Big 12: Taylor Cox

The Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s captured three Super Bowls on the backs of their triplets. Running back Emmitt Smith churned out yardage between the tackles. Wide receiver Michael Irvin hauled in receptions downfield. And quarterback Troy Aikman captained the unstoppable attack.

Like with the Cowboys, big-time triplets usually translate to big-time offense. And the Big 12 over the years has showcased several notable ones. Oklahoma’s Jason White, Adrian Peterson and Mark Clayton in 2004. Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Joseph Randle and Justin Blackmon in 2011. West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in 2012. Even last season, Baylor boasted one of the best triplets in the country in Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk and Antwan Goodley.

So which Big 12 teams will feature the most prolific offensive triplets in 2014? We rank them below:

1. Baylor

QB Bryce Petty, RB Shock Linwood, WR Antwan Goodley

The Bears remain atop this list, even with Seastrunk bolting early for the NFL draft. Despite being Baylor’s third-string running back last season, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing and shined as the featured back while Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were injured. After totaling 46 touchdowns throwing and rushing, Petty should be even better in his second season as a starter. Goodley is an All-American-caliber wideout.

2. Oklahoma

QB Trevor Knight, RB Keith Ford, WR Sterling Shepard

Knight finally live up to his preseason billing with a sparkling Sugar Bowl performance against Alabama. Knight has the talent and potential to be one of the best dual-threat QBs in the country. Ford was one of the top running back recruits in 2013, and would have played more as a freshman had the Sooners not also had four senior running backs on the roster. Shepard has been a dependable starter the last two seasons, and he already has 96 career receptions going into his junior season. He seems ready to take over for Jalen Saunders as the go-to receiver.

3. Texas Tech

QB Davis Webb, RB Kenny Williams, WR Jakeem Grant

Webb broke out with a tremendous performance in the National University Holiday Bowl, throwing for 403 yards and four touchdowns in an upset of Arizona State. He had his moments during the regular season, too, and could be in for a monster sophomore campaign in Kliff Kingsbury’s air-it-out offense. Williams is a solid pass-catching running back out of the backfield, and he led the Red Raiders with 497 rushing yards and eight touchdowns last season. Williams has been taking first-team snaps at outside linebacker this spring, so he could wind up deferring carries to DeAndre Washington, who has been a capable backup. Grant is electric with the ball, burning Arizona State with a pair of touchdown catches. Grant was sixth in the Big 12 last season in receiving, and with Jace Amaro and Eric Ward gone, should take on an expanded role offensively.

4. Texas

QB David Ash, RB Malcolm Brown, WR Jaxon Shipley

The possibilities of this threesome hinges heavily on the health of Ash, who missed virtually all of the 2013 season with concussion issues. Ash is back with the team this spring, and he has had moments before of performing at a high level. After Johnathan Gray’s Achilles injury, Brown took over as the starting running back and performed admirably, rushing for more than 100 yards in each of Texas’ final three games. Shipley has sure hands, is a precise route runner and is capable of catching 70-plus passes in the right quarterback situation.

5. Kansas State

QB Jake Waters, RB DeMarcus Robinson, WR Tyler Lockett

The Wildcats would be ranked second here if John Hubert had another season of eligibility. But running back is a major question, with no back on the roster holding much experience. Robinson might be the favorite to win the job, but he’ll have to fend off Jarvis Leverett and incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack. Lockett is the best receiver in the Big 12 and one of the best in the country. Waters improved dramatically in his first season as the starter in 2013. If a running back emerges, the Wildcats could surge up this list.

6. Iowa State

QB Grant Rohach, RB Aaron Wimberly, WR Quenton Bundrage

Rohach first must win the starting quarterback derby this spring over Sam B. Richardson. But he played well down the stretch while leading Iowa State to a pair of wins to finish last year. Wimberly was banged up for much of last season, but he can be dynamic when healthy. Bundrage was third in the Big 12 in receiving touchdowns in 2013, and with a little more consistency, could be an all-league receiver. This could be the best triplet combination coach Paul Rhoads has enjoyed in Ames.

7. Oklahoma State

QB J.W. Walsh, RB Desmond Roland, WR Jhajuan Seales

Walsh was fifth in college football in Adjusted Total QBR as a redshirt freshman, but he took a step back as a sophomore and eventually lost the starting gig back to Clint Chelf. If he plays like he did as a freshman, Walsh could be one of the five-best QBs in the league. If he performs like his sophomore season, he could lose the job again. Roland is a touchdown machine and is as good as any back in the league in short-yardage situations. Seales could be on the verge of breaking out in a big way after starting as a freshman.

8. West Virginia

QB Clint Trickett, RB Dreamius Smith, WR Kevin White

The Mountaineers have plenty of weapons, but they will only score more points with more consistent QB play. Trickett tops the projected depth chart for now, but he’ll have to outperform Paul Millard, Skyler Howard and William Crest to stick there. Smith was very impressive at times last season backing up Charles Sims. He’ll get the first crack at starting, but Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell will be looming if Smith sputters. White gets the nod as the No. 1 wideout, but Daikiel Shorts and Mario Alford are not far behind as part of a deep and balanced wide receiving corps.

9. TCU

QB Trevone Boykin, RB B.J. Catalon, WR Josh Doctson

Boykin is back at quarterback again after splitting time at receiver the last two seasons. Boykin struggled as the starting QB last season but got little help from his offensive line or receivers. Reports are that he has been sharp this spring in the new Doug Meacham/Sonny Cumbie offense. Catalon is a solid cog at running back, and he averaged 5.3 yards per carry despite playing in an anemic attack last year. Brandon Carter was supposed to be the No. 1 receiver last season -- and still could be in 2014 -- but he wasn’t reliable on or off the field. In Carter’s stead, Doctson surfaced after transferring in from Wyoming, and led the Horned Frogs with 36 receptions and 440 receiving yards.

10. Kansas

QB Jake Heaps, RB Brandon Bourbon, WR Nick Harwell

Harwell should give Kansas what it hasn’t had in a long time -- a go-to receiver. Harwell was the nation’s second-leading receiver in 2011 at Miami (Ohio), and he should give the Kansas offense a much needed shot in the arm. Heaps lost time to freshman Montell Cozart last fall, but he has reasserted himself this spring amid a three-way competition with Cozart and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard. Bourbon is battling Taylor Cox and Darrian Miller to see who replaces All-Big 12 running back James Sims.
The field of Big 12 running backs is deep in 2013, and the vote for the league's leading rusher reflected that. Baylor's Lache Seastrunk has had a brief run of success, but the spectacle of that success has him on the short list of the league's best returning offensive players.

He's my pick to lead the Big 12 in rushing this season, but collected just 26 percent of the fan vote from our readers. "The field" earned a solid 38 percent of the vote. Oklahoma State's Jeremy Smith would lead that group for me, possibly followed by Waymon James at TCU, despite a crowded backfield. We'll get to your emails and some surprising picks in a bit.

Kansas State's John Hubert would be my No. 2 pick to lead the league in rushing, but he earned just 15 percent of the vote. Like Seastrunk, Oklahoma's Damien Williams isn't very experienced at the major college level, but he earned 13 percent of the vote. Kansas' James Sims brought up the rear of the vote with 8 percent of the vote. Kansas' backfield is crowded with Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox, and Sims is a workhorse who's tough to bring down near the line of scrimmage, but his yardage comes with a big pile of carries.

Who would the fans campaign for? Here's a bit of what you had to say:

Marshall Stirtz in Iowa writes: For the Big 12 leading rusher in 2013, I believe that maybe not as an individual but as a team Iowa State should have one of the best rushing offenses in the Big 12

Cole in Wilson, N.C., writes: Charles Sims -- West Virginia. Saw he was the 5th ranked 2014 pro prospect (RB) and he is on a team desperate for offense and has not even named a QB ... so looks like they will be executing a lot of running plays as well as screens and WVU's favorite "drop pass" that they made popular in the Orange Bowl against Clemson

Phillip in Vernon, Texas, writes: I think with a healthy OL and new OC, Johnathan Gray will have a breakout year 2013 and challenge for the leading rusher title in the Big 12!!!

Stephen Lopez in Fort Worth, Texas, writes: What about Waymon James and/or Aaron Green? James rushed for 99 yards vs Kansas before being taken out in the fourth quarter (Lache Seastrunk rushed for 103 yards vs Kansas) and had 168 yards in two games. I bet if he wasn't injured, he would have had an incredible season and would be on this list. And Aaron Green was same situation as Lache Seastrunk was in before transfering: 5 star recruit out of high school, went to a school where they didn't have a lot of playing time, then transferred. I think he is poised for a grand season. And don't you forget about B.J. Catalon, Kyle Hicks.

Clifford Mitchell in Guthrie, Okla., writes: You know Jeremy Smith will lead the league in rushing. He's a better runner than Randle was, Tailback U for a reason. We have the best O-line returning and we're the only spread in the country that proves year-in-year-out we can run the football. Kid at Baylor tremendous talent, but I am afraid his mouth has already written some checks his you-know-what won't be able to cash. One of those runners from UT would look good in OSU's backfield unfortunately for them poor line and no qb play...keep up the good work and Bedlam decides Big 12 ship and I'm goin with the Pokes

Sean in Flower Mound, Texas, writes: I would make a strong case for the Big 12's most overlooked RB -- TCU's Waymon James. To refresh memories, he went out in the 2nd game in 2012, but had already accumulated 168 yards rushing on a rediculous 9.9 per carry mark for the season at the time of the injury ... ran for 99 yards on 12 carries while adding two receptions and a season-long 28-yard kickoff return in that game at Kansas. He's TCU's human bowling ball who increased his ypc mark each year and looks to explode next year as the featured back with a true throwing threat back to force defenses not to load the box.

Alex in Ames, Iowa, writes: Referring to your rushing leader question, I think you have to have the ISU backfield at least on the radar. I don't specify an individual because there are too many options to be certain. James White and Shontrelle Johnson are the obvious frontrunners, but DeVondrick Nealy and Aaron Wimberly are two guys that have impressed coaches in the spring. Woody, of course will do his work as a pound-it-out back as well. The biggest reason for the excitement is the focus on the pistol offense ISU will have with the new OC, coupled with the strong offensive line. The Cyclones may not field the Big 12's leading rusher, but don't be surprised if they lead the league as a team.
You can't rebuild a football team with one player. It's got to happen piece by piece and position by position. Kansas has a long way to go and one of the Big 12's most difficult rebuilding jobs, but one thing is sure after today: One position group is assured as one of the Big 12's best for the foreseeable future.

Darrian Miller was arguably Kansas' most talented back in 2011, rushing for almost 600 yards in limited duty behind James Sims. But when Charlie Weis arrived at the end of the season, he made Miller one of 29 players told to continue their careers elsewhere.

The Jayhawks announced Miller's return on Tuesday morning, which gives Kansas the Big 12's deepest backfield for sure. He joins Sims, who logged his first 1,000-yard season last year, but he'll have to compete for time with a whole group of talented backs, too.

Tony Pierson found a niche in the passing game and was one of Kansas' most explosive players in an offense badly in need of a big-play threat last season. Taylor Cox and Brandon Bourbon should provide further depth for a Jayhawks backfield with five players who could be very productive carrying the ball in Big 12 play.

For me, only Baylor and Texas have better running backs than Kansas. TCU's right there battling for that third spot, too. But this is the only position right now where you can guarantee Kansas has the personnel and production to be in the top half of the Big 12.

Weis would like his junior college haul to make the defensive line crack that list, and it may happen, but for now, the Jayhawks have added a huge talent in Miller and added further depth to a position Kansas knows it can count in in 2013, 2014 and perhaps beyond.

That's a place to start building and should loosen up defenses for Jake Heaps to make an impact in the passing game.

There's the matter of Miller's discipline issue, but it's amazing what a year away from the game players' love will do for their decision-making off the field.

"When I left Kansas after the 2011 season, I was in good academic standing. I was dismissed for off-the-field issues that I take full accountability for," Miller said in a statement. "I made mistakes as a freshman that not only led to my dismissal, but hurt the Kansas football team. I regret this happened, but I have learned a great life lesson during this ordeal."

It sounds like Miller's focus has narrowed, and for Kansas, so has their list of problems, even if it's just one position for now.

"My only goal now is to help Coach Weis return Kansas football to respectability,” Miller said.

Weak and Strong: Kansas Jayhawks

April, 2, 2013
Turnover is an annual tradition in college football, but with that, teams' strengths and weaknesses constantly shift, too. Today, we'll continue our look at the biggest strengths and weaknesses for each Big 12 team.

Next up: Kansas.

