Big 12: Most indispensable player

We're moving on in our series pegging the single player each team in the Big 12 can't afford to lose. He's also the player who will be most responsible for the team's ultimate success.

Next up: The Baylor Bears

Find more indispensable players here.

Most indispensable player: Receiver Terrance Williams

2011 stats: Caught 59 passes for 957 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Why Baylor can't afford to lose him: This was a pretty difficult call, and Williams is mostly indispensable by default. Baylor probably doesn't have a single player whose loss alone would cost the Bears a berth in a bowl. Quarterback Nick Florence is the most likely candidate, but his backup, Bryce Petty is really solid and probably ready to grab the reins of the team right now. The only problem? Florence is a little bit better.

The defense is still kind of a mess and loses its best leader, Elliot Coffey. The running backs are loaded and three deep. Any of Glasco Martin, Jarred Salubi and Lache Seastrunk could probably carry the load.

That leaves Williams. He's the biggest target for Florence, and a step above Lanear Sampson and an imposing player at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds. Tevin Reese is solid, but could he carry an offense at just 5-foot-10, 160 pounds? Doubtful. He works better as a complimentary piece to a high-powered offense. Williams is the Big 12's leading returning receiver among players who played in the Big 12 in 2011 and will do so again in 2012. You probably remember him as the guy on the end of what eventually became the defining play of Robert Griffin III's Heisman campaign.

He's irreplaceable in the Baylor football lore, and could become even more so in 2012 as the team's most irreplaceable player.

Most indispensable player: Iowa State

May, 30, 2012
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We're moving on in our series pegging the single player each team in the Big 12 can't afford to lose. He's also the player who will be most responsible for the team's ultimate success.

Next up: The Iowa State Cyclones.

Find more indispensable players here.

Most indispensable player(s): Linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott

2011 stats: Klein and Knott combined for 231 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and two sacks.

Why Iowa State can't afford to lose them: This one's pretty simple. Klein and Knott are the most talented players on Iowa State's entire roster, and it's tough to imagine where the defense would be without them. They're arguably the No. 1 and No. 2 linebackers in the entire Big 12, and they happen to be on the same team. Neither is a physical marvel, but they're both tough and among the surest tacklers in the league.

Klein earned a share of the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors last season. Knott played through injuries, but maintained a solid level of production. They showed a lot of promise as freshmen, and emerged as stars through their sophomore and junior years. Now, as seniors, it's time to try and help Iowa State climb back into a bowl game like it has done for two of the past three years.

One other huge reason this duo can't be replaced? Iowa State's defensive line has left a lot to be desired the past two seasons. Klein and Knott don't rack up many tackles for loss, but they do a nice job keeping 2-4 yard gains little more than 2-4 yard gains. Put average linebackers in there, and those gains are going to be a lot bigger, something closer to 6-10 yards. That doesn't happen very often in Ames. Klein and Knott are the reason why.

Most indispensable player: Kansas

May, 29, 2012
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We're moving on in our series pegging the single player each team in the Big 12 can't afford to lose. He's also the player who will be most responsible for the team's ultimate success.

Next up: The Kansas Jayhawks

Find more indispensable players here.

Most indispensable player: QB Dayne Crist

2011 stats: Completed 15-of-24 passes for 164 yards and an interception.

Why Kansas can't afford to lose him: It's kind of crazy to put a man on this list who wasn't even on the team last year, but that's almost the biggest reason why he should be the team's most indispensable player. He wasn't on the team last year ... and Kansas went 2-10.

It's amazing how much better a team looks when it has a prototype at quarterback, especially in the Big 12. We haven't seen Crist take the field in Lawrence yet, but he already offers a major upgrade for the offense. Even if he's not a world-beater, it's painfully clear that if KU loses him, it's headed for disaster once again. Fellow transfer Jake Heaps is sitting out this season, and the team's backups, Blake Jablonski and Michael Cummings, completed just 3-of-10 passes for 19 yards in the spring game. A small sample size, sure, but a sign of what would be to come. Juco transfer Turner Baty is joining the team this summer, but asking him to take the reins this soon is probably asking too much.

New coach Charlie Weis lauded his receiving corps this offseason, but without a man to get them the ball, it's going to be a lost cause. Kansas didn't have that last year. It's different now. Crist is the guy to make it happen. His teammates recognize it, too, electing him a captain after the spring, despite not joining the team until just a few months earlier.

The bar is low for the Jayhawks, but Crist could be a big part of a pigskin rebirth in Lawrence, laying the foundation for Heaps to help carry Weis and KU back into the postseason. It all begins now, though, and KU has a guy with all the tools to help them learn how to win.
We're moving on in our series on the Big 12 blog pegging the single player each team in the Big 12 can't afford to lose. He's also the player who will be most responsible for the team's ultimate success.


