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Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Ranking the Big 12's best players: No. 4

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

The official list of the Big 12's top 25 players is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we're revealing the list day by day here on the blog. Here's a refresher on my exact criteria.

We're inside the top 10 now, so things should heat up a little bit. Have a gripe with the list? Let me know in the mailbag.

Kendall Hunter
Kendall Hunter rushed for 1,548 yards and 16 touchdowns during his senior season.
No. 4: Kendall Hunter, RB, Oklahoma State

2010 numbers: Hunter carried the ball 271 times for 1,548 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also caught 20 passes for 101 yards.

Most recent ranking: Hunter was ranked No. 19 in our preseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Hunter: Hunter topped 1,500 yards as a sophomore and landed on the All-American team, but struggled with a persistent ankle injury in 2009.

As a senior, he burst back on the scene with a 257-yard, four-touchdown performance in the season opener against Washington State, and was a constant in Oklahoma State's offense throughout the year, finishing second in the Big 12 in rushing yards. He led for most of the season, but a big finish by Daniel Thomas (including a 269-yard game against a hapless 3-9 North Texas defense) gave Thomas the title for second consecutive season.

Hunter's 5.71 yards per carry average topped Thomas' 5.31, and among rushers with at least 100 carries, only three players in the Big 12 had a higher average than Hunter.

The biggest reason for Hunter's success is a rare ability to surge and fall forward for an extra yard or two on almost every carry, despite being just 5-foot-8 and a touch under 200 pounds. He was one of the league's toughest players to bring down in the open field, and possessed a good sense of space in tight quarters between the tackles, too. That's a great combo, and exactly what you want in a running back. Others noticed, too, and named him one of three finalists for the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back.

In 13 games, Hunter topped 100 yards rushing nine times, two more than any other player in the Big 12. In the rare times Oklahoma State's offense struggled, turning to Hunter was the best way for it to get back on track. He was the league's most consistent back, and very worthy of a spot inside the top five.

The rest of the list: