Big 12: Tyreek Hill

Big 12 players in Week 1 spotlight

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
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Are you guys ready? We're less than 48 hours away from the first kickoff of the Big 12 season. (There are some good games tonight, too, if you can't wait that long.) Once we finally get rolling, the guys worth watching closely won't just be the All-Americans like Bryce Petty and Tyler Lockett. We know what they can do, and they'll probably be even better.

But this is our first real chance, after months of speculation and projection, to see how newcomers and players in new roles fare. Here are 11 players we'll be keeping an eye on Saturday and Sunday.

Matt Joeckel and Trevone Boykin
Getty ImagesGary Patterson won't reveal who his starting quarterback is -- Matt Joeckel or Trevone Boykin -- until the Horned Frogs take the field Saturday.
Matt Joeckel, QB, TCU: Will he be the starter? Did Trevone Boykin do enough to regain the job? Gary Patterson won't reveal a thing until his Horned Frog offense takes the field Saturday against Samford. The guy who sets foot on the field won't matter as much as which one thrives, because it seems likely both will get a fair shot. TCU just needs a capable distributor.

Devin Chafin, RB, and Johnny Jefferson, RB, Baylor: Both backs dealt with injuries in fall camp but should be good to go. And if you ask Baylor players, they'll tell you Chafin and Jefferson are about to be stars on the rise. This should be a true stable of backs led by Shock Linwood, but you're going to see Chafin and Jefferson a lot -- especially if Baylor's second team gets a lot of playing time in a blowout.

DeAndre Washington, RB, Texas Tech: We could still see Kenny Williams in short-yardage opportunities, but otherwise, Tech is ready to roll with the 5-foot-8, 201-pound junior leading its run game. Freshmen Justin Stockton and Demarcus Felton are intriguing, but Washington has a chance to establish himself as the feature back and a sneaky good one.

Deandre Burton, WR, Kansas State: The local kid from Manhattan was named a starter this week and is about to get his first meaningful action on offense. The redshirt sophomore has good size and will be one of a few wideouts getting reps with Lockett and Curry Sexton. The competition for his spot will be ongoing, so a big play or two against Stephen F. Austin could go a long way.

Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State: Cyclones fans can't wait to see what Lazard, listed as the backup to Quenton Bundrage at X receiver, can do in his first career day. After all the boasting Paul Rhoads did on signing day (and rightfully so), expectations are awfully high. Let's see Sam B. Richardson lob a few up to him and see if the 6-foot-5 stud can make a splash.

Tyreek Hill, WR/RB, Oklahoma State: What more can we say? We've hyped him up as much as anybody in the Big 12 this offseason. OSU will get the ball in his hands as much as possible. Florida State will do whatever it can to stop him. Can Hill be the game-changer the Pokes need to keep up with the defending champs?

Julian Wilson, CB, Oklahoma: Wilson's transition from nickel to cornerback, where he'll replace a big-time player in Aaron Colvin, has received good reviews. Louisiana Tech will no doubt test him and new starting safety Ahmad Thomas early on to see if they can handle the pressure.

Dravon Henry, FS, West Virginia: Mountaineer coaches have been excited about Henry all year long, and the true freshman seemingly had no trouble earning a starting job. He'll get lots of help from veteran safety Karl Joseph, but you just know Lane Kiffin will take some shots deep to see if the young dude has instincts. He would be wise to keep an eye on Amari Cooper, one of the nation's best wideouts.

Jason Hall, SS, and Dylan Haines, SS, Texas: Hall, a true freshman and former three-star recruit, was named the starter on Texas' depth chart released Thursday. But Haines, a walk-on, will play and so should Adrian Colbert. With safety Mykkele Thompson likely being used as Texas' top nickel, the Longhorns will have a lot of inexperience on the back end on passing downs. They need to play up to the considerable praise they received in camp.

Who are you excited to scout this weekend? Let us know any players we missed in the comments below.

Roundtable: Week 1 storylines

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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Game week has finally arrived. We break down some of the storylines in Week 1 in our weekly Big 12 roundtable:

Who between West Virginia and Oklahoma State has the better chance to pull off the upset this weekend?

Olson: West Virginia, simply because I think Florida State has a little more talent than Alabama. Last year, Virginia Tech gave up two punt return TDs and a pick-six in the first half of their opener vs. Alabama. The Hokies shot themselves in the foot from the start. West Virginia has absolutely no margin of error for that. What the Mountaineers do have is a potentially explosive offense and a full game film of OU thrashing the Tide to use as the blueprint. They must strike early and often and give Bama’s new starting QB hell.

Chatmon: The Mountaineers are hoping a year in the offense will pay off for quarterback Clint Trickett and the rest of the unit. At this time a year ago, none of WVU’s playmakers on offense had much experience. Twelve months later, it should be a different offense. Oklahoma State is talented but it is largely untested, and its defense could be a deer in headlights early against the Seminoles, which would be too much to overcome. Thus, WVU gets the nod, but I wouldn’t bet on either squad to triumph.

Trotter: West Virginia. Florida State returns several key parts off a team that steamrolled most everyone on the way to a national championship. Oklahoma State has the fewest returning starters among any Power 5 conference team. That’s not a recipe for an upset. Alabama is a powerhouse, too, but at least West Virginia will be taking a veteran team to Atlanta. If the Mountaineers can pull off some big plays early -- and they have the players to pull off big plays -- then they can hang around into the second half.

Which Big 12 team should be on upset alert in Week 1?

Olson: No need to overthink this one. It’s Iowa State, because they play North Dakota State. And I don’t say that out of disrespect for the Cyclones, who could be better in a lot of ways in 2014. Just have to respect how NDSU screwed up another Big 12 team’s opener a year ago. Even with coach Craig Bohl gone to Wyoming, NDSU might still be the best team in FCS.

