Big 12: Robert Griffin III
"Like Mike Davis said, he has a swagger about him now," the running back said of the quarterback.Only now it might be time to believe in the rising junior. Not because of some huge personality shift in Ash, but because this time –-- the junior season following a multiyear starter's sophomore season -- is typically when said actions start to speak louder than words.
Looking back at eight Big 12 multiyear starting quarterbacks -- Texas’ Colt McCoy, Texas’ Vince Young, Missouri’s Chase Daniel, Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell, Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Kansas’ Todd Reesing -- all but one had a dramatic leap in every statistical category from their sophomore to junior years. (Jones was the exception. In the six categories measured, he only increased his stats in one category, average yards per game.)
So the odds are Ash, who started 12 games in 2012, should follow suit. Maybe not to the extreme of Young, who topped the other seven aforementioned quarterbacks when it came to overall production increase. But there should at least be a measure of improvement to Ash’s stats. How much is up for debate for the next several months.
But if he follows the statistical average presented by those eight quarterbacks who have gone before him, Ash could see his passing efficiency rating rise by 17.10 points, completion percentage by 5 percent, touchdowns by 5.8, interceptions shrink by a nominal 0.25, overall yards move up 581.8 and yards per game to increase by 45.6.
Of course, there are mitigating factors that could shape whether or not Ash has a rise or fall in his stats in 2013.One of which is that Ash already experienced a dramatic rise in his stats from 2011 to 2012. In his sophomore season, Ash finished in the top 25 in passer efficiency rating and increased that rating 45.9 points. He had 15 more touchdown passes as a sophomore, threw for 1,620 yards and completed 10.4 percent more of his passes. (He also had 144 more attempts as a sophomore than as a freshman.) The point being that quite possibly a ceiling, if not already hit, is at least within arm’s length.
A counterargument could be that a shift in offensive philosophy, from traditional sets to spread, should serve to bolster his stats. In addition, the Big 12’s defenses -- at least that of top teams Oklahoma and Kansas State -- have experienced huge losses on their side of the ball. Add that fact to the unavoidable truth that the Big 12 is not exactly chock full of top defenses -- only TCU and Texas Tech finished in the top 40 in total defense in 2012 -- and it sets up for Ash to have at least a nominal rise in his statistical production in his junior season.
If all that is not enough to make a decision, there are still the words of Ash’s teammates to go by as well:
"Now that he has it down, he’s a lot more comfortable," Brown said. "He’s loosened up with us and he talks more now because he knows what he’s doing."
Given that this is Ash’s junior year and that history is on his side, it might just be time to believe those words.
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:
2012 Big 12 record: 4-5
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 1
Top returners: OL Cyril Richardson, RB Lache Seastrunk, S Ahmad Dixon, WR Tevin Reese, LB Eddie Lackey, DE Chris McAllister, LB Bryce Hager, K Aaron Jones
Key losses: WR Terrance Williams, QB Nick Florence, WR Lanear Sampson, S Mike Hicks, C Ivory Wade, DT Gary Mason Jr.
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Passing: Nick Florence (4,309 yards)
Rushing: Lache Seastrunk* (1,012 yards)
Receiving: Terrance Williams (1,832 yards)
Tackles: Bryce Hager* (124)
Sacks: Chris McAllister* (6)
Interceptions: Eddie Lackey* (4)
1. Bryce is the guy. It was going to take a lot for Bryce Petty to lose his starting spot, but he looked like a guy who suited up for his fourth spring this year and cemented his status as the heir apparent to a crazy-good quarterback tradition under Art Briles. He'll follow Robert Griffin III and Florence, who both set school records for passing yards.
2. Defense changes its identity. The Bears didn't have a ton of speed in the secondary last season, and as a result, relied heavily on zone and didn't play a lot of tight coverage. To start fixing the problem, Dixon moved back to traditional safety, and as the defense's most physically skilled talent, that was a wise decision. Baylor wants to play more man and play tighter this year, and we'll see if it pays off in the fall.
3. Offense finds its playmakers. Williams is gone and so is Sampson, two of the team's top three receivers. Reese returns, but Antwan Goodley and Jay Lee emerged to win starting spots this spring, and both look like big-time targets for one of college football's best offenses. Count on those guys and Clay Fuller to keep the tradition going.
1. Can the defense prove itself? The Bears were definitely one of the best defenses in the Big 12 over the last month of the season. The same unit, however, was also a big reason why Baylor limped to an 0-5 start in conference 12 play before ripping off four wins to end the season. The defensive line should be improved and young talents like Javonte Magee and Shawn Oakman could make names for themselves this fall.
