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[2020] History of the Big XII: The 2017 Season

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The story of 2017 in the Big XII was supposed to be about Texas, then everybody else. And it was--but it almost wasn't. The Longhorns began the year #1 and ended it as the national champion, but once again West Virginia knocked them off of their perch in a 9-0 start that launched them as high as #2 in the country. There were quite a few other teams who tried to challenge the Longhorns' Big XII supremacy: TCU and its elite defense, an Oklahoma experiencing quarterback transition, and an overhauled Kansas. Those three teams combined for 6 points against Texas, even as they all put together seasons that were varying degrees of good to really good. Only when Texas defeated the seemingly kryptonite-laden Mountaineers in the Big XII Championship Game could they finally put their demons to rest and make a run at the ultimate glory...




Marcus Swartz, Ibrahim Smiley, Arturo Pacheco (at RB), Tom Oldham, Quinn Burr, Malcolm Davis, Ben Goode, Devon Drummond, Dylan Stewart, Graham Burnett, Tom Wyman, Brad Davis, Will Holly, Cameron Riley, Hudson Adam, acewulf




For the fifth straight year, Texas and Oklahoma were the only two Big XII teams ranked in the preseason poll. And for the second straight year, Texas began the year in the top spot. However, the Sooners came in at #20 after losing Norris Brooksheer and Tai Miller to early declaration. That was the lowest ranking in school history at the time. Even so, almost every school in the conference had some reason for optimism: Kansas (19), TCU (16), Texas Tech (9), West Virginia (8), Baylor (4), and Oklahoma State (3) all received votes. 


The Big XII Network's preseason projections were as follows:


Big XII North

  1. Kansas (7-5, 5-2)
  2. Oklahoma (8-4, 5-2)
  3. West Virginia (7-5, 4-3)
  4. Iowa State (3-9, 1-6)
  5. Kansas State (3-9, 0-7)


Big XII South

  1. Texas (11-1, 7-0)
  2. TCU (10-2, 5-2)
  3. Texas Tech (5-7, 4-3)
  4. Oklahoma State (7-5, 2-5)
  5. Baylor (5-7, 2-5)




To some degree, this was the only question that mattered in the Big XII. Texas was once again historically loaded, and they'd added their final piece of the puzzle in quarterback Brad Davis. The transfer from San Jacinto College of the Houston metro area was one of the most prized junior college recruits in the country in 2015, chose Texas over TCU, and redshirted in 2016 during the up-and-down senior year of Sam Light. Texas fans were ready for that change at quarterback, and their patience was rewarded. In his first five games, Davis threw for 1617 yards and 13 touchdowns against 2 interceptions, completing 71.3% of his passes in that span. With Davis paired with receivers like Harry Whiteside and tight end Will Holly, along with a dependable runningback in Troy Booker and an elite offensive line to tie it together, the offense seemed unstoppable. With two eventual top-six picks at cornerback in Ivory Hull and Troy Marshall, along with an elite defensive front led by Lance Nattiel and James Robertson, the defense was elite. The Longhorns dominated Arkansas and North Carolina, edged out #5 Florida, then made their presence known in conference play by obliterating Texas Tech and Baylor. But next up was the obstacle that tripped them last year: a date with West Virginia. And this West Virginia team was a lot better than last year's version...




In fact, West Virginia was undefeated entering the Texas game, sporting a 5-0 record that easily marked their best start in school history. They were led by a largely unheralded cast: Richmond King, "Super" Mario Davis, and Todd Sykes on offense; Dick McCready, Jack Weisensee, and Rob Evans on defense. But this group wholly bought into the team-first mentality, and under the leadership of Coach ETMIV they rocketed out the gate. They knocked off 14th-ranked Pittsburgh on the road, backed it up with a win over 20th-ranked Virginia at home, and boatraced Colorado State 48-31 before their first major test against Oklahoma. The Sooners had already risen to #9 on the strength of their own 3-0 start, so it was an early chance for a third marquee win for West Virginia. The Mountaineers took full advantage. They went up 13-3 by halftime, never trailed or turned the ball over, and pulled away late for a 30-20 win that officially put the country on notice that the Mountaineers were here. With a 21-14 win over Kansas State, #9 West Virginia would set up an undefeated, top-ten matchup with #1 Texas in Austin. Once again, the Mountaineers gave Texas everything they could handle and then some. They led 14-3 late in the second quarter and 21-10 early in the third. But Texas rallied back, using Demetrius Patterson's interception to bridge a Troy Booker touchdown run and a Brad Davis touchdown pass to storm in front, 24-21. West Virginia had an answer, though, tying it up on a field goal in the last two minutes and sending it to overtime. In the first extra session, both teams traded short field goals. In the second overtime, the West Virginia defense was able to hold Texas to a field goal again. This time, West Virginia found paydirt. Richmond King's rollout pass to Andre Blade went for the game-winning touchdown, and West Virginia had stunned Texas for the second straight year.