Chatmon: I don’t expect any Big 12 team to be upset this weekend, but TCU is the team that immediately comes to mind. The Horned Frogs won’t lose to Samford -- their defense is too good for that upset to happen -- but they could run into some ups and downs as they try to get their offense humming in the first game with new coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham at the helm. Another team that will have to be on its toes is Baylor, as the Bears try to ignore the distraction of opening McLane Stadium against SMU and focus on the actual game at hand.

Trotter: This one is obvious. Iowa State lost last year’s opener to FCS opponent Northern Iowa. Iowa State’s Week 1 opponent this season, North Dakota State, beat Kansas State on the road in Week 1 last year. If the Cyclones play their game, they’ll be fine. But if they don’t, the three-time defending FCS national champs are more than capable of delivering the upset.

Who is the one player to watch this weekend?

Olson: Oklahoma RB Keith Ford. There were times last season, even when the freshman was getting limited reps, that I sensed Ford might be OU’s most talented running back. He didn’t get talked up too much this offseason, but I think Ford could run wild on Louisiana Tech and alleviate some concerns about an OU run game that lost its top three backs this offseason.

Chatmon: I’m looking forward to seeing what Tyreek Hill can do against the athletes on Florida State’s defense. If Hill is going to live up to the hype as Big 12 preseason newcomer of the year, he will have an immediate impact against the Seminoles and the Cowboys are sure to make getting him the ball a priority. I’m also looking forward to hopefully getting a look at Baylor receiver KD Cannon and Texas Tech quarterback Pat Mahomes in action during week 1.

Trotter: Remember David Ash? It’s difficult to remember, considering he has played in only a couple of games since 2012. Ash will be back behind center for the Longhorns this weekend and is the single biggest key to Texas’ 2014 outlook. If Ash stays healthy and plays well consistently, the Longhorns have the pieces elsewhere to make a run at the Big 12 title. If Ash struggles or gets injured again, the Longhorns will be cooked. The North Texas game will give us a glimpse of which player Texas will be getting.

Big 12 fearless predictions

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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Today, Ivan Maisel offered up his bold predictions for the college football season. We figured we'd get in on the fun, too. Here's what we're comfortable forecasting in what should be a crazy Big 12 season.

Jake Trotter's bold predictions

Davis Webb will throw for more yards than Bryce Petty. This is no slight against Petty, who himself should be in for another monster season. But Petty will also be handing off plenty to Shock Linwood, Devin Chafin and Johnny Jefferson. Webb, meanwhile, will be airing it out virtually every down to his big-play trio of Jakeem Grant, Bradley Marquez and Reginald Davis. As long as Webb stays healthy, 4,500-plus passing yards isn't out of reach.

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDavis Webb passed for 2,718 yards as a freshman and could compete with Baylor's Bryce Petty for most passing yards in the Big 12 this season.
Kansas State will beat either Baylor or Oklahoma on the road. Two years ago when the Wildcats traveled to Norman, they toppled Oklahoma, 24-19. Last year, nobody played Baylor tougher -- at least when the Bears were still at full strength -- than K-State (which at the time was missing Tyler Lockett). Bill Snyder teams usually come to play in big games. This season, that will come at the expense of one of the league's two co-favorites.

Tyreek Hill will lead the league in rushing. The Longhorns have the Big 12's best one-two punch at running back in Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown. And West Virginia has the league's deepest backfield. But Hill has the tools to be the best big-play back in the conference. He also figures to be the focal point of the Oklahoma State attack. Up until last season, the Cowboys had enjoyed a 1,000-yard rusher in six consecutive seasons. Hill will start another 1,000-yard rushing streak for the Pokes in a big way in 2014.

Brandon Chatmon's bold predictions

Iowa State's offense will be much improved. After finishing in the bottom two in most offensive categories a year ago, Iowa State will finish no lower than sixth in most of those categories, with a clear jump forward in points, yards per play, total yards and third-down conversion rate during its first season with Mark Mangino as offensive coordinator. The Cyclones have plenty of skill-position talent, led by receiver Quenton Bundrage and tight end E.J. Bibbs, and may have a healthy offensive line after a 2013 season full of injuries up front.

Oklahoma safety Ahmad Thomas will emerge as an All-Big 12 candidate. The sophomore safety has continued to develop and improve for the Sooners and looks like a future star in the defensive backfield. He's versatile and gives the Sooners plenty of options with his ability to line up all over the field. Coaches and teammates have raved about his ability, so he could emerge as an All-Big 12 performer, particularly if the Sooners defense becomes a dominating force this fall. Thomas is not a household name right now but he could be by the time December rolls around.

Texas will lead the conference in rushing and finish top 10 nationally. Charlie Strong plans to run the football and the Longhorns have the horses to get it done in the backfield. Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown are a terrific foundation to build UT's offense around, and the offensive line should be solid. Add Strong's insistence that the Longhorns' “soft” label is a thing of the past, and it's a recipe for UT to grab a spot among the nation's top ground games this fall.

Max Olson's bold predictions

Texas Tech will start 7-0 again. The only major hurdles in a pretty favorable early-season schedule are back-to-back road games at Oklahoma State and Kansas State. I like Tech's chances of surviving both games so long as Webb is healthy. If the defense has come together by then and shows up in the big games, look out. From there, Kliff Kingsbury's squad will have a tough slate but a huge opportunity.

Kansas State beats Auburn. Go ahead, call me crazy. This just feels like it's going to be a weird ballgame, almost akin to KSU's 24-19 win over No. 6 Oklahoma in 2012. Kansas State's coaches have the brainpower to come up with answers to Auburn's dangerous option attack. They recruited Nick Marshall hard out of junior college and know his weaknesses. And Tyler Lockett can score on anybody. In a crazy Thursday night home game atmosphere, I think KSU can get it done.