2. Is the offensive line deep enough? Baylor's history under Briles at this position makes me pretty confident, and the Bears have a solid starting five. But losing Troy Baker this spring is a big knock, and the Bears only had 10 healthy offensive linemen this spring. Come fall, more injuries could force the Bears to force inexperienced players into the rotation. This was probably the biggest concern for Briles all spring.
3. Just how good is Petty? He looks good for now, and was productive and impressive during the spring. That's also the spring. RG3 and Florence broke school records for passing yards in consecutive seasons, though, so the bar is sky-high. There's every reason to believe in Petty, but expectations are high and reaching them won't be easy. The good news is he has a huge talent in Seastrunk and a solid receiving corps around him to support his efforts.
Dave in Baton Rouge, La., writes: David, I am normally a big fan, but I took issue with your "black tax" lunch link. The article says that it happened to RG3, but it didn't. A dumb pundit anonymously said something bad about Robert [Griffin III]. Within a day, tons of outlets with white and black hosts were saying how kind and gracious RG3 is/was to them. On the other hand, Geno [Smith] is getting some wayward looks, not because he is black, but because he lost six games in a row [actually five]. Blame the defense all you want, but losing is losing. And Geno, last year, was a loser. NFL teams can see that. Don't try to create a problem where there isn't one, man. It's not about race, it's about talent.
David Ubben: Totally disagree with you on this one, Dave. Fact is, there are still folks around and in scouting who are uncomfortable with black quarterbacks and grade them on a different scale than their white counterparts. It's a minority, but they're out there.
Last year, the book on RG III was that he was somehow a "me-first" kind of player because of his flamboyant, animated personality on the field and in front of the microphone. Any Baylor coach or teammate could have told you that perception could not be further from the truth. That kind of criticism definitely had a racial tinge to it.
This year, the scouting report that article referenced on Smith doesn't talk at all about the losing streak, which, by the way, only featured what I'd call one poor performance from the West Virginia quarterback. What it does talk about is his "marginal work ethic" and need to be coddled, with an inability to handle hard coaching.
You can choose not to see it if you'd like, but there are definitely some racial undertones in there, and you have to factor in the writer's history with Cam Newton, as well.
Anybody who has talked to West Virginia's coaching staff or Smith himself and heard about what he's like around the facilities would know Smith works as hard or harder than anybody on the team and his work ethic stacks up with any of the greats we've seen come through the Big 12. Dana Holgorsen even went on national radio Thursday to talk about that. You're welcome to say it's not a racial issue, but I would call that being ignorant.
I'm not saying he's racist, but I'm saying there are some lazy comparisons and some people operating with preconceived notions that are sometimes rooted in racial stereotypes in scouting, and those kinds of evaluations are too easily listened to and passed on without enough skepticism or double-checking some of those assertions.
Smith threw for 42 touchdowns and six interceptions and basically played one really poor game, then didn't handle a snowstorm well in the bowl game. And you want to blame him for going 7-6? That's silliness.
John in Olathe, Kan., writes: When the Sugar Bowl is the host of one of the national semifinal games, where will the new Big 12/SEC bowl game be played? Cotton?
DU: Really good question, John. I went ahead and consulted the Big 12 on this one, and you're mostly correct.
In the seasons that the Sugar Bowl is a semifinal game played around New Year's Eve, the Big 12 and SEC representatives for the Champions Bowl will simply move to one of the other six rotating access-bowl sites. The other five access bowls are:
- Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Atlanta)
- Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, Ariz.)
- Cotton Bowl (Arlington, Texas)
- Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.)
- Orange Bowl (Miami)
Any of the games could host the Champions Bowl participants from the Big 12 and the SEC. So, crisis averted.
Josh Parker in Manhattan, Kan., writes: Ubbs, someone has to win the Big 12 this year right? Seems like everyone is down on every team. (Not that it matters, but same for basketball.) What gives? You know what kind of coaches we have in this confrence, will they not make these programs better throughout the summer?
DU: Well, they've given us reason to be down on them, really. Oklahoma was the preseason No. 1 in 2011 and Texas A&M and Oklahoma State gave the Big 12 three top-10 teams to begin the season. Those were some teams with elite talent on paper to begin the season. Justin Blackmon? Ryan Broyles? This year, the league is largely devoid of a true star, much less an elite team. Might someone surprise us and run the table? That's possible, but nobody looks capable of doing it right now. The Big 12 will likely open the season without a top-10 team for the first time in league history.
That's a pretty good reason to be down on the league, I'd say.
