Big 12: Big 12 top 10 all-time

We've spent two weeks counting it down, and we're finally at the top. It's been quite a ride, but it's time to bring our list to a close. I may have a Top 10 players complaint mailbag next week if necessary, so if you've got complaints, let's hear them.

We'll tackle the list of guys who just missed the list sometime next week, but without further ado, here's my pick for the greatest player in the Big 12 history.

Here's more on my criteria.

No. 1: Vince Young, QB, Texas

Why he's No. 1: No player in Big 12 history was more singularly responsible for a national title. Texas had a strong team in 2005, but Vince Young's run through that season made history. Before Young, no quarterback had ever thrown for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards. On the way to a national title, Young threw for 3,036 and 26 touchdowns, adding 1,050 rushing yards and 12 scores. A few others have achieved the feat since, but it was unheard of before Young, who finished his career with an absurd 30-2 record as a starting quarterback. That record included six fourth-quarter comebacks and the greatest BCS title game performance ever by an individual.

Against USC's so-called "Greatest Team Ever," Young racked up 267 passing yards and 200 rushing yards, capped by a game-winning scramble on fourth down to put the Longhorns ahead, 41-38, and end the Trojans' 34-game winning streak. It's the last time a non-SEC team won a national title, and Young's development as a passer that season helped Texas reach new heights. He rushed for 1,000 yards in 2004 on the way to a Rose Bowl win against Michigan, but threw for just 1,849 yards and 12 touchdowns. He helped carry Texas to a 24-1 record in 2004 and 2005 combined, the fewest losses in any two-year stretch of Mack Brown's career. Even as far back as 2003, his redshirt freshman year, he rushed for 998 yards and took over the starting job in the middle of the season, going 6-1.

Young never won a Heisman Trophy, but did win the Davey O'Brien Trophy and the Maxwell Award in 2005. The lack of membership in that hallowed college football fraternity is nothing more than a footnote in the career of the greatest Big 12 player of all-time.

The rest of the list:
We're in the middle of counting down the top 10 players in the history of the Big 12. I'm sure you'll all agree with my selections.

See more on my criteria here.

Let's move on with the list:

No. 3: Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska (2005-09)

Why he's on the list: Suh's career had modest beginnings, and coach Bo Pelini famously almost told the Oregon native to take a hike when he took over the Huskers job before the 2008 season. Instead, Suh bought in and became the Big 12's most decorated and best defender ever in two years as a starter. We're not taking his NFL career into account, but colleague Mel Kiper called Suh the most dominating defensive tackle in college football he'd seen in 32 years. Suh's greatest achievement was becoming a Heisman finalist as a defensive tackle in 2009, and I've always believed he should have won the award ahead of Alabama's Mark Ingram, who was arguably the second-best running back on that Alabama team that won the national title. Suh was simply the most dominant player in college football that season, impacting every game he played and just about every snap.

Do you know how hard it is to lead a team in tackles as a defensive tackle? Suh did it twice. He had 43 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks in two seasons as a starter. In 2009, he collected an absurd amount of hardware: He was the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year and he won the Lombardi Award, the Nagurski Trophy and the Bednarik Award. He was also a unanimous All-American and a finalist for the Camp Award as college football's best player. Nebraska's defense in 2009 was one of the best in Big 12 history, and the team fell just short of the Big 12 title. That's not Suh's fault. His performance against a big-time Texas offense in the title game was one of the best I've ever seen. Against the Longhorns, led by senior quarterback Colt McCoy (No. 5 on our list of top Big 12 players), he made 12 tackles and 4.5 sacks, racking up a school record seven tackles for loss. He was everywhere, and it seemed like he was in McCoy's face on every snap.

All season long, Suh was unblockable. Only two players are blocking him from being the greatest Big 12 player of all-time.

The rest of the list:
We're in the middle of counting down the top 10 players in the history of the Big 12. I'm sure you'll all agree with my selections.

See more on my criteria here.

Let's move on with the list:

No. 4: Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma (2006-2009)

Why he's on the list: Bradford was Oklahoma's starting quarterback for only two seasons, really, but they were two of the best of any quarterback in college football history. He finished his career as college football's all-time leader in career passer rating, at 175.62, but his season in 2008 was one of the greatest statistical years of any major quarterback ever. He tossed 50 touchdowns to just eight interceptions while helping Oklahoma score more points than any offense in college football history.

Bradford was as accurate as any quarterback to ever play college football, but he had a huge arm and made great decisions constantly. He was a modest, three-star recruit who struggled late in his high school career, but racked up 36 touchdowns and just eight interceptions after winning the Oklahoma job as a redshirt freshman in 2007. He threw for 8,403 yards in just over two seasons as the Sooners' starter, and fell just short in 2008 of grabbing Oklahoma's eighth national title. He finished that season with a Heisman Trophy, as well as the Davey O'Brien Award and the Sammy Baugh Trophy. He thrashed Missouri in the Big 12 title game in both seasons as a Sooners, earning a pair of Big 12 championship rings.