David Ash earns All-Big 12 honors. I didn't say first team! I'm not necessarily saying second-team honors, either. But Texas' fourth-year quarterback remains one of the league's most underrated players and someone who's going to make a breakthrough if he can play all 12 games. Ash was a top-25 passer in 2012, and with quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson's tutelage and the aid of Texas' impressive run game, he can do it again.

Our boldest prediction

A Big 12 team will make the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma and Baylor will meet on Nov. 8 in Norman, Oklahoma. The winner will go on to represent the conference in the inaugural playoff. You'll see.

Preseason All-Big 12 team

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
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Today, ESPN.com released its preseason All-American team. Before Big 12 media days, we released our individual preseason All-Big 12 ballots. But to pair with the All-American team, we debated, argued and eventually settled on one Big 12 blog, consensus preseason All-Big 12 team.

Here we go:

Offense

QB: Bryce Petty, Baylor
Easy choice. Petty is the reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year after he threw for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns with just three picks. He should be even better in Year 2 as a starter.

RB: Johnathan Gray, Texas
Malcolm Brown finished strong in place of Gray the past season, but there’s a reason Gray was Texas’ No. 1 back before he suffered an Achilles injury. Gray is healthy again, which gives Texas the best one-two punch at running back in the league.

RB: Shock Linwood, Baylor
Despite being Baylor’s third-string running back the past season, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing. He’s the featured back now and could wind up the league’s top rusher.

WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
Lockett was literally uncoverable at times last year. Just ask Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan, which surrendered a combined 631 receiving yards and six touchdowns to Lockett. With Jake Waters settled in at quarterback, Lockett could put up even bigger numbers in 2014.

WR: Antwan Goodley, Baylor
Goodley might have been the most improved player in the league the past season. He was also one of the most dominant, with 1,339 receiving yards and a national-best five catches of 60 yards or more.

TE: E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
With Jace Amaro gone, Bibbs takes over as the top receiving tight end threat in the league. Only Amaro had more catches and yards than Bibbs among Big 12 tight ends the past season.

OT: Spencer Drango, Baylor
With Drango in the lineup, Petty was sacked only eight times through the Bears’ first nine games last year. After Drango was sidelined with a back injury, Petty was sacked nine times in Baylor’s last four games. Suffice it to say, Petty is glad to have Drango back protecting his blindside.

OG: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
The Red Raiders previously had plans to move Clark inside to guard, but they still have him manning left tackle this season. Whether he stays at the bookend or slides to guard, Clark is one of the most dominating offensive linemen in the league.

C: BJ Finney, Kansas State
Finney owns a Big 12-best 39 starts over the past three years. The former walk-on is also a two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection and will be the favorite to garner such recognition again as the linchpin of the K-State offensive line.

OG: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
Whitehair is capable of manning either guard or tackle, but the Wildcats will be showing their trust in him by asking him to protect Waters’ blindside this season.

OT: Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
Williams is the best piece on the league’s best offensive line, which returns four starters and plenty of capable backups.

AP: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
Grant finished sixth in the league in receiving yards per game, despite being the third option in Tech’s passing attack the past season. Grant is now the first option in the passing game, as well as an electric playmaker on special teams.

K: Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma
The Sooners have never had an All-American kicker before, but they have a strong candidate in Hunnicutt, who converted 24 of 27 field goals the past season.

Defense

DE: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
In 2013, Mueller finished with 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss, which were second in the league only to Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat. Mueller, who also forced four fumbles, has one of the conference’s best noses for finding the ball.

DT: Chucky Hunter, TCU
The Horned Frogs still had a formidable front the past season, even without Devonte Fields, due in large part to Hunter. TCU won’t have Fields again. But Hunter is back to anchor a defensive line loaded with quality players.

DT: Malcom Brown, Texas
This former blue-chipper broke out the past season with 68 tackles, including 12 for loss. He and Cedric Reed team up to form the best inside-outside defensive line combination in the league.

DE: Cedric Reed, Texas
Reed was third in the Big 12 in 2013 with 10 sacks, fourth with 19 tackles for loss and tied for first with five forced fumbles. He gives the Longhorns a chance to feature the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.

LB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma
When it comes to rushing the passer, there’s no one better in the league. Striker has spent this offseason refining other parts of his game to become a more complete player. But his pass rushing alone makes him one of the top players in the league.

LB: Ben Heeney, Kansas
Heeney was a tackling machine last year for a defense that performed valiantly despite getting little help from its offense. Heeney will get plenty of help from his defense, though, which returns eight other starters.

LB: Bryce Hager, Baylor
Hager has notched 195 tackles over the past two seasons, while twice earning second-team All-Big 12 honors. With Ahmad Dixon and Eddie Lackey gone, he takes over as the leader of a defense angling to prove it can be as good as the past year’s.

CB: Quandre Diggs, Texas
Diggs, who has never been afraid to speak his mind, is the heart and soul of the Longhorns. If the rest of the team takes on his mentality, Texas could have one feisty team in Charlie Strong’s first season.

CB: Daryl Worley, West Virginia
Despite being just a second-year player, Worley has already taken over as one of the vocal leaders of the West Virginia defense. He’s also already one of the best cover corners in the league.

SS: Sam Carter, TCU
Carter has nine interceptions the past two years, the most of any returning Big 12 player. He leads arguably the best secondary in the league, too.

FS: Karl Joseph, West Virginia
Joseph has started all 25 games for the Mountaineers since he stepped foot in Morgantown. No other returning Big 12 defensive back has more career tackles than Joseph’s 170.