Michael in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., writes: Do you see any way that UConn gets an invite from the Big 12? Four of the major conferences signing the "media rights" deal to detour any conference jumps. The conference only has 10 teams and UConn gives the Big 12 a NY market. I'm just looking for the possibilities that the Huskies don't get left at the kiddie table.
DU: I really hate this idea. It'd be huge for Connecticut (which would have an even larger task in trying to compete in every way in terms of football), but it makes zero sense for the Big 12. Bringing in UConn would be a prime example of expansion for expansion's sake. There's no football history or respect of the kind that WVU and TCU brought into the league, and the idea of UConn delivering the New York media market is laughable. Basketball would obviously be a nice addition, but as we've seen over and over again, basketball's revenues make it an afterthought in matters of realignment.
The ACC's recent grant of rights took the most likely (which is to say, still very unlikely) Big 12 expansion targets basically off the board, and you can pretty much count out any chance of the league expanding in the current environment. There's just not a viable option to make it happen.
Look a bit further, though, and there's a bunch of red dirt with the beginnings of a promising future sprouting from that dirt. Briles will have a front-row seat for the construction of what's now known as Baylor Stadium, the Bears' new 45,000-seat, $250 million home on the banks of the Brazos River.
"It’s a blessing, definitely. And it’s a reality," Briles told ESPN.com in a recent interview.
Fans can see the construction live, too, with the Bears' new construction cam.
The stadium is expected to open in 2014, and the beginning stages of construction already catch the eyes of the 42 million people who annually will pass by the stadium that will tower over the east side of I-35 in Waco.
"It’s a reality that Baylor didn’t need to have, it had to have, for first of all, national perception, regional perception and for recruiting purposes, not only for our athletics, but for our academics, because it certainly changed 42 million people’s view of Baylor University every time they drive down I-35," Briles said. "They look over there and they say, 'Baylor’s doing it right, all the way across the board.'"
The picturesque venue will feature a bridge across the river to the rest of campus, and based on renderings of the stadium, it will be one of the most scenic in all of college football. Like TCU's new rebuild of Amon G. Carter stadium, Baylor Stadium will include six Founder's suites, but also have 39 more suites, 74 boxes and 1,200 outdoor club seats.
"(People) know it’s a great academic university," Briles said. "I think it just upped peoples image of the university as a whole in their minds, no question."
Most importantly, the new stadium will eliminate the Bears' status as the Big 12's only team without an on-campus stadium. The 2013 season will be Baylor's last at Floyd Casey Stadium, located across I-35 and a few miles southwest of campus. Baylor employed Populous, the same company that helped design Busch Stadium (St. Louis Cardinals), Reliant Stadium (Houston Texans) and the new Yankee Stadium in New York.
Baylor had not been to a bowl since 1994, two year's before the Big 12's creation, and in his first two seasons, Briles equaled Baylor's second-highest win total (4) since 1996. By his third season, the Bears were back in a bowl game. Heading into 2013, the Bears have reached three consecutive bowls for the first time in school history, winning the past two. Briles' efforts were aided by Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III -- Baylor's first -- whose 2011 run to the trophy propelled the Bears onto the national stage, a place quite unfamiliar to the program before the arrival of Briles and Griffin.
More than a few folks would love to see Griffin's and/or Briles' name adorning the stadium or the field. Briles could only laugh at the prospect of the latter.
"I’m not one of those people. Now Robert’s name, I’d love to have," Briles said. "Our story hasn’t been written yet. All we’re concerned with is day-to-day operations of trying to be the best we can be every day."
Nick Florence's redemption from a rough start in 2012 to knocking off No. 1 Kansas State followed Robert Griffin III's two nights in 2011 that left a mark on college football: Firing deep balls to knock off TCU and Oklahoma on the way to Baylor's first Heisman trophy.
Before that, he and an NFL-bound Kevin Kolb led Houston from an 0-11 squad to a Conference USA championship. Kolb was the conference's Offensive Player of the Year that season. In 2007, he kickstarted Case Keenum's career with an eight-win season. Keenum developed into the FBS all-time leader in touchdown passes while Briles got to work building Baylor's program.
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsProjected starter Bryce Petty is the next quarterback project for Baylor coach Art Briles.
"His skill set is off the charts," Briles said.
"He’s Tim Tebow," running back Lache Seastrunk added, "He's like 6-foot-5, 245 pounds!"
Well, more like 6-3 and 231 according to Briles, but you might get a similar scouting report from opposing linebackers soon if Petty gets his way, but more on that later. The skill set Briles refers to is an NFL-quality arm and 4.6 speed with four years of experience in an offensive system that has seen Baylor ranked No. 2 nationally in total offense each of the past two seasons, and No. 13 back in 2010.