Strongest position: Running back

It seems like this has been the case for awhile at KU, but don't expect it to change in 2013. Say what you will about Turner Gill, but the man recruited the heck out of the running back position, and the Jayhawks are reaping the benefits now. James Sims and Anthony Pierson highlight the group, and both were among the Big 12's top 10 at the position. Before Lache Seastrunk's late-season emergence, Sims had a pretty good case ahead of Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle as the Big 12's best back.

Sims topped 1,000 yards on just 218 carries and scored nine times, averaging better than 4.5 yards per carry with an offense that had zero passing threat for opposing defenses. The closest thing to a passing threat was the Jayhawks' No. 2 back, Pierson, who ran for 760 yards and four scores on just 117 carries, averaging better than 6.5 yards a touch. Pierson helped the passing game tremendously, catching 21 balls for 291 yards and two scores. KU's backs run pretty deep, too. Taylor Cox added 464 yards on 91 carries, scoring three times. Brandon Bourbon has had issues staying healthy, but he can provide even more depth.

KU's still trying to get over the hump and end its 21-game Big 12 losing streak, but without the running backs, the close calls in 2012 like games against Texas and Texas Tech wouldn't have been possible. If KU wins a league game this time around, the running backs will be a huge reason why.

Weakest position: Receiver

If I told you a Big 12 team fielded an offense in which no receiver caught a touchdown pass in 12 games, I'm betting you wouldn't have a hard time believing that Big 12 team won exactly zero conference games. You've got to be able to produce big plays and score points in the Big 12 to be competitive, and KU couldn't do that with its passing game.

The lack of a passing threat was something of a chicken-and-egg situation last season, but as much as Dayne Crist struggled, he got zero help from his receivers. Kale Pick led the unit with 390 yards on 26 catches, but he's gone this year and Pierson's actually the team's leading returning receiver. So is Daymond Patterson and D.J. Beshears, but KU's got to restart at the position and find a new set of threats. Returning players Andrew Turzilli and Tre Parmalee have some potential, but for KU, now is the time for Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay to step up. New quarterback Jake Heaps needs all the help he can get, and McCay's the most physically gifted player in the group. Newcomers Rodriguez Coleman, Mark Thomas and Ishmael Hyman don't have much standing between them and playing time, though. Receivers across the Big 12 are great. KU doesn't have anyone who fits that bill. It needs to change fast.

Best and worst of 2012: Kansas

December, 28, 2012
Time to continue our series on the best and worst moments of 2012 for each team in the Big 12. Next up: Kansas.

Worst moment: Oh, So Close

There's a ton of candidates here in Charlie Weis' first season. Was it losing to Rice on the last-second field goal in the second game, becoming the first Big 12 team since the league's birth to lose to the Owls? Blowing a double-digit lead in a loss to BCS-bound Northern Illinois? What about rallying from a double-digit deficit to force overtime in Lubbock against Texas Tech, only to lose?

Nope, I'm going with the one conference game KU absolutely should have won: Texas. The Jayhawks hosted the Longhorns and David Ash played one of his worst games of the year, being benched after completing just 8-of-16 passes for 63 yards and a pair of interceptions. Case McCoy stepped in and the Longhorns used the ground game to tie the game at 14, but with 2:28 to play, Nick Prolago kicked what looked like a game-winning field goal. McCoy had other ideas. He hit Mike Davis for a 39-yard bomb and won the game in the final seconds with a one-yard touchdown pass to TE D.J. Grant. Just like he did against A&M in 2011, McCoy rescued the Longhorns on the road, but in the process, provided the most painful moment of KU's season in a year full of them, helping extend the Jayhawks' Big 12 losing streak to 21 games, where it will sit until 2013.

Best moment: Tasting Victory

There's really only one candidate here, even if it's a small one. KU hasn't done a lot of winning lately, but it got to taste victory in its season opener. Running backs Anthony Pierson and Taylor Cox combined for 245 yards and three touchdowns in the 31-17 season-opening win against South Dakota State. Dayne Crist even hit former Notre Dame teammate Mike Ragone for a touchdown. It was a bit of a shaky start for Crist, who completed just 17-of-36 passes for 169 yards, but there was still plenty of hope that he'd pick it up as his chemistry with his receivers grew.

More best and worst of 2012:

Big 12 by the numbers: Week 10

November, 1, 2012
Here are the numbers that will tell the story of the Big 12 in Week 10:

5: Steele Jantz touchdown passes vs. Baylor last week.