P: Nick O'Toole, West Virginia
The “Boomstache” ranked 15th nationally last year, with an average of 44.1 yards per punt. He also has the best mustache in the league, which has to count for something.
With the opening weekend of college football just a little more than a week away, we make some calls on who some of the top passers, rushers and receivers might be:

After Bryce Petty, Davis Webb, Trevor Knight and Jake Waters, who will lead the Big 12 in passing?

Chatmon: This is a tough one, but I’m going to go with West Virginia’s Clint Trickett. The Mountaineers have the skill-position talent to support Trickett, and the senior has a year of experience in Dana Holgorsen’s offense under his belt. I fully expect to see an improved Mountaineers’ offense and Trickett should play a key role in that improvement.

Olson: Gee, we’ve really narrowed that down, haven’t we? The best way I can put my answer is this: Oklahoma State will finish with more passing yards as a team than Texas, so I guess I have to go with J.W. Walsh. While I can envision Daxx Garman earning a couple starts at some point, I still think Walsh will put up good numbers. David Ash might be a smarter choice here, but his injury history makes it a tough call.

Trotter: I can’t pick any of the quarterbacks from Oklahoma State or TCU, since it’s still unclear how much any of them will play. And I can’t go with Montell Cozart, given that his best asset right now is his wheels. That leaves Ash, Trickett and Sam B. Richardson. Ash has an injury history. Then again, so do Trickett and Richardson.And while West Virginia and Iowa State have other intriguing quarterback options, Texas really does not.This is Ash’s show. And he has shown at times in the past he has the ability to put up big passing numbers.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
David K Purdy/Getty ImagesJohnathan Gray is a consensus pick to lead the Big 12 in rushing this season.
Who will lead the league in rushing?

Chatmon: Johnathan Gray is a easy choice for me. A healthy Gray is easily the best running back in the Big 12, and Texas’ offense will be built around its running game. Gray, who has a 4.8 yards-per-carry average in his career, will get plenty of opportunities, and he will take advantage of them.

Olson: Gray. It’s a really difficult prediction because I do think Shock Linwood will surpass 1,000 yards. I also think Baylor loves Devin Chafin and Johnny Jefferson enough that there’s going to be a equitable sharing of carries in Waco. Texas, meanwhile, won’t have Baylor’s passing game and should go all-in on a run-first mentality. Gray was on pace for more than 1,100 yards last year before his Achilles tear. He’s healthy again, and I think he can have a huge year.

Trotter: I have to agree with Brandon and Max. When healthy, Gray has proven to be the best all-around back in the league, and he is the best bet here. But keep an eye on Oklahoma State running back Tyreek Hill. If the Cowboys make him their offensive workhorse, he has the big-play ability to have a monster season. Sure, durability would be a question. But speed would not.

After Tyler Lockett and Antwan Goodley, who will lead the Big 12 in receiving?

Chatmon: Jakeem Grant immediately comes to mind here, but I’m going to go with Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard. The Sooners’ passing game should be improved with an improved Knight, and Shepard has the skills to make defenses play for leaving him in one-on-one situations. Grant will garner increased attention from secondaries while Shepard, helped by OU’s running game, should have more chances to make game-changing plays.

Olson: Did you know: In 2013, six of the Big 12’s top eight receivers in yardage played for either Baylor or Texas Tech. So I would be pretty stupid not to go with Grant here. Not only was he one of those six and very productive as a No. 3 option, but he’s also going to get a nice chunk of the 106 receptions (!) and 152 targets (!!!) that went to Jace Amaro last year. Tech’s No. 2 option, Eric Ward, had more catches (83) and targets (122) than Goodley. That’s insane. Grant is going to feast on their leftovers.

Trotter: Grant missed two games and was the third banana in Tech’s passing offense last year. And he still finished sixth in the league in receiving. With Ward and Amaro gone, Grant will take over as the Red Raiders’ primary receiving threat. And with quarterback Webb budding with confidence and the Red Raiders primed to air it out, Grant is easily the best bet here.
» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Oklahoma State Cowboys:

Key returners: CB Kevin Peterson, DT James Castleman, RB Desmond Roland, WR Jhajuan Seales

Key losses: CB Justin Gilbert, WR Josh Stewart, QB Clint Chelf, DT Calvin Barnett

Most important 2014 games: Aug. 30 vs. Florida State (in Arlington, Texas); Nov. 22 at Baylor; Dec. 6 at Oklahoma

Projected win percentage: 63.4 percent

Over/under Vegas odds: 7.5 wins

[+] EnlargeKevin Peterson
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiThe Cowboys will rely more heavily on Kevin Peterson in the defensive backfield with the departure of Justin Gilbert.
Instant impact newcomers: HB/WR Tyreek Hill, LB/S Josh Furman. Hill, as the Big 12’s Preseason Newcomer of the Year, brings plenty of hype along with his track speed and big-play ability. Furman, a graduate transfer from Michigan, brings much-needed experience as a defender with the versatility to play multiple roles for the Cowboys.

High point from 2013: The Cowboys hammered Big 12 champion Baylor at home 49-17 to put themselves on the doorstep of a second Big 12 title in three seasons. OSU’s defense shut down a record-setting Bears offense, making Bryce Petty look human on a chilly November night in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Low point from 2013: The following week the Cowboys watched Oklahoma come into Boone Pickens Stadium and take away their Big 12 title hopes with a late upset victory. It was easily one of the most disappointing defeats under Mike Gundy.