"Physically, he has a chance to be a very dominant quarterback, but it’s a very mental game, so what you have to do is match it all together, your physicalness and your intellectualness and creativeness and instinctiveness," Briles said. "It all has to come together."
For now, Briles draws a blank when he thinks back on Petty's greatest moments at Baylor. That might change very soon.
"That moment hasn’t come," Briles said. "That chapter hasn’t been written, and that’s good. It hasn’t been his time. It’s his time to prove it’s his time."
Petty's road to Baylor came after a commitment to Tennessee followed by a coaching change by the Vols from Phil Fulmer to the in-and-out tenure of Lane Kiffin, whose arrival spelled trouble for Petty's future in Knoxville. Before long, Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery, who had recruited Petty throughout, came calling with a Baylor logo on his shirt.
"It was so cool, because (Briles) reminded me so much of coach Fulmer in that he’s a player’s coach. He wants to be here with you," Petty said. "Succeed on the field and as a man. That’s huge for me."
Once Petty was at Baylor, he watched Griffin win a Heisman. Then last season Petty watched as another experienced backup like himself, Florence, broke Griffin's school record for passing yards and kept Baylor near the top of the national rankings for offense.
The waiting wasn't easy. It wasn't fun.
"As a competitor, it’s hard to sit and watch. You know you can do it. Griff, he won the Heisman. It’s faith. It’s knowing that God has a plan. That plan is coming through right now," Petty said. "You have to be able to seize your opportunity."
That opportunity brings with it mammoth expectations, too.
"No dropoff from Robert. No dropoff from Nick. We have to stay strong at that position," Briles said of his quarterbacks.
Briles says there was no learning curve -- as expected -- for a passer starting his fourth spring in Waco, even though it was his first spring working almost exclusively with the first team. He's not a new face to anyone on the team, and that has paid off as Petty has tried to cement his status as a leader.
" Getting guys to fight for you, at the end of the day, is what it takes to win. You can be as athletically gifted as Griff, but you’ve got to have guys fight for you. That’s something that I want from my guys," Petty said.
How has he approached that goal?
"Being the first one in and last one out. Always watching film and being on your guard. That just comes with an every-day kind of process," he said. "This whole starting thing and this whole season is not a one-day thing. It’s a process. It’s an every-day thing. I’d like to think of myself as a hard worker. It’s no struggle for me to get up out of bed and work."
We can't know until the fall whether or not Petty will be the next great quarterback under Briles or a forgettable chapter of Bears history. The last season in Floyd Casey Stadium will be Petty's first as the Bears' starter, though that status isn't official yet.
It's not hard to see it being a memorable season in Waco.
If Saturday's scrimmage is any indication, Briles is getting ready to reward that faith.
Quarterback Bryce Petty, the likely heir to Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence's throne -- both set the school record for passing yards in consecutive seasons -- completed 22 of 32 passes for 326 yards and a pair of touchdowns with an interception.
He's not officially the starter, and Seth Russell completed 20 of 29 passes for 220 yards.
Still, a pair of receivers had strong days, and the safe bet is you haven't heard of either of them. Sophomore Jay Lee had seven grabs for 111 yards, highlighted by a 50-yard score from Petty.
"It kind of translates from the way he's been working out," Briles told reporters. "He's been exceptional in workouts, exceptional all winter in the weight room in strength and conditioning, and he was exceptional today. It just shows that if you do things right for a long time, pretty soon it pays off for you."
Lee didn't have a catch last season and redshirted in 2011, and Brandon Brown is still looking for his first career catch, too. The former minor league baseball player is a walk-on but caught a game-high eight balls for 116 yards.
Running back Lache Seastrunk broke loose for a 28-yard touchdown run but finished with just 24 yards on six carries.
Ultimately, you've got to be pleased with Petty's progress, and his completion percentage and production have to be encouraging moving forward.
"Every time I get out here, my confidence is growing," Petty told reporters. "Every day is something new, something to get better at, something to grow on. I'm starting from the bottom and trying to work my way up."
Penn State transfer Shawn Oakman, a 6-foot-8, 250-pound sophomore, had two sacks to lead all defenders.
The offense gave up eight sacks, which could mean one of two things: The quarterbacks don't quite feel comfortable making decisions quickly enough just yet, or the pass rush is improving. I'm betting it's a little bit of both, but there's only so much stock you can put in a spring scrimmage.
Earlier in the week, the Bears debuted some pretty sharp-looking uniforms, too. I'm loving these. Here's a look:
I love everything about those, and I'm glad to finally see the terrible bear claw mark gone from the pants, replaced by a more tasteful, subtle bear paw on the shoulder.
