Big 12: 2014 Big 12 most indispensable

Since last week, we’ve been examining the most indispensable player for every team in the Big 12. In other words, who is the player each team could least afford to lose to injury?

We’re knocking on wood before we turn in these posts, so no need to worry about a jinx.

[+] EnlargeQuinton Spain
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesQuinton Spain is one of the few veterans on an inexperienced West Virginia offense.
We continue with the West Virginia Mountaineers.

Most indispensable player: Guard Quinton Spain

Why West Virginia can’t afford to lose him: Spain will bring a much-needed veteran presence to the Mountaineers' offensive line and offense.

The fifth-year senior brings versatility, having played tackle and guard during his WVU career and has started 26 of 38 career games during his first three seasons. He started all 12 games as a junior, four at left tackle and eight at left guard. Spain has been on the field for 1,758 offensive plays during the past two seasons for Dana Holgorsen’s squad, bringing unrivaled experience to the offensive line. Make no mistake, he is one of the better offensive linemen in the entire conference.

The Mountaineers’ experience along the offensive front is lacking after Spain with right guard Mark Glowinski (12) as the only other projected starter with more than four career starts. The rest of the projected starting offense is just as inexperienced, with wide receiver Cody Clay’s 15 career starts making him the lone returning starter besides Spain and Glowinski with double-digit starts at WVU.

WVU has a bevy of talented running backs, but Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood and the rest of the Mountaineers ball carriers need a strong offensive line if they hope to approach 2,000 combined yards in 2014. Spain should be the centerpiece of that group.

Without Spain, WVU’s offense would lose a ton of experience, meaning the Mountaineers would be counting on inexperienced but talented skill players and a relatively young offensive line to spark a return to a bowl game.
Since last week, we’ve been examining the most indispensable player for every team in the Big 12. In other words, who is the player each team could least afford to lose to injury?

[+] EnlargeWebb
John Weast/Getty ImagesWith his starting spot assured, Texas Tech sophomore QB Davis Webb sparkled this spring.
We’re knocking on wood before we turn in these posts, so no need to worry about a jinx.

We continue with the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

Most indispensable player: Quarterback Davis Webb

Why Texas Tech can’t afford to lose him: The Red Raiders' hopes for success are sitting on Webb’s shoulders. Several other players -- including tackle Le'Raven Clark and all-purpose standout Kenny Williams -- deserved consideration, but the loss of Webb would create a major obstacle between Kliff Kingsbury's squad and success.

If he stays healthy and starts every game, Webb should secure his spot among the Big 12’s top quarterbacks for the second straight season. Webb was outstanding as a true freshman, joining Baylor’s Bryce Petty (85.2) and Oklahoma State’s Clint Chelf (83.8) as the only Big 12 quarterbacks with a Adjusted QBR above 70 in Big 12 games at 81.1.

To top it all off, he looked even better during the spring with his spot as “the man” in the Red Raiders’ offense, capping his spring with a four-touchdown performance in the spring game. Heading into his sophomore season, Webb is accurate, takes care of the football and continues to improve, making him one of the Big 12's most valuable players.

If he’s out of the equation, Tech’s hopes for success take a major hit. Not only because Kingsbury’s squad is set to have a true freshman, Patrick Mahomes, as its No. 2 quarterback, but because Webb’s stellar play would be difficult to mimic for any signal-caller.
Since last week, we’ve been examining the most indispensable player for every team in the Big 12. In other words, who is the player each team could least afford to lose to injury?

We’re knocking on wood before we turn in these posts, so no need to worry about a jinx.

We continue with the Texas Longhorns.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
AP Photo/Tim SharpDavid Ash needs to stay healthy given the lack of experience behind him.
Most indispensable player: Quarterback David Ash

With a healthy Ash, there’s no limit to what can happen during Charlie Strong’s first season. Good and bad.

At one point, USC transfer Max Wittek joining the Longhorns was considered a given. Now, with Wittek likely headed elsewhere, the spotlight on Ash’s health turns up a notch.

Ash is the lone experienced quarterback on the roster, and he has shown the ability to win big games for the Longhorns during his three years in Austin, Texas. The junior will enter the season with a 63.2 completion percentage, 4,538 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and 18 interceptions while starting 21 of 28 career games. That level of experience is hard to duplicate.