All eyes on me: The quarterback battle could extend deep into the season, like it has for the past two years in Stillwater. People tend to forget just how productive J.W. Walsh has been during his time under center for the Cowboys. He’s 6-2 as a starter and only Baylor’s Bryce Petty (86.7) and Texas Tech’s Davis Webb (79.7) have better adjusted QBRs than Walsh’s 77.8 during the past two seasons. But former walk-on Daxx Garman, who is expected to play against Florida State in the opener, has the ability to push past Walsh on the depth chart and emerge as the main triggerman for Mike Yurcich’s offense.

Keep an eye on: DE Emmanuel Ogbah, WR James Washington. After a solid redshirt freshman campaign, Ogbah has the chance to emerge as an impact defender for OSU’s defense this fall. Defensive line is the deepest position on OSU’s defense and Ogbah could make it even deeper if he forces his way into the starting lineup and begins to fulfill his potential. Much like Ogbah, Washington plays the deepest position on his side of the ball. Nonetheless there’s plenty of buzz around the true freshman and he could make an immediate impact.

They said it: “They're still very young. We've got a number of players that have a lot of experience and understanding, and then there's a gap. Then, we have more players that are talented, but don't have any experience. It's really the best definition of where we're at right now as a defense.” -- Gundy on OSU’s inexperienced defense

Top Big 12 players: Nos. 25-21

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
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With the 2014 season just a month away, we’re going to spend this week ranking the Top 25 players in the Big 12.

All three Big 12 reporters weighed in on this list, with the slant focused on a projection of who we think the 25 best players will be this season.

Unlike past years, we’ll be releasing these in groups of five, not individually.

Before getting started, we need to address the two “asterisk” players: TCU defensive end Devonte Fields and Oklahoma wideout Dorial Green-Beckham. Even though they’re Top-25-caliber players, we opted to leave Fields and Green-Beckham off this list because their statuses for this season currently remain unclear (Fields is “separated” from TCU pending an assault charge; Green-Beckham is still waiting to see if he’ll get an eligibility waiver).

Now, without further delay, the first five names in the countdown ...

25. Tyreek Hill, RB, Oklahoma State: Hill is the only player to make this list having never played a down in the FBS. But the preseason pick to win Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, who doubled as a track star in the spring, has as much big-play potential as any offensive skill player in the league. Considering Mike Gundy is planning to give him 20-plus touches a game, Hill could be in for a huge year as the Tavon Austin-like weapon in the Oklahoma State attack.

24. Jake Waters, QB, Kansas State: From the North Dakota State loss in the opener to the Michigan victory in the bowl, Waters developed into a completely different quarterback over the course of the 2013 season. In fact, while leading K-State to wins in six of its final seven games, Waters actually produced a higher Adjusted QBR in the same stretch than the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Bryce Petty. With a year of experience behind him -- and Daniel Sams no longer around to take away snaps -- Waters should open this season with the same confidence he finished the past.

23. Jakeem Grant, WR, Texas Tech: Despite being the third receiving option in an offense that rotated true freshman quarterbacks last year, Grant still finished sixth in the league in receiving yards per game. Now he’s the No. 1 option. And he’ll be catching passes from a rapidly improving passer in Davis Webb. Grant is electric with the ball in his hands. Unfortunately for opposing defenses, he should have the ball plenty this season.

22. E.J. Bibbs, TE, Iowa State: Coach Paul Rhoads believes Bibbs can be an All-American tight end, and all the tools are there for the 6-foot-3, 261-pounder to be just that. There’s no better pass-catching tight end in the league, and with wideouts Quenton Bundrage and Allen Lazard flanking him, Bibbs should have more chances this season for big pass plays down the seam.

21. Daryl Worley, CB, West Virginia: The West Virginia coaching staff has spent this summer repairing the confidence of top wideout Mario Alford. That’s because Worley completely destroyed it while blanketing him in the spring. The Mountaineers haven’t enjoyed a first-class lock-down corner since Adam “Pacman” Jones a decade ago. But Worley, who has emerged as the leader of the defense despite being just a second-year player, has the skill and attitude to be just that.

Coming Tuesday: Nos. 20-16 ...

Big 12 media days takeaways

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
5:00
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DALLAS -- Big 12 media days have come and gone. Some of the storylines (Dairy Queen, fake watches) were silly. Others were far more serious. Here are some of the takeaways from this year’s edition of media days:

Baylor has a chip on its shoulder: Despite winning the Big 12 last season and returning the Big 12 offensive player of the year in quarterback Bryce Petty, Baylor was voted second in the conference’s preseason poll behind Oklahoma. The Bears clearly felt a bit disrespected while in Dallas this week. "That comes with being Baylor," defensive end Shawn Oakman said. "We're gonna be great one day and y'all are gonna notice." The Bears were pretty great last season, stomping the Sooners 41-12 on the way to their first Big 12 title. "That game from OU last year, that should have showed you that that product was nowhere near as good as the product that Baylor was putting on the field," Oakman said. "The execution, the players from each and every position ... You could tell we were on a different level from OU." Still getting picked to finish behind Oklahoma has given the Bears extra fuel for this season. "In our minds, we’re still underdogs," Oakman said. "We play with a chip on our shoulder. You only get the respect if you earn it."

Stoops is loose as a goose: The loosest coach at Big 12 media days might have been Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. He was cracking jokes, photo-bombing his wife’s TV interview (she was there for a Mary Kay convention) and taking a break between interview sessions to grab a strawberry smoothie. He even chided Alabama coach Nick Saban for suggesting the Crimson Tide didn’t care about being in the Sugar Bowl. "So if I’m not in a national championship game, that means I’ve got a built-in excuse?" Stoops said. Such bravado could be a sign that Stoops thinks he has a pretty good team. With Trevor Knight at quarterback and nine starters back defensively, it’s not hard to see why.