The Mountaineers vaulted up to #3 in the country as a result of that win, and immediately followed it up with a 34-14 rout of 17th-ranked Kansas (their fifth ranked win in seven games) to jump up to #2 behind Boston College. But after the Kansas win, there was trouble in paradise. They needed a touchdown in the last two minutes to escape Baylor 21-19, then needed a field goal in the last 30 seconds to get past Iowa State. They were 9-0, ranked #2 in the country, and had their first-ever Big XII North title securely in hand with a 6-0 conference start. They made their hay while the sun shined, but the rain did yet pour down over West Virginia. They trailed TCU 23-9 in the second half, rallied to tie it at 23 and send the game into overtime, but they only mustered a field goal in the extra frame and gave up a touchdown. Week 13 was indeed unlucky, and the undefeated dream was not to be. The next game was their worst offensive output of the season in a 21-10 loss to Kentucky. It wasn't even Alex Rodgers, Derrick Schwartz, or Teddy Walker who plagued the Mountaineers that game: it was runningback Bryan Browning, with 148 yards and 3 rushing touchdowns. West Virginia would end the regular season with a win over Marshall, though, and they would still have a chance at the Big XII title with the outright division win.




When Norris Brooksheer declared early for the 2017 NFL Draft, quarterback became an open battle between redshirt freshman Chester Brenner and true freshman Graham Burnett. It was reportedly not much of a battle, as Burnett seized the reins from day 1 of fall practice and won the job going away. But it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows in Norman. Burnett's debut against Alabama earned mixed reviews. On the plus side, they won on a neutral site against the #6 team in the country (and vaulted from #20 to #9 as a result). On the downside, Burnett threw 1 touchdown pass against 3 interceptions on 19-32 passing. Throughout the season, he sprinkled in gems of games like his performance against Colorado (20-26 for 311 yards, 2 TD) and Texas Tech (17-23 for 240 yards, 2 TD). But he also showed his age at times, going through a three-game stretch where he completed just 35-67 passes, averaged 140 yards per game, and threw 5 interceptions without a touchdown pass. Oklahoma's season went up and down with their young signal-caller. They started 3-0 before the aforementioned loss to West Virginia. They blew by Texas Tech before a surprising loss to 2-4 Auburn that knocked the Sooners out of the rankings for the first time ever. They pulled out a close one against Air Force before scoring 3 points in the Red River Shootout. They beat Kansas State before dropping to 6-4 with a loss to Kansas. That matched the Robert Price-era school record with their 4th loss of the season. But thanks to a renewed defensive effort and a late-season recovery of form by Burnett, the record would not be broken (yet). They closed the regular season with a 28-14 doubling-up of Iowa State and a 17-7 win over a reeling Oklahoma State to finish the regular season 8-4. Burnett finished the year with an impressive 65.3% completion percentage and compiled just a hair under 200 yards per game--but he also threw just 13 touchdown passes to 10 interceptions. He still had plenty of room to grow, and things would get worse before they got better...but that's another story.




The three western land-grant universities of the Big XII all struggled to sub-.500 seasons in 2017. They got there via different paths and left the season on different trajectories, but they're all named ___ State so they're getting grouped together anyway. Kansas State and Oklahoma State were both coming off of bowl seasons, and Iowa State was still in search of its first-ever bowl game. The signs of trouble emerged immediately for all three: the Cyclones lost their opener to Texas Tech, the Wildcats lost their opener to Houston, and the Cowboys dropped a stunner to a Lawrence Pritchett-led Tulane. Oklahoma State bounced back with consecutive wins over Akron and Northern Illinois, but an inconsistent offense, a leaky defense, and a lack of depth plunged them into a spiral despite the performances of Raheem Robinson and Louis Peterson. They found wins against Baylor (who went 0-7 in conference play) and Ball State--and that was it. They finished 4-8, closing the season with a 16-0 loss to Texas and a 17-7 loss to Oklahoma. Kansas State finished with an identical record: 4-8 (1-6) with a win over Baylor. They were led by Dylan Stewart, a fullback converted to runningback whose 119.6 rushing yards and 23 rushing touchdowns led the Big XII in 2017. In addition to the Baylor game, they picked off Oregon State, Illinois, and Cincinnati and stayed competitive with #11 West Virginia, #23 TCU, and #23 Kansas--they just couldn't seal the deal. For K-State, the hope would have to be that next year would be a return to the winning ways of 2016.


