College football's greatest teams: The best season from every Big 12 program
Looking through the history books to figure out the best version of every team in the Big 12
Oklahoma will enter the 2018 college football season once again trying to be the best team in the Big 12. Texas, meanwhile, will try to get back to being the best. Kansas may just try its best. At some point throughout history, though, every Big 12 school had an all-time best team.
That's what this series aims to find. Some programs were easier to pin down than others. When you've only had three 10-win seasons like Kansas, the options are limited. OU, on the other hand, has a number of national championship winning teams from which to choose.
Which teams are the best of the best? Our top team for every Big 12 program can be found below.
The 2011 Bears had the best player in program history: quarterback Robert Griffin III. But that doesn't mean they were the best overall team. The 2013 Bears went 11-2 and started the best three-year stretch in program history. They won the outright Big 12 championship, the program's first, whereas the 2014 team shared its title with TCU. And some of the players that went on to achieve All-America status in the following years (wide receiver Corey Coleman and offensive linemen Spencer Drango) were already contributors in 2013.
Record: 11-2 (8-1) | Final ranking: No. 13
Coach: Art Briles | MVP: QB Bryce Petty
Championships won: Big 12
Accolades: Consensus All-American: (Cyril Richardson)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 13
Did you know? Baylor's offense in 2013 was unstoppable. In addition to leading the country in points per game, Petty, wide receiver Antwan Goodley and running back Lache Seastrunk led the Big 12 at their respective positions in total yards for the season.
Iowa State (2000)
Fully acknowledging the recency bias, there's something to be said for last year's Cyclones that 8-5 and knocked off two top-five teams in the same year. In the same vein, the 1976 team notched two wins against top-10 foes Missouri and Nebraska. But the 2000 Cyclones went 9-3, which remains tied for most all-time in a season. Iowa State also knocked off Pitt in the Insight Bowl for its first postseason win in history. It certainly wasn't a team full of All-Americans or award winners, but in classic Iowa State fashion, it was an overachieving one.
Record: 9-3 (conference) | Final ranking: No. 25
Coach: Dan McCarney | MVP: RB Ennis Haywood
Championships won: n/a
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 4
Did you know? Iowa State's underrated coaching lineage includes Earle Bruce, Johnny Majors, and if you really want go back that far, Pop Warner. But McCarney remains the Cyclones' all-time winningest coach with 56 victories. Of course, that's spread out over 12 seasons.
Let's see: The 2007 Jayhawks finished 12-1, marking the highest win total in program history, were ranked No. 2 in the country when they played the most meaningful Border War ever with No. 4 Missouri, nabbed their first consensus All-American in 34 years, had seven players eventually drafted into the NFL and beat Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Yep, that'll do it.
Record: 12-1 (7-1 Big 12) | Final ranking: No. 7
Coach: Mark Mangino | MVP: QB Todd Reesing
Championships won: Big 12 North (co-champions)
Accolades: AP Coach of the Year (Mangino), Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year (Mangino), Walter Camp Coach of the Year (Mangino), Paul "Bear" Bryant Coach of the Year (Mangino), consensus All-American: (Aqib Talib)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 7
Did you know? Before the memorable 2007 run, Kansas had just two 10-win seasons (1995, 1905). The Jayhawks have won just 12 games since 2011.
Kansas State (1998)
Let's start with a statement of fact. Kansas State football is divided into two eras: pre-Bill Snyder and everything since (except 2006-08, when Ron Prince happened). While the 1995 season represents K-State's first breakout season under Snyder, 1998 was on a different level as far as expectations go. The Wildcats entered the season ranked No. 6 in the AP Top 25, their highest preseason ranking ever. And they delivered by going 11-0 before falling to Texas A&M in the Big 12 Championship Game. Still, K-State had the nation's best scoring offense that season and quarterback Michael Bishop would finish second in the Heisman voting. The Snydercats also spent much of November ranked No. 2 in the AP Top 25.
Record: 11-2 (8-1 Big 12) | Final ranking: No. 10
Coach: Bill Snyder | MVP: QB Michael Bishop
Championships won: Big 12 North
Accolades: Davey O'Brien Award (Bishop), Paul "Bear" Bryant Coach of the Year (Snyder), Walter Camp Coach of the Year (Snyder), Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year (Snyder), AP Coach of the Year (Snyder), three consensus All-Americans: (Bishop, David Allen, Jeff Kelly)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 23
Did you know? Following the loss to A&M, K-State fell to No. 3 in the BCS rankings. However, it was controversially passed up by Ohio State and Florida for at-large spots in BCS games. Instead, the Wildcats fell to the Alamo Bowl. After the debacle, the BCS adopted the "Kansas State rule" in which the No. 3 team must be selected for a BCS game.
In the end, you have to choose someone. And choosing among the Bud Wilkinson teams of the mid-1950s was like choosing chocolate or peanut butter: Why can't you just have it all at once? So, I took the cowardly route and went with the 1974 Sooners, a team that certainly stands on its own merit. Three players earned consensus All-America status with five more being named to at least one All-American team. They had the No. 1 offense in the country with a bruising wishbone attack that averaged -- wait for it -- 74 rushing attempts per game, a defense that held four teams to no touchdowns and beat every team not named Texas by at least 14 points.
Record: 11-0 (7-0 Big 8) | Final ranking: No. 1
Coach: Barry Switzer | MVP: RB Joe Washington
Championships won: National (AP), Big 8
Accolades: Three consensus All-Americans: (Washington, John Roush, Rod Shoate)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 26 (Pre-modern day)
Did you know? The '74 Sooners were ineligible for postseason play and not even allowed to play on television. And yet, at season's end, the Sooners were the only remaining unbeaten team in college football. The AP had no other choice than to award Oklahoma the national championship. And that's Oklahoma as hell.
