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Big 12's landmark season marked by quarterbacks, controversy

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Entertaining games, record-setting quarterbacks and more stadium protest airplane flyovers than can be remembered.

The Big 12 featured all of that and more in its most noteworthy regular season in history.

The conference received unprecedented publicity for its strong collection of prolific teams, quarterbacks and offenses. And the late-season controversy helped the league build wide awareness when the BCS standings were employed to break the fifth tiebreaker in a wild three-team deadlock for the South Division title.

Oklahoma's record-setting offense, keyed by quarterback Sam Bradford, enabled it to ring up 702 points -- a modern-day NCAA scoring record -- and earn its third straight Big 12 title. The Sooners staked their claim to a conference dynasty with a convincing 62-21 victory over Missouri last week.

The Sooners got to the championship game only by the means of a few favorable computer rankings that boosted them past Texas and Texas Tech, the other two teams tied with the Sooners for the South title.

But that wasn't all. The Big 12 featured perhaps the top collection of quarterbacks in one conference at one time in modern college football history. Bradford, Texas' Colt McCoy and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell were the Davey O'Brien Award finalists.

That collection of aerial talent helped some critics of the league to discredit defenses because of some of the Big 12's staggering offensive numbers.

The conference will have a chance to disprove those doubters during the bowl games.

And if those games are anything like the regular season, expect more pinball-type offensive numbers inside the stadium and rival airplane flyovers circling over them.

Here's a list of individual achievements in the league.

Offensive MVP

Texas QB Colt McCoy -- The Longhorns weren't expected to challenge for the South Division title before the season. The biggest reason for their offensive success has been a bulked-up McCoy, who cut down on his turnovers and evolved into a record-setting passer and his team's most consistent running threat. He's already the winningest quarterback in school history and poised for even more as he returns for his senior season in 2009.

Defensive MVP

Texas DE Brian Orakpo -- After missing much of last season with a knee injury, Orakpo was determined to rebound for a strong senior season. The extra work helped him become the conference's most dominant defensive player. Although his numbers were skewed after missing a couple of games with a knee injury, Orakpo was a fearsome player who repeatedly disrupted Big 12 offenses because of his pass-rushing skills.

Newcomer of the Year

Baylor QB Robert Griffin -- It's hard to remember a player who had a more immediate impact than Griffin, who pumped hope into the moribund Baylor program as a freshman. The nation's youngest starting quarterback passed for 2,091 yards and 15 touchdowns and was intercepted just three times. He also rushed for 843 yards and tied a school record with 13 touchdowns. And the best part is that he's only going to improve in the future.

Coach of the Year

Texas coach Mack Brown -- After being picked to struggle before the season, Brown prodded the Longhorns to overachieve by leading them to a share of the South Division title and within a whisper of playing for the national championship. Building on the toughness he instilled late last season, his team thrived without a true featured running back and with a defense that thrived against the Big 12's best despite two starting freshmen safeties.

Biggest surprise

Oklahoma State -- Not much was expected from the Cowboys coming into the season, considering the South Division's strength. But Mike Gundy developed a team that stormed into the top 10 after 7-0 start, punctuated by an upset at Missouri. They then nearly stunned Texas in Austin before their BCS hopes were quashed by late-season losses at Texas Tech and against Oklahoma. And they should be even better next season with a strong returning nucleus.

Biggest disappointment

Texas A&M -- Coach Mike Sherman was expected to struggle this season, but nothing like what turned out for the 4-8 Aggies. It started out badly in a stunning opening-game loss to Arkansas State. And it went downhill quickly as the Aggies finished the season losing their last three games to Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas by a combined margin of 98 points, allowing an average of 52 points in those three games.

Game of the Year

Texas Tech 39, Texas 33 -- The Red Raiders jumped on Texas quickly and seemingly had the game in hand with a 22-3 lead before McCoy's late heroics boosted the then top-ranked Longhorns in position for the comeback victory. But Blake Gideon dropped a potential game-sealing interception late in the game and Harrell made Texas pay on the next play with a dramatic game-winning 28-yard TD strike to Michael Crabtree with one second remaining.