Iowa State's season was particularly curious among the three western land-grant schools--in a good way. They started 1-4 with the offense mustering a paltry 10.2 points per game. But as the season progressed onward, the pieces began to mesh a little bit more. The core of the offense centered itself around sophomore quarterback Clifford Wilcox, freshman receiver Tom Oldham, and sophomore runningback Arturo Pacheco. The Cyclones pounded Marshall before upsetting Oklahoma State in Stillwater. But just as bowl-eligibility seemed plausible, they tripped up against Stanford. They gave up 161 yards and 3 scores to Frank Osborn while rushing for just 63 yards of their own and lost 21-17. They nearly made up for it against 2nd-ranked West Virginia, only for a late field goal to let the Mountaineers escape undefeated. A third straight loss (to Oklahoma) buried their bowl hopes, but they still closed out the season strong. They took care of Baylor at home, and followed it up with a memorable win over Kansas State in Manhattan--memorable because it was Pacheco's breakout game. He rushed for 231 yards and 4 touchdowns in the 28-14 win, and suddenly he became the hot pick for breakout star in 2018. More on that in the next installment.




Sometimes, a negative and a negative make a positive. After Kansas graduated 14 senior starters from the 2016 squad that finished the year 2-10, they wasted no time rebounding. After taking over for DeAndre Jackson late in 2016, Eric Jennings retained the full-time starting quarterback job as a sophomore. Seniority was largely a non-factor, as 16 starting spots were occupied by freshmen and sophomores. That included true freshman wide receiver Malcolm Davis (who in his recruitment was thought to be a Nebraska lean before he committed to Kansas), true freshman left tackle Ben Goode, redshirt freshman runningback Jalen Clayton, and redshirt sophomore linebacker James Carson. The Jayhawks hit the ground running, upsetting #18 Wisconsin at home on a fourth-quarter Clayton touchdown run. They ran off a 3-0 start before losing at Arizona, then knocked off 17th-ranked TCU on a 177-yard day from Clayton. Then, Jennings started to get hot. He threw for 3 scores against Oklahoma State and 4 against UCLA, his passer rating climbing over 220 in both games to get Kansas bowl-eligible. But with a showdown against West Virginia with the Big XII North on the line, Kansas came out flat. They trailed 17-0 at the half and 31-7 after three quarters in the 34-14 loss. They followed it up with a 22-0 shutout loss to Texas. Still, they finished the Big XII slate off well. Against Oklahoma, the Jayhawks built up a 14-0 lead and never looked back in collecting their third win over the Sooners in four years, 24-13. Against Kansas State, they followed a similar script in a 24-14 win to break a two-game losing streak in the series. Alas, the season would not end on a happy note, for Missouri and Aaron Shea were in the way. Shea threw for four touchdowns in the third quarter alone (and five overall) to blow through the Jayhawk defense and pace the Tigers to their third unanswered win in the series. Kansas was back to a bowl game, but they would still have a ways to go before they were back to 2014 form.




