Big 12: big 12 2010 best

Who was the Big 12's best player in 2010?

March, 21, 2011
3/21/11
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It's been a fun month counting down the Big 12's best players during the 2010 season. We've talked about plenty, but none were better in the 2010 season than the man who topped our list, a decision that wasn't a difficult one.

Wondering why players were ranked where they were ranked? Here's my criteria for the list.

Without further ado, the best player in the Big 12 was...

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
Chuck Cook/US PresswireOklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon caught 111 passes for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns this past season.
No. 1: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

2010 numbers: Blackmon caught 111 passes for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also carried the ball four times for 77 yards and a touchdown.

Most recent ranking: Blackmon was unranked in our preseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Blackmon: It's pretty easy to gloss over a player catching eight balls for 125 yards against Washington State, even if he scored three touchdowns. It's Washington State. The Cougars won three games and finished 110th nationally in scoring defense. Even when Blackmon did the same to Tulsa and Louisiana-Lafayette's similarly struggling defenses, it was hard to feel supremely confident a player with 20 career catches entering the season could keep that pace.

But he made us keep watching.

And when the season was over, he made every defense he faced look like Washington State, putting together one of the greatest seasons by a receiver in college football history. His season featured six games with at least 10 catches, and four more with at least eight. He scored at least two touchdowns in six games, but the most impressive part of Blackmon's excellence is his consistency.

His streak got plenty of attention at the end of the year, but think about how many receivers have played college football, and how many greats have written their legacies at wideout over the past few decades. Not one caught a touchdown and accounted for 100 receiving yards in every game he played. Blackmon did.

Additionally, there's no avoiding just how important Blackmon was to Oklahoma State's offense. The Cowboys finished No. 3 in scoring offense with more than 44 points per game, and never scored fewer than 33 points in any game this season with Blackmon in the lineup.

In the one game Blackmon sat out with a suspension, Oklahoma State managed to score just 24 points against one of the Big 12's worst defenses, Kansas State, which was giving up more than 445 yards and almost 30 points a game.

From August to January, Blackmon went from relative unknown to the unquestioned best player in the Big 12. It's pretty obvious how rare that is. And the best news for Oklahoma State fans? He and his quarterback, Brandon Weeden (No. 10 on this list) will be back in 2011.

I'm excited to see what they've got in store.

The rest of the list:

Ranking the Big 12's best players: No. 2

March, 18, 2011
3/18/11
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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.

[+] EnlargeTexas A&M's Von Miller
Thomas Campbell/US PRESSWIRETexas A&M's Von Miller made 68 tackles, including 10.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss.
No. 2: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M

2010 numbers: Miller made 68 tackles, including 10.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss. He also broke up six passes, forced three fumbles, recovered two fumbles and his only interception of the season sealed a win over rival Texas.

Most recent ranking: Miller was ranked No. 4 in our preseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Miller: As impressive as Miller's numbers are, they still don't accurately portray how disruptive he was to opposing offenses, especially during conference play. He led the league in sacks for a second consecutive season and was second in tackles for loss, but I'd venture to guess that no defensive player was in the offensive backfield more. Quarterback hurries are a horribly inconsistent stat by nature, but no pass-rusher in the league was more skilled at making quarterbacks uncomfortable, forcing offenses to shift the pocket or making a quarterback throw the ball before he was ready. This year, however, he showed he can be solid in pass coverage, too, which has helped his NFL stock soar.

Despite being shut out by the coaches and the media, Miller was my pick for the league's defensive player of the year. He didn't finish the year empty-handed, though. He won the Butkus Award as college football's best linebacker, and should be a top five pick in next month's NFL draft. He was also one of the Big 12's eight consensus All-Americans.