Oklahoma State (2011)
As hard as it may be to snub the 1988 team and Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders, the 2011 group symbolized a breakthrough -- both for the Cowboys' place in the Big 12 and for Mike Gundy as one of college football's better coaches. Oklahoma State ended an eight-game losing streak to Oklahoma, beat an Andrew Luck-led Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl and captured its first conference title in 35 years. The 12 wins that season stand as the most all-time. Of course, there's the blemish: the stunning overtime loss at Iowa State, though kicker Quinn Sharp will tell you the go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter was actually good. Had the Cowboys escaped Ames with a victory, it all but assuredly would have played in the BCS Championship Game.
Record: 12-1 (8-1 Big 12) | Final Ranking: No. 3
Coach: Mike Gundy | MVP: WR Justin Blackmon
Championships won: Big 12
Accolades: Biletnikoff Award (Blackmon), two consensus All-Americans: (Blackmon, Levy Adcock)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 5
Did you know? Blackmon is only one of two two-time Biletnikoff winners. The other is Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree. Speaking of the Red Raiders, Oklahoma State's 66-6 throttling of Tech in 2011 provided perhaps college football's best screengrab ever:
Considering that Gary Patterson has orchestrated nearly a dozen 10-win seasons, including an undefeated Rose Bowl squad in 2010, it feels a little off that none of them would be the best in TCU history. (Though, to be sure, that 2010 team received heavy consideration.) Still, 1938 is a special year for TCU. The Horned Frogs went undefeated and won their first national championship in the AP wire era behind the efforts of Heisman winning quarterback Davey O'Brien. They were also remarkably dominant for the time, outscoring opponents by 19 points per game. Eighty years later, the '38 Horned Frogs still have lore.
Record: 11-0 (6-0 SWC) | Final ranking: No. 1
Coach: Dutch Meyer | MVP: QB Davey O'Brien
Championships won: National (AP), Southwest Conference
Accolades: Heisman Trophy (O'Brien), Maxwell Award (O'Brien), two consensus All-Americans: (O'Brien, Ki Aldrich)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 6
Did you know? TCU didn't have a ton of draft picks off of the '38 team, but Aldrich, O'Brien and tackle I.B Hale went No. 1, No. 4 and No. 8, respectively. Hale, however, never played professionally.
With all due respect to coach Darrell Royal's national title-winning teams in the 1960s, none of them touch the 2005 team. The roster stands on its own merit -- quarterback Vince Young may not have won the Heisman, but he was as dominant as any player in the modern era of the sport -- and the volume of individual awards, All-American selections and future NFL draft picks corroborate this. But it's the 2006 Rose Bowl win over mighty USC that pushes the '05 Horns over the edge. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better matchup, game and ending in the history of college football given the stakes.
Record: 13-0 (8-0 Big 12) | Final ranking: No. 1
Coach: Mack Brown | MVP: QB Vince Young
Championships won: National (BCS), Big 12, Big 12 South
Accolades: Davey O'Brien Award (Young), Maxwell Award (Young), Jim Thorpe Award (Michael Huff), Paul "Bear" Bryant Coach of the Year (Brown), four consensus All-Americans: (Huff, Young, Jonathan Scott, Rodrique Wright)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 25
Did you know? When the Longhorns defeated USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl, it ended a 34-game winning streak for the Trojans. That was the tied for sixth longest all-time in NCAA Division I FBS play. Young's 4th-and-5 run in the final seconds of the Rose Bowl sealed the win.
Texas Tech (2008)
The Red Raiders didn't even represent the Big 12 South in the conference championship game in 2008, but they were an offensive juggernaut. They ranked first in the country in passing offense, third in points per game and fifth in yards per game. Quarterback Graham Harrell's 15,793 passing yards may never be touched for most in program history, and receiver Michael Crabtree -- a two-time Biletnikoff winner -- hauled in 3,127 yards and 41 touchdowns in just two seasons. Undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the AP Top 25 going into a late November game against Oklahoma, Tech was on top of the college football world -- even if only for a short time.
Record: 11-2 (7-1 Big 12) | Final ranking: No. 12
Coach: Mike Leach | MVP: WR Michael Crabtree
Championships won: Big 12 South (co-champions)
Accolades: Biletnikoff (Crabtree), Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award (Harrell), two consensus All-Americans: (Crabtree, Brandon Carter)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 6
Did you know? Tech's 39-33 win over No. 1 Texas was a contributor to a controversial three-way tie in the Big 12 South that resulted in Oklahoma receiving the conference championship game invite. Prior to the return of the Big 12 Championship Game in 2017, the conference rewrote the language of its tiebreaker rules to better address potential three-way ties.
West Virginia (1988)
A surprisingly tough call between 1988 and 2007. The '07 Mountaineers had the best player in program history, quarterback Pat White, and blew the doors off of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. However, they only did that because they missed out on a chance for the BCS Championship Game by puking against Pitt. The '88 team actually got to the national championship stage before losing to Notre Dame. And before White, there was Major Harris. At the time, West Virginia had never had a player like him. His injury against the Fighting Irish remains arguably WVU's all-time greatest "what if" moment. Couple in the school's award-winning best coach, Don Nehlen, and the '88 team gets it by a hair.
Record: 11-1 (Independent) | Final ranking: No. 5
Coach: Don Nehlen | MVP: QB Major Harris
Championships won: n/a
Accolades: Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year (Nehlen), Walter Camp Coach of the Year (Nehlen)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 17 (pre-modern day)
Did you know? West Virginia's 51-30 win over Penn State was just the second victory over the Nittany Lions in more than 30 years. It featured what is probably the single most recognizable play in school history: a beautiful touchdown run by Harris through half of the Penn State defense.
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