In 2012, when Ash started 12 games, the Longhorns went 9-3 with him under center. An injury-riddled 2013 has made it easy to forget Ash’s upside, but he was coming off a strong sophomore campaign and, if he can remain healthy, he could become the key playmaker in UT’s offense.

The inexperience behind him makes Ash’s health even more important. UT has two talented options in Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard, but this fall isn’t the time for the Longhorns to deal with the ups and downs that come with inexperience. Swoopes remains relatively raw, and Heard could use some time to get used to the demands of college football.

Disappointment has become all too common in Austin, so Strong’s squad needs to win now. And Ash has the proven ability to help make Strong’s first season a success.
Since last week, we’ve been examining the most indispensable player for every team in the Big 12. In other words, who is the player each team could least afford to lose to injury?

We’re knocking on wood before we turn in these posts, so no need to worry about a jinx.

We continue with the TCU Horned Frogs.

Most indispensable player: Center Joey Hunt

Why TCU can’t afford to lose him: The Horned Frogs will need their offensive line to provide consistent, quality play this fall if TCU hopes to make noise in the Big 12, and Hunt will be in the middle of it all.

Hunt enters his junior season after starting games at guard and center in 2013. He was the anchor of TCU's offensive line with his 11 starts at center, and he brings plenty of experience to the Horned Frogs O-line in 2014. A member of the Rimington Trophy watch list, Hunt promises to be a critical piece in TCU’s offense.

New offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham are looking to bring explosiveness and plenty of points to Fort Worth, Texas, but it won’t happen without a quality offensive line. Hunt should be the leader of the group as one of the most experienced linemen on the roster.

Without Hunt, TCU would be looking at an offensive line full of inexperience and unproven talent. Junior tackle Aviante Collins would be the only other offensive lineman on the roster with double-digit starts (22). Junior Halapoulivaati Vaitai (7), junior Jamelle Naff (2) and sophomore Patrick Morris (1) are the only other TCU offensive linemen with career starts under their belts.

Hunt brings a certain amount of peace of mind for the Horned Frogs offense as they can count on him being the centerpiece of the offensive front. His presence and productivity makes him the hardest TCU player to replace in 2014.
The past week, we’ve been examining the most indispensable players for every team in the Big 12. In other words, who is the player each team could least afford to lose to injury?

We’re knocking on wood before we turn in these posts, so no need to worry about a jinx.

We pick the series back up with the Oklahoma Sate Cowboys.

[+] EnlargeDaniel Koenig
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsVersatile offensive lineman Daniel Koenig has made 22 career starts for Oklahoma State.
Most indispensable player: Offensive lineman Daniel Koenig

Why Oklahoma State can’t afford to lose him: After graduating 30 seniors, the Cowboys will be the youngest team in the Big 12 next season. And they’ll be even younger along the offensive line.

Oklahoma State’s returning offensive linemen have made only 38 career starts, which is ninth-fewest in the league, just ahead of Kansas. Koenig owns 22 of those starts. Factor in that two of the team’s other experienced linemen -- tackles Devin Davis and Brandon Garrett -- are coming off serious leg injuries, and that longtime offensive line coach Joe Wickline is now coaching for the Texas Longhorns, and Koenig becomes all the more indispensable.

Koenig’s versatility to play either tackle or guard gives new offensive line coach Bob Connelly the flexibility to plug in Koenig whereever he is needed up front. Until Davis returns, Koenig can man left tackle. When Davis does return, Koenig can swing to right tackle or slide inside to solidify one of the guard spots. The fact he can pull off such moves while maintaining an All-Big 12 caliber level makes Koenig one of the Big 12’s most valuable offensive linemen, if the not one of the most valuable players overall.

With a semi-new quarterback, a young group of receivers and a defense in full-on rebuild mode, the fledgling Cowboys could experience some growing pains early next season. Fortunately for them, they have a rock along the offensive line in Koenig, a player they can depend on from the outset as the rest of the team comes along.
This week, we’ve been examining the most indispensable player for every team in the Big 12. In other words, who is the player each team could least afford to lose to injury?

We’re knocking on wood before we turn in these posts; so no need to worry about a jinx.

We continue with the Oklahoma Sooners.

