat-seeking missile, Striker had seven tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble that basically ended the game. He was a monster. 

Most Ridiculous First Half: Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett. He caught three touchdowns to put K-State up 21-6 at the half and finished with 10 catches for 116 yards. Michigan employed the always-bold strategy of defending Lockett with one-on-one coverage, which as everyone knows usually results in PAIN.  

Best Kick Return: Texas Tech wide receiver Reginald Davis. He took it 90 yards to the house just as Arizona State was creeping back into the game. The Red Raiders shocked the Sun Devils, 37-23. 

Best Flip for a Touchdown: Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty. If this whole football thing doesn't work out, he has a chance to be a really good gymnast. Needs to work on sticking his landing, though. 

Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. You can follow him on Twitter @BenKercheval


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