Big 12: top 25 players 2013

Who is the Big 12's best player?

August, 23, 2013
8/23/13
4:00
PM ET
It appears we've reached the end of our road together.

The season is exactly one week away, and it's time to crown the Big 12's No. 1 player.

Here's more on my criteria.

No. 1: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

2012 numbers: Made 63 tackles. Intercepted six passes and broke up 16 more passes. Made five tackles for loss. Blocked a field goal in an overtime win vs. West Virginia.

Most recent ranking: Verrett was No. 12 in our postseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Verrett: Nobody got their hands on more passes than Verrett last season. He did it seven more times, in fact, than any other defender in the Big 12, and tied for the national lead in passes defended, with 22.

In TCU's first season in the Big 12, Verrett emerged as a legitimate lockdown corner in a league stacked with receiving talent. The Frogs led the Big 12 in total defense by more than 40 yards a game, and you can bet Verrett was a huge reason why. He helped TCU slow down guys like Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Terrance Williams. The Frogs beat both West Virginia and TCU a year ago, and like I said, Verrett was a huge piece of those wins. Great cornerbacks are extremely valuable in this league, and look for the Frogs to do everything they can to maximize that value this fall.

Verrett was my preseason pick for Defensive Player of the Year and my pick for the best player in the Big 12 entering the 2013 season.

The rest of the list:
We're counting down to the beginning of the season with the top 25 players in the Big 12. The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we'll be revealing players from the bottom of the list all the way to No. 1.

Here's more on my criteria.

Let's move on with the list:

No. 2: Cyril Richardson, G, Baylor

2012 numbers: Helped Baylor amass 7,439 yards of offense, almost 200 more yards than any other team in college football. Part of an offensive line that surrendered just 19 sacks and led the Big 12 in rushing.

Most recent ranking: Richardson was No. 15 in our postseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Richardson: Identifying top offensive linemen isn't easy in the flow of a game, but if you go back and really look at what's happening in the trenches instead of who's got the ball, it's really not very difficult. Consistency is key, but watch Richardson for any amount of time, and it's clear that he's an absolute mauler with NFL written all over his agile 6-foot-5, 340-pound frame.

He started his career as a guard but spent 2011 holding down the left tackle spot. He really emerged last season after moving back to guard and earned Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year honors. It was well deserved after leading the Bears with 105 (!!) knockdowns and grading out at better than 90 percent in Baylor's final six games. He had at least nine knockdowns in each of the Bears' final five games and enters his senior season as the clear pick for the Big 12's best overall offensive lineman.

The rest of the list:
We're counting down to the beginning of the season with the top 25 players in the Big 12. The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we'll be revealing players from the bottom of the list all the way to No. 1.

Here's more on my criteria.

Let's move on with the list:

No. 3: Devonte Fields, DE, TCU

2012 numbers: Had 18.5 tackles for loss among his 53 total stops. Made 10 sacks and broke up four passes. Forced two fumbles and intercepted a pass.

Most recent ranking: Fields was No. 6 in our postseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Fields: There was a minor sense of panic when a knee injury in preseason camp meant TCU's top pass rusher a year ago, Ross Forrest, wouldn't be available in 2013. Who knew that injury would clear the path for Fields to become the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year?

Even the most optimistic of Frogs fans couldn't see that coming. Midway through October, Fields had 14 tackles for loss and was way out in front in the race for the defensive title. He slowed late in the season, but we're talking about a true freshman. He went through his first spring practice and offseason condition program this year and after spending a year in the Big 12, we'll see exactly what he learned and how he grew on the field this fall. The only negative? We'll have to wait until Game 3 because of a suspension. Still, Fields is one of the best defenders in the Big 12 for what should be one of the league's defenses. He's obviously one of the favorites for Defensive Player of the Year again in 2013.

The rest of the list:
We're counting down to the beginning of the season with the top 25 players in the Big 12. The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we'll be revealing players from the bottom of the list all the way to No. 1.

Here's more on my criteria.