Most indispensable player: Receiver Sterling Shepard

[+] EnlargeSterling Shepard and Jackson Jeffcoat
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsSterling Shepard's production will be vital to Oklahoma's success in the passing game in 2014.
2013 stats: Caught 51 passes for 603 yards and seven touchdowns.

Why Oklahoma can’t afford to lose him: A strong case could be made for sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight here. He was spectacular in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and has the skill set to be a star in college football. But it’s difficult to slap the “indispensable” label on a player who has only started and finished three games in his college career.

Last season, Oklahoma’s most indispensable player was do-everything receiver Jalen Saunders. This season, the Sooners’ most indispensable player figures to be another do-everything pass-catcher.

Shepard has been a key part of the Oklahoma offense from the moment he stepped on campus. Through two seasons in Norman, Shepard already has 96 receptions for 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns.

With Saunders now a member of the New York Jets, Shepard will take over as the Sooners’ go-to playmaker at receiver. But unlike Saunders, who had Shepard and Lacoltan Bester alongside him, Shepard won’t have an experienced receiver flanking him. That makes Shepard all-the-more indispensable.

After Shepard, Durron Neal is Oklahoma’s second-leading receiver from last season, and he finished with only 13 receptions. Neal also missed spring practice with knee and ankle injuries.

Elsewhere, the Sooners are loaded with inexperience at receiver. Jordan Smallwood, Dannon Cavil and K.J. Young redshirted last season. Austin Bennett and Derrick Woods have been used sparingly. Mark Andrews, Jeff Mead, Michiah Quick and Dallis Todd are incoming true freshmen.

In fact, outside Shepard, the only two returning Sooners who had touchdown catches last year are fullback Aaron Ripkowski and place-kicker Michael Hunnicutt.

That’s why Shepard is so valuable.

He gives the Sooners an unequivocal tone-setter and leader for its extremely young group of receivers. And he gives Knight that one dependable target every budding quarterback requires.
This week, we’ve started a new series examining the most indispensable player for every team in the Big 12. In other words, who is the player each team could least afford to lose to injury?

We’re knocking on wood before we turn in these posts; so no need to worry about a jinx.

We continue with the Kansas State Wildcats.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Jasen VinloveUSA TODAY SportsKansas State's Tyler Lockett is one of the top wideouts in the nation.
Most indispensable player: Receiver Tyler Lockett

Why Kansas State can’t afford to lose him: A do-it-all playmaker, Lockett should be the centerpiece of the Wildcats’ offensive game plans this season.

With John Hubert and Tramaine Thompson completing their eligibility, along with Daniel Sams’ transfer, Kansas State is searching for additional playmakers. Until they find some, the burden will fall on Lockett’s shoulders.

Fortunately for K-State, Lockett is one of the few Big 12 stars who can handle such a burden. The senior is arguably the best receiver in the Big 12, and he has the ability to change games with his return skills. Last season he had 81 receptions for 1,262 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also averaged 26.5 yards per kick return with 36.4 percent of his returns going for 30 yards or more.

Yet Lockett’s impact is bigger than numbers.

After making the majority of his impact as a freshman returner, Lockett has worked hard to transform into a polished receiver heading into his senior season. His route running is much improved and his consistency makes him a coach’s best friend. His quickness, shiftiness and overall speed make him a valuable asset for any offense.

Outside of Lockett, the rest of the Wildcats' roster recorded 44 receptions in 2013, with Curry Sexton (39) and Kyle Klein (5) as the lone returnees with a reception a season ago. On the remainder of the roster, Deante Burton and Judah Jones were among KSU’s other receivers who emerged from spring football looking like they have the skills to help take attention off Lockett.

But no receiver on the roster could fill the void left by the Tulsa, Okla., native. Lockett’s ability to change a game in so many different ways makes him a player the Wildcats cannot afford to lose.
This week, we’ve started a new series examining the most indispensable player for every team in the Big 12. In other words, who is the player each team could least afford to lose to injury?

We’re knocking on wood before we turn in these posts; so no need to worry about a jinx.

[+] EnlargeHeeney
John Albright/Icon SMIBen Heeney has become a tackling machine in the Kansas defense.
We continue with the Kansas Jayhawks.

