Big 12: most indispensable 2013

We're walking through each Big 12 team and identifying its most irreplaceable talent. He's the guy they can least afford to lose, and the guy to whom an injury or departure would have the most effect.

Let's move on with Baylor.

More most indispensable players.

Most indispensable player: QB Bryce Petty

2012 stats: Completed 7 of 10 passes for 97 yards and one touchdown.

Why Baylor can't afford to lose him: Hear me out on this one. No single defender is even close to this, and the "obvious" choice is Lache Seastrunk. After all, once he became the starter, the Bears went 5-1 with the lone loss by one possession on the road to Big 12 co-champion Oklahoma. Before that, Baylor was slumming it at the bottom of the Big 12 at 0-4 in league play.

Yes, that's true, but the defense's late surge and metamorphosis into one of the Big 12's top three defenses had as much to do with that winning streak as Seastrunk, and Baylor's depth at the position hurts Seastrunk when you start talking about being "indispensable." Seastrunk can do things with the ball in his hands nobody else can do and make people miss that no one else can make miss, but Glasco Martin averaged nearly five yards a carry last season and is definitely capable.

Petty is low on real game experience, but I know what I've seen with my own eyes. I've seen what he's capable of in practice for three years, and the gap between Petty and backup Seth Russell is much bigger than anyone thought before the spring. As he's gotten experience with the first team, that's surely grown.

I buy Seastrunk as Baylor's best player, but the Bears would find the team suffering most with the loss of Petty. It won't take long for him to shine and prove that this fall. The combination of NFL quarterback physical skills and four years in an offensive system that's proven its effectiveness time and time again should make Petty a star. I've been preaching it all offseason, and Petty has the ability to take Baylor's offense to the next level. He's more physically gifted than Nick Florence, and if he can prove himself as a better decision-maker, he'll quickly emerge as one of the Big 12's best players.
We're walking through each Big 12 team and identifying its most irreplaceable talent. He's the guy they can least afford to lose, and the guy to whom an injury or departure would have the most effect.

Let's move on with Iowa State.

More most indispensable players.

Most indispensable player: S Jacques Washington

2012 stats: 90 tackles, three interceptions, three pass breakups, two tackles for loss, one forced fumble.

Why Iowa State can't afford to lose him: It's all about experience here. Iowa State's not loaded with star power heading into 2013, but a three-year starter at one of the most important positions on the field in the Big 12 is huge. Washington has made 192 tackles in the past two seasons and enters his third year as the Cyclones' free safety.

The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Owasso, Okla., native is underrated at his position, but gives Iowa State's defense some much-needed leadership. He has the physical skills necessary to be a great player, but he hasn't been truly great just yet, and the Cyclones' secondary has been a little streaky the past couple years, with some memorable games mixed in with more frequent rough outings. ISU's pass defense was right in the middle of the Big 12 last season in about every statistic, but if they're going to jump back to being a top defense under defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, Washington's going to have to be the guy who leads the way.

If the defense improves and Washington can help limit Iowa State's big plays over the top, there's going to be a whole lot less pressure on ISU's offense to produce big plays it's not necessarily built to make. Washington earned All-Big 12 honorable mention honors a year ago, and in addition to the quality of his play, there's no one on the roster behind him who could equal his experience and leadership. That makes him a must-have player for the Cyclones.
We're walking through each Big 12 team and identifying its most irreplaceable talent. He's the guy they can least afford to lose, and the guy to whom an injury or departure would have the most effect.

Let's move on with Kansas.

More most indispensable players.

Most indispensable player: QB Jake Heaps

2012 stats: Redshirted after transferring from BYU.

Why Kansas can't afford to lose him: It's all about what's left. No doubt about it: I feel silly picking a player here that hasn't played a snap for the Jayhawks. Still, there's something to be said for Heaps' performances in his limited public performances as a Jayhawk, and we saw what the only other quarterback currently on the roster -- Michael Cummings -- had to offer last season. It wasn't pretty. You need great quarterback play to win in this league, and KU hasn't had anything close to it since Todd Reesing's departure. Cummings can't offer that, at least not yet. There's no guarantee that Heaps will (lesson learned from Dayne Crist last season), but he definitely offers a hope of competence at the position, with hope of something better.

Heaps' numbers at BYU weren't fantastic. He completed just over 57 percent of his passes and threw for 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, but he's so far above the bar at KU for quarterback, he has the ability to make a huge impact. He's unlikely to be one of the top 5-6 quarterbacks in the Big 12, but Kansas has been so far behind the rest of the Big 12 at the position for the past few years, Heaps has a great shot to offer some much-needed help. Heaps has impressed the coaches with his accuracy and ability to step into an immediate leadership role as an experienced, older player, who also happens to be married.

