In many ways the 2009 Big 12 football season has been a disappointment for fans, teams, and players alike.
Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor, and most noticeably Oklahoma have all largely failed to live up to their preseason billing.
Other teams, like Nebraska, Texas, and Missouri, have struggled at times with inferior opponents, calling the conference's strength into question with the national media.
Stars like Sam Bradford, Todd Reesing, and others never awed at the same levels they did in 2008.
While the season is still not over, and a Texas BCS National Championship could go a long way in rehabilitating the conference's reputation, one major lesson can be gleaned from the 2009 season.
Many or most of the failures in expectations in the Big 12 this season can be attributed to poor or mediocre offensive line play.
The most glaring example of this, of course, is the sad case of last year's Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. This year Bradford took the field behind a less than mediocre offensive line, and the consequences were disastrous against top 25 opponents BYU and Texas.
Bradford's injury cost him likely millions of dollars and Oklahoma a shot at a national championship.
Mark Mangino is currently a "dead man walking" in the minds of many sports analysts. This is more due to Kansas' seven-game losing streak than any charges of impropriety leveled against Mangino.
What was the major reason for the Jayhawks' collapse? In Big 12 league play the inability of the Kansas offensive line to protect Reesing or establish a running game doomed the team to failure. In the games the Jayhawks did make competitive, like vs. Nebraska and Missouri, the line played adequate. Even then though, adequate was not good enough.
It is fitting that the last offensive play of the season for Kansas against Missouri resulted in a game-changing sack of Reesing for a safety.
Oklahoma State's offensive line play was the cause in great part for each of its losses. Just two weeks ago Oklahoma State was poised for a historic run for the program at a BCS bowl game. BCS dreams came crashing down, however, when Oklahoma State's line was dominated and humiliatingly pushed around by a wounded Oklahoma Sooners defense in a Bedlam blowout.
The list of examples from this 2009 Big 12 season could go on and on. The point remains, however, that although national and local media love to fawn over teams' quarterbacks, wide receivers, and running backs ad nauseam, what is really going to make or break a season is any given team's ability to control the line of scrimmage.
Hopefully, this season will serve as a reminder to coaches and pundits alike that they can't overlook this all-important fact when prognosticating.
Best of all, the 2009 Big 12 Championship Saturday between Nebraska and Texas will be a microcosm of this year's trend. Nebraska has one of the best defensive lines in the country, anchored by Mel Kiper's current projected No. 1 NFL Draft Pick.
If Texas cannot protect Colt McCoy or establish a running game, the Nebraska defensive line just might play its way into a Big 12 Championship.
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