He was at his best during conference play, and his numbers ballooned during the Aggies' toughest games, but unlike another Aggies player who A&M fans would like to see on this list, Miller had an excuse for his slow start. A sprained ankle limited him early on, and his first sack of the season actually didn't come until the team's fifth game, a loss to Arkansas. From then on Miller was the Big 12's best defensive player. He had 8.5 sacks in his final six games, including two sacks in both wins over Nebraska and Texas and 1.5 in a win over Oklahoma. He was also a big piece of the defense that stuffed the Sooners on the goal line three times during the game.

Nobody else in the Big 12 has his size (6-foot-3, 246 pounds) and speed (4.46 40-yard dash) and few anywhere in all of football possess that combination. Because of that, he'll have a chance to do big things at the next level.

We're down to No. 1 on our list now. Any guesses?

Hint 1: It took me roughly two seconds to put his name at the top of the list.

Hint 2: It's not Alex Henery.

Hint 3: It's not Malcolm Brown, either. (Or is it?)

Find out on Monday morning.

The rest of the list:

Ranking the Big 12's best players: No. 3

March, 17, 2011
3/17/11
1:00
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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.

[+] EnlargeRyan Broyles
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOKlahoma's Ryan Broyles could very well be the best receiver in school history.
No. 3: Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma

2010 numbers: Broyles caught 131 passes for 1,622 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also returned 35 punts an average of 7.88 yards.

Most recent ranking: Broyles was ranked No. 5 in our preseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Broyles: For most of his career Broyles has been one of the league's toughest covers. That didn't change in 2010, when his 131 receptions were 12 more than any other receiver in the country. That number is inflated by Oklahoma's use of the bubble screen, but why do you think the Sooners throw it so much? One-on-one, Broyles might be the hardest player in the league to lay a solid shot on. He's quick, elusive, and has arguably the best hands in the league. Rarely, if ever, will you see him drop a pass, and he's earned quarterback Landry Jones' trust that way.

Inflated reception totals or not, yards are yards, and Broyles accounted for at least 100 of them in 10 games last season. He also topped 200 yards once and had a pair of three-touchdown games in conference play. His 1,622 yards were third-most nationally, and helped him earn a well-deserved spot as a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the nation's best receiver.

He should end up there again in 2011 with another big season for the Sooners. Jones is back at quarterback and he also targeted sophomore Kenny Stills to help take some pressure off Broyles. Stills broke Broyles' freshman receiving record, but the senior-to-be holds every other receiving record in Oklahoma's record book. Last season was the best receiving season in Oklahoma history, and with a year to go, Broyles already has the career record. He holds the game records for yards and receptions and the season record for touchdowns and receptions. Only one record remains: Jermaine Gresham's four touchdowns in a single game in 2007. We'll see if he gets it in 2011.

The rest of the list:

Ranking the Big 12's best players: No. 4

March, 16, 2011
3/16/11
3:30
PM ET
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.

[+] EnlargeKendall Hunter
AP Photo, John A. BowersmithKendall 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:

Ranking the Big 12's best players: No. 5

March, 15, 2011
3/15/11
3:15
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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.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma's Jeremy Beal
AP Photo/LM OteroOklahoma defensive end Jeremy Beal often found himself in the opponent's backfield.
No. 5: Jeremy Beal, DE, Oklahoma

2010 numbers: Beal made 71 tackles, including 19 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He also forced three fumbles and broke up seven passes.

Most recent ranking: Beal was ranked No. 11 in our preseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Beal: The Sooners' four-year star should go down as one of the Big 12's great defenders of all time, and he capped his career with a great year. The 6-foot-3, 267-pound defensive end led the league in tackles for loss and ranked third in sacks. For all four years on the field, Beal was one of the Sooners' most consistent performers and if you couldn't find him on the field during a play, check the backfield. No. 44 was usually there.

Hard to believe defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who's been around quite awhile, didn't think Beal was suited for even his scout team the first time he saw him. That opinion changed when he saw the high school game tape, and at the end of Beal's career, there was no doubt he belonged. It's pretty clear he excelled. A pass-rusher and a run stopper, Beal could do a little of everything, and Oklahoma's defense benefited. Beal played in two BCS bowls and a national championship game during his career, and was a contributor for all four seasons -- a rarity in today's world of college football.