His career ended in frustrating fashion, essentially with a shoulder injury in the 2009 season opener. He came back in the middle of the season but re-injured it early in a loss to Texas and never made the field again as a Sooner after electing to undergo season-ending surgery. The St. Louis Rams made him the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NFL draft.

The rest of the list:
We're in the middle of counting down the top-10 players in the history of the Big 12. I'm sure you'll all agree with my selections.

See more on my criteria here.

Let's move on with the list:

No. 5: Colt McCoy, QB, Texas (2005-09)

Why he's on the list: McCoy started 53 games at Texas and won 45. Until Kellen Moore came along at Boise State, that was more than any quarterback in the history of college football, and it's one of the stats that defined McCoy's stellar career. Along the way, he was the portrait of consistency, carrying Texas football to great heights throughout his four years as starter. He was merely a three-star recruit from tiny Tuscola, Texas, but did more than anyone could have expected without possessing rare physical attributes like a huge arm or frame. He was deceptively fast and ran for 1,589 yards and 20 touchdowns to rank No. 3 all-time for Texas quarterbacks. Oh, and there were those 13,253 passing yards and 112 touchdowns, both school records. He also completed more than 70 percent of his passes. He completed nearly 77 percent in 2008, and was the only two-time All-American at quarterback in Texas history. No quarterback in NCAA history has won 10 games in all four seasons as a starting quarterback. Sure, McCoy had a lot of help with the Longhorns, but no way does that happen without McCoy's efforts.

He never captured a Heisman trophy, but the list of awards he did win rivals that of any player in history. He won the Walter Camp Award twice and the Davey O'Brien Award and Maxwell Award as a senior in 2009. His career came to a crushing end with a fluky shoulder injury in the first quarter of the 2010 BCS National Championship Game, robbing him of a chance to end the SEC's run of national titles. Who knows how that game might have turned out if he had remained healthy, but that forgettable finale was only a footnote on what was otherwise one of the greatest college careers ever.

The rest of the list:
We're in the middle of counting down the top-10 players in the history of the Big 12. I'm sure you'll all agree with my selections.

See more on my criteria here.

Let's move on with the list:

No. 6: Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma (2004-06)

Why he's on the list: I kind of hate having Peterson this low on the list, because he easily could have been No. 1 if injuries hadn't derailed his college career. Still, though you have to wonder what could have been, what was ... was amazing. He was robbed of the 2004 Heisman, and if he'd put together that kind of freshman season in a post-Manziel world, there's no way he wouldn't have brought home another Heisman to Oklahoma, even with Jason White stealing a few votes from Peterson, who lost out to Matt Leinart. Still, cracking 100 yards in his first nine games ever and finishing a freshman season with 1,925 yards is one of the best seasons ever. In the NFL he finally had a chance to showcase the potential he showed in college. An ankle injury limited him in 2005 and a broken collarbone in 2006 left him just 73 yards short of breaking Billy Sims' career rushing record at Oklahoma.

Peterson ran with anger back then and you still see it in the NFL now. He was drafted seventh overall in 2007, but Peterson is a rare back that runs like he's planning to score a touchdown every time he touches the ball. He's got the speed to break huge runs, but loved lowering his shoulder and leveling defenders. He was a can't-miss recruit from Palestine, Texas who Oklahoma grabbed from their rival Longhorns in a hyped recruiting battle, and he proved to be every bit the player the Sooners hoped. He was a unanimous All-American in 2004 but lost out on the Doak Walker Award to Cedric Benson.

The fact he never won one of the major national awards is a minor footnote on a career for a player who has a case for the best running back to ever play the game.

The rest of the list:
Over the next couple weeks, we're counting down the top 10 players in the history of the Big 12. I'm sure you'll all agree with my selections.

See more on my criteria here.

Let's move on with the list:

No. 7: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor (2008-11)

Why he's on the list: Griffin made his grand debut in Art Briles' first game as Baylor coach, stepping in to relieve Kirby Freeman and immediately looked special. His numbers weren't eye-popping, but he gave Baylor one big thing: Hope. He gave them a lot more than hope over the next four years, surging back from a knee injury in 2009 to take the Bears to their first bowl game since 1994 in 2010. He tossed 22 touchdowns and just eight picks while running for 635 yards and eight more scores. But his greatest work came in 2011. He put Baylor on the map with big-time upset wins over TCU and Oklahoma at home, keying off a pair of field stormings. The latter upset thrust him back into the Heisman Trophy race, and he won it on the way to a 10-win season and a win in the Alamo Bowl. No player in Big 12 history has changed a program the way Griffin changed Baylor, and that makes him an easy selection for the top 10. His quick wit and thoughtful words with a microphone in his face made him one of the league's most memorable personalities. His Heisman speech will go down as one of the best ever.