Let's move on with the list:

No. 4: Gabe Ikard, C, Oklahoma

2012 numbers: Helped Oklahoma's offense rack up 6,482 total yards, good for fourth in the Big 12. Anchored an offensive line that gave up just 15 sacks on 571 pass attempts, third-fewest in the Big 12.

Most recent ranking: Ikard was No. 9 in our postseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Ikard: Ikard is a coaches' dream. What more could Oklahoma ask from him? As a redshirt freshman in 2010, he started 12 games at left guard and earned freshmen All-American honors after logging 72 knockdowns. He had 88 the next season, but had to move to center after Ben Habern suffered an injury. In the middle of fall camp the next season, Ikard made the move from guard to center again after Habern retired from the game because of injuries.

He was one of the Big 12's best as a junior and earned an All-Big 12 first-team nod. Oh, and he's an Academic All-American, too. He's a converted tight end who has added about 50 pounds since signing with the Sooners, and now holds together the middle of the Sooners' line at 6-foot-3 and 298 pounds. He's done everything Oklahoma's needed him to do, and he's excelled at it all. Now, he's one of the Big 12's best overall talents.

The rest of the list:
We're counting down to the beginning of the season with the top 25 players in the Big 12. The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we'll be revealing players from the bottom of the list all the way to No. 1.

Here's more on my criteria.

Let's move on with the list:

No. 5: Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor

2012 numbers: Carried the ball 131 times for 1,012 yards and seven touchdowns. Caught nine passes for 107 yards and a touchdown.

Most recent ranking: Seastrunk was No. 19 in our postseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Seastrunk: Nursing a healthy lead in the waning minutes of a blowout win over SMU in the 2012 season opener, Baylor finally gave Seastrunk a chance to get his first taste of college football. I was on the sidelines and watched him scamper for an impressive 34-yard run in the second carry of his college football career.

Meaningless as it may have been, I couldn't help but wonder, "Man, what could happen if Baylor committed to really giving him the ball?"

Come November, the Bears finally did. Just a few months later, Seastrunk emerged as the Big 12's best hope for the Heisman Trophy in 2013. Baylor went 5-1 in its final six games, and Seastrunk averaged just over 138 yards a game over that stretch, earning an unlikely 1,000-yard season that began November with just over 200 yards. Seastrunk averaged 8.22 yards a touch in his 101 carries over that six-game stretch. Only Kent State's Dri Archer surpassed that among players with at least 100 carries.

Seastrunk's mouth, mind and legs are all equally ambitious, looking to turn a two-yard run into 50 by bouncing outside perhaps a bit too often and talking about winning the Heisman Trophy after the season. He's improving on that tendency, earning the tough yards and saving his insane change of direction skills and loose hips for the second and third levels of opposing defenses.

Seastrunk won't be waiting until November to make headlines this time around.

The rest of the list:
We're counting down to the beginning of the season with the top 25 players in the Big 12. The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we'll be revealing players from the bottom of the list all the way to No. 1.

Here's more on my criteria.

Let's move on with the list:

No. 6: Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma

2012 numbers: Made 61 tackles and intercepted four passes. Had two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss. Also broke up 11 passes.

Most recent ranking: Colvin was No. 22 in our postseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Colvin: Colvin has showed tons of promise since his freshman year in 2010, but the versatile defensive back truly broke out last season. He spent 2011 as a first-year starter at safety and was an above average player at the position. After moving back to his natural position of cornerback in 2012, he proved himself as one of the league's elite players at the position.

The 6-foot, 192-pound native of Tulsa, Okla., earned both of his sacks in a win over Oklahoma State to keep the Sooners in position to win a share of the Big 12 title. His 15 passes defended are more than every player in the Big 12 last season besides TCU's Jason Verrett. The league gave him a well-deserved first-team All-Big 12 honor for the first time and he's in great position to do so again this season. He's physical (sometimes a bit too much so downfield) and a solid hitter who makes it easy to see why OU's defensive staff knew he could do well at safety in 2011. Seeing his cover skills full-time in 2012 showed, however, that he's a corner and 2013 will be far from the last time he holds down that position on a football field. Great future ahead for him.

