ESPN.com has taken on the monumental task of ranking the top 100 players in college football going into the 2014 season. The rankings were done based on the expected contributions of each player for the 2014 season, regardless of position.
The list will be released in 20-player increments, beginning today with the Nos. 100-81.
Make sure to track the rankings all week long, as there will be Big 12 players in all five parts.
Also, keep in mind this national list, which was compiled by the entire ESPN.com college football team, won’t necessarily line up with our Top 25 ranking of Big 12 players, which was compiled exclusively by the Brandon, Max and myself.
Without further ado, here are the Big 12 players that made the first installment:
No. 81: Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight
No. 90: Texas DT Malcom Brown
No. 91: Baylor OT Spencer Drango
No. 96: Texas RB Johnathan Gray
All four players here have the upside to rise up these rankings. But two have consistency questions, and the other two have health questions.
Knight has only started and finished three games in his career, and struggled with his passing accuracy at times early in the season. But he flashed immense potential in the Sugar Bowl, shredding Alabama with 348 passing yards and four touchdowns in the biggest upset of the bowl season. If he plays consistently near that level this season, not only will the Sooners challenge for inclusion the College Football Playoff, but Knight could become a darkhorse Heisman Trophy contender.
Brown also has the ability to dominate. He was rated the second-best defensive tackle coming out of high school, and began realizing his recruiting pedigree last season. If he can produce more big plays, he could be one of the best defensive tackles in the country.
Drango and Gray also have the ability to finish the season higher than they start here. The key is staying healthy.
When 100 percent, Drango is one of the best pass-protecting left tackles in the country. The stats prove it, too. With Drango manning left tackle, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty was sacked just eight times through the Bears’ first nine games. After Drango suffered a season-ending back injury, Petty was sacked nine times in the Bears’ last four games. Two of which they lost. Drango should be ready to go for this season, which is good news for Baylor and for Petty.
Gray was on his way to an All-Big 12 campaign last year when he suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in early November. He was recently cleared for preseason camp. When healthy, Gray is one of the best power-speed combination rushers in college football.
The respective ranks could be debated, but I can’t argue against any of the four making the top 100.
A few Big 12 players just missed the cut for the top 100. Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller, Kansas State center B.J. Finney, Oklahoma defensive end Charles Tapper, Texas running back Malcolm Brown, Oklahoma linebacker Dominique Alexander and Baylor running back Shock Linwood.
In my opinion, Mueller, Finney and Tapper have the biggest gripes. Mueller was eighth in the country last year in sacks. Finney is a two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection. And Tapper was the only defensive underclassman to get named All-Big 12 team in 2013.
Coming Tuesday: Nos. 80-61.