Texas Tech and Baylor both went through all sorts of tumult in 2017. They enjoyed winning streaks, endured losing streaks, missed postseason play by different margins, and ultimately both underwent coaching changes. Texas Tech was the closer of the two to seeing the postseason, and their tragedy is that they would've made it easily if a few things had gone differently. After a win against Iowa State to open the season, longtime coach LamboThrone resigned to take the North Carolina job. After an expedited search process, Texas Tech hired acewulf away from Oregon State, and he was immediately thrown into the fire by Tech's non-conference schedule. They faced, in order: #7 LSU, an unranked Justin Hunter-led Mississippi State that would make the playoffs that year, #1 Texas, #15 Oklahoma, and defending Big Ten champion Iowa. They lost all five games. But under the rocky leadership of junior quarterback Christian Barkley, Texas Tech rallied in the second half of the season. They beat a similarly struggling USC by stuffing a two-point conversion attempt in the final two minutes. They took down Kansas State in Manhattan, then beat Baylor at home to pull up to 4-5. Bad Christian Barkley showed up again in a loss to defending national champion Notre Dame, only for Good Christian Barkley to take over in a win over Oklahoma State. A road date with TCU was all that stood between Texas Tech and bowl eligibility--and boy, did TCU stand in their way. Barkley threw a pick-six literally 20 seconds into the game. Pair that with interceptions in the third and fourth quarters, the fact that Texas Tech did not score, and it was the worst game of Barkley's career at the worst time. They finished 5-7 (4-3), a tough thing to do--and also an object lesson on the value of counting to 6 when designing a non-conference schedule.


Baylor's non-conference schedule didn't feature the same glitches that Texas Tech's did. They had two tough opponents (Michigan State, Notre Dame), along with two MWC foes and Bowling Green. Their problem was that they just weren't very good, and they weren't very lucky either. In the first quarter of the opener against Michigan State, sophomore runningback Sean Bell scored his first career touchdown. Later in the first quarter, Bell got hurt and would miss the rest of the game. Jason Vick, the starting quarterback for the previous two years (supplanted now by Marcus Swartz), was now Bell's backup at runningback. He carried the ball 21 times, gained 54 yards, and lost a Big XII-record 3 fumbles. Michigan State rolled 34-17. Bell was out for three games, but the one bit of good fortune Baylor had was that those three games were their gimme games. They won narrowly over Wyoming, they blocked a field goal in overtime to beat Bowling Green, and they finally looked dominant in a 34-17 win over David Kaplan's San Jose State. Believe it or not, that 3-1 start was the best in school history at the time. But just as Bell came back, the schedule went from 0 to 100. For a team that didn't win a game for the rest of the season, they could have performed worse. The Texas game was a rout, but they lost by a margin of just 20-14 to defending champion Notre Dame. They lost by the same score to Oklahoma State. They had undefeated and 2nd-ranked West Virginia on the ropes until Richmond King's touchdown pass with two minutes to go. From there, though, it fell apart. They lost by more convincing margins to Texas Tech, Kansas State, Iowa State, and TCU to close their season at 3-9 with a winless record in conference play. After the season, coach Taborfan20 would resign. The Big XII South title in 2014 was a distant memory, and since then the Bears had gone 7-29. Baylor would hire Houston coach TuscanSota over the offseason.




Let's start with the fact that in the 2017 season, the Horned Frogs allowed 14.62 points per game over the course of the season. It's the seventh-lowest per-game average in Big XII history, within a few tenths of a point of 2015 Oklahoma State and seven-hundredths of a point better than 2015 national champion Oklahoma. Only two other teams in Big XII history have allowed so few points while scoring as many as 26.54 points per game like TCU scored: 2017 Texas and 2018 Texas. Wire-to-wire, the 2017 squad is arguably the best team that TCU's ever had. They were led offensively by steady senior tailback Bradley Cooley, an improved sophomore version of Nathan Burden, junior receiving dynamo Jamel Beckham, and an offensive line anchored by tackles August Gilliland and Mahamadou Dennis. On defense, they had sophomores Daquan Darcey and Matthew Davis along with junior Geno Bohannon to anchor their front seven. Then they had a secondary led by senior cornerback Curtis Howard, freshman Tom Wyman, and senior free safety Andrew Wright. The team was absolutely stacked with talent, and it all meshed together for the Frogs.