Next up, the Oklahoma Sooners. Find more indispensable players here.

Most indispensable player: QB Landry Jones

2011 stats: 355-of-562 (63.2 percent) for 4,463 yards, 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

Why Oklahoma can't afford to lose him: Knock him if you'd like. Talk about what he's not.

What he is? The most priceless player on Oklahoma's entire roster. That's even more true now with three of the team's top four returning receivers suspended. Are the Sooners anything close to a top-15 team without Jones, who's essentially a fourth-year starter in 2012?

It's debatable.

His 15 interceptions -- three more than his sophomore season in 2010, which featured more attempts -- are alarming, but Jones is still the engine that made this offense go in 2011, even if Oklahoma's short passing game makes his stats look slightly inflated.

Jones has solid arm strength and accuracy that is criminally underrated only because he followed otherworldly Sam Bradford as the man behind center in the Sooners' offense. He's not quite the fiery leader, but over the course of his three seasons, which included a Big 12 title in 2010, he's earned the respect of his teammates and the legitimacy that few ever acquire.

Jones will be a fascinating player to watch in 2012. I've said it several times, and it's true: He probably has the most volatile draft status of any player in the Big 12. He could play himself into the top 10, top 5 or higher with a huge year, but he could also fall to around the third round or worse if he struggles.

How that plays is debatable. What's not debatable is how his role fits into Oklahoma's squad. He's the player it most can't afford to do without.

We're moving on in our series on the Big 12 Blog pegging the single player each team in the Big 12 can't afford to lose. He's also the player that will be most responsible for the team's ultimate success.


Next up, the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Find more indispensable players here.

Most indispensable player: RB Joseph Randle

2011 stats: 208 carries, 1,216 yards, 24 TD. Averaged 5.85 yards per carry. Caught 43 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns.

Why Oklahoma State can't afford to lose him: Jeremy Smith and Randle balance each other out quite well, but color me skeptical that Smith could duplicate Randle's kind of production if he were injured or not on the team. Talented youngster Herschel Sims is itching for carries, too, but he's more in the mold of a low-centered, physical grinder like Maurice Jones-Drew. Randle's the biggest home run hitter the team has, and assures that defenses can't key in on an offense that isn't shy about admitting it's pass-first.

Randle's role is especially important this year with Wes Lunt, a true freshman at quarterback. Look for OSU to lean a little bit more on the run, especially early in the season. Lunt is capable, but he doesn't have the experience, accuracy or arm strength of Brandon Weeden just yet. Randle's been on the field for two seasons and carried a huge load last year, ranking second in the Big 12 in rushing touchdowns. He'll be a stabilizing force on an offense that may need one with so much inexperience at quarterback and receiver.

Additionally, Randle's aptitude in the passing game will be a valuable outlet for Lunt. Early in games, getting him some easy throws to get in rhythm and feeling comfortable in the pocket will be huge. Look for more bubble screens, and Randle to be the recipient.

This is still a pass-first offense, but without Randle the offense wouldn't be nearly as effective, no matter what came first.

Most indispensable player: TCU

May, 16, 2012
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We're moving on in our series on the Big 12 Blog pegging the single player each team in the Big 12 can't afford to lose. He's also the player that will be most responsible for the team's ultimate success.


Next up, the TCU Horned Frogs. Find more indispensable players here.

Most indispensable player(s): QB Casey Pachall

2011 stats: 228-of-343 (66.5 percent) for 2,921 yards, 25 TD, 7 INT. 51 yards rushing, 2 TD

Why TCU can't afford to lose him: Pachall didn't put up huge stats as a first-year starter and replacement for Andy Dalton, but he was really good and had three backs on his team that each had at least 100 carries. That limits his attempts. If TCU had been in the Big 12 last season, Pachall would have been seventh in the Big 12 in attempts. TCU's balance last season was astounding. He would have been fourth in completion percentage and second in yards per attempt.

TCU's backs are deep. Losing one wouldn't be a problem. It has three solid receivers and another in LaDarius Brown who could be a big player in the offense. That eliminates them from "most indispensable." The defense should be OK, but its top talent, Tanner Brock, is already gone.

That leaves Pachall, who might have been more valuable than all of them anyway. Sophomore Matt Brown and Trevone Boykin have almost no experience, and Pachall has showed lots of upside. His talent doesn't show up in the stat sheet, but it makes defenses do a whole lot more than respect the pass. Without Pachall, TCU's rushing attack is nowhere near as effective. TCU won't be rolling over opponents in the Big 12, and Pachall will be forced to throw the ball a whole lot more in high-scoring games and no off weeks like TCU encountered in the Mountain West. Against Boise State, Pachall proved he's capable of big numbers, throwing for 473 yards and five touchdowns to just one pick.

He may need more of those kinds of days for TCU to succeed in 2012. And for TCU to succeed in 2012, there's no doubt they need Pachall more than any other player on the roster.

