Oklahoma's dominance, Big 12 North's resurgence highlight season

The Big 12 North finally bit back after years of being lapdogs for South Division teams. But those teams still couldn't overcome Oklahoma's dominance.

North teams earned a 10-8 edge in regular-season cross-division games, giving them an advantage over the South for the first time since 1998. The biggest reason was the success of the North's top teams as Missouri, Kansas and Colorado combined for an 8-1 record against the South.

The Sooners returned the favor with an impressive 38-17 triumph over Missouri for the conference championship, becoming the first Big 12 team to earn back-to-back titles. The triumph provided coach Bob Stoops with an unprecedented fifth Big 12 title in eight seasons. No other Big 12 coach has ever won more than one title.

Oklahoma's continued supremacy highlighted a season that featured a little bit of everything. Missouri and Kansas challenged for the national championship late in the year; Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione's celebrated "VIP newsletter" helped make his resignation a foregone conclusion; Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy provided one of the season's most infamous sound bites with his "I'm 40, I'm a man" rant after the Cowboys' victory over Texas Tech.

Defense repeatedly took a backseat in the conference, as Big 12 teams averaged 33.5 points and 439 yards per team -- both records in the conference's brief history.

In 10 different games involving Big 12 teams this season, teams combined for at least 1,000 total yards -- including six conference games during the last month of the season.

And in four games this season, teams combined for at least 100 points. The Big 12 had never had more than one 100-point game in any previous season and only five in the league's 11-season history.

That offensive blitz figures to only get more pronounced next season when 10 of the 12 starting Big 12 quarterbacks are set to return. The only teams that will have to replace starters will be Iowa State and Nebraska. And Joe Ganz's late yardage binge in place of the injured Sam Keller might make the Cornhuskers' offense even more potent.

Additionally, six of the 12 top rushers are back next year, headed by rushing leader Jamaal Charles of Texas. And five of the top 12 receivers are slated to return, topped by Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree, who set every major single-season Big 12 record in receiving and led the nation in every major statistical receiving category as a freshman.

But the Big 12 teams that were the most successful this season were the ones with strong defenses. Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri all had solid defensive squads along with big offensive units. And the Sooners claimed their title because the defense limited the high-powered Missouri to three points in the second half.

The Big 12 hopes to regain some luster in the bowls. For the first time since 2004, two conference teams will be in the Bowl Championship Series. And three Big 12 teams are in the top 10 heading into the bowl season.

The conference needs a big showing in the bowls, where it has notched a winning record only four times in its history. Five Big 12 teams are favored to win their bowl matchups.

Other conference schools have been busy since the end of the season. Two Big 12 coaches were fired -- Guy Morriss of Baylor and Bill Callahan of Nebraska -- and another one -- Franchione -- resigned. It marked the biggest turnover since 1999 and matched the one-season record in the history of the conference.

The league again struggled beating top opponents from other conferences, although Texas' victory over TCU snapped the conference's 17-game losing streak to ranked foes in the Associated Press poll.

And Missouri's victory over Illinois resonates a little more today after the Illini's Rose Bowl presented by Citi bid. It enabled the Tigers to become the only program to notch two victories over opponents that made the BCS.

Despite that achievement and beating the Jayhawks in a winner-take-all showdown for the North title, the Tigers are headed to the AT&T Cotton Bowl and Kansas will play in the FedEx Orange Bowl.

The decision made perfect sense in the topsy-turvy world of the Big 12 this season.

Most Valuable Player

Chase Daniel, Missouri
It might have been hard to imagine the Tigers as a No. 1 team in late November when Missouri was unranked before the season started. But Daniel boosted them into that unexpected position with determined leadership, setting school records for passing yards (4,170) and touchdowns (33) in the process. His disappointment after losing the Big 12 championship game should fuel him for a big performance next season.

Coach of the Year

Mark Mangino, Kansas
The Jayhawks fell just short of their first Big 12 North title, but Mangino's work can't be discounted. Kansas had never had a .500 Big 12 conference record before this season. That changed during an 11-1 campaign that boosted them into the Orange Bowl -- their first January bowl appearance in 39 years. That piece of history prompted the line of the season from Mangino as he explained Kansas' historic football struggles to reporters at an Orange Bowl press conference: "Our football tradition is not really a good one," Mangino said. "But anyone can have a bad century."

Newcomer of the Year

Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
It's hard to argue with raw numbers, which made Crabtree the most productive receiver in Big 12 history with conference records for receptions (125), receiving yards (1,861) and touchdown receptions (21). And the scary thing is that he's still going to be around the conference for at least two more seasons.

Biggest Surprise


The Jayhawks were picked no better than fourth in any preseason poll. But they gradually built confidence through an agreeable nonconference schedule and then raced to a school-record 11 victories. It can be debated whether they really belong in the BCS in front of Missouri. But Mangino's team came out of nowhere to the biggest football success for the program since Pepper Rodgers was patrolling the sidelines in the late 1960s.

Biggest Disappointment


Before the season, the Cornhuskers were expected to challenge for the Big 12 North title. But after a stunning defensive collapse, the Huskers missed out on a bowl game for the second time in the last three seasons.
A five-game losing streak was Nebraska's longest since 1958. And it prompted another coaching change -- Nebraska's third permanent move of the Big 12 era -- when Bo Pelini replaced Bill Callahan after the season ended.

All-Big 12 Team
QB -- Chase Daniel, Missouri
RB -- Dantrell Savage, Oklahoma State
RB -- Jamaal Charles, Texas
WR -- Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
WR -- Jordy Nelson, Kansas State
TE -- Martin Rucker, Missouri
OL -- Anthony Collins, Kansas
OL -- Tony Hills, Texas
OL -- Duke Robinson, Oklahoma
OL -- Louis Vasquez, Texas Tech
C -- Adam Spieker, Missouri
K -- Jeff Wolfert, Missouri

DE -- Auston English, Oklahoma
DE -- Stryker Sulak, Missouri
DT -- James McClinton, Kansas
DT -- George Hypolite, Colorado
LB -- Curtis Lofton, Oklahoma
LB -- Jordon Dizon, Colorado
LB -- Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri
CB -- Aqib Talib, Kansas
CB -- Reggie Smith, Oklahoma
S – D. J. Wolfe, Oklahoma
S -- William Moore, Missouri
P -- Tim Reyer, Kansas State

Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.