I'll take a page from fellow blogger Chris Low out east in the SEC and take some time to recognize the elder statesmen of the Big 12. We'll tackle the South right now and if you missed it, here's who deserved recognition from the North.
There's plenty of talented underclassmen across the Big 12 -- 10 members of the All-Big 12 first team carry the designation -- but every program needs solid seniors on the field and in the locker room.
With the exception of junior college transfers, these are players who gave everything they had to a program for four and five years. As such, here's a salute to guys who meant a lot to their teams this year:
Danny Watkins, LT, Baylor: The former fireman and Canadian native has been a mainstay on the Bears' offensive line the past two seasons after transferring from junior college. He turned 26 last month, and for all the attention that a quarterback in the Big 12's age has gotten this year, Watkins was pretty valuable to his team, too. The perspective that comes with having gone into the work force after high school rather than straight into big time college football can be passed down to Baylor's young talent. Watkins, in fact, never even played football until he went to junior college.
Jeremy Beal, DE, Oklahoma: Beal has quietly gone about his business the past three years, while others around him like Gerald McCoy, Sam Bradford or Travis Lewis have become perhaps more well-known Sooners during his time. Beal came to Oklahoma in 2006, but in his final three seasons, he never had fewer than 8.5 sacks, and developed a reputation as one of the league's best pure pass rushers, earning the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year nod from the media.
Kendall Hunter, RB, Oklahoma State: Hunter's well-known for being a man of few words, but his play did plenty of talking in 2010, giving the Cowboys an edge on the ground that few spread offenses possess. Returning from a frustrating ankle injury, he ran for 1,516 yards to lead the Big 12 in rushing, his second career season with at least 1,500 yards. That earned him Doak Walker Award finalist status, and a trip to the college football awards last week.
Sam Acho, DE, Texas: Texas had a year to forget in 2010, but Acho didn't play like it. He was certainly one of the only ones, and at the Longhorns' team banquet over the weekend, earned at least a share of nine of the 14 awards given out to the Longhorns players. There was plenty of distinction elsewhere, including the distinguished, so-called "Academic Heisman" and All-Big 12 honors for a year with eight sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss, and five forced fumbles. He also earned a spot on the AFCA Good Works Team for his work with his parents as missionaries in Nigeria.
Jerrod Johnson, QB, Texas A&M: Johnson grew up an Aggie outside Houston, and if his teammates weren't as sure about what that really meant, Johnson took it upon himself to educate them. Then, when faced with the toughest situation of his life on the field, Johnson lived it. He was benched midseason for Ryan Tannehill, but spent the last half of the year doing nothing but helping Tannehill succeed and supporting his teammates on the sidelines. Texas A&M had one of its best seasons in Big 12 history this year, and though Johnson wasn't playing, his off-the-field efforts had a lot to do with the successes of the Aggies on it.
Colby Whitlock, DT, Texas Tech: Whitlock was one of the most important pieces of Texas Tech's defense up front, helping plug up the middle with 8.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. That's nothing new, of course. Whitlock's been a consistent contributor for the Red Raiders defense for four seasons. In those years, he's racked up 31 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks.