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What We Learned About The Big 12 During Bowl Season

It was the bowl season the Big 12 needed, and here’s what we learned about the conference to close out the 2016 season.

Getty Images - Ronald Cortes

The college football season has come to a close, meaning we can now look back at the conference’s performance this bowl season. We’ll be focusing on one lesson learned for each of the six Big 12 teams that went bowling.

TCU’s Offensive Struggles Followed Them To The Liberty Bowl

TCU was one of the two Big 12 teams that didn’t win their bowl game, falling to Georgia, 31-23 in the Liberty Bowl. The Horned Frogs led heading into the fourth quarter, 23-21, though lost that lead quickly, about two minutes into the final period after Georgia converted on a 30-yard field goal attempt. The Bulldogs wouldn’t surrender that lead. TCU fell flat on offense at the worst possible time, and Nick Chubb cushioning the lead with a 13-yard touchdown run that pretty much locked the game up for Georgia. TCU came close at the end, making it to the Georgia 44 on their final drive before having a fourth down pass knocked down.

The Horned Frogs struggled on offense for the same reason that they did all year: lack of a passing game. Kenny Hill was held to just 146 yards, though he did complete 66% of his passes he attempted for two scores. His biggest problem was his average yards per completion; 5.4 yards per completion. That’s really, really bad.

The rushing attack wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good. Hill added 72 yards and a score on the ground, but the rushing leader for the Horned Frogs was Kyle Hicks, with 88 yards on 15 carries. Offensive struggles weren’t the only problem for TCU, as despite a good start, the run defense eventually allowed Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to take over the game. Chubb picked up 142 yards and the game clinching score on 17 carries, while Sony Mitchell added in another score on top of 88 yards. One big part of this could be the lack of tackles for a loss TCU forced, as they finished the game with just 4, 3 of them being sacks.

This was a disappointing end to a disappointing season, and the Horned Frogs need to make a big leap this off-season to improve for next year.

Baylor Ended Their Skid

Baylor surprised me with their bowl performance. I was expecting the floundering Bears to completely roll over in what most saw as a meaningless bowl game. They responded to doubts from pretty much everyone with an excellent performance against Boise State in the Cactus Bowl.

Led by stellar performances from Zach Smith, Terrence Williams, and the whole Baylor defense, the Bears destroyed Boise State 31-12. What makes that score even more impress is that Baylor did it despite committing 11 penalties for 125 yards. The defense was led by linebacker Taylor Young, who accounted for 17 tackles. Orion Stewart and Travon Blanchard both had an interception, with Stewart also recovering a fumble.

The defense smothered Boise State all day, and looked solid for the first time since October, as they played a “bend don’t break” style to great success. The Bears have a long off-season in front of them, but the hiring of Matt Rhule, as well as some very talented assistant coaches, should have Baylor competing for the Big 12 again in a few years.

K-State Brought The Big 12 Some Bragging Rights

Kansas State capped off their huge year with a huge win for their program and for the conference. Any win over an SEC team is a great win when it comes from a Big 12 team, especially a win over Texas A&M.

The Wildcats played to their strength for the whole game, beating Texas A&M in the trenches on both sides combined with a strong running attack from both Jesse Ertz and Justin Silmon. Ertz scored twice on the ground, and Silmon put up 77 yards on just 10 carries.

The defense was solid, holding A&M to 23 points, though seven of those came in garbage time. The defense also forced two turnovers, something the Wildcats have done really well all year. Linebacker Elijah Lee led the defense with 12 tackles, including a huge tackle for a loss.

The Wildcats have some serious momentum heading into the off-season, though now they have to determine who will replace legendary head man Bill Snyder if he does indeed retire.  Regardless, Kansas State returns a ton of talent, and should contend for a NY6 bowl next year.

What Happened West Virginia?

As I mentioned earlier, TCU was one of the 2 teams that couldn’t get a win for the Big 12 this bowl season, and here’s the other. West Virginia wasn’t nearly as close as TCU was, though, losing to Miami 31-14 in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The offense was held to just 229 total yards. Struggles in both the rushing and passing game contributed to the offensive collapse, with Skyler Howard being held to 134 yards and no scores. Furthermore, no running back gained more than 20 yards on the game.

The defense obviously struggled as well, allowing 31 points without forcing a single turnover. This was a really unfortunate end to a pretty solid season from the Mountaineers, but an inability to win big games ultimately doomed the 2016 edition of West Virginia football. They should be able to contend for a Big 12 title next year with Florida transfer Will Grier taking over under center, but they need to grow up in a hurry this off-season to accomplish their goals.

Oklahoma State Dominated Colorado

Oklahoma State grabbed a huge win in the Alamo Bowl over Colorado, 38-8. This win is huge for so many reasons, but the main reason that I’m thinking of is how much momentum this generates in a program with a very high ceiling next year. The Cowboys expect to return pretty much all of their offense, with Mason Rudolph and James Washington both announcing their intention to return for next year. They do lose defensive mainstays Vincent Taylor, Ashton Lampkin, Jordan Sterns and Jordan Burton. However, even with those losses, Oklahoma State could very possibly compete for a playoff spot next season.

Back to this game, it was 60 minutes of dominance for the Cowboys, as Colorado struggled to get anything going on either side of the ball. The only points for the Buffs came in garbage time, and they only picked up 318 total yards.

Offensively, Oklahoma State was just as dominant. They put up 527 yards, and the offensive attack was led by a great performance from Mason Rudolph and a solid showing by both Chris Carson and Justice Hill. All three players contributed at least one score, with Rudolph tossing for 3 touchdowns. This was a pretty surprising result, at least to me, and it really makes me question where this Oklahoma State team was when they played against Oklahoma, Baylor, and Central Michigan.

Pour Some Sugar On Oklahoma

Oklahoma played in the final bowl game for the Big 12, and it was a very important one. It was a chance to avoid a .500 bowl season for the conference, and a chance to score another win over an SEC foe. Oklahoma accomplished both goals with an excellent performance, as they crushed Auburn, 35-19, though it was more like 35-12(S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C). The last 7 points from Auburn came on the final play, after the called a timeout to score, despite a 20 point deficit, for whatever reason.

All 3 of Auburn’s no good, very bad quarterbacks saw playing time after Sean White left the game with a shoulder injury, and they couldn’t get much of anything going on the ground, as Kamryn Pettway picked up just 101 yards on 24 carries. Oklahoma on the other hand put up an excellent performance, led by Baker Mayfield’s 2 scores in the air, as well as 2 rushing scores from Joe Mixon. Don’t forget about Samaje Perine though, as he picked up 86 yards and a score, while breaking Billy Sims’ record for career rushing yards at Oklahoma in the final game of his career as a Sooner.

This was a great season for the Sooners despite a rough start, but next year their goal has to be a playoff appearance. That’s a difficult goal to reach with all of their departures this season, but if any team can rebuild in the Big 12, it’ll be Oklahoma and Bob Stoops.

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