Kansas is trying to build and trying to break a 21-game losing streak in the Big 12, as well as distance themselves of a 1-33 skid over their last 34 Big 12 games since the 2009 Big 12 opener. You'll see the most improvement with an upgrade at quarterback. Heaps is likely to provide that and as such, is definitely KU's most indispensable player.
We're walking through each Big 12 team and identifying its most irreplaceable talent. He's the guy they can least afford to lose, and the guy to whom an injury or departure would have the most effect.

Let's move on with Kansas State.

More most indispensable players.

Most indispensable player: RB John Hubert

2012 stats: 189 carries, 947 yards, 15 touchdowns. 18 receptions, 98 yards, TD.

Why Kansas State can't afford to lose him: With this K-State team, who really knows? By the end of the season, this could all change, but entering 2013, there's no question to me that Hubert is the guy K-State can least afford to lose. The Waco, Texas native has tons of experience and topped 945 yards in each of the past two seasons. K-State should be strong on the offensive line, which returns all five starters and lost just one player on the final season depth chart along the O-line.

There's no Collin Klein, but Jake Waters or Daniel Sams' stepping into Klein's shoes gets a whole lot easier with Hubert in the backfield. Most important, he'll be productive and should top 1,000 yards. A good offensive line and a consistent running game makes any quarterback look a whole lot better. That applies to Waters or Sams. Without that running game, it could get very ugly for the young guys.

Hubert's biggest asset is he plays so, so much bigger than 5-foot-7 and 191 pounds. His center of gravity is low and he runs with a ton of power. He's tough to bring down and after losing Angelo Pease, K-State doesn't really have another running back on its roster that it can truly count on. Robert Rose is next on the depth chart, but the 5-foot-4, 176-pound senior has little experience and 13 career carries. Hubert's been really durable and that's a great sign for the Wildcats, who don't have much doubt as to their most indispensable player heading into their Big 12 title defense in 2013.
We're walking through each Big 12 team and identifying its most irreplaceable talent. He's the guy they can least afford to lose, and the guy to whom an injury or departure would have the most effect.

Let's move on with Oklahoma.

More most indispensable players.

Most indispensable player: OL Gabe Ikard

Why Oklahoma can't afford to lose him: This was a tough pick, and I narrowed it down to three players: CB Aaron Colvin, LB Corey Nelson and Ikard. Oklahoma doesn't have any All-Americans on this roster in terms of pure talent, so it's tough to look at one player and say, "Man, if Oklahoma loses him, they're a completely different team." There's just not a guy like that on Oklahoma's roster.

Still, I point to Ikard because he's held down Oklahoma's offensive line together even as it was trimmed to a razor-thin unit. It was a unit basically reduced to five guys that couldn't afford to sit for exhaustion or injury at the end of 2012. He's the most talented player on the Sooners' offensive line and showed some versatility by moving over to center from left guard last year following Ben Habern's injury in preseason camp.

With a new quarterback, strong play up front on the offensive line is a must-have. That's going to make life easier on any quarterback, but the gap between an inexperienced quarterback with a good offensive line and a poor offensive line is enormous. That extra second or two in the pocket can be the difference between 10-15 percent of third-down conversions to keep the ball, move the chains and put points on the board. Ikard's the biggest key and most experienced member of the Sooners' line with 38 career starts entering the season. Oklahoma simply can't afford to lose him. It just might be the difference between an eight-win season and an 11-win season.
We're walking through each Big 12 team and identifying its most irreplaceable talent. He's the guy they can least afford to lose, and the guy to whom an injury or departure would have the most effect.

Let's move on with Oklahoma State.

More most indispensable players.

Most indispensable player: WR Josh Stewart

2012 stats: 101 catches for 1,210 yards and seven touchdowns. Rushed eight times for 120 yards and a touchdown. Returned two punts for 73 yards.

Why OSU can't afford to lose him: Truth be told, Oklahoma State's offense would still be OK if it lost Stewart, but that's a testament to the depth and balance of OSU's team more than anything. Still, Stewart is the only thing close to an elite receiver on OSU's roster. He still has a ways to go to prove himself as a guy on the Biletnikoff-contending level of some of the recent Big 12 greats, but did you realize he had more than three times as many catches as any player on OSU's roster, and more than twice as many receiving yards?