Gotta love what's in store for Baylor next season.
- Five Big 12 teams are among CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman's top 10 most important quarterback battles this spring.
- Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads talked to a class about his "So Proud" speech and what it meant. Cool video here.
- Life just got a whole lot tougher for West Virginia OC Shannon Dawson, writes Bob Hertzel of the Times West Virginian.
- Yesterday was "RG3 Day" at the Texas Legislature and Baylor established the RG3 Quarterback Scholarship.
- Oklahoma's not kidding around: There's a real quarterback competition going on in Norman, writes Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman. He also offers up a preview of Oklahoma's pro day today. The Sooners did a Harlem Shake, too.
- West Cirginia AD Oliver Luck made it clear: College sports is a football world.
- Matt Tait of the Lawrence Journal-World writes about Kansas' wide-open position battle at tight end.
- The Oklahoman's Gina Mizell has a couple more reports from Oklahoma State's pro day here and here.
- Jenn Menendez of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes about West Virginia's offensive line coach's tough new task.
Fellow expert Todd McShay has the same two as Kiper and also is optimistic about the chances of West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Tavon Austin.
So let’s split the difference and label the potential Big 12 first-round picks as an optimistic three, with Johnson being the only absolute first-round lock.
Those three would represent the fewest Big 12 players taken in the first round of the NFL draft since 2008. Even if four went, the Big 12 still would have the fewest since 2008.
That year, only Kansas -- yep, the Jayhawks -- managed a first-rounder, Aqib Talib to Tampa Bay with the 20th pick. In the four drafts that followed, the Big 12 has always put at least five players into the first round, including the first four overall picks in 2010.
How well this year’s group of first-round picks will fare might not be known for years. What is known, though, is how well Big 12 players have done when they are selected in the first round. With that in mind, here is a ranking -- from worst to best -- of the Big 12’s best first-round draft classes over the past 10 years.
2008: It’s all about quantity, and a little bit of quality. In 2008, the Big 12 only produced one first-round pick, Talib. He has not produced dramatic returns in the NFL. In the past two years, he has only started nine games. He was somewhat productive for Tampa Bay in the previous three seasons, starting 41 games and playing in 53. But, again, he was the only Big 12 player taken in the first round in 2008.
2006: Vince Young is working out at Texas’ pro day at the end of March. Enough said. Davin Joseph and Michael Huff have been solid producers. But when the No. 3 overall pick is out of the league and having to work out at his alma mater's pro day, it means it was a bad year for the Big 12 in the first round of the NFL draft.
2004: Tommie Harris and Marcus Tubbs, the two defensive tackles taken in the first round, were productive for a few years, with Harris selected to Pro Bowls in 2005, '06 and ’07 before he was beset by injuries. Tubbs lasted four seasons in the NFL. Roy Williams had 5,715 receiving yards but never lived up to the hype he generated coming out of Texas. Rashaun Woods played only two years and had seven career catches.
2005: The lack of numbers might be what hurts this group the most. Cedric Benson, Jammal Brown, Derrick Johnson, Mark Clayton and Fabian Washington all proved they could play at the NFL level. Benson has had three 1,000-yard-plus seasons. Johnson is one of the top linebackers in the game. Brown remains a solid option on the offensive line. Clayton played seven NFL seasons; Washington played six. But there were only five guys selected and that isn't enough to push 2005 to the top of the list.
Andy Clayton King/Getty ImagesThe Big 12's 2007 draft class wasn't huge, but did feature 2012 NFL MVP Adrian Peterson.
2007: It wasn’t the biggest group, but it did include Adrian Peterson, so there could be some quibbling that maybe 2007 should be higher in the rankings. Throw in Aaron Ross and Michael Griffin and the debate could get even more heated. Adam Carriker was also taken this year. He started his career strong but suffered an injury and only played in two games last season.
2003: Kevin Williams has been the standout of this group. The defensive tackle has started every game but four in his 10-year career. Terence Newman has been effective as a defensive back, first in Dallas and last season in Cincinnati. Tyler Brayton played at least 15 games on the defensive line in a nine-year career. Ty Warren played eight solid seasons for New England but tailed off last season with Denver. Andre Woolfolk lasted four seasons, mostly as a reserve.
2011: Von Miller, who was the highest pick among Big 12 players this year, has proved to be the top player so far. Aldon Smith is not far behind. Add in Prince Amukamara, Phillip Taylor, who when healthy is a starter at defensive tackle, a somewhat productive Blaine Gabbert and Nate Solder as well as reliable backups Danny Watkins and Jimmy Smith and this proved to be a successful year for Big 12 first-round selections.