We're moving on in our series on the Big 12 Blog pegging the single player each team in the Big 12 can't afford to lose. He's also the player that will be most responsible for the team's ultimate success.

Next up, the Texas Longhorns.

Find more indispensable players here.

Most indispensable player(s): DEs Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat.

2011 stats: Jeffcoat: 63 tackles, 17 TFL, eight sacks, three PBUs. Okafor: 52 tackles, 12.5 TFL, six sacks, three PBUs, two forced fumbles.

Why Texas can't afford to lose them: There's no differentiating between these two. Without one, the other is less effective. Jeffcoat is a physical specimen that becomes unblockable all too often for Big 12 offensive coordinators' liking. Okafor's no physical slouch, but his experience paid off in big-time production in 2011.

This year, the duo is probable the No. 1 and No. 2 defensive ends in the entire Big 12. With the high-quality passing offenses that populate the Big 12, their worth is immense. There's nobody else on the roster who can duplicate this kind of production and disruption, and their presence gives the Longhorns a luxury few other Big 12 teams possess.

Texas gave up the fewest passing touchdowns of any Big 12 teams, and surrendered 17 fewer yards per game than any other team in the Big 12. Does that secondary, which is already very, very talented, look anywhere near as good if the pass rush up front isn't solid with what's sometimes just a four-man rush? No way.

DC Manny Diaz loves his blitzes, but if he wants to back off, Okafor and Jeffcoat assure him that quarterbacks will be rushed and will face pressure. That's only going to be more true in 2012.

No doubt about this one: Texas can't afford to lose this duo. If it does, the defense will suffer.

Most indispensable player: Texas Tech

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
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We're moving on in our series on the Big 12 Blog pegging the single player each team in the Big 12 can't afford to lose. He's also the player that will be most responsible for the team's ultimate success.

Next up, the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

Find more indispensable players here.

Most indispensable player: RB Eric Stephens

2011 stats: 108 carries, 565 yards, 8 TDs. 16 receptions, 133 yards.

Why Texas Tech can't afford to lose him: This was a really, really difficult call. I'm not sure Texas Tech has one player you could truly say is indispensable, but based on what we saw in 2011, you could rule out literally everyone on the defense.

Offensively, Tech has a deep stable of receivers, and the passing game remained productive even as the receivers fought injuries. That leaves QB Seth Doege and Stephens.

We already got a preview of what life without Stephens would be like, and it wasn't pretty. Stephens was a productive runner, on track to become the first Red Raider to rush for 1,000 yards since 1998, but his season ended with an ugly hit in a close loss to Texas A&M that dislocated his knee and ended his season. He's still not guaranteed to return in 2012.

But even with that production, offensive coordinator Neal Brown told me this offseason that his value to the team was still underrated. Texas Tech has a lot of backs on its roster who can look good with the ball in their hands. It doesn't have one who can pass block anything close to the way Stephens could. Being able to chip a linebacker and buy a few extra seconds for Doege will pay off in a lot of spots throughout a season. The Red Raiders lost that late in the season. DeAndre Washington played well, but Stephens' experience helped him develop that skill, and that experience can't be duplicated. We saw that much throughout 2011.

Texas Tech's running game wasn't as productive and the record went south quickly. Looking for the man Tech needs the most this fall? Stephens is your guy.

Most indispensable player: West Virginia

May, 7, 2012
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Today, we'll kick off a new series on the Big 12 Blog pegging the single player each team in the Big 12 can't afford to lose. He's also the player that will be most responsible for the team's ultimate success. We'll start from the bottom of the alphabet for this one. First up, those 'Eers out East.

Most indispensable player: QB Geno Smith

2011 stats: Completed 346-of-526 passes (65.8 percent) for 4,385 yards, 31 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Why West Virginia can't afford to lose him: Geno's simply the man who makes it all go for West Virginia. You'll see a lot of quarterbacks on this list from the Big 12, and Smith has arguably the league's top receiving corps, but it's his decision-making and arm that hold the offense together. Like many others, he blew up in his first year in Dana Holgorsen's offense, throwing for 1,600 more yards than his sophomore season in 2010. Despite throwing the ball nearly 150 more times, Smith still threw just seven interceptions in 2011, the exact same he threw in 2010. He's efficient, smart and does exactly what Holgorsen's offense is designed to do: get the ball in the hands of his playmakers. In Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey alone, Smith has plenty. That's not even considering the solid depth WVU has in the rest of its receiving corps.

Paul Millard would be Smith's backup, but there's no question, Smith has to stay healthy. Without him, WVU would go from a Big 12 title contender to what's likely a middling eight-win team. Heisman voters know that, too. If Smith puts up more big numbers in 2012 and WVU wins 11 or so games, Smith's going to be a very, very serious candidate for the most hallowed individual award in sports.

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