TCU has a big problem: Though they had already left, the Horned Frogs were the story the second day of Big 12 media days. Defensive end Devonte Fields, who last week was voted the league's preseason defensive player of the year, was accused of pulling a gun on his ex-girlfriend. TCU acted quickly after the news surfaced, claiming it had "separated" from Fields. If any part of the allegations levied against Fields are true, it’s difficult to see him ever playing another game in the Big 12. That is a big loss for the league. And an even bigger one for TCU, which is attempting to bounce back from one of its worst seasons in the Gary Patterson era.

Strong believes in Ash: The biggest question mark in Charlie Strong’s first season as coach at Texas is quarterback. More specifically, quarterback David Ash. But even though Ash missed virtually all of last season with concussion issues, then the spring with a fractured foot, Strong said he was impressed with Ash when watching old game film. "When Ash is healthy, he played very well," Strong said. All signs point to Ash being the starter when the Longhorns open the season. Whether he can be consistent and be healthy could go a long way in dictating how Strong’s first season goes, too.

Bowlsby does not believe in the NCAA: According to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, cheating pays. And the enforcement wing of the NCAA is broken. Bowlsby painted a bleak future for the NCAA, also predicting that Olympic sports could be in trouble down the line. "If you like intercollegiate athletics the way it is, you're going to hate it going forward," he said. "There's a lot of change coming." Because of its popularity, football will always be fine. But with lawsuits and athletic department expenses about to rise dramatically, Bowlsby thinks something will have to give.

Everyone’s mind is on the playoff, even if all minds don’t quite get it: The inaugural College Football Playoff was one of the big topics of conversation this week. The Big 12 coaches all believe the league is positioned strongly for inclusion, thanks to a robust nonconference slate of games and a nine-game conference schedule. Many players, however, weren’t well-informed about how the playoff will work. One didn’t know how many teams would be in it. Another thought every conference champ automatically advanced to it. And still another had no idea just how the playoff would be picked. The playoff is going to be an adjustment for college football fans. There is going to be an adjustment for the players, too.

Trickett was always the guy: According to West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, Clint Trickett was always going to be this season’s starting quarterback. It was just a matter of him getting cleared medically. "We wanted him to be the guy," Holgorsen said. "We had to wait and see how he did coming off the shoulder surgery." Holgorsen said there was little the other West Virginia quarterbacks could have done this spring to unseat Trickett, who sat out while recovering from the shoulder injury. "He was the best option we had this year, he was the best option we had last year," Holgorsen said. "Once I was pleased with what I saw, it was a no-brainer to me."

Hill will get the ball a lot: Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has had some talented offensive players over the years. But Gundy said it has been a long time since the Cowboys had a playmaker like juco running back Tyreek Hill. "He's very fast," said Gundy, comparing him to former West Virginia standout Tavon Austin. "He gets [past] that first level [of the defense] and no one is caching him." Gundy wants Hill to touch the ball at least 20 times a game. Whether he’s at running back or lined up in the slot, Hill is going to be the focal point of the Oklahoma State attack.

Snyder is still the man: Kansas State coach Bill Snyder is 74 years old, just two years younger than former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, who popped by media days Monday night. But Snyder is still coaching strong, with a team that was voted third in the preseason poll behind co-favorites Oklahoma and Baylor. Apparently everyone should eat only one meal a day.

Big 12 media days roundtable: Day 1

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
7:30
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video
It was an action-packed day as Big 12 media days opened in Dallas, Texas. Baylor carried itself with the look and confidence of the defending Big 12 champion, while Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby made it clear that change is on the horizon for college athletics. ESPN.com Big 12 reporters Jake Trotter, Max Olson and Brandon Chatmon answered four questions in our roundtable to conclude the first session, which was comprised of Baylor, Kansas, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas Tech.

What stuck out to you most?

Trotter: The confidence Baylor carried throughout the day. The Bears are the defending Big 12 champs, and they walked and talked like it Monday. Defensive end Shawn Oakman even took issue with Oklahoma getting voted as the preseason favorite, saying Baylor's 41-12 win over OU last season showed that the Sooners' "product was nowhere near as good as the product that Baylor was putting on the field." Bears coach Art Briles said the preseason seeding was fair because OU beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, while Baylor fell to UCF in the Fiesta. But there’s little doubt the Bears will go into this season with the swagger of the league's best team.

Olson: Other than Bowlsby's scorched-earth, "Winter is Coming" assessment of today's NCAA, I enjoyed Briles' presence at this event, as always. He had his usual great lines -- when Baylor was called a heavyweight, he said "I try to eat as healthy as possible" -- and Texas charm, but unlike last year he's not out to play hype man for his program. He was resolute in saying he's aiming for the College Football Playoff and that OU deserves to be the Big 12 favorite considering how last season ended. He also seems to have taken it personally that QB Bryce Petty wasn't a Heisman finalist last year. With former Texas coach Mack Brown now out of the picture, it appears Briles is the guy reporters love to gravitate toward. He seems as confident and relaxed as ever when it comes to his team's chances in 2014.

Chatmon: Bowlsby didn’t mince words at all Monday. He kicked off Big 12 media days with a bang, talking about the need for restructuring in the NCAA, the possibly bleak future of some Olympic sports, and the potential for cheating in college football nationwide. The cheating discussion was easily the part that stood out to me, as Bowlsby’s candor was unexpected. “The infractions committee hasn't had a hearing in almost a year, and I think it's not an understatement to say that cheating pays presently,” he said. He went on to say he didn’t think it was rampant and didn’t have any concerns “on a local basis” when asked specifically about the Big 12.

What's something new you learned?

Trotter: TCU added Texas A&M transfer quarterback Matt Joeckel in the spring. But Trevone Boykin is not going to relinquish the job and slide to receiver without a fight. “He wants to be the guy,” coach Gary Patterson said. Whether at receiver or quarterback, Boykin is going to help the Horned Frogs offensively. But he’s going to try to help them at quarterback first.