2012: Three quarterbacks, and all were not only starters as rookies but also made huge differences for their respective squads. Clearly, Robert Griffin III made the most dramatic impact, but Ryan Tannehill, with the Dolphins, and Brandon Weeden, with Cleveland, were both solid. Kendall Wright and Justin Blackmon each had 64 catches, for Tennessee and Jacksonville, respectively. Blackmon was targeted more (133 to 104) and had 200 more receiving yards.
2010: This list maybe doesn’t have the star power and is not littered with offensive playmakers, but six of the nine players picked were selected for the 2013 NFL Pro Bowl: Gerald McCoy, Trent Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Earl Thomas, Russell Okung and Jermaine Gresham. And the other three players -- Dez Bryant, Sam Bradford and Sean Weatherspoon -- were vital pieces for their respective teams.
After all that, though, he's not going to pursue a future in the NFL. His career is over, he told the Waco Tribune-Herald.
"I’ve decided to hang up my cleats and finish my master’s in December," Florence told the paper. "My wife and I have spent the last 1 1/2 months talking about it, and it all came down to what we wanted in life, and it didn’t include playing football."
Florence, a native of Garland, Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, threw for 4,309 yards, 33 touchdowns and ran for 568 yards with 10 scores for the Bears this past season, breaking Griffin's school record for passing yards.
He says he wants to do something in sports and business after finishing up his degree with a pair of 13-hour semesters through December.
"Oh yeah, I’m going to miss it," Florence said. "I’ve been doing it my whole life. I don’t know whether I would have been drafted, but I have no doubt that I could have made a team. But I’ll look back and have a lot of great memories."
A quick note on the rankings: Only one player per team was allowed. I picked the best QB on the teams that shuffled throughout the season, and didn't include players who left the team or were ineligible to end the season.
1. Collin Klein, Kansas State: Klein is not your traditional quarterback and not the kind of guy the Big 12 has made its offensive reputation behind. What he is, though? A leader who showcases his toughness and a good enough passer to make K-State one of the nation's most efficient offenses and forces defenses to respect him on deep and intermediate throws. He completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,646 yards and rushed for 925 yards, accounting for 39 touchdowns.
2. Geno Smith, West Virginia: One would think if you win the Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year honor, throw 42 touchdowns to just six picks and rack up almost 4,200 yards passing, you'd win it easily in the postseason. Not the case. Smith was fantastic this year and might be the first quarterback taken in the NFL draft. Smith is clearly the Big 12's best "passer," but he's not quite the Big 12's best quarterback.
3. Landry Jones, Oklahoma: Jones' experience is unmatched in this league, but he never quite got over the top as the Big 12's best quarterback. He was always solid, even if he might be vulnerable to a big mistake. He threw an interception in each of his final seven games at OU, but he also racked up 30 touchdowns and 4,272 yards. He threw for at least 3,000 yards in each of the past four seasons and leaves as the No. 3 all-time passer in FBS history.
4. Nick Florence, Baylor: Florence led the Big 12 in total offense by almost 40 full yards per game. Not only did he lead the league in passing yards with 4,309, he added almost 600 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. He filled in admirably for RG III, and it's a shame he had to burn his redshirt in 2011 after Griffin suffered a head injury.
5. Seth Doege, Texas Tech: Doege was second nationally with 39 touchdown passes and had a solid senior season. There were some rough games, sure, but he was third in the Big 12 with 4,205 yards. The biggest negative for Doege that bumped him down this list? A Big 12-high 16 interceptions.
6. Clint Chelf, Oklahoma State: Only took one Oklahoma State quarterback for this list, but Chelf was the steadiest this season for the Pokes, and the only one who didn't get hurt. Chelf threw for 15 touchdowns and just six picks and averaged just under 200 passing yards a game. He also ran for 162 yards on just 31 carries.
7. David Ash, Texas: Ash had a really strong start and looked like one of the Big 12's best quarterbacks early in the season. He flirted with the FBS lead in passer rating before coming to Earth a bit late in the year and getting benched against KU and suffering a rib injury late in the year. He still threw for almost 2,700 yards, 19 touchdowns and eight picks.
8. Trevone Boykin, TCU: Boykin had to fill in for the Frogs' Casey Pachall, but had his biggest successes in two situations: Broken plays that required him to scramble and deep balls. The rest of the offense seemed to struggle at times, but Boykin definitely made it interesting. He completed just 57 percent of his passes and had 10 interceptions to his 15 scores, but he hung in there and helped carry the Frogs to a seven-win season.