Most indispensable player: Linebacker Ben Heeney

Why Kansas can’t afford to lose him: Heeney is the best and most productive player on the team and provides peace of mind for the coaching staff.

During the past two seasons, Heeney has recorded 199 total tackles, and during that span, he’s recorded double-digit tackles in 11 games. Heeney is in the mold of the new era of linebacker who can be a critical part of the run defense yet still make plays in the passing game, as evidenced by his three interceptions in 2013. Few players in the conference can match his production at their respective positions.

In 2013, Heeney missed the Oklahoma and Baylor games. The Jayhawks allowed 5.85 yards per play to OU and 9.06 yards per play to BU, two of the four highest averages they allowed last season. Oklahoma and Baylor were BCS bowl teams last season but, nonetheless, those yards per play averages underline the importance of Heeney to KU’s defense.

KU has several other solid options at linebacker including Courtney Arnick, Jake Love and Schyler Miles but none of those players could replace the experience and productivity that Heeney provides.

Without Heeney, the Jayhawks would have to replace a major hole in the middle of their defense. His experience, consistent play and attacking style make him one of the Big 12’s top linebackers. And his leadership is evolving heading into his final season with the Jayhawks.
This week, we’ve started a new series examining the most indispensable player for every team in the Big 12. In other words, who is the player each team could least afford to lose to injury?

We’re knocking on wood before we turn in these posts; so no need to worry about a jinx.

We continue with the Iowa State Cyclones.

Most indispensable player: Center Tom Farniok

Why Iowa State can't afford to lose him: The first two games of the 2013 season against Northern Iowa and Iowa, Farniok sat out with an MCL sprain. And the Cyclones, unable to finish off drives, lost in both.

When Farniok returned for Week 3, Iowa State racked up 434 yards of offense and crushed Tulsa, 38-21. The following week, the Cyclones were a controversial play at the end away from toppling Texas, too.

When healthy, Aaron Wimberly can be a dazzling runner. Pass-catching tight end E.J. Bibbs can create nightmare matchups for the opponent. And wideout Quenton Bundrage was third in the Big 12 last year in touchdown catches.

But no player seems to bring a calming effect to the Iowa State offense more than Farniok, who has already started 35 games in his career.

Under new coordinator Mark Mangino and with a host of experienced playmakers back, the Cyclones have a chance to field their best offense in a long time. But as he has proven, Iowa State's All-Big 12-caliber center will be the glue that keeps it all together.
On Monday we’re starting a new series examining the most indispensable player for every team in the Big 12. In other words, who is the player each team could least afford to lose to injury?

We’re knocking on wood before we turn in these posts; so no need to worry about a jinx.

Starting this off -- the Baylor Bears.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsBaylor's Bryce Petty is one of the top returning signal-callers in college football in 2014.
Most indispensable player: Quarterback Bryce Petty

2013 stats: Completed 62 percent of his passes for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns and threw just three interceptions. Also rushed for 209 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Why Baylor can't afford to lose him: No team can afford to lose its starting quarterback. But a reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year who will be on the short list of preseason Heisman contenders is the very definition of indispensable.

The Baylor offense might be loaded again with playmakers such as wideouts Antwan Goodley and Corey Coleman and running backs Shock Linwood and Johnny Jefferson. But Petty is the engine that makes the Bears' high-powered offensive machine hum.

Petty threw for at least 200 yards and two touchdowns in every game last season as Baylor captured its first Big 12 title while leading the nation in scoring.

Even after losing running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin, left tackle Spencer Drango and wideout Tevin Reese to injuries, the Bears still featured one of the nation’s top-10 offenses during the month of November. Baylor’s system and Petty’s poise were the biggest reasons why.

With a season of experience under his belt, Petty should be even sharper in 2014, which is almost unfathomable considering he threw only three interceptions and finished fifth in the country in Adjusted Total QBR as a first-time starter last season. This offseason, Petty has worked with quarterback coach George Whitfield Jr. to sharpen his pocket presence and improve his accuracy against pressure.

The Bears actually have a viable backup quarterback in Seth Russell, who performed well in limited duty as a freshman last season. But Baylor’s best -- and probably only -- chance of defending its Big 12 crown is with Petty operating behind center. That easily makes him the most indispensable player on the Baylor roster -- and one of the most indispensable players in all of college football.

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