Big 12: Spencer Roth

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be breaking down the 10 best players at the moment on every team in the Big 12.

These lists won’t include junior college or freshman signees who haven’t arrived on campus yet. Rather, they will include only the players currently on their teams this spring. Some of these rankings might look different after the spring, but this is how we see them now.

On Monday, we start with the defending Big 12 champs: the Baylor Bears.

1. QB Bryce Petty: Petty is the reigning All-Big 12 quarterback and will begin the 2014 season on the Heisman short list after recording 46 total touchdowns throwing and running with only three interceptions last season. The Bears will start out as a legitimate playoff contender, and Petty will be a major reason why.

[+] EnlargeAntwan Goodley
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsBaylor's Antwan Goodley gives quarterback Bryce Petty a playmaking, go-to wide receiver.
2. WR Antwan Goodley: Every big-time QB needs a go-to receiver, and Goodley is just that and more. He finished with 1,339 receiving yards last season, second in the Big 12 only to Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro by 13 yards. Goodley is physical and he can fly, making him a nightmare matchup for opposing cornerbacks. Like Petty, Goodley will enter the season as an All-American candidate.

3. ILB Bryce Hager: With Eddie Lackey and Ahmad Dixon gone, Hager will be the clear-cut anchor of the Baylor defense once he returns from groin surgery. Hager is a tackling machine and will be a reliable piece for a defense that will be debuting several new starters.

4. LT Spencer Drango: Those outside the Baylor program learned just how valuable Drango was when he wasn’t in the lineup in 2013. After Drango suffered a season-ending back injury, Baylor’s pass protection of Petty slipped substantially the final month of the season. Even though he missed the final three games of the regular season, Drango deservedly was named first-team All-Big 12. With Outland finalist Cyril Richardson gone, Drango will be the headliner on the Baylor offensive line.

5. RB Shock Linwood: Despite being Baylor’s third-team running back last year, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing with 881 yards. Some of that was due to Art Briles’ system and Baylor’s other offensive weapons. But some of it was due to Linwood’s talent, too. In his first significant action, Linwood shredded Oklahoma’s defense for 182 rushing yards, then followed that up with 187 yards against Texas Tech. Linwood is now the starter, and though he’ll likely share carries with Johnny Jefferson and Devin Chafin, he could put up a full season worth of big rushing totals.

[+] EnlargeLevi Norwood
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsBetween his receiving and kick-returning abilities, Levi Norwood is a dangerous weapon for the Bears.
6. WR Levi Norwood: When Tevin Reese was lost for the regular season with a wrist injury, more throws went Norwood’s way. And he capitalized on those opportunities, totaling 156, 83 and 83 receiving yards in three straight games near the end of the season to finish in the top 10 of the Big 12 in receiving along with teammates Goodley and Reese. Norwood is also a dangerous returner, taking two punts to the house last year. With Reese gone for good, Norwood will step into the No. 2 receiving role alongside Goodley, giving the Bears a formidable one-two punch for Petty to operate with.

7. DT Andrew Billings: Billings was one of the gems of the 2013 recruiting class and commanded a role along the defensive line as a true freshman. In his second year in the program, Billings could be primed for a breakout season. He has the talent, strength and quickness to be the best defensive tackle in the entire league.

8: DT Beau Blackshear: He might get overshadowed by Billings’ hype, but Blackshear has become a solid cog in Phil Bennett’s defense up front. Together, Blackshear and Billings could give the Bears a defensive tackle tandem as good as any in the Big 12.

9. DE Shawn Oakman: At 6-foot-9, 275 pounds, Oakman has the size and length to be a menacing defensive end. He flashed his immense potential several times last year and finished tied for sixth in the Big 12 with 12.5 tackles for loss despite being a part-time player. Oakman will take on a much bigger role on the defense this season, and he has the capability to be an All-Big 12 performer. The trio of Billings, Blackshear and Oakman is the foundation of what Baylor’s defensive line could be under Briles.

10. P Spencer Roth: The Bears featured one of the best special-teams units in the country in 2013, and Roth spearheaded that effort. The All-Big 12 punter was sixth nationally with an average of 45.8 yards per punt. Because of how prolific the Baylor offense is, Roth doesn’t get to punt often. But when he does, he usually swings field position the other way.
As we await the start of spring ball, we’ve been examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12. Thursday, we close this series out with special teams.

1. TCU: Honorable mention All-Big 12 place-kicker Jaden Oberkrom was 13 of 14 on field goals inside the 50 last season and drilled a 56-yarder late in the fourth quarter at Kansas State. B.J. Catalon was second in the league in kickoff returns and took one to the house in the opener against LSU. Freshman Cameron Echols-Luper took his first punt return 51 yards and had a 41-yarder in the season finale against Baylor. Brandon Carter has had moments in the return game in the past as well. Ethan Perry will be a three-year starter at punter, rounding out a formidable special teams unit.

2. Baylor: Corey Coleman led the league in kick returns, and Levi Norwood scored twice off punt returns. The Bears are loaded with potential game-breakers in the return game and welcome back All-Big 12 punter Spencer Roth. If Kyle Peterson proves to be a reliable replacement for departing kicker Aaron Jones, this special teams unit will have no weakness.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAlong with being a top-flight wide receiver, Kansas State's Tyler Lockett can also provide big plays in the return game.
3. Kansas State: The Wildcats feature one of the best kickoff return men in the game in Tyler Lockett, who doubles as an All-American WR candidate. Jack Cantele, the younger brother of All-Big 12 K-State kicker Anthony Cantele, only missed two field goal attempts as a sophomore and nailed a 41-yarder as time expired to beat TCU. Defensive tackle Travis Britz also returns after leading the nation with four blocked kicks.

4. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders will feature a lethal one-two punch in the return game in Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis, who took a kick back for a touchdown in the bowl game. Receiver Jordan Davis also has return experience. Kicker Ryan Bustin returns after garnering honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last year.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose the most explosive return duo in the league in Jalen Saunders and Roy Finch. Sterling Shepard and Alex Ross could be among the players who replace them. Oklahoma boasts the league’s most efficient returning place-kicker in Michael Hunnicutt, who nailed 24 of 27 field goal tries last season. The Sooners have a secret weapon in Nick Hodgson, who led the league in touchback kickoffs last season. Jed Barnett, fifth in the Big 12 in punting average last season, returns as well.

6. Iowa State: The Cyclones had four players make first- or second-team All-Big 12 last season, and departing punter Kirby Van Der Kamp was one of them. Replacing his production won’t be easy, though incoming three-star freshman Colin Downing will try. DeVondrick Nealy, Jarvis West and Aaron Wimberly all had several dynamite moments returning kicks. Cole Netten was 13-of-18 on field goals as a freshman,

7. West Virginia: Nick O'Toole leads the Mountaineers on special teams. The “Boomstache” was 15th nationally in punting last season. The Mountaineers have all their returners back in Wendell Smallwood, Mario Alford and Jordan Thompson, though more big plays are needed from this group -- the Mountaineers ranked last in the league in both punt and kick returns in 2013. Josh Lambert comes back after making 17 of 23 field goals as a freshman. The Mountaineers also enjoy a luxury in Michael Molinari, who can do a little bit of everything.

8. Texas: The Longhorns lose their punter and their kicker in consensus All-American Anthony Fera. That hurts. Nick Jordan, who made nine of 15 field goals in 2012, could reclaim his job. Daje Johnson -- who returned a punt for a TD against Oklahoma -- Duke Thomas, Quandre Diggs, Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and Jaxon Shipley all have experience returning.

9. Kansas: Return men Connor Embree (punts) and JaCorey Shepherd (kicks) both come back. The Jayhawks also return kicker Matthew Wyman, who connected on a game-winning 52-yard field goal to beat Louisiana Tech. The freshman, however, only made two field goals after that and eventually lost that job to departing senior Ron Doherty. Trevor Pardula was third in the Big 12 in punting as a junior and received votes for Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year.

10. Oklahoma State: After enjoying All-Americans Dan Bailey and Quinn Sharp the last few years, the Cowboys were finally mediocre in the kicking game last season. Ben Grogan struggled as a freshman, making just 11 of 18 field goals while missing two critical attempts in the early-season loss at West Virginia. The Cowboys were also last in the league in punting. Oklahoma State signed three-star kicker Zach Sinor with hopes of curing some of those ills. The Cowboys were still dynamic in the return game, but with Justin Gilbert and Josh Stewart both gone, Oklahoma State could lean on juco transfer and track star Tyreek Hill for a jolt on returns.

Big 12 all-bowl team

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
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The Big 12 had some memorable bowl performances, and some not-so-memorable ones. Below, we honor the memorable ones with the Big 12's all-bowl team:

OFFENSE

QB: Trevor Knight, Oklahoma. Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Kansas State’s Jake Waters were marvelous, too, but Knight was simply incredible, throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns against the two-time defending national champs.

RB: Malcolm Brown, Texas. Brown did everything he could to keep the Longhorns in the Valero Alamo Bowl, rushing for 130 yards on 26 carries. Unfortunately, he had little help from the rest of the offense.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTyler Lockett proved just as much a handful for Michigan as he does Big 12 teams.
RB: John Hubert, Kansas State. In his final game at K-State, Hubert went out with a bang, rushing for 80 yards and a touchdown as the Wildcats rolled Michigan.

WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State. The Wolverines became the next team unable to guard Lockett, who had another stellar outing with 10 catches, 116 yards and three touchdowns. Big 12 defensive backs cannot be looking forward to this guy coming back next season.

WR: Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma. Saunders hauled in two of Knight’s touchdown passes, the second a 43-yarder coming off a gorgeous double move that gave OU the lead for good.

TE: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech. Amaro became the NCAA's all-time single season tight end record holder for receptions and receiving yards, reeling in eight catches for 112 yards against the Sun Devils before revealing he would be turning pro.

OT: Bronson Irwin, Oklahoma. Irwin held up remarkably well against Alabama’s mighty front in his first career start at right tackle, as Knight was sacked only once. Irwin, a guard his entire career, had to move outside because of an injury to Tyrus Thompson.

OT: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech. Webb attempted 41 passes and wasn’t sacked once. Clark was a big reason.

OG: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State. The Wildcats moved the ball at will against Michigan. Along with Clark, Whitehair is one of the best young returning offensive linemen in the league.

OG: Beau Carpenter, Texas Tech. After missing three straight games with a concussion, Carpenter returned to help shut down Arizona State All-American DT Will Sutton, who basically was a non-factor.

C: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma. Even with a makeshift offensive line, OU somehow won the battle in the trenches against Alabama. Ikard, an All-American and quarterback of the line, deserves a ton of credit for keeping the line together.

DEFENSE

DE: Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma. Grissom was a man possessed against the Crimson Tide. The former tight end had two sacks and two fumble recoveries, the latter of which he returned for a touchdown to clinch the Sooners’ victory.

DT: Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State. Despite the loss, Barnett tied a career high with five tackles and one sack and repeatedly found his way into the Missouri backfield.

DT: Dartwan Bush, Texas Tech. The Red Raiders desperately missed Bush late in the regular season. His performance against Arizona State underscored why, as Bush delivered three tackles and a sack and freed up Kerry Hyder to make plays, too.

[+] EnlargeEric Striker
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesSooners LB Eric Striker sacked AJ McCarron three times in the Sugar Bowl.
DE: Jimmy Bean, Oklahoma State. Bean had a breakout game in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, with a career-high seven tackles, including three for loss.

LB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma. Not even Alabama could block Striker off the edge. Striker had a monster performance against the Tide with seven tackles and three sacks, with his final sack forcing the game-clinching fumble in the final minute of the fourth quarter.

LB: Will Smith, Texas Tech. The senior had a National University Holiday Bowl-high 14 tackles, as the Red Raiders held Arizona State 17 points below its season average.

LB: Blake Slaughter, Kansas State. One of the better linebackers in the Big 12 all year, Slaughter had another fine game in the desert with seven tackles, including one for loss, as Michigan’s offense was held in check all night.

CB: Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma. The Sooners gave up some big plays in the passing game, but Colvin was the exception. He also had a critical, touchdown-saving tackle in the first quarter that resulted in Alabama having to settle for a field goal.

CB: Demetri Goodson, Baylor. The Bears gave up 52 points, but they might have given up more had Goodson not collected an acrobatic interception inside the Baylor 5-yard line.

S: Dante Barnett, Kansas State. Barnett led the Wildcats with eight tackles, and he delivered the exclamation point against Michigan with a 51-yard interception return in the fourth quarter.

S: Tanner Jacobson, Texas Tech. In his last college game for a while, the walk-on freshman had a very solid performance with seven tackles. Jacobson is leaving the program for a two-year Mormon mission to Bolivia.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma. “Moneycutt” nailed a season-long 47-yard field goal in the second quarter that allowed OU to keep momentum. It was the third-longest field goal of his career.

P: Spencer Roth, Baylor. One of the few bright spots for Baylor in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl was its punter, who was busier than he had been all season. Roth averaged almost 44 yards on seven punts, and pinned UCF inside the 20-yard line three times.

Returner: Reginald Davis, Texas Tech. After Arizona State had trimmed Tech’s lead to 27-20 early in the third quarter, Davis answered on the ensuing kickoff with a 90-yard touchdown return down the sideline. The Sun Devils failed to retake the momentum again the rest of the game.

Big 12 did you know: Week 7

October, 12, 2012
10/12/12
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We're back again with our weekly collection of facts, tidbits and notes about this weekend's games in the Big 12. As always, these are courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information and various sports information departments across the Big 12.

We love you, you make your readers the smartest people at their tailgates:

Did you know ...
  • Last week against Texas was the first game all season West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith didn't complete at least 60 percent of his passes longer than 15 yards downfield.
  • Facing at least five blitzing rushers, Smith is completing 78 percent of his passes, 16 percent higher than last season.
  • In those situations, Smith has thrown seven touchdowns and no interceptions, with at least one touchdown in those scenarios in each game this season.
  • Texas Tech QB Seth Doege has completed just 62.5 percent of his passes in those situations, with one touchdown and one interception.
  • Landry Jones completed 9 of 12 passes for 120 yards, a touchdown and no sacks when Texas Tech blitzed last week.
  • When opponents send three or fewer rushers, Smith has completed 51 of 59 (86.4 percent) of his passes.
  • In those situations, he hasn't been sacked once in 61 dropbacks and has completed 13 of 17 passes at least 15 yards downfield with five touchdowns.
  • Tavon Austin (8) and Stedman Bailey (13, most in the FBS) have combined for 21 touchdown catches. No other team in college football has more than 19 touchdown catches.
  • Oklahoma threw for 259 passing yards last week, but 174 came after the catch vs. Texas Tech.
  • Austin has 424 yards after the catch, the most in the Big 12 and second-most among players at AQ-conference schools.
  • West Virginia ran on 54.5 percent of its plays last week, the second-highest percentage of any game since Dana Holgorsen took over as head coach.
  • Of Andrew Buie's 207 yards last week, 74 came after contact.
  • Texas Tech has given up just six plays longer than 20 yards all season, the fewest in FBS. Alabama is second, with eight.
  • Texas Tech gave up 66 of those plays last year, which ranked 100th in FBS.
  • Jones completed 44.8 percent of his throws longer than 20 yards last year. This year, he's completing just 26.1.
  • On those throws, Jones is averaging just 9.1 yards per attempt, compared to 17.3 last year.
  • When targeting Kenny Stills on those throws, Jones is just 3-of-10.
  • David Ash is completing 60 percent of his throws 20 yards or longer, compared to just 30 percent last season.
  • On those throws, Ash is averaging 21.9 yards per play.
  • Ash has four touchdowns to no interceptions on those throws, compared to one touchdown and one interception for Jones.
  • Texas' defense gave up 11 completions longer than 30 yards last year. This year, it has given up eight through just five games.
  • On throws longer than 20 yards, Jones is just 3-of-14 all-time vs. Texas, with no touchdowns.
  • Texas running back Joe Bergeron averages 2.9 yards per carry in the first half this season, compared to 6.1 in the second half.
  • Six of his seven carries longer than 20 yards have come in the second half, and he's averaging 3.8 yards after contact per carry in the second half, compared to 1.7 in the first half.
  • Facing a blitz this year, Ash hasn't been sacked in 32 dropbacks, is completing 75 percent of his passes and hasn't turned the ball over.
  • Last year, he had zero touchdowns and three picks in those same situations, compared to three touchdowns and no interceptions so far this year.
  • Collin Klein averages 6.2 yards per carry on designed runs this year.
  • Last year, Klein averaged just 4.3 yards per carry in those same situations.
  • Iowa State gives up 115.8 yards a game, 30th in the FBS.
  • Last year against Iowa State, Klein had four runs of at least 10 yards.
  • On designed runs on first down, Klein is averaging 7.4 yards per carry this year.
  • When targeting Tramaine Thompson at least 10 yards downfield, Klein is 8-of-12 with three touchdowns.
  • When targeting the rest of the team at least 10 yards downfield, Klein is 12-of-26 with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
  • Oklahoma State has beaten Kansas in seven of their last eight meetings.
  • Oklahoma State's 13 road wins since 2009 are tied for fifth-most in FBS.
  • As a player and a coach, Mike Gundy is 4-0 all-time in Lawrence and 7-1 vs. Kansas.
  • Oklahoma State has won the past two games in this series by a combined score of 118-42.
  • In last year's game, Kansas turned the ball over four times in the first half. All resulted in Oklahoma State touchdowns.
  • TCU's campus was located in Waco from 1895-1910.
  • TCU is 21-6 all-time following a loss under Gary Patterson.
  • TCU is 22-12 against former Southwest Conference foes.
  • TCU has played Baylor 107 times, more than any other opponent in college football.
  • Skye Dawson is the only player in the country to rank in the top nine in punt returns and top 11 in kick returns.
  • Baylor linebacker Bryce Hager ranks second nationally in tackles per game.
  • Baylor punter Spencer Roth leads the Big 12 at 46.8 yards per punt.
  • Baylor has a nine-game home winning streak, the seventh-longest active streak in college football.

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