They started the year on a strong note, blowing pre-Conroy Colorado State out of the water 42-10. Over their first four games, they outscored CSU, Georgia State, Central Michigan, and Rice by a 139-27 margin. In their first true test of the season at Kansas, though, they slipped. They limited Eric Jennings, but the Jayhawks limited Bradley Cooley and intercepted Nathan Burden in the 23-14 Kansas win. They flipped that score against Kansas State, then collected their third straight win over SMU 27-13 to clinch bowl-eligibility. They were nearly derailed against 3-4 Oklahoma State after falling behind 14-0 at the half. But despite completing just 11 of 23 passes for the game, Burden threw for a pair of scores down the stretch--including the game-winning 17-yard strike to Emanuelu Lesa with 1:14 to play. That set up their all-important week 12 matchup with Texas. A TCU win would put them in control of the Big XII South; a loss would clinch the division for Texas. It was no contest. Burden finished 8-20 for 84 yards with 3 picks, and Texas walked away with a 33-3 win. Unable to beat the #3 team on the road, TCU's next game was against #2 West Virginia. The Frogs took an early lead in Morgantown, going up 17-6 early in the second quarter and 23-9 late in the third. The Mountaineers rallied to tie it at 23 on a last-minute touchdown pass from Richmond King to Jack Phillips and force overtime. This time around, TCU close-game magic was stronger than Mountaineer close-game magic. West Virginia kicked a field goal in overtime, and TCU answered with a 6-yard walk-off touchdown pass from Burden to Lesa to end West Virginia's undefeated run. It was TCU's signature win for the season, and they used the momentum from it to close the season strong: they shut out Texas Tech 24-0 with a touchdown on offense, defense, and special teams, then they got their fourth straight win over Baylor to close the season by a 35-20 margin. They finished 10-2 (5-2), second in the Big XII South only to an historically good Texas team.




Losing to West Virginia for the second straight year was a gut-punch to the Longhorns. Again, they were knocked off their perch at #1. Again, the doubts came raining down: "Is Texas pulling another Texas?" Those doubts were legitimate, built upon a foundation of three straight years of evidence. So when Texas was hit by that loss, they had a choice. They could internalize those doubts and use them as an excuse to let the season go south, or they could wear them as armor as they braved the meat of their schedule. They chose a third option: they erased every doubt in the book with one of the most impressive runs we will ever see to close the season. They went on the road to #14 Arizona State and obliterated them, 35-6. They went to Dallas for the Red River Shootout and smothered #25 Oklahoma, 13-3. They came home to play #23 Kansas and shut them out 22-0. They hosted #18 TCU and destroyed them, 33-3, clinching the Big XII South in the process. They finished their Big XII schedule with a 16-0 road shutout of Oklahoma State. In five games, with four coming against ranked teams, they outscored their foes 119-12 without allowing a single touchdown. That touchdown-free streak would strangely come to an end in the regular season finale at Utah State, which was entirely inconsequential because the Longhorns won that game 66-7. For the regular season, they outscored their opponents 387-119.


So once again, Texas was able to rally from its West Virginia mishap and earn a trip to its second straight Big XII Championship Game. This time, the Horns had their #1 ranking back--and those very same West Virginia Mountaineers were there to meet them in the title game, ready to slap that #1 ranking out of their hands yet again. Texas got started on the right foot in this one, taking a 7-0 lead after the first quarter on a Brad Davis-Roy Davis touchdown connection. Then, West Virginia slowly and steadily started seizing control of the game. Richmond King found Todd Sykes for a score. Texas took the lead back with a field goal, but a late Mario Davis touchdown run gave the Mountaineers a 14-10 lead at the half. They opened it up to 21-10 on King's touchdown pass to Andre Blade--the tight end who caught the game-winner in Austin in week 8. West Virginia would not score again. Troy Booker made it a one-score game with 1:33 to play, and Texas's defense did the rest. On the second play of the fourth quarter, Troy Marshall picked off a pass intended for Jack Phillips and took it to the house untouched for the 24-21 lead. Jon Thomas's interception later in the fourth would seal it for Texas: they had slain their West Virginian white whale, become the first repeat Big XII champion ever, and locked up the #1 seed in the playoffs.




Top-seeded Texas began their playoff run as the Big XII's only playoff qualifier. They faced off against 8th-seeded Mississippi State, led by junior runningback Will Fuller and senior quarterback Justin Hunter--the latter of whom famously keyed a shocking road upset over #1 Florida State as a freshman in 2014. Fuller scored a pair of touchdowns in the first half, and the Bulldogs refused to let the Longhorns to take the lead. Mississippi State led 20-17 heading into the final few minutes of the game. Brad Davis then led a pair of scoring drives, capped off by a Xavier Jernigan field goal with 3:40 to tie it, and another Jernigan field goal with 58 seconds left to take the lead. Ivory Hull's interception at the Texas 36 with 7 seconds to play sealed Texas's berth in the semifinals.