9. Sam Richardson, Iowa State: Richardson emerged from nowhere to win the Cyclones' quarterback job in the final weeks of the season and prompt a transfer from 2011's season hero: Jared Barnett. Richardson is a prototypical passer who also has wheels and threw eight touchdowns to just one pick in the Cyclones' final three games.
10. Michael Cummings, Kansas: Cummings stepped in for a struggling Dayne Crist, but didn't offer much after doing so and couldn't get KU over the hump to get a Big 12 win. BYU transfer Jake Heaps is likely to slide in front of Cummings on the depth chart next year after Cummings completed just 45 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and four interceptions. He did make some plays with his feet, though it was hard for the yardage to show that was the case because there were so many sacks.
The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we'll be revealing one player a day moving forward.
Let's keep this train rolling.
No. 24: Nick Florence, QB, Baylor
2012 numbers: Completed 286 of 464 (61.6 percent) passes for 4,309 yards, 33 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Ran 139 times for 568 yards and 10 touchdowns. Also punted twice for an average of 46.5 yards.
Most recent ranking: Florence was unranked in our preseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.
Making the case for Florence: It feels a little wrong to have the Big 12's leading passer this low on the list, a guy who averaged over 9.0 yards a pass attempt this season. He had tons of help in the form of the Big 12's best two deep threats, Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese, but Baylor needed someone to fill the shoes of Robert Griffin III. Florence was outstanding. He struggled at times early in the conference season, but he was a big part of Baylor's late-season surge and four-game winning streak to close the season. His questionable decision-making at times kept him from finishing higher on this list, but it's clear that Art Briles did it again: He found, developed and started a fantastic quarterback to make his high-flying offense run. Florence finished second nationally in total offense, at over 375 yards a game. Only Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M averaged more, but last year RG III averaged only nine more per game. This season, Florence even broke Griffin's school record for passing yards, topping RG III by 16 yards with a strong performance in the Bears' bowl win over UCLA.
The rest of the list:
Bert in Frisco, Texas writes: You keeping talking about Texas Tech surprising everyone next season. What does surprising mean exactly and how many wins do you think surprising translates to?
David Ubben: Texas Tech has obviously overhauled its coaching staff on the sideline, and you have to figure there will be some growing pains in Kliff Kingsbury's first year as a head coach. That's no small task for a young guy who hasn't been in coaching long. It also doesn't have a returning starter at quarterback. There's lots of room for the Red Raiders to falter next year, and the expectations will be mild, likely 6-8 wins. That said, when you look at the rest of the team (and Kingsbury's upside) the potential to be a really, really good team is absolutely there.
Michael Brewer has looked great in his spot duty. Receiver Eric Ward is back and Jakeem Grant looked good this year, not to mention TE Jace Amaro, who's probably the most talented guy on the entire offense. ESPN 150 receivers Dominique Wheeler and Reginald Davis will be playing this year, too. Kerry Hyder and Terrance Bullitt are solid on the defensive side, and running backs Kenny Williams and SaDale Foster are solid.
Tech has the advantage next year of perhaps sneaking up on teams, too. Nobody (except maybe WVU) will be fired up to beat Tech. Nobody's got them circled on the calendar. The Red Raiders should be solid, though, and if the ball bounces their way a few times, don't be surprised if they win 10 games or more.
Rick in Waco, Texas writes: DU,Please give some justification (that would be acceptable to a reasonable person ) for grading Baylor an A on offense and OK State an A+. In case you took a nap in the off season, Baylor lost their all time leading receiver that was arguably better than the receiver lost by OSU. We lost a 1500 yard rusher (school record), two offensive linemen... Oh yea, and the Heisman Trophy winner. I realize that BU was just plain bad on the defensive side for the first 4 games in conference, and even struggled on O a bit in that stretch - but showed they could play with ANYONE in the second half. There's not a team in team in the country that they would have been concerned to play in December or January.
DU: Hey, remember that time when Baylor's No. 1 QB got hurt, and then a few games later, the No. 2 guy went down, too? Then after replacing him with the No. 1 guy, the No. 1 guy got hurt a game and a half later and the Bears had to finish the season with their No. 3 quarterback, but still finished in the top five nationally in total offense?
Baylor lost a little more than OSU, mostly at running back, but most everyone knew Baylor had depth at the position anyway. OSU went through just as much as Baylor did, but its offense was more consistent through the first half of the season and at the end of the year, was basically on pace with the Bears, despite dealing with all that from the quarterback position. It's that simple.
Vince Young in Texas writes: Is it possible that I could be back in Philadelphia with the hiring of Chip Kelly? I know Vick is a great athlete but he's a little injury prone and I ran an offense very similar at the best school on the planet, THE University of Texas.