The rest of the list:
We're counting down to the beginning of the season with the top 25 players in the Big 12. The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we'll be revealing players from the bottom of the list all the way to No. 1.

Here's more on my criteria.

Let's move on with the list:

No. 7: John Hubert, RB, Kansas State

2012 numbers: Carried the ball 189 times for 947 yards and 15 touchdowns. Also caught 18 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown.

Most recent ranking: Hubert was unranked in our postseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Hubert: Collin Klein's earned all the attention in K-State's backfield the last two seasons, but Hubert's presence and talent get overlooked a) as a fact on its own and b) as part of the reason for Klein's success.

Klein was a truly great player, but defenses had to respect Hubert, and he's logged a pair of 945-yard seasons as K-State has racked up a 21-5 record in the last two seasons. Two years ago, everybody thought Bryce Brown was the future at the position, and if you saw him break out for the Philadelphia Eagles last season, you might think he had left K-State after a stellar career. Hubert was better, and Brown never became a factor in K-State's offense. The 5-foot-7, 191-pound Waco, Texas native is way, way harder to bring down than he looks (just ask defenders across the league) and this year, he's eyeing his first 1,000-yard season. I'd say without a quarterback logging 517 carries over the past two seasons, Hubert would be in perfect position to log a third consecutive 1,000-yard season.

The rest of the list:
We're counting down to the beginning of the season with the top 25 players in the Big 12. The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we'll be revealing players from the bottom of the list all the way to No. 1.

Here's more on my criteria.

Let's move on with the list:

No. 8: James Sims, RB, Kansas

2012 numbers: Carried the ball 217 times for 1,013 yards and nine touchdowns. Also caught 14 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown.

Most recent ranking: Sims was No. 21 in our postseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Sims: Anyone who watched Kansas last season confronted the uncomfortable truth: The Jayhawks had little hope of moving the ball through the air with any kind of consistency. If anyone could see that, imagine what defensive coordinators across the Big 12 knew.

Well, for one, they knew James Sims would be getting the ball a lot. Despite knowing that and Sims having no support in the passing game to soften up opposing front sevens (and eights and nines), Sims remained productive and topped 1,000 yards, even after being suspended for the first three games of the season. He established himself as one of the Big 12's best backs, and at times last season, looked superior to the league's leading rusher Joseph Randle. After 91 yards in his first action of 2012, Sims ripped off six consecutive games with at least 100 yards, including five with at least 115 yards. No Big 12 back equaled a streak like that last season, and Sims became the first Jayhawk since 1974 to log 100 yards in five consecutive games. He seriously considered leaving early for the NFL, but elected to return to Lawrence for his senior season. The Jayhawks' chances of stopping a 21-game losing streak in Big 12 play are much, much better for it.

The rest of the list:
We're counting down to the beginning of the season with the top 25 players in the Big 12. The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we'll be revealing players from the bottom of the list all the way to No. 1.

Here's more on my criteria.

Let's move on with the list:

No. 9: Ty Zimmerman, S, Kansas State

2012 numbers: Intercepted five passes and made 50 tackles, including three tackles for loss. Also broke up two passes and recovered a fumble.

Most recent ranking: Zimmerman was unranked in our postseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Zimmerman: You don't need to do much more than watch Kansas State's loss to Baylor to see proof of Zimmerman's talent and value to the Wildcats, who fielded one of the best defenses in the Big 12 a year ago. He suffered a leg injury late in the fall and missed K-State's final two regular-season games. The back line of the defense sprung a sizeable leak and K-State held its No. 1 BCS ranking for only one week.

The 6-foot-1, 204-pounder will be a fourth-year starter this season and has entrenched himself as one of the defense's leaders since he earned freshman All-American honors in 2010. Before sitting out against Baylor, he had started 35 consecutive games and picked off passes in K-State's first four Big 12 games, including wins over Oklahoma and West Virginia. All five of his interceptions came in Big 12 play, more than any other player in the conference.