Good ol' hardnosed football won the day for Oklahoma in the Texas Bowl. Facing off against Georgia Tech, the Sooners dominated on the ground and dominated on defense to win their third straight and ninth overall game to close the year. Sean Egloff led all ballcarriers with 170 yards, 16 of which came on a touchdown run in the second quarter. Lee Davis's pick-six made it a 14-0 ballgame, and an Alejandro Aguirre field goal put them in cruise control at 17-0. Georgia Tech broke the shutout in the fourth quarter on Jamie Avery's pass to Nathan Fournier, but Oklahoma blocked the extra point for good measure.


In the Bourbon Bowl, Kansas's return to postseason play was spoiled as Corey Mendoza outdueled Eric Jennings. The Jayhawks scored first, but Purdue answered by scoring 24 unanswered in the middle two quarters that essentially put the game out of reach. Mendoza started the flurry with a touchdown pass at the 11:33 mark of the second quarter, Dan Weaver followed it up with a pick-six two minutes later, Mark Kirschbaum's field goal made it 17-7 at the half, and William Carlson's third-quarter touchdown run closed it out. Kansas finished the season 1-4 away from home but 8-5 overall.


Texas headed out west to the Rose Bowl for their semifinal game against 4th-seeded Boston College, the only other team to be ranked #1 in the country at any point in the season. The Alex Leshoure-led Eagles went back-and-forth, punch-for-punch with the Longhorns. Neither team ever led by more than a score. Leshoure struck first, then Davis answered with an 11-yard score to Spencer Saul and a 72-yarder to Harry Whiteside. Ben Curry's touchdown run tied it before the half, and Xavier Jernigan missed a field goal that would've broken a tie as time expired. In the second half, Brad Davis's pick-six gave Boston College the lead back, and his third touchdown pass of the day tied it right back up. The rest was just a battle of field goals. Jernigan hit from 28. Isaiah Anderson hit from 40. Jernigan hit from 33. But with 0:40 on the clock, Anderson missed a 43-yarder, and Texas hung on to win 27-24. Brad Davis finished with 411 yards, the second-highest total in his career at exactly the right time, and Texas was headed to its first-ever national championship game.


Heading back east now, we fly over to the Big Apple where TCU and Air Force met for the Pinstripe Bowl. Air Force was running one of the most successful smashmouth attacks in the country behind Frederick Chacon and Alejandro Silva. Their ability to get yardage on the ground continued against TCU--the problem for the Falcons is that Bradley Cooley (26 for 180, 2 TD) outrushed both of them combined, and TCU's offense made big gain after big gain to blow through the Air Force defense. Cooley set the tone with a 38-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Nathan Burden finished 11-23 for the game, but he delivered a 70-yard strike to Jamel Beckham to give the Frogs the lead for good. And in the third quarter, Cooley's second score put TCU up 24-14 to give them some breathing room--Air Force wouldn't get closer than 7 after that, and a pair of Paul Peterson field goals would put that to bed. TCU won 30-17, their second straight bowl win and their school-record 11th win of the season.


Finally, we remember the 2017 Alamo Bowl. For West Virginia and its 12 senior starters, it was one last chance to keep the Mountaineer magic alive. This time, they didn't need some crazy comeback or heart-stopping plays in the clutch: they just straight-up wrecked California. Richmond King found Todd Sykes, Andre Blade, and Todd Sykes again for three touchdown passes in the first 23 minutes to go up 21-0. Cal's Bobby Kolodziej would get the Golden Bears on the board before the half was up, but the second half brought on another onslaught. King hit Mario Davis for another touchdown pass, Terrence Martin picked off a pass, and Davis scored on the ground all in short order. After another Kolodziej touchdown pass, West Virginia completed their display of mastery with a 40-yard bomb from King to Sykes and a Rob Evans pick-six. King finished with a career-high 442 yards and 5 passing touchdowns. Sykes finished with 10 receptions for 205 yards and a career-high 3 touchdown catches. And the strangest (and most awesome) fact about this game is that every single player who made West Virginia's statsheet was a senior. What a way to go out on a high note.




For one night, the most important player in college football was a redshirt junior tight end from the Treasure Coast in Florida, a player who had been buried on the depth chart for three years prior and would only spend one year as a starter before leaving Austin for good. His name was Will Holly, and you'll be hearing his name a lot.