The rest of the list:

Ranking the Big 12's best players: No. 6

March, 14, 2011
3/14/11
2:45
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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.

[+] EnlargePrince Amukamara
Bruce Thorson/US PresswireBig 12 quarterbacks knew to stay away from Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara.
No. 6: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska

2010 numbers: Amukamara made 59 tackles and broke up 13 passes. He also had a sack.

Most recent ranking: Amukamara was ranked No. 13 in our preseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Amukamara: I said it when we launched this list: Amukamara is case No. 1 when it comes to the numbers not telling the whole story. Amukamara was already one of the league's best corners entering the season, and established himself as one of the nation's pre-eminent shutdown defenders. Entering the Big 12 Championship, Nebraska officials said Amukamara had been thrown at 43 times and given up just 13 receptions.

Speaking from experience, ask around the Big 12's top receivers and most won't have to think long to come up with the player most difficult to shake: Amukamara. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder is physical, fast, instinctive with ball skills that are a lot better than the "0" he fielded in the interception column this season after nabbing five in 2009. Watch him for a few plays, especially against receivers used to physically dominating smaller defenders without Amukamara's strength or physicality, and you'll see why quarterbacks were so tentative to throw his way.

The rest of the list:

Ranking the Big 12's best players: No. 7

March, 11, 2011
3/11/11
1:30
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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.

[+] EnlargeDaniel Thomas
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelDaniel Thomas rushed for 1,585 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2010.
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.

No. 7: Daniel Thomas, RB, Kansas State

2010 numbers: Thomas carried the ball 298 times for 1,585 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also caught 27 passes for 171 yards and completed 4 of 8 passes for 105 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

Most recent ranking: Thomas was ranked No. 2 in our preseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Thomas: His big year in 2009 gave way to an encore in 2010 that established Thomas as the Big 12's best running back. Unlike the other running backs on this list, DeMarco Murray and Kendall Hunter, Thomas isn't supported by a top-notch passing game. Oklahoma State and Oklahoma ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in passing offense in 2010, both averaging more than 340 yards passing per game.

Kansas State ranked ninth, with fewer than 180.

And yet, Thomas averaged less than half a yard less per carry than Hunter and nearly a full yard more than Murray. Defenses stacked the box to keep Thomas from beating them, and he did it anyway, enough times to carry the Wildcats back to a bowl game for the first time since 2006. Thomas is a balanced back with deceptive straight-line speed, and definitely the most instinctive back in the conference with the best vision. As impressive as his 1,585 yards were, the most in the Big 12 on the most carries with the most touchdowns, it's amazing how much more productive he could have been if the passing game had supported him a little more and softened up defenses so he had more room to operate.

The rest of the list:

Ranking the Big 12's best players: No. 8

March, 10, 2011
3/10/11
11:30
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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.

[+] EnlargeNate Solder
AP Photo/Darron CummingsColorado's Nate Solder is projected to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft.
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.

No. 8: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado

2010 numbers: Solder was the rock on an offensive line that paved the way for 1,642 rushing yards. Colorado's offensive line also gave up just 21 sacks on the year, tied for 4th in the Big 12.

Most recent ranking: Solder was ranked No. 6 in our preseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Solder: Don't worry about the total numbers for the Buffaloes, whose running game ranked 11th in the Big 12 last year. Solder got it done once again. And, for what it's worth, the Buffaloes' featured runner, Rodney Stewart, rushed for 1,316 yards. That's good for third in the Big 12 and suggest a deficiency of runners more than the offensive line.

It's especially encouraging for the Buffaloes who gave up 43 sacks a year ago and just 21 this year. The offensive line stayed healthy, and when Colorado ran the ball well, it won. That was the case in wins over Georgia and Colorado, and Stewart had big days against Iowa State and Kansas State in the team's only two conference wins of the year.

The rest of the list:

Ranking the Big 12's best players: No. 9

March, 9, 2011
3/09/11
4:45
PM ET
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.