He's the Big 12's best returning safety, and as long as he stays healthy he should stand alone as the best man in the league at his position for 2013.

The rest of the list:
We're counting down to the beginning of the season with the top 25 players in the Big 12. The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we'll be revealing players from the bottom of the list all the way to No. 1.

Here's more on my criteria.

Let's move on with the list:

No. 10: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas

2012 numbers: Made 28 tackles, including 9.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.

Most recent ranking: Jeffcoat was unranked in our postseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Jeffcoat: I've felt horrible for Jeffcoat these past couple of years, whose body can't seem to stop betraying his talent. Pectoral surgeries have abbreviated each of his past two seasons, and even a high ankle sprain marred a promising freshman year back in 2010.

Still, in the six games Jeffcoat had the opportunity to play a year ago, he set a pace that had him on course to be as good as any defensive player in the Big 12.

He made four tackles for loss against Oklahoma State and had a sack and a touchdown against West Virginia. He was on the short list of Defensive Player of the Year candidates, and likely would have come close to winning the title if he'd kept that pace.

Devonte Fields won the trophy with 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss in 13 games. Jeffcoat was on track for eight sacks and 19 tackles for loss in 12 games. The former No. 2 overall recruit in the 2010 recruiting class picked Texas over Oklahoma and his father is Jim Jeffcoat, currently Colorado's defensive line coach and the owner of two Super Bowl rings and 102.5 sacks as an NFL player. If Jeffcoat can stay healthy, he's got a chance to do the same and be a first-round pick next April. That's proven to be a big if at this point in his career, but there might not be another defender in the Big 12 with as much raw talent as Jeffcoat. He's still got a lot of learning and development to do, but he'll be back in the mix of the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year race as long as he's on the field.

The rest of the list:
We're counting down to the beginning of the season with the top 25 players in the Big 12. The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we'll be revealing players from the bottom of the list all the way to No. 1.

Here's more on my criteria.

Let's move on with the list:

No. 11: Trey Millard, FB/RB/TE, Oklahoma

2012 numbers: Caught 30 passes for 337 yards and four touchdowns. Rushed 33 times for 198 yards.

Most recent ranking: Millard was No. 14 in our postseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Millard: Oklahoma fans love to harp on Roy Finch's lack of touches in the offense, but if you injected them with truth serum, they'd probably admit Millard is the guy who most needs more touches for the Sooners. He's got a decent case as Oklahoma's best overall player, but he's the Big 12's best fullback and as Texas found out the hard way last season, can be near impossible to tackle when he's got a head of steam behind him.

With Blake Bell playing quarterback full time now, Millard figures to be the guy OU calls on to get tough yards this fall, but he's so excellent at so many things, he's one of the Sooners' most indispensable players. Whether he's lead blocking, pass blocking in the backfield, carrying the ball or blocking downfield, you know he's going to get the job done.

The rest of the list:
We're counting down to the beginning of the season with the top 25 players in the Big 12. The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we'll be revealing players from the bottom of the list all the way to No. 1.

Here's more on my criteria.

Let's move on with the list:

No. 12: Kerry Hyder, DL, Texas Tech

2012 numbers: Made 56 tackles and 14 tackles for loss, including 5.5 sacks. He also broke up four passes.

Most recent ranking: Hyder was unranked in our postseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Hyder: Hyder had contributed to Tech's defense in 2010 and emerged as a starter in 2011, but last season was a major breakout season for Hyder, a key cog in one of the Big 12's most improved defenses.

To really understand his importance, look no further than his performance in conference play. Hyder made 10.5 tackles for loss in those nine games, which was actually one more than Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Devonte Fields. That total ranked third in the Big 12. The 6-foot-2, 280-pounder has uncommon athleticism for his size, and he's shown clear improvement as his career's moved forward. He had a pair of sacks against Iowa State and made 2.5 tackles for loss in a triple overtime win against TCU. That helped him earn All-Big 12 honors and a status moving into 2013 as one of the Big 12's best defensive linemen. Don't overlook him in the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year race this season.