Texas was officially one of the last two teams standing. But across the field from them was a surprise opponent. It wasn't Taylor Rodriguez and 2nd-seeded Arizona, who were punched out in the first round by Nebraska. It wasn't Aaron Shea's 6th-seeded Missouri, taken down by Tommy Jones's Michigan in the first round. And it wasn't even Michigan standing in the way, because Nebraska knocked them out 13-6 on the strength of a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. It was Nebraska, the 7th seed, who arrived to the national title game as Texas's ultimate challenger. Led by sophomores Sean Hamilton and Marcus Williams and starting 22 sophomores and juniors out of a possible 24 positions, Nebraska was even viewed as getting there a year early.


When the game started and Nebraska's defense grasped Texas's offense like a vicegrip, that "got there early" talk got a lot quieter in a hurry.


Nebraska got on the board first, senior kicker Rafael Davidson booting through a 49-yard field goal at the 9:30 mark of the first quarter. Texas had a chance to match it five minutes later, but a visibly nervous Xavier Jernigan couldn't connect from 44. That gave Nebraska a chance to extend their lead as they drove into the Texas red zone--only for Texas to hold them up at the 8-yard line and force them to kick another field goal. Texas didn't score until late in the second quarter, but when they scored they weren't playing for field goals. From the Nebraska 12, Brad Davis nearly bobbled a high snap, but he recovered it and dumped it off to Will Holly--who immediately showed his value as a red-zone target, turning upfield and diving into the endzone for a score and Texas's first lead. Then, the defense started forcing turnovers. A Demetrius Patterson interception set up a Xavier Jernigan field goal, and a Marcus Williams fumble erased any chance of Nebraska scoring again before the half.


But that wouldn't stop Nebraska from scoring after the half. The Huskers picked up the pace to get downfield, scoring when Marcus Williams found a hole in the Texas blitz and bounced for a 20-yard score and a 13-10 lead. Texas needed a run to take control of the game--and with 2017 Texas, that can start from a big play from the offense or from the defense. This one started on offense. Davis found freshman Abdoul Causey for the go-ahead score, and the defense gave them the opportunity to extend the lead. Defensive end Thomas Mughelli got his hand on a Sean Hamilton pass, and safety Jon Thomas cleaned it up with an interception--that set up a Troy Booker touchdown run and a game-high 24-13 lead. Nebraska wouldn't go away quietly. Sean Hamilton threw his only touchdown pass of the day with just 22 seconds to play in the third quarter, a 14-yarder to tight end Darius Mitchell. They went for 2 to try and cut it to a 3-point game, but Marcus Williams was stuffed in the backfield.


In the fourth quarter, Texas sealed it. They quickly scored on Jernigan's second field goal of the game (this one from 28 yards) to make it an 8-point game. But the backbreaker came with 8:50 to play. After a bomb from Davis to Harry Whiteside put the Longhorns in scoring range, Davis once again found the reliable Will Holly in the flat that the tight end took in for a 7-yard score and a 34-19 lead. Texas's defense went from stifling to lockdown, and that's where the final score would hold. Brad Davis finished with 359 yards and 3 touchdowns while the legendary Texas secondary held Sean Hamilton to 14-29 passing, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions. But the star of the night for one night only was the Treasure Coast tight end, Will Holly. With two touchdown receptions and several other critical catches, he was named National Championship Game MVP as the Texas Longhorns captured their first title in school history.


All those years of disappointment, self-inflicted or otherwise, culminated in this moment in Arlington. Texas was finally on top.




Ibrahim Smiley, Darren Jones, Kavika Russell, Jerry Walker, Wayne Schmidt, Louis Peterson, Bradley Cooley, Harry Whiteside, Will Holly, Brandon Reamon, Ivory Hull, Richmond King, Todd Sykes, Rob Evans, Taborfan20, Nmize0, LamboThrone (GTHC)

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In the Bourbon Bowl, Kansas's return to postseason play was spoiled as Corey Mendoza outdueled Eric Jennings. The Jayhawks scored first, but Purdue answered by scoring 24 unanswered in the middle two quarters that essentially put the game out of reach. Mendoza started the flurry with a touchdown pass at the 11:33 mark of the second quarter, Dan Weaver followed it up with a pick-six two minutes later, Mark Kirschbaum's field goal made it 17-7 at the half, and William Carlson's third-quarter touchdown run closed it out. Kansas finished the season 1-4 away from home but 8-5 overall.



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