[+] EnlargeSam Acho
AP Photo/Darren AbateTexas' Sam Acho finished with eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss last season.
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.

No. 9: Sam Acho, DL, Texas

2010 numbers: Acho made 58 tackles, including 15.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks. He also had 12 quarterback hurries, forced five fumbles and broke up a pass.

Most recent ranking: Acho was ranked No. 15 in our preseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Acho: Don't let the Longhorns' disappointing season be too much of a distraction: Acho put up an All-American caliber season as a senior and easily earned a spot in the top 10 of our ranking. He was the only Longhorn to truly impress this year, but he did it in a big way.

His five forced fumbles were second-most nationally, and his eight sacks were fourth-most in the league. His 15.5 tackles for loss were third in the league, too. Acho was a consistently disruptive force for a Longhorns defense that ended up being pretty underrated at season's end, thanks to the offensive struggles and team's overall record.

Few players in the league were in the backfield more and tougher to block than Acho, who was one of the team's defensive leaders. The 6-foot-3, 260-pounder won the Campbell Trophy, analogous to the Academic Heisman that's open to all sports, and earned a well-deserved unanimous spot on the All-Big 12 first team.

The two-year starter will be missed next year. He's expected to be selected during the first two days of the NFL Draft in April.

The rest of the list:

Ranking the Big 12's best players: No. 10

March, 8, 2011
3/08/11
1:15
PM ET
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? We're chatting later today. I'm ready if you are.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State's Brandon Weeden
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesBrandon Weeden passed for 4,277 yards and 34 touchdowns last season.
No. 10: Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State

2010 numbers: Weeden completed 342 of 511 passes for 4,277 yards, 34 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Most recent ranking: Weeden was unranked in our preseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Weeden: Weeden's placement on my list is going to naturally draw comparison to the man just below him, Oklahoma's Landry Jones, and that's not on accident.

It's very, very close between the two, but in comparing last year's performance, I lean Weeden for one big reason, the same reason I gave Weeden my vote on the All-Big 12 first team.

The biggest difference for me is looking at what happened in both teams' losses. Oklahoma lost to Missouri in part because of a complete fourth-quarter meltdown, not helped by Jones' performance. He was 0-of-7 with an interception in the final 15 minutes of the nine-point loss, which Oklahoma led entering the fourth quarter. It wasn't the only reason the Sooners' suffered their first loss, but the numbers say enough.

He also threw a pick in the red zone earlier in the game that Missouri returned 58 yards. The loss to Texas A&M wasn't Jones' fault, but you can't get shut out in the first half of a Big 12 road game and expect to win. At the core, I think plenty of the blame there hangs on the quarterback's shoulders.

Oklahoma State, meanwhile, played pretty well on offense in both losses. Weeden especially. He made big throws to try and keep up with Nebraska's offense and hit 18 of 35 passes for 283 yards against the Huskers' elite secondary. Weeden's performance against Nebraska was surpassed only by Jones, who helped beat the Huskers in the Big 12 title game.

Both threw three interceptions in their head-to-head matchup, but one of Jones' went for a touchdown the other way. From my perspective, it seems like Jones is much more apt to make the back-breaking mistake, and even Oklahoma fans would probably agree with that.

Weeden has Jones beat on yards per attempt (8.37 vs. 7.65), but considering how often Jones throws bubble passes as an extension of Oklahoma's running game, his pass attempts are somewhat inflated and the difference in yards per attempt is negligible. Those swing passes and 106 more attempts also negate the 500 more yards Jones threw for than Weeden, which illustrates just how close these two really are. It's really a coin flip.

Both are basically equals when they're at their best, but if I'm picking a quarterback, I want consistency. Weeden best personifies that, and in one season, has established himself as the Big 12's best quarterback and the league's No. 10 player.

The rest of the list:

Ranking the Big 12's best players: No. 11

March, 7, 2011
3/07/11
1:15
PM ET
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.