Olson: I was hardly surprised, but Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy loves Tyreek Hill. OSU will play Hill at running back and receiver, and Gundy said his goal is to get the speedster the ball 15 to 20 times a game. Hill was voted Big 12 Preseason Newcomer of the Year, and Gundy admitted that the blueprint for how to maximize Hill's talent hasn't completely come together yet. But the guy has a chance to be a Tavon Austin-type playmaker all over the field. Gundy would be wise to put the keys to the offense in Hill's hands, and it's good to see that the coach gets that.

Chatmon: Sam Eguavoen is a confident guy … who doesn’t like spiders. The Texas Tech linebacker has a lot of confidence in the Red Raiders’ potential this season, pointing to Tech’s narrow road setback to Oklahoma as a key moment in 2013: “If it wasn’t for the out route to a slot receiver, we had that game. The bowl game showed what we’re capable of. That’s the expectation for this season.” Eguavoen went on to say he’d pick Tyrese Gibson, Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant to kick it with if he could hang with celebrities. He was then asked about Tech cheerleader Kendall Jones, who gained national attention for posting photos of her hunting exploits in Africa this summer, and responded with this gem: “I’ve killed a couple of roaches before, but she’s out here killing bears and tigers, and I’m scared of spiders. I respect her. If I ever see a lizard in my backyard, I’ll have to hit her up.”

Your favorite exchange of the day?

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsAccording to Baylor coach Art Briles, Bears quarterback Bryce Petty has "name recognition" all the way up to Salem, Oregon.
Trotter: Briles was in fine form Monday. Besides verbally tussling with Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher about the Big 12 not playing a conference title game, Briles explained why QB Bryce Petty has a better chance to win the Heisman this season. “Go to Salem, Oregon ... and talk to the guys at the Dairy Queen that follow college football and say, ‘Bryce Petty.’ And they’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s that quarterback from Baylor.’ That’s why. Because he’s got name recognition.” Petty certainly has more name recognition, though maybe not so much in Salem. A Portland radio station called all six Dairy Queens in Salem to see if anyone had ever heard of Petty. The results for Petty weren’t good.

Olson: Patterson elicited a lot of confused frowns when he said, regarding his changes on offense, "I like Gatorade. When you have to beat people 17-13 just drinking water, you'd like to be able to go back and find out what the different Gatorades are and do everything, you know, for a few years, Rose Bowl year and all that when you score a lot of points." Makes no sense, right? What Patterson was getting at is that, when you're coasting at the end of a blowout win, there's plenty of time for sports drink taste-testing on the sideline. That's a luxury the Frogs rarely enjoyed last year. So, uh, his new offense wants more points and more blowouts. At least, I think that's what he meant ...

Chatmon: Anything Oakman-related was gold. As the hashtag #OakmanisSoBig began to make waves during media days, the Baylor defensive end said his favorite was “#OakmanisSoBig his cereal bowl has a lifeguard." The Bears’ beast of a defender went on to question Oklahoma’s win over Alabama and its preseason favorite status in the Big 12. “It’s kind of disrespectful. You have your starting QB back, most of the front line back, and you’re still ranked No. 2. That doesn’t make sense to me. We beat OU,” he said.

On Tuesday, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia will take over the stage in Dallas. What are you looking forward to Tuesday?

Trotter: The newcomer to the league, Texas coach Charlie Strong, will be in the house. Mack Brown was always great in the media days setting. How will Strong acquit himself in his Big 12 media days debut? A good first impression can go a long way.

Olson: Gee, I wonder if Strong is going to face any scrutiny? He's the Big 12's only first-year head coach and he's hoping to change the perception that he's not a savvy public speaker. Plus, Mack was kind of the king of soapbox speeches and offering his take on college football issues at media days. So I'm guessing the many reporters who crowd around Strong will be practically waiting for him to slip up. He's always said he's OK with the media responsibilities of being Texas' head coach, and his performance Tuesday is truly inconsequential to the big picture, if you ask me. But can Strong make a good impression and inspire some believers on Tuesday?

Chatmon: I’m looking forward to what West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen will say as a huge year looms for the Mountaineers. The veteran coach is hitching his future, to begin the season at least, on the shoulders of senior quarterback Clint Trickett. The Mountaineers have plenty of skill-position talent and could have an explosive offense with good quarterback play, but people tend to forget WVU had superb quarterback play with Geno Smith in Year 1 in the conference and still finished 7-6 in 2012. So I’m interested to hear what Holgorsen has to say about his defense and the changes on that side of the ball, as well.
Five days before Big 12 media days get underway, the conference has released its official preseason All-Big 12 team as well as its preseason award-winners, as voted on by conference media.

Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty was named Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. No surprise there. Oklahoma State RB/WR Tyreek Hill, the speedy juco transfer from Garden City (Kansas) Community College, received preseason Newcomer of the Year honors.

The more debatable award, preseason Defensive Player of the Year, went to TCU defensive end Devonte Fields. He played in just three games in 2013 due to a foot injury but was voted the league's top defender and newcomer in 2012 as a true freshman.

Baylor led the way with seven players on the All-Big 12 team. Kansas State had five selections on the squad, and Oklahoma received four. Only one Big 12 program -- Oklahoma State -- did not have at least one player make the team.

