Ollie Gordon is certain to be Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year.
The candidates for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year include Nick Martin, the OSU linebacker who leads the league in tackles by a firm margin; Billy Bowman, the OU safety who is second in FBS with six interceptions and first with a trio of pick-6s; and T’Vondre Sweat, the Texas tackle who doesn’t have Martin’s or Bowman’s numbers but is one of three Outland Trophy finalists.
The toughest call is Big 12 Coach of the Year because of the depth of candidates. You can make a legitimate case for Matt Campbell, Mike Gundy, Steve Sarkisian, Neal Brown, Lance Leipold and Brent Venables.
Since it makes sense to ask one of the candidates how he would vote, I asked Gundy at the end of his press conference Monday.
“Neal Brown,” Gundy said. “His back was against the wall, and he was a Hail Mary from winning nine games. I thought he did a great job.”
He did a superb job. West Virginia was picked dead last in the Big 12 preseason poll, a reason Brown felt like a dead coach walking.
Now the Mountaineers are 8-4 and West Virginia columnist Bob Hertzel writes of Brown: “He was masterful in the way he wove that prediction of finishing 14th into a driving force behind this season.”
Campbell did a superb job. Iowa State lost its starting quarterback and featured running back to a preseason betting scandal, then appeared to lose its way in a 10-7 loss at Ohio University on Sept. 16.
Now the Cyclones are 7-5 and Cyclone Alert publisher Alec Busse is calling Campbell’s turnaround “maybe his greatest coaching achievement at Iowa State.”
Leipold did a superb job. Kansas lost Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Jalon Daniels before losing at Texas 40-14 on Sept. 30.
Now the Jayhawks are 8-4 and just spent their second straight season under Leipold sweeping away our old laughingstock notions about that program.
We know the coaching Venables did in turning OU from 6-7 to 10-2, and potentially 11-2 should the Sooners draw Arizona in the Alamo Bowl.
We should recognize what Sarkisian has done in helping Texas to its best season since reaching the 2009 national championship game. To hold his talent against him is like holding Bill Self’s against him every basketball season, and Self has won six Big 12 Coach of the Year awards.
I would strongly consider Sark if I had a vote, same as I would Venables, Leipold, Campbell and Brown.
I would cast my ballot for Gundy on the following premise:
1. Statistics are instruments of a rational mind.
2. There is no statistical reason OSU should be playing for a Big 12 championship on Saturday.
3. It is insane that the Cowboys are doing just that.
4. That they are doing so is a reflection of their head coach you swear is insane half the time.
Seriously, just look at the statistical comparison here…
Texas is fourth in the Big 12 in total offense, OSU is eighth.
Texas is third in the Big 12 in total defense, OSU is 13th.
Texas is first in red zone defense, OSU is eighth.
Texas is first in run defense and sixth in rushing offense, OSU is 10th and eighth.
Texas is first in sacks, OSU is seventh.
Texas is third in interceptions, OSU is eighth.
Texas is third in punt returns and fifth in kickoff returns, OSU is 13th and 10th.
OSU leads the league in fourth down defense and is in the top 3 in red zone offense, sacks allowed, field goal percentage and fewest penalties. Otherwise, the Cowboys are middle to bottom of the pack.
A team doesn’t overcome such statistical blisters on the strength of the nation’s leading rusher alone, or a resilience that has defined OSU’s turnaround as much as Gordon has.
Coaching matters, too. The adjustments Kasey Dunn, Bryan Nardo and staff made against Kansas, and at West Virginia, and in Bedlam, and at Houston, and against BYU mattered.
Who oversees any particular tweaks assistants make in halftime locker rooms or day-after-game meeting rooms? The head coach.
Who keeps eyes and ears on the moods of the players on the sidelines during games or off to the side at practices? The head coach.
Who becomes the conduit between the program and a fan base that one week is high enough to turn Boone Pickens Stadium into a Bedlam rock concert, and another low enough to boo the team off the field at a cold, rainy halftime? The head coach.
I’m forever quicker to praise the players for a program’s job well done. Thus my advocacy for Gordon, Martin, Brennan Presley, Collin Oliver and Alan Bowman for their performances and mentalities in turning 2-2 into 9-3. They lead the way to Arlington this weekend.
Let’s put Gundy closer to the front of that caravan than the rear just the same.
Let’s put him at the front of the line for Big 12 Coach of the Year while we’re at it.