Here are five key players to watch from the Big 12 this bowl season:
Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert
AT&T Cotton Bowl vs. Missouri
The Jim Thorpe Award finalist and consensus All-American will be matched up against one of the rising pass-catching stars in college football in Dorial Green-Beckham. "DGB" finished just ninth in the SEC in receiving but exploded in the SEC championship game with 144 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He also had four touchdown catches in one game earlier in the season. If Gilbert can take away Missouri’s top downfield threat, the rest of the Oklahoma State defense can zero in on stopping running back Henry Josey and pressuring quarterback James Franklin.
Gilbert has made himself quite a bit of future money by coming back to school for what has been a banner senior season. He could make even more blanketing the physical, 6-foot-6 Green-Beckham.
Oklahoma receiver/returner Jalen Saunders
Allstate Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama
In many ways, the Sooners don’t match up well with Alabama, which was on track to advance to a fourth national championship game in five seasons before a dramatic loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
But Oklahoma does have an X factor in Saunders, whose versatile playmaking could keep the two-touchdown underdog Sooners in the game.
In the upset victory over Oklahoma State that pushed Oklahoma into the Sugar, Saunders had a 61-yard punt return touchdown, a 37-yard reverse rush that set up another score and a game-winning, 7-yard touchdown grab in the corner of the end zone with 19 seconds remaining.
If Saunders can also pull off big plays on special teams and reel in clutch receptions, Oklahoma just might be able to hang around with the Crimson Tide.
Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl vs. Central Florida
In the summer, Seastrunk declared he was "going to win the Heisman" this season. While Seastrunk rushed for more than 1,000 yards and Baylor led the nation in offense, Seastrunk didn’t have the kind of individual season he had gunned for, due in part to a midseason groin strain.
Will that prompt Seastrunk to come back for his senior season, or will the Fiesta be his final college game? According to ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper, Seastrunk grades out somewhere around a third-round pick. The Fiesta could be a chance for Seastrunk to improve his stock.
Or it could be a chance for him to build toward a more serious Heisman campaign in 2014.
Texas Tech quarterback Michael Brewer
National University Holiday Bowl vs. Arizona State
The ongoing Texas Tech quarterback competition was reduced by one last week, when freshman Baker Mayfield elected to transfer. That could open the door for Brewer to finally regain a stranglehold on the position.
Brewer was the offseason favorite to win the job. Then, he suffered a summer back injury and, after returning to practice in October, was never able to shake off enough rust to catch up with Mayfield and Davis Webb.
These bowl practices, however, should give Brewer plenty of snaps to return to form, and if he gets the starting nod over Webb, he could take the job for good with a solid showing against Arizona State.
Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl vs. Michigan
The junior college transfer was one of the most improved players in the Big 12 from beginning to end. After struggling during the nonconference and early portion of the league schedule, Waters helped fuel K-State’s surge the second half of the season. In fact, in the Wildcats’ only loss (Oklahoma) after Oct. 12, Waters still passed for 348 yards and three touchdowns.
The Wildcats will need another big game out of Waters against Michigan. They’ll also need him to take care of the ball, too. The Wolverines have been up and down defensively, but with 17 interceptions, they feature one of the better ball-hawking defensive backfields in the country.