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Mark Zerof/US PresswireOklahoma's Landry Jones threw for 38 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions last season.
No. 11: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma

2010 numbers: Jones completed 405-of-617 passes for 4,718 yards, 38 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Most recent ranking: Jones was ranked No. 23 in our preseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Jones: He made the kind of improvement from his freshman to sophomore year you'd expect from a quarterback loaded with potential. After a rough outing in the opener against Utah State, Jones rolled through the rest of the season without a truly terrible game, which was solid considering he had at least two -- against Texas and Nebraska -- in 2009. As a result, his completion percentage jumped to 65.6 percent from 58.1 in 2009. He threw the most interceptions in the Big 12 with 14 as a freshman, but in 2010 he threw 12 more touchdowns and two fewer interceptions, despite throwing the ball 168 more times. His 617 attempts were the most in the nation, which says plenty about the confidence the Sooners' staff has in its quarterback, who should continue to improve as a junior in 2011.

He was helped by the emergence of freshman Kenny Stills, giving the Sooners a consistent second receiving option that wasn't there when Jones was a freshman. The offensive line helped quite a bit, too. They improved and stayed healthy, two necessities for Oklahoma to get back to Big 12 title-worthy football, which it clearly played in the 2010 season.

Jones took his play on the road for three big-time performances away from Owen Field, helping the Sooners beat rival Oklahoma State in Stillwater to win the Big 12 South. Oklahoma also beat Nebraska in Dallas to win the Big 12, and Connecticut in Glendale, Ariz., to win the Fiesta Bowl.

Jones had Oklahoma's offense humming (10th nationally in total offense, averaging more than 482 yards per game) throughout the 2010 season, and with his favorite target -- Biletnikoff Award finalist Ryan Broyles -- returning, that should continue to be the case in 2011.

The rest of the list:

Ranking the Big 12's best players: No. 12

March, 4, 2011
3/04/11
10:30
AM ET
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.

[+] EnlargeLavonte David
AP Photo/Nati HarnikLavonte David led the Big 12 last season with 152 tackles, a Nebraska single-season record.
No. 12: Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska

2010 numbers: David made 152 tackles, including 12.5 tackles for loss and made six sacks with eight passes broken up.

Most recent ranking: David was unranked in our preseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for David: The Huskers linebacker was everywhere for the Blackshirts in 2010. His 152 tackles were 19 more than anyone else in the Big 12 and third-most nationally. The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder burst on the scene in his first season of major college football. Racking up stops is nothing new for David, though. As a juco star in 2009, he tackled some guy named Cam Newton 18 times in the national championship against Blinn (Texas) when he was at Fort Scott (Kan.).

David carried over that instinct and nose for the ballcarrier to the Blackshirts defense, flying around to make tackles and excelled in coverage as well. He racked up 16 stops in the conference opener against run-heavy Kansas State and finished with eight double-digit tackle performances in 13 games. With one more year left, he'll try to prove he can handle bigger linemen and bigger backs as a senior in the Big Ten with the Huskers.

The rest of the list:

Ranking the Big 12's best players: No. 13

March, 3, 2011
3/03/11
2:00
PM ET
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.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin
AP Photo/Jack DempseyRobert Griffin is the most dangerous dual-threat quarterback in the conference.
No. 13: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

2010 numbers: Griffin completed 304 of 454 passes for 3,501 yards and 22 touchdowns, with eight interceptions. He also rushed for 635 yards and eight touchdowns on 149 carries.

Most recent ranking: Griffin was ranked No. 10 in our preseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Griffin: He provided one of the league's most heavily scrutinized offseason storylines, constantly answering questions about the status of his knee. A torn ACL in 2009 sent him to the sidelines for the last nine games of the year and raised questions about what he'd be like when he returned. He answered those questions quickly. He returned as a much, much more polished passer and just as capable of a runner. Defenses were more prepared to slow him, but his yards per carry didn't change much from his freshman season (4.87) to the 2010 season (4.26). That's not much of a difference.