DU: I don't see it. Young's a great athlete, but there's a big misconception about how much Oregon's quarterbacks run. Last year, it was on just over 10 percent of the Ducks 1,000+ snaps. I expect that number will shrink even more in the NFL. Having a QB who can move is integral in running the zone read, but you still have to run the other 90 percent of your offense, too. That requires a guy who can deliver the ball accurately with velocity and good decison-making. Guys like Cam Newton, Kaepernick, RG3 and Russell Wilson have shown an ability to do that. Vince Young has not for the better part of his career.
David in Wichita, Kan. writes: Why are we only seeing a big difference for 7-on-7 on the offensive side of the ball? Shouldn't there be a marked improvement in coverage skills as well?
DU: Interesting question, David. Fantastic name, by the way. One would think so, but the results clearly indicate that has not been the case. It's apparent that 7-on-7 far benefits offensive players, but much more so the quarterbacks. Playing that much skeleton helps their decision-making and accuracy and gets them extremely comfortable delivering intermediate and deep balls, something that wasn't the case long ago. That's the biggest difference, and the biggest reason why the impact of 7-on-7 has swung so heavily in the offense's favor. Quarterbacks are better.
1. Can Casey Pachall get back on track? TCU's quarterback is officially back with the team after leaving school to go to an in-patient drug and alcohol treatment facility. Most people want to know if he'll be the same player, but what's even more important is whether he can avoid the same pitfalls and get his life back on track.
2. Expansion junction, what's your function? The odds seem strongly against it, but you know we're not getting through a college football offseason without talking expansion at some point. How much will it heat up? Will Florida State re-emerge as a Big 12 candidate?
AP Photo/Darren AbateArt Briles, left, has done a great job developing quarterbacks at Houston and at Baylor.
4. Striking the fear back in Lubbock. Kliff Kingsbury is looking to bring swagger back to Lubbock. He's still piecing together his staff, but the 33-year-old has the pieces to put together a solid team on the field, too. Can Texas Tech break the string of late-season collapses the past two years?
5. Charlie Weis' juco revolution. Weis has made it clear that he wants quick fixes and to win now at KU. Will his juco recruiting haul do it? Defensive lineman Marquel Combs was the nation's No. 1 juco recruit, and Weis has done a heck of a job selling immediate playing time to these guys. The current recruiting class has 17 juco transfers among 25 commits. Will it pay off, and how will these guys look once they get on campus? Are wins just around the corner?
6. A quarterback competition for the ages. Was Oklahoma State the first team ever to have three 1,000-yard passers? Two of them were freshmen, too. The QB derby last spring was good. This year's will be even better, with all three showing they could win games in Big 12 play. Clint Chelf will have the inside track, but Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh will try to swipe it away. Could one transfer be imminent after the spring?
7. Are the Longhorns finally, officially, certifiably back? Texas looked like it was back after going up to Stillwater and winning a dramatic game that helped the Longhorns ascend to No. 11 in the polls. Then consecutive losses capped by a Red River Blowout made it obvious the Horns weren't quite back yet. David Ash's development and fixing Manny Diaz's surprisingly vulnerable defense will decide whether 2013 is the season Texas returns to the BCS stage.
8. What about the championship game? Bob Bowlsby turned some heads when he inquired with the NCAA about a waiver to hold a championship game with just 10 teams. I don't think there's much fire around that smoke, but how serious will any talk of a return of the Big 12 title game get? The coaches would hate it.
- Randy Riggs of the Austin American-Statesman says this is the most important offseason of Mack Brown's tenure at Texas.
- Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com reports the Big 12 is asking around about the possibility of holding a Big 12 championship with a 10-team league. (For the record, this is the worst idea ever.)
- Sounds like Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert is sticking around Stillwater for another season.
- Bob Stoops has a makeover in his program imminent, but the Schooner's not on fire, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. Oklahoma's not done losing the Cotton Bowl, apparently. Texas A&M swiped its top linebacker commitment.
- Oklahoma State inside receivers coach Doug Meacham is heading to Houston, reports Gina Mizell of The Oklahoman. The Pokes also added a tight end to their recruiting class.
- Iowa State lost its tight ends coach to Utah State. Luke Wells will be the offensive coordinator.
- Baylor tasted a bowl without RG3. How does the prospect look for 2013? John Werner of the Waco Tribune-Herald has a look.
- Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman has some interesting Big 12-related tidbits from the national title game.
- Stephanie Kuzydym has some underachievers and surprises from Oklahoma's Cotton Bowl loss.
- Get to know one of Texas Tech's more promising juco commitments.
- West Virginia added a kicker to its current recruiting class.