The Big 12: 2015 year in review
What a long, strange Big 12 season it has been. In so many ways, it’s been shaped by the quarterback. Injuries at Baylor and TCU changed a race that eventually was won by Oklahoma’s first-year starter, Baker Mayfield, a fiery bundle of energy and pizzaz who crashed the Heisman Trophy chase and helped his team swipe the Big 12 championship. Oklahoma’s season should — should — give the league its first College Football Playoff berth. Now, let’s get on with the show.
BEST PLAYER: Corey Coleman, Baylor
Coleman dealt with three different quarterbacks throwing his way and defenses geared toward stopping him, yet he was an absolute stud this season. The junior slowed down in Baylor’s last three games (nine catches and no receiving touchdowns as those QB changes took hold), but through the Bears’ first eight games, he was arguably the best player in college football.
Coleman hauled in a Baylor single-season-record 20 touchdown receptions in those eight games, to go along with 1,178 receiving yards. Simply put, the dynamite speedster’s peak was higher than any other Big 12 player’s.
BEST PLAY: TCU RB Aaron Green’s game-winning TD catch against Texas Tech
TCU was considered a good bet to make the College Football Playoff, but it didn’t exactly come out of the gates sizzling in Big 12 play after a slew of early injuries to its already revamped defense.
The Horned Frogs traveled to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech in Week 4. The Red Raiders were leading late in the fourth quarter and appeared headed to a huge upset. That’s when madness ensued. Quarterback Trevone Boykin’s pass sailed high to receiver Josh Doctson, who tipped it high and right into Green’s welcoming hands, helping the Frogs steal a thrilling road victory.
BEST COACHING JOB: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
The regular season didn’t end how Cowboys fans had hoped, but think of it this way: Had you told them their team’s regular-season finale against Oklahoma would be for the Big 12 championship, they would have taken it in a heartbeat.
The Pokes’ schedule was backloaded, but starting off any season 10-0 is an impressive feat. Oklahoma State could still play in a New Year’s Six bowl, and Gundy’s team was far from the most talented in the Big 12. He did a heck of a job with this group of players.
BEST COMEBACK: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Mayfield has performed incredibly all season, and it seems as though he’s done enough to lead Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff. A former walk-on and Big 12 freshman offensive player of the year at Texas Tech, Mayfield sat out the 2014 season at Oklahoma because of NCAA transfer rules.
This season, Mayfield is a bona fide Heisman candidate. He’s thrown 35 touchdown passes to just five interceptions and is averaging 9.57 yards per pass attempt. The Sooners, who installed the Air Raid offense this season, are also Big 12 champs for the first time since sharing the title in 2012. For those reasons, Mayfield is the easy choice as the conference’s best comeback story of the year.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: Status quo at Texas to start the season
After back-to-back anemic offensive performances to end the 2014 season, Texas coach Charlie Strong talked about making changes. Moving to more of a spread attack, a scheme that would seem to benefit the dual-threat abilities of redshirt quarterback Jerrod Heard, was talked about. But that’s all it was — talk. When Texas opened the season at Notre Dame with Tyrone Swoopes still at quarterback and no discernible difference in play-calling, leading to a 38-3 shellacking, it finally provoked Strong to make changes.
Heard took over as quarterback in Week 2, and first-year wide receivers coach Jay Norvell was elevated to play-caller over Shawn Watson. Hardly the ideal situation. And it really hasn’t worked. Texas ranks near the bottom of the Big 12 in most key offensive categories. After this season, Strong is expected to overhaul his offensive staff. If he doesn’t, well, see you back here next year.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: TCU’s injuries
The Horned Frogs started the season ranked No. 2 in the nation, but almost instantly TCU was sabotaged by one season-ending injury after another. We never really got a chance to see what this team might become at full strength. By the time the Big 12 schedule kicked in, coach Gary Patterson had lost half of what was already a revamped defense. Safeties were playing linebacker, and inexperienced players never expected to assume significant responsibilities were thrust into the fire.
TCU’s offense bailed it out early against Texas Tech and Kansas State, but later when injuries mounted there, too, including to star receiver Josh Doctson and quarterback Trevone Boykin, it was simply too much to overcome.
MOST VIRAL/SOCIAL MOMENT: Texas coach Charlie Strong celebrates beating Oklahoma
At the time, this win was huge. Strong and Texas were fresh off a humbling 50-7 loss at TCU that sparked infighting among older and younger players. Just as the whole thing seemed to be unraveling, the Longhorns physically dominated the Sooners, 24-17. Again, at the time, it seemed Strong had found something with this group. Strong’s celebration was epic, and in hindsight, he could be critiqued the way coaches often do players: Act like you’ve been there before. But, hey, emotions were running super-high that day, and Strong had just exited a really dark tunnel.
PLAYER TO LOOK FORWARD TO IN 2016: Jarrett Stidham, QB, Baylor
Art Briles is going to have an interesting QB situation on his hands. Seth Russell was in the Heisman discussion and leading the nation’s No. 1 offense when he broke a bone in his neck and needed season-ending surgery. On came a stallion of a true freshman in Jarrett Stidham, who was impressive in his short stint before suffering a badly bruised back and then an ankle injury that ended his season. Russell will be a senior coming off neck surgery while Stidham, a former five-star recruit from the high school where Briles won four state championships, will only be a sophomore and will surely be gunning for the starting job rather than standing on the sideline again.