Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Special teams are becoming more important across the Big 12 because of increased parity in the conference. And it could be even bigger this season as coaches believe the conference will be more tightly packed than in any previous season.
Want an idea how important some coaches consider this facet of the game? Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is seriously considering using Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree as a kick returner because of his big-play abilities.
Iowa State coach Gene Chizik already has stocked his special teams with starters after the Cyclones were repeatedly burned in that facet last season.
It should make key producers on special teams even more valuable. Here's my choice of the 10 best special teams players in the conference.
1. Missouri KR/PR Jeremy Maclin: Produced more all-purpose yards than any freshman in history last season and could be poised for an even bigger season as a sophomore.
2. Oklahoma KR DeMarco Murray: Led the conference in kickoff returns and could be emerging as the Sooners' top rushing threat.
3. Missouri K Jeff Wolfert: Former scholarship diver who has never missed a kick in Big 12 conference play.
4. Kansas State PR Deon Murphy: Led the conference in punt returns last season and should be ticketed for more use as a receiver in 2008.
5. Texas Tech CB L.A. Reed: Devastating special teams player earned himself a defensive starting position after starting his career at wide receiver because of his head-hunting propensity in covering kicks.
6. Texas A&M P Justin Brantley: Conference's leading returning punter boomed kicks for an average of 44.2 yards per kick last season.
7. Kansas State K Brooks Rossman: Best long-range kicker in the league after hitting career-long 52-yarder against Colorado.
8. Texas K Ryan Bailey: Reliable kicker who earned back-to-back Big 12 special teams player of the week honors last season.
9. Texas KR-PR Quan Cosby: Veteran player who is adept at returning kickoffs and punts.
10. Texas Tech P Jonathan LeCour: Seldom used because of the Red Raiders' explosive offensive attack, but still averaged 43.2 yard per kick in conference games to lead all returning players.