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January 12, 2010

Big 12 Breakdown: Coaches provide fireworks


There were stunning losses, surprising comebacks and huge numbers posted in the Big 12 this season. And those were just by the coaches.

Kansas' Mark Mangino and Texas Tech's Mike Leach shockingly lost their jobs, but Bill Snyder came out of retirement to help Kansas State end a streak of losing seasons. Texas coach Mack Brown received a big raise to become the first college coach with a $5 million salary.

Ndamukong Suh led Nebraska with 85 tackles, including 24 tackles for loss.

Player of the year: Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh.
Suh set a new standard for players at his position. Defensive tackles typically are asked to occupy blockers so linebackers can make tackles. Anything more is a bonus. But Suh led Nebraska with 85 tackles, including 24 tackles for loss. He also posted 12 sacks, blocked three kicks and broke up 10 passes, which is more than all but one of the Huskers' defensive backs. He won all the major national awards bestowed on defensive players and was a Heisman finalist.

Rivals.com 2009 All-Big 12 Team
On the field, Texas won the Big 12 championship. The Longhorns beat Nebraska, which appears on the verge of returning to the national elite. And though Oklahoma was plagued by an injury epidemic that claimed Heisman-winning quarterback Sam Bradford and tight end Jermaine Gresham, the Sooners ended a losing streak in bowl games. They also continued their dominance of state rival Oklahoma State, which never fully recovered from losing All-America WR Dez Bryant to suspension.

Coach of the year: Texas' Mack Brown. Sure, some (most?) have less to work with, but give Brown credit for keeping the train rolling. Despite some close calls (Oklahoma, Nebraska), Brown directed the Longhorns to an unbeaten regular season and their ninth consecutive season with at least 10 wins. By the way, the Longhorns are assembling one of the country's best recruiting classes, too.

Freshman of the year: Missouri DE Aldon Smith. If this was just the appetizer, look out for the main course. A staple on all the freshman All-America teams, Smith led all first-year players with 19 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. He had 64 tackles overall.

Offensive coordinator of the year: Texas A&M's Nolan Cromwell. While QB Jerrod Johnson is a rising star, the Aggies have a mediocre offensive line, their best running back is a freshman and arguably their best receiver wants to play quarterback. Yet the Aggies ranked sixth in the nation in total offense and 19th in scoring. The Aggies scored at least 30 points in nine games, including 39 against Texas.

Defensive coordinator of the year: Texas' Will Muschamp. The Longhorns have gotten tougher and more productive in two seasons under Muschamp, and made significant strides this season. Texas led the nation in rushing defense, was third in total defense and 12th in scoring defense. The Longhorns also tied for second in sacks and tied for first with 37 forced turnovers.

Biggest surprise: Iowa State. The Cyclones hadn't managed a winning record since '05 and had a combined five wins in the previous two seasons. But under first-year coach Paul Rhoads, the Cyclones managed a 7-6 finish and a victory in the Insight Bowl. The peak of the season, though, was a 9-7 upset of Nebraska. Yes, the Huskers committed eight turnovers, but any Iowa State win over Nebraska is noteworthy.

Biggest disappointment: Kansas. The Jayhawks were seen as perhaps the strongest contender to win the Big 12 North. That was before the Jayhawks endured seven consecutive losses to close 5-7 and finish with a losing record for the first time since 2004. Adding to the collapse was the firing of Mangino, who was accused of verbally and physically abusing players.

Best postseason performance: Nebraska's defense. Throughout their glorious history, the Huskers had played in 46 bowls but never registered a shutout until blanking Arizona 33-0 in the Holiday Bowl. Arizona, which had scored at least 30 points in six games, set Holiday Bowl records for futility by managing just six first downs and 109 yards and punting nine times.

Worst postseason performance: Texas A&M's special teams. The Aggies would have had a realistic chance to upset Georgia in the Independence Bowl if their special teams weren't so inept. The Aggies gave up a touchdown on a kickoff return, had a punt blocked to set up a touchdown and snapped the ball over the punter's head for a big loss that led to another touchdown. A&M also had a field-goal attempt blocked. That's 24 points that could be attributed to A&M's special teams. Georgia won 44-20.

Underclassmen liable to leave early: Kansas WR Dezmon Briscoe (already declared), Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford (already declared), Oklahoma CB Dominique Franks (already declared), Oklahoma TE Jermaine Gresham (already declared), Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy (already declared), Oklahoma RB DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma DE Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma LB Travis Lewis, Oklahoma State WR Dez Bryant (already declared), Oklahoma State RB Kendall Hunter, Texas FS Earl Thomas (already declared), Texas A&M DE Von Miller.

Next season's breakout offensive player: Missouri WR Jerrell Jackson. Look for Jackson to emerge as the favorite target for QB Blaine Gabbert and become the Tigers' primary big-play threat. This season, he caught 37 passes for 458 yards despite being a third option to Danario Alexander and Jared Perry. Both completed their eligibility, and Jackson steps up as the No. 1 receiver.

Next season's breakout defensive player: Texas A&M CB Dustin Harris. Pass coverage has been a recurring problem for the Aggies for almost a decade, but Harris may be part of the solution. He started most of the year as a true freshman until an ankle injury forced him out of the last three-regular season games. He returned for the Independence Bowl to get an interception and hold Georgia's A.J. Green to 57 receiving yards.

Player most on the spot next season: Texas QB Garrett Gilbert. All he has to do is replace Colt McCoy, the starting quarterback with the most victories in NCAA history. At least Gilbert got a head start on the job in the BCS national championship game. He threw four interceptions and lost a fumble in that game, but he heads into the 2010 season knowing he is the starter and can prepare as such.

Next season's conference champ/division winners: Nebraska in the North and Texas in the South. Although the Huskers lose Suh, coach Bo Pelini has talented players ready to step in. Ten starters are set to return on offense. Gilbert's two second-half touchdown passes in the national title game gives Texas cause to be encouraged. As for the overall champ, next season is a good time for a North team to win it because of the rebuilding - or, rather, reloading - under way at Texas and Oklahoma.

National title contenders: Nebraska, Texas and Oklahoma. Pelini has been on record as saying the Huskers will be "five times better" next season. Any improvement over this season's 10 wins should make Nebraska a national championship contender. Texas and Oklahoma lose key players, but both recruit well and always have great talent ready to emerge.


Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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