After watching all of the Big 12's bowl games, I came away with a clearer picture of the conference and it's relative position in college football.
Here are some specific observations I gleaned after watching the conference's bowl games.
Garrett Gilbert looks like a keeper at quarterback. Although the national championship game was a difficult learning laboratory, the freshman Texas quarterback showed the kind of flashes that helped make him last season's most heralded quarterback recruit. Gilbert will still be learning as he goes into his sophomore season, but appeared to have confidence in throwing the ball downfield against the tough Alabama secondary as the game progressed. That success was the major reason the Longhorns were able to improbably climb back into the game against the Crimson Tide. With speedsters Malcolm Williams, Marquise Goodwin and D.J. Monroe back for next season, expect the Longhorns to employ a more vertical passing game with Gilbert in charge than the short-passing game that was favored with Colt McCoy during his career.
Texas Tech's quarterback battle in 2010 will be the most interesting in the conference. Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield both were productive in the Red Raiders' Valero Alamo Bowl victory over Michigan State. Potts claimed the Valero Alamo Bowl's most valuable offensive player honors and Sheffield directed the Red Raiders' comeback over the Spartans. But both quarterbacks will come in even with new coach Tommy Tuberville and a new offensive coordinator taking over. The job is there for the taking for either one of them.
Iowa State's surprising success likely will be short lived. The Big 12's feel-good story of the season was capped with Iowa State's victory over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl. Paul Rhoads' victory should resonate for the ISU program for the next several months. And the way it finished couldn't have been more fitting as cornerback Ter'ran Benton, who missed most of the season with a broken leg, iced the victory by recovering a Minnesota fumble in the final minutes. But as sweet as the bowl victory might have been for ISU fans, a significantly more difficult schedule looms next season. They better enjoy the spoils of a bowl victory while they can with Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Utah and Northern Illinois looming on the 2010 schedule.
Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson had the best bowl game of anybody around the Nebraska program. And he needed it. Complaints about Watson's offensive philosophy were growing after the Cornhuskers' offense limped toward the finish line at the end of the regular season. Watson utilized the time off before the Holiday Bowl to help rebuild Zac Lee's confidence, find a way to get Niles Paul involved and utilize a Wildcat attack with Rex Burkhead running the ball. All worked masterfully in the Cornhuskers' 33-0 victory over Arizona in their top offensive performance of the season. That production should help turn around public perception about Watson's offense and catapult the Cornhuskers into spring practice with some badly needed offensive confidence.
Missouri's refusal to run the ball against Navy was the biggest shock in the Texas Bowl. The Tigers had all kinds of chances to take control of the game, utilizing their superior size in the trenches against Navy's undersized read-and-react defense. And they still didn't do it in a stunning 35-13 loss to the Midshipmen. Even as Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green used a two-man defensive front, Missouri offensive coordinator David Yost stubbornly tried to keep throwing the ball. Missouri's running backs only ended up with 16 carries in the game. It was understandable that Yost thought the Tigers could keep passing with Blaine Gabbert and Danario Alexander. But a little balance would have kept the game from getting away from them.