December 14, 2011

Baylor's RG3 a headliner on Star-Telegram All-Big 12 football team

The little guys seized the day in a very big way.

Call it the Year of the Upstart in the Big 12 football race.

Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III became the school's first Heisman Trophy winner, silencing legions of naysayers in the process.

Oklahoma State won the school's first outright conference football championship since joining the Big Eight, a predecessor of the Big 12, for the 1960 season. Until this year, the Cowboys (11-1, 8-1 in Big 12) had not finished alone atop a set of conference standings since 1948, when OSU won the Missouri Valley title with a 2-0 league mark.

Kansas State (10-2, 7-2) finished eighth in the final BCS standings despite being picked to finish eighth in the Big 12.

How counterflow did things go in 2011?

By claiming the title, Oklahoma State ended a seven-year stretch of Big 12 championships won by either Oklahoma (five) or Texas (two). A quarterback led the league in rushing attempts (293) and rushing touchdowns (26). A receiver posted the league's highest passing efficiency rating (513.2) among players with multiple attempts.

Griffin, who led No. 12 Baylor (9-3) to the school's best record in 25 years, led the nation in passing efficiency (192.3 rating), points responsible for (22.7 per game) and yards per attempt (10.8). He finished second in total offense (386.8 avg.) while winning the Heisman and the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award.

But a case could be made that Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein meant just as much to the Wildcats in their turnaround season as Griffin did in the Bears' revival. Klein rushed for 1,099 yards, threw for 1,745 and accounted for 38 touchdowns (26 rushing, 12 passing).

If Klein adds two more rushing touchdowns in the Cotton Bowl, he will break the Big 12's single-season record (27), set in 1998 by Texas tailback Ricky Williams. In a league loaded with elite quarterbacks, Klein's unique skill set put him in the mix for all-purpose honors because he deserved one of the 26 spots on the 2011 Star-Telegram All-Big 12 Team.

What other awards should be dispensed this season? Here's our list:

Spread the Wealth Award: Oklahoma State became the seventh school to win a Big 12 football championship in the league's 16-year existence.

Thin the Herd Award: With a second consecutive year of conference realignment dominating the 2011 headlines, only four past winners will be in the mix for next year's Big 12 championship (Oklahoma, Texas, OSU, K-State). Three others will compete elsewhere (Texas A&M, Colorado, Nebraska).

Pound the Outsiders Award: The Big 12 was 27-3 in non-conference play, a .900 winning percentage that is the top nonconference mark in league history and the best by any league since 1997.

Dangerous Newcomer Award: In October, TCU accepted an invitation to join the Big 12 for the 2012 football season. The Horned Frogs (10-2), who won this year's Mountain West title, project as immediate contenders.

Job Half-Finished Award: Texas A&M trailed only once at halftime during a 6-6 season. But the Aggies squandered double-digit leads in five losses, leading to the dismissal of coach Mike Sherman. A&M was outscored 76-7 in the third quarter of its six losses.

Feeling the Heat Award: Texas coach Mack Brown, who has posted a 12-13 record in his last 25 games, recently added two junior college players (OL Donald Hawkins, DT Brandon Moore) to his list of commitments for the 2012 recruiting class. Brown, who typically avoids the JC talent pool, also has left open the possibility of adding a JC or transfer quarterback.

Missing Target Award: Oklahoma QB Landry Jones, a junior who has been projected as a possible first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, threw zero touchdown passes after Nov. 5, the day Sooners' leading receiver Ryan Broyles tore his ACL against Texas A&M.

Biggest Stunner by a Visiting Team: Texas Tech beat Oklahoma, 41-38, as a 29-point underdog to end the Sooners' 39-game home winning streak. The triumph became more puzzling when Tech (5-7) followed with a five-game losing streak to end the season.

Biggest Stunner by a Home Team: Iowa State edged then-No. 2 Oklahoma State 37-31 in double overtime to win as a 28-point underdog. The upset sealed a bowl berth for Iowa State (6-6) and played a major role in denying OSU a spot in the BCS title game.

Biggest Breakthrough: Griffin's emergence as a Heisman winner, which lends credence to Baylor's long-term rebuilding efforts.

Biggest Backslide: A&M's emergence as a noncontender despite a Top 10 ranking to start the season.

Defensive Newcomer of the Year (Coaching Division): Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett. Despite speculative personnel, the Bears' defense improved each week and forced 27 turnovers, second only to Oklahoma State (42) among Big 12 teams. Baylor collected 17 in the team's final five games (all victories). The timely takeaways helped Baylor (9-3) post its best record in 25 years.

Offensive Newcomer of the Year (Coaching Division): Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken. The Cowboys' first-year coordinator put his stamp on the team's existing system and led the league in scoring (49.3 avg.) while racking up 557 yards per game.

Craziest Passing Stat: Five players threw TD passes for a Texas team that had just 11 for the season. The breakdown: QB Case McCoy (4), QB David Ash (3), WR Jaxon Shipley (2), WR John Harris (1), QB Garrett Gilbert (1).

Craziest Rushing Stat: Five teams lost starting running backs to season-ending injuries in October or November: Texas Tech (Eric Stephens), Oklahoma (Dominique Whaley), Texas A&M (Christine Michael), Texas (Fozzy Whittaker) and Missouri (Henry Josey).

Best Postseason Hire: Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin. There is no guarantee the former Houston coach will succeed in the SEC, where he -- and A&M -- will be new to the neighborhood in 2012. But he's a logical fit with strong, Texas-based recruiting connections. Of the two choices, Sumlin to A&M makes way more sense than ...

Worst Postseason Hire: Kansas coach Charlie Weis. The guy failed at Notre Dame, a football factory with a national recruiting base. What makes anyone think he'll up the ante at a basketball school like Kansas?

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