3: Touchdown passes surrendered by Oklahoma's defense this season. Jantz will go head-to-head with the Sooners on Saturday.

6.59: Average yards per play of that speedy, unstoppable, must-see Oregon offense.

6.91: Average yards per play of that boring, plodding, unimaginative Kansas State offense.

27: Non-offensive scores by Big 12 teams this season.

28.9: First downs per game for opponents against Baylor. That's 4.6 per game more than any team in the Big 12, and ranks dead last nationally. No other team in the country has given up more than 26.4.

3: Missed extra points for Iowa State. That's the most in the Big 12, despite attempting the second-fewest extra points (26) in the Big 12.

37: Catches longer than 10 yards for Baylor receiver Terrance Williams. No other receiver in the Big 12 has more than 26.

24: Runs longer than 10 yards for Kansas State QB Collin Klein, the most in the Big 12.

22: Runs longer than 10 yards for Kansas State RB John Hubert, the second-most in the Big 12.

3: Kansas running backs in the Big 12's top eight in runs longer than 10 yards (James Sims, Taylor Cox, Tony Pierson)
One team survived, the other did not.

RICE 25, KANSAS 24: Kansas surrendered a 24-13 lead to the Owls at home on Saturday, after Rice's Chris Boswell kicked a 45-yard field goal as the final horn sounded.

Missed field goals and a critical interception of Dayne Crist doomed KU, which looked to have control of the game entering the fourth quarter. Bryce Callahan intercepted Crist after the Owls had cut the lead to 24-22 with a 7-play, 93-yard drive on their previous possession.

Desperately needing a stop, KU couldn't get one in the final five minutes as Rice drove 26 yards to give Boswell the opportunity to kick the game winner.

As disappointing as the loss was for the Jayhawks, remember the names Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox. Pierson, a sophomore, finished with 19 carries for 120 yards while Cox had 15 carries for 79 yards in the loss. While the pair was going against a Rice defense that allowed 343 rushing yards to UCLA in its season opener, they each sent the message that they plan to be contributors on the Jayhawks offense even when James Sims returns from his three-game suspension against Northern Illinois on Sept. 22.

IOWA STATE 9, IOWA 6: The Baltimore Ravens would have been proud.

The Cyclones' defense stepped up when it mattered after both defenses dominated this in-state rivalry game. Neither team seemed to find a consistent rhythm on offense throughout the game.

Protecting a 3-point lead, ISU forced Iowa punts on back-to-back possessions early in the fourth quarter then -- helped by dropped passes by Hawkeye receivers -- forced a turnover on downs with 3:02 remaining in the game. They sealed the deal when Jake Knott intercepted James Vandenburg's pass with the Hawkeyes driving in the final two minutes.

ISU had some success through the air, recording 241 passing yards, but struggled to capitalize when it mattered, going 2-of-5 in the red zone including a critical interception late in the fourth quarter. The Cyclones’ defensive effort should bring a smile to the face of Paul Rhoads as A.J. Klein and company buckled down in the final quarter despite being put in difficult positions.

The Cyclones dominated the first half, spending the majority of the 30 minutes on the Iowa side of the field. Yet, ISU held a six-point lead at halftime, an early sign that the defense might have to shoulder the load.

What's coming up: Part 1

September, 8, 2012
Kansas and Iowa State highlight the middle slate of games in the Big 12. Both squads are 1-0 with bigger tests facing them in Week 2. Here’s a look at what’s coming up:

Iowa State at Iowa (3:30 ET, Big Ten Network): Cyclone quarterback Steele Jantz is looking for another memorable performance (and victory) against Iowa after passing for 279 yards and four touchdowns during a 44-41 triple-overtime thriller in 2011. After accounting for three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) in last week’s season-opening 38-23 win over Tulsa, Jantz could continue to insert his name into the conversation when Big 12’s top quarterbacks are discussed with another productive Saturday in Iowa City.

Rice at Kansas (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Network): The Jayhawks will look to continue to dominate this series... well, ok, they’re just 1-0 and yet they’re still aiming to remain undefeated against the Owls. That sound you hear is KU running backs Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox -- who recorded over 100 rushing yards each against South Dakota State last week -- licking their chops. The duo will face an Owl defense that allowed an eye-popping 343 rushing yards against UCLA in Week 1.