His speed made him dangerous, but there was never any doubt that he was a throw-first quarterback. He grew into that role even more after his knee injury. Even with those skill sets, his gigantic third-down reception on a trick play against TCU, that's one of the plays I'll remember him most for. He was drafted No. 2 overall in the 2012 NFL draft and threw one of the prettiest deep balls in college football history.

The rest of the list:
Over the next couple weeks, we're counting down the top 10 players in the history of the Big 12. I'm sure you'll all agree with my selections.

See more on my criteria here.

Let's move on with the lsit:

No. 8: Jason White, QB, Oklahoma (1999-2004)

Why he's on the list: White's career was all about fighting through injuries, and there aren't many who could do what White did through major knee surgeries on both knees. That meant he had almost no mobility after 2002, but White left Oklahoma as one of the school's most decorated quarterbacks in a program that's been full of them since Bob Stoops' arrival.

White threw 40 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions and racked up 3,846 passing yards in 2003 to win the Heisman Trophy and lead Oklahoma to the national championship game after an undefeated regular season. He also collected the Davey O'Brien Award and the unanimous All-American was named the AP's Player of the Year. (For and all of Oklahoma's sake, we won't talk about that Big 12 Championship game.) His career was given another year of life after the NCAA granted him a medical hardship that allowed him to play in 2004. He led the Sooners back to the national title game and won the O'Brien Trophy again, collecting the Maxwell Award, too. He never got that elusive national title, but threw for 35 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2004 and easily earned a status as one of the all-time greats in a storied Oklahoma program.

His knee injuries prevented him from having an NFL career, but White's moved on to a career as a successful businessman with a statue outside Owen Field for winning his Heisman and a name Sooner fans will never forget.

The rest of the list:
Over the next couple weeks, we're counting down the top 10 players in the history of the Big 12. I'm sure you'll all agree with my selections.

See more on my criteria here.

Let's move on with the lsit:

No. 9: Roy Williams, S, Oklahoma (1999-2001)

Why he's on the list: Williams will hold a special place in Oklahoma history as the starting safety and the best player for the Sooners' seventh national title team back in 2000. That was Bob Stoops' second season at OU and Oklahoma hasn't taken home the crystal football since. Williams was one of the hardest hitters in Big 12 history and was a trailblazer for a position that's become commonplace in the Big 12. It's colloquially referred to as the "Roy" position by some around the program, but the 220-pounder was a safety who played closer to the line of scrimmage as a linebacker and introduced a lot more speed. It's not the exact same, but most programs call it the nickel back now, though Williams defended in a Big 12 with a lot less passing. Nobody at Oklahoma's been as good at doing what Williams did, but he cemented his legacy with one of the most famous plays in school history.

Nursing a 7-3 lead in the final minutes of the 2001 Red River Rivalry, Williams lept over the defensive line and hit Chris Simms a split second after the snap, knocking the ball loose and into Teddy Lehman's hands for a touchdown to clinch the win. That season, Williams won the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation's top defender and collected the Thorpe Award as the game's best defensive back, earning unanimous All-American honors along the way. He left Oklahoma a season early to pursue his lengthy NFL career that included five Pro Bowls, but there's no doubt about his status as one of the best and most influential defenders in college football history, much less Big 12 history.

The rest of the list:
Last month, in the days following the NFL draft, the St. Louis Rams released a photo of quarterback Sam Bradford and newly drafted receiver Tavon Austin. I noted on Twitter it was a photo of two of the best 10 players to ever step on the field in a Big 12 game.

Your response was overwhelming: "Let's see the full list!"

Your wish is my command. First things first, here are my criteria:
  • Pro career is not factored into the ranking.
  • Players who played at least one season in the Big 12 have their entire careers factored into the list (For example, guys like Geno Smith and Taylor Martinez would be equally eligible for the list, and their entire career is taken into account.)
  • I approach the list like this: Knowing how each player's career would look, I'm drafting them at the beginning of their careers and starting a team with them.

Let's get started:

No. 10: Tavon Austin, WR/RB/KR/PR, West Virginia

Why he's on the list: Austin doesn't have the hardware of guys like Justin Blackmon or Michael Crabtree, but he's got a wider variance of skill sets and for my money, the league has never seen a more elusive player. Look no further than his destruction of Oklahoma's defense last season when he racked up 572 all-purpose yards, including 344 rushing yards in a game after spending almost no time at the position historically. Austin topped 100 catches and 1,000 yards in each of his last two seasons, but made a name for himself as a return man, too.

When he got the ball in his hands in the open field, he did things nobody in Big 12 history could do, highlighted by his quickness and change of direction. Add his high-end speed to that package, and you've got a talent Big 12 fans will never forget.

Austin led the nation in all-purpose yards in 2011 and finished second in 2012. He was named the Paul Hornung Award winner as the nation's most versatile talent and won the Johnny Rodgers Award as the nation's best return man this season, capping a career with consecutive seasons as a first-team All-American.

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