The rest of the list:
We're counting down to the beginning of the season with the top 25 players in the Big 12. The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we'll be revealing players from the bottom of the list all the way to No. 1.

Here's more on my criteria.

Let's move on with the list:

No. 13: Josh Stewart, WR, Oklahoma State

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

Most recent ranking: Stewart was ranked No. 23 in our postseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Stewart: After Justin Blackmon packed his bags for the NFL, you knew somebody would have to step up in an Oklahoma State offense that has averaged almost 550 pass attempts a year since 2010. Stewart stepped into that role after grabbing just 19 passes as a true freshman in 2011.

He caught at least nine passes in seven games and cemented his status as Oklahoma State's best playmaker with the ball in the open field. Players like that are the cornerstone of the Air Raid offense, and the shifty, 5-foot-10, 185-pound receiver emerged as one of the Big 12's best receivers a year ago. Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin and Terrance Williams overshadowed him on a national stage, but all three are gone and Stewart clearly carries the title of the Big 12's best returning receiver heading into 2013.

The rest of the list:
We're counting down to the beginning of the season with the top 25 players in the Big 12. The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we'll be revealing players from the bottom of the list all the way to No. 1.

Here's more on my criteria.

Let's move on with the list:

No. 14: BJ Finney, C, Kansas State

2012 numbers: Helped Kansas State rush for 2,522 yards and pass for 2,701 yards while giving up just 14 sacks.

Most recent ranking: Finney was unranked in our postseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Finney: Bill Snyder, y'all. Kansas State had arguably the best offensive line in the Big 12 last season, and Finney was the best player on it. He was a second-year starter who'll enter his third year as the middle of the Wildcats' line.

Most impressive? He began his career as a walk-on and has matured into one of the Wildcats' leaders. K-State has been 21-5 with him snapping the ball to Collin Klein, and even though K-State will be breaking in a new quarterback this fall, Finney and the four guys flanking him (including No. 16 on this list, LT Cornelius Lucas) will provide a strong performance up front. Finney, a 6-foot-4, 303-pound native of Andale, Kan., was a freshman All-American back in 2011 and figured to keep improving.

Back when he was being recruited, he had his heart set on playing for Frank Solich at Ohio. Then the Bobcats suddenly ran out of scholarships. Finney's family couldn't afford college, and he had to earn a scholarship in two years or his career would be over. Sure enough, he made it happen. It's an amazing story, but Finney is more than just a great story. He's a great player.

The rest of the list:
We're counting down to the beginning of the season with the top 25 players in the Big 12. The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we'll be revealing players from the bottom of the list all the way to No. 1.

Here's more on my criteria.

Let's move on with the list:

No. 15: Eric Ward, WR, Texas Tech

2012 numbers: Caught 82 passes for 1053 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Most recent ranking: Ward was unranked in our postseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Ward: Believe it or not, but before last season, Texas Tech hadn't had a receiver top 1,000 yards since Michael Crabtree did it in 2007 and 2008, collecting the Biletnikoff Award in both seasons for his efforts. Darrin Moore and Ward both did it last season, but Ward becomes the first Red Raider since Crabtree in 2007 to do it and return. With Michael Brewer likely taking over at quarterback, Ward's presence makes the transition from Seth Doege a bit smoother and gives new coach Kliff Kingsbury a known entity in the all-important passing game.

Ward is one of just two Big 12 receivers who topped 1,000 yards last season and return this year, and he figures to have a great shot to surpass the 1,000-yard mark again in 2013, barring injury. He's an instinctive player who uses his body well and has good hands. The 6-foot, 204-pounder plays physical and is a tough cover for any corner across the league, especially in the red zone. His 12 scores a year ago were tied for eighth-most nationally.

The rest of the list:

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