All-Big 12 Team

QB Bryce Petty, Baylor
RB Shock Linwood, Baylor
RB Malcolm Brown, Texas
WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
WR Antwan Goodley, Baylor
TE E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
OL Spencer Drango, Baylor
OL Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
OL B.J. Finney, Kansas State
OL Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
OL Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech

DL Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
DL Devonte Fields, TCU
DL Chucky Hunter, TCU
DL Cedric Reed, Texas
LB Bryce Hager, Baylor
LB Ben Heeney, Kansas
LB Eric Striker, Oklahoma
DB Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
DB Sam Carter, TCU
DB Quandre Diggs, Texas
DB Karl Joseph, West Virginia

PK Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma
P Spencer Roth, Baylor
KR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
PR Levi Norwood, Baylor

There aren't many snubs to be found from this year's team. You can make a case for a bunch of other players -- TCU cornerback Kevin White, Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman, Texas' Johnathan Gray and Malcom Brown, West Virginia's Quinton Spain and Nick O'Toole. But based on 2013 performance, this list looks about right.

Any more exclusions stand out to you? Should Ryan Mueller or someone else win DPOY? Hit us with your complaints in the comments below.
Earlier this morning we gave you our preseason All-Big 12 picks. Here are some additional thoughts:

The other player I most considered for Offensive Player of the Year?

Chatmon: Tyler Lockett was tough to leave in Bryce Petty's wake. The Kansas State receiver means as much to the Wildcats' attack as anyone in the conference. He's unstoppable in one-on-one situations and transforms the Wildcats offense when he's on the field. He's able to single-handedly take over games from the receiver position in ways very few receivers have done in the Big 12.

Olson: Petty is the undisputed king for this honor, but Lockett is the clear runner-up. His game against Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl was terrific, but that was just a cherry on top after epic performances against Oklahoma (12 catches for 278 yards and 3 TDs) and Texas (13-237). He's a no-doubt All-American if you ask me.

Trotter: Lockett was the only other player deserving of consideration. He's going to have another monster year, and the biggest reason why K-State could be a darkhorse Big 12 title contender. But Petty is the reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, and there's no reason to believe he won't be even better in his second year as a starter.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesKansas State receiver Tyler Lockett was next in line for Offensive Player of the Year behind Baylor QB Bryce Petty according to all three voters.
The other player I most considered for Defensive Player of the Year?

Olson: While I thought he was a tad overhyped last year, you just know defensive end Ryan Mueller is going to be in the DPOY conversation at the end of November. He's already tied Kansas State's single-season sacks record (11.5) and will probably break that this fall, even with opposing linemen paying more attention to him.

Chatmon: Even though I eventually settled on Devonte Fields, Oklahoma's Eric Striker is destined to cause havoc this fall. His Allstate Sugar Bowl performance is a glimpse at his pass-rush ability and the Sooners are going to spend much of the year trying to find ways to allow Striker to do what he does best. Quite frankly the main reason I settled on Fields is the fact Striker will have to beat offensive tackles AND teammates Charles Tapper and Geneo Grissom to the quarterback to rack up sacks in 2014.

Trotter: You could make a viable case for a half-dozen different defenders here. But the only other player I really considered was Striker. He's the Lawrence Taylor of the Big 12, and is going to be in the nightmares of opposing quarterbacks this year. The Sooners are loaded up front, which will give Striker plenty of opportunities to rush the passer without double teams. But right now, Striker seems to be a little too one-dimensional to pick as the conference's Defensive Player of the Year. Fields, meanwhile, is the total package -- when he's healthy.

The other player I most considered for Newcomer of the Year?

Olson: No disrespect to Harwell, who should be quite productive at Kansas, but I did give some consideration to Oklahoma's Joe Mixon. The freshman running back is capable of emerging as an elite playmaker from the get-go. Of course, if we knew he was eligible in 2014, Dorial Green-Beckham would be the runaway choice for this preseason honor.

Chatmon: It wouldn't surprise me in the least if Oklahoma State's Tyreek Hill beats out Harwell for the award. Hill will consistently be the fastest player on the field and has the quickness and change of direction skills to give teams fits. Harwell got the nod because KU has fewer playmaking options than the Cowboys, who also feature Jhajuan Seales, Desmond Roland, Rennie Childs and Marcell Ateman as potential playmakers.

Trotter: If I knew running back Rushel Shell was going to get the lion's share of West Virginia's carries, he would have received stronger consideration. But at the moment, Dreamius Smith sits atop the Mountaineers' depth chart, and West Virginia has other capable backs in Wendell Smallwood and Dustin Garrison, to boot. While Shell is an immense talent, it's unclear just how big a part he'll be of the West Virginia attack. There's no doubt Hill is going to be a focal point of the Oklahoma State offense. And after dazzling in the spring, there's little doubt Hill is in for big year thanks to his world-class speed.

What was the most difficult position to figure out?

Olson: I had to crunch the numbers on Malcolm Brown vs. Johnathan Gray, since Gray did have the superior YPG average when healthy. The tiebreaker went to Brown for his receiving production and TDs. I do think the discussion at cornerback will be interesting this year, too. I chose Zack Sanchez over Kevin White and Daryl Worley, but several others could step up in 2014.

Chatmon: The defensive line spot was easily the toughest with Brown and Baylor's Shawn Oakman finding themselves on the outside looking in. Both players got left off my first team but I wouldn't be surprised if either guy emerges as the Big 12's most dominant defensive lineman this fall, surpassing Tapper, Mueller, Reed and Fields. Defensive back was another tough spot with Oklahoma's Zack Sanchez, TCU's Chris Hackett and Kansas State's Dante Barnett each getting strong consideration.

Trotter: Defensive end was the most difficult position to sort out, because let's face it, there are actually five first-team All-Big 12 caliber players there. I ultimately went with Oakman alongside Fields because of the upside. But Reed, Mueller and Tapper are right there, and more deserving of being All-Big 12 than some of the other players that made my team at other positions.

The toughest omission from the All-Big 12 team was?