As a passer, he completed 67 percent of his passes compared to 59 percent as a freshman. His 454 attempts were plenty more than his 267 as a freshman, but he turned them into 3,501 yards versus 2,091 as a freshman. It's only up to 7.8 yards per attempt versus 7.7 as a freshman, but the big jump in completion percentage is a great sign for his growth. Getting better there means moving the chains and keeping Baylor's offense on the field. Most importantly, the Bears finished with seven wins and to earn their first bowl berth since 1994. Griffin is the biggest reason why, and he'll try to build on that as a junior in 2011, bringing back all five of his top receivers. In both the 2008 and 2010 seasons, he struggled against elite teams, and the Bears have come within single digits of a ranked team just twice in eight games with Griffin under center, all losses. To get better than seven wins and maybe make a run at the Big 12 title, that will definitely have to change.

Don't worry too much about Griffin falling three spots from the preseason to the postseason. He did about what I expected, and by my count, six players that were below him in the preseason list are above him now, so it's not as if he did anything to drop. He's the Big 12's best dual-threat quarterback and that likely won't change in 2011.

The rest of the list:

Ranking the Big 12's best players: No. 14

March, 2, 2011
3/02/11
1:30
PM ET
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.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State's Levy Adcock
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtLevy Adcock (73) and the rest of the Oklahoma State offensive line allowed just 10 sacks while paving the way for 2,267 rushing yards.
No. 14: Levy Adcock, RT, Oklahoma State

2010 numbers: Adcock was the starter on an offensive line that surrendered just 10 sacks in 2010, eight fewer than the next best in the Big 12. The Cowboys also ran for 2,267 yards this season, one of just three teams in the Big 12 with a yards per carry average of over five yards.

Most recent ranking: Adcock was unranked in our preseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Adcock: Oklahoma State threw the ball 532 times this season, third-most in the Big 12. Adcock made it through the season without giving up one of the Cowboys' 10 sacks. Offensive line coach Joe Wickline graded out his tackle at over 80 percent every game this year, and he even topped out with a 100 percent grade in a road win over Texas, which boasted a solid defensive line with talents like Sam Acho and Kheeston Randall.

For his efforts, the 6-foot-6, 322-pound Adcock was a unanimous All-Big 12 first-team selection and is one-fifth of a Cowboys offensive line that all return for the 2011 season.

The rest of the list:

Ranking the Big 12's best players: No. 15

March, 1, 2011
3/01/11
11:00
AM ET
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.

[+] EnlargeNebraska's Alfonzo Dennard
AP Photo/Dave WeaverNebraska's Alfonzo Dennard intercepted four passes last season.
No. 15: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska

2010 numbers: Dennard made 30 tackles, intercepted four passes and returned one for a touchdown. He also forced a fumble and broke up seven passes.

Most recent ranking: Dennard was unranked in our preseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Dennard: Admittedly, I'm a little higher on Dennard than others who cover the conference, considering I gave him the second cornerback slot on my All-Big 12 first team. He had to settle for second-team on the media and coaches' All-Big 12 teams.

That said, this isn't about numbers. Dennard, next to his teammate, Prince Amukamara, is the Big 12's second-best shutdown corner. Squeezing a ball into receivers covered by Dennard is extremely difficult: Ask Jake Locker. Want to know why Dennard didn't make a tackle against Washington in the Huskers' 56-21 win? Locker completed only 4-of-20 passes and one of those 20 made it into Dennard's hands. He promptly returned it 31 yards for a score.

He was one of the Big 12's breakout stars in 2010, but still didn't quite get enough respect nationally because he lined up across from Amukamara. Even still, there are at least a few people who cover Nebraska football for a living who would agree that there's definitely a debate about who Nebraska's best cornerback in 2010 was.

Perhaps the scariest thing about Dennard is he's still going to get better. He has decent size for a corner (5-10, 195), but he'll have a great shot at being an All-American as a senior in 2011 in the Big Ten.

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