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Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Crowning the best freshmen in the Big 12

By David Ubben

The regular season is over, but with the end of any season, you can't help but look to the future. In college football, that means youth, i.e., freshmen.

Plenty of big talents played their first season in the Big 12 this year, and here were the best of the bunch.

It should come as no surprise that the bulk of the young talent plays offense, assuring that the Big 12's reputation as an offense-driven league looks as though it'll remain a constant.

Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas: The Longhorns were tentative to let Brown start early in the season, but he emerged as the team's top back and into the starting slot, finishing the season as the team's leading rusher, at 707 yards and five touchdowns.

Tyler Lockett, WR/KR, Kansas State: Lockett became one of K-State's best playmakers late in the year and the Big 12's best kick returner. He returned two kicks for scores and averaged more than 35 yards per return, catching 18 passes for 246 yards and three scores. No small accomplishment in the Wildcats' run-heavy offense.

Jaxon Shipley, WR, Texas: Shipley was hampered by a knee injury for much of the season, but he was the Longhorns' most reliable receiver, leading the team with three touchdown catches. He was narrowly edged for the team lead in catches (40) and receiving yards (593).

Jared Barnett, QB, Iowa State: Barnett is best known for playing an unbelievable game against Oklahoma State. He took over for Steele Jantz in midseason and led the Cyclones from 3-4 to 6-4 and a bowl berth, with a blowout win over Texas Tech and dramatic wins over OSU and Kansas. He threw for 376 yards and three scores against OSU and ran 84 more yards.

Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas: Diggs has star written all over him. Don't be surprised if he's the Big 12's best defensive back next year. He showed flashes in the spring game after enrolling early and started nine games for Texas as a true freshman. A rare feat in most years, especially for the defense. He led the team with three interceptions, forced two fumbles and had 43 tackles and 13 pass breakups. An unbelievable freshman year for the Horn.

Darrian Miller, RB, Kansas: Miller's got some great wiggle to his running style as one of the league's most elusive backs, and he ran for 559 yards and four scores on just 136 yards.

Blake Dees, LB, Texas Tech: Dees looked like a potential starter in spring practice and showed up once fall came for the Red Raiders. Despite an ankle injury that basically erased the second half of his season, he made 32 tackles with four tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.

Tony Pierson, RB, Kansas: Memo to Charlie Weis: You've got a heck of a backfield; you'd better use it. Pierson, Miller and James Sims are all solid for the Jayhawks, and Pierson might have as much upside as any of them. He's an electrifying player like Miller but with more size, and he averaged more than 5.5 yards on his 71 carries, scoring three times. Here's guessing the scoring numbers and touches go up next year.

Josh Stewart, WR, Oklahoma State: Stewart was a nice piece of a powerful OSU offense and showed plenty of promise as a kick returner, too, averaging better than 20 yards on his 11 returns. He caught 19 balls for 291 yards and two scores.

Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma: Bell redshirted before showing up midseason in the valuable BellDozer formation that OU came up with after Dominique Whaley went down with a fractured ankle. He scored an unbelievable 10 touchdowns on 34 carries, but the throwing thing could use some work. In four attempts, he completed as many passes to the other team (one) as his own.