That's a ton of production. OSU's receiving corps is deep. Nine players had double-digit receptions and at least 150 receiving yards last season, and seven of those nine players return. Stewart is the guy defenses must focus on most, and he was obviously the most consistent target in the OSU passing game, which powered through a turbulent, injury-filled season in 2012.

There's no reason to believe Stewart won't be even better for the Cowboys as a junior in 2013, and in a pass-first offense in Stillwater, he'll have plenty of opportunities to surpass his strong production from his sophomore season in 2012. His production last season was way, way overshadowed because of guys like Tavon Austin, Terrance Williams and Stedman Bailey putting up crazy numbers in the Big 12.
We're walking through each Big 12 team and identifying its most irreplaceable talent on the blog right now. He's the guy they can least afford to lose and the guy to whom an injury or departure would have the most effect.

Let's move on with Texas.

More most indispensable players.

Most indispensable player: QB David Ash

Texas is pretty close to being one of the most complete teams in the Big 12 on paper, but Ash holds a lot of that together. The Longhorns have legitimate Big 12 title aspirations, but it's not happening with Case McCoy at quarterback for the conference season. Ash is the Big 12's most experienced quarterback with 18 career starts, and though he's had consistency issues throughout those starts, he's shown the potential to be way, way above average. Critique Ash's shortcomings all you want, but he's definitely good enough to win a Big 12 title considering the team around him, and no other quarterback on Texas' roster can say that. Unless they've got a big lead in the standings late in the season, an injury to Ash means saying goodbye to the Longhorns' Big 12 title hopes. No other position has a player that integral to the team's overall success.

The Longhorns have some promising freshmen on the roster in Tyrone Swoopes and Jalen Overstreet, but no doubt about it: Texas' most indispensable player is Ash.
We're walking through each Big 12 team and identifying its most irreplaceable talent on the blog right now. He's the guy they can least afford to lose and the guy to whom an injury or departure would have the most effect.

Let's move on with Texas Tech.

More most indispensable players.

Most indispensable player: TE Jace Amaro

It's not the only reason, but you have to wonder about Texas Tech's record last season, don't you? With Amaro in the lineup during the regular season, Tech was 5-1 with a lopsided win against West Virginia that included five catches for 156 yards and a touchdown from Amaro.

However, he suffered a rib injury against the Mountaineers and Tech fell to just 2-4 the rest of the regular season before Amaro returned for the bowl game. A tougher schedule had a lot to do with that 2-4 stretch, but Tech's offense just wasn't the same without him. It was held to 24 points or less in losses to Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. I don't believe the losses were solely because of Amaro, but his absence changed the offense. He's an impossible matchup for defenses at 6-foot-5 and 257 pounds. He knows how to use his body, he's got great speed and is unbelievably difficult to bring down in the open field. The Red Raiders simply don't have another player like him, and obviously makes him irreplaceable. We saw the results last season. Amaro was the best tight end in the Big 12 last season, but an injury kept him off the All-Big 12 team. He'll be the league's best tight end again this season, and if he can stay healthy, he won't have much competition for that first-team spot. No question about this one: This season, Amaro is Tech's most irreplaceable talent.
We'll start a new series today looking at the player each Big 12 team's most indispensable player. He's they guy they can least afford to lose and the guy to whom an injury or departure would have the most effect.

Let's get started with West Virginia.

Most indispensable player: S Karl Joseph

West Virginia's sort of an interesting case here, because the Mountaineers lack a huge game-changer, but have a lot of depth and decent players at the offensive skill positions. You've got to look to a more experienced defense, even though it struggled last season.

I'm taking the guy with the most raw talent and the most impact on what should be an improved unit in 2013. Joseph broke out as a true freshman last year, though his efforts were overshadowed by the unit's struggles as a whole. If they want to take big steps forward in 2013, Joseph is going to be the guy making it happen. He was all over the field last year, leading the team with 102 tackles (76 solo) and added seven tackles for loss, the most of any returning player. WVU simply doesn't have another safety on its roster who can make those kinds of plays in bulk, and doesn't have a player with his kind of speed, size and instinct.

That definitely makes him indispensable. I do think WVU's defense will be a bit better this year as they adjust to the schemes and tempo of Big 12 offenses which just didn't exist in the Big East. It can't make much of a move without Joseph, though. The 5-foot-10, 200-pounder was overshadowed by bigger names like Texas' Kenny Vaccaro and Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson last year, but he'll be likely to earn a status as the Big 12's best safety in 2013.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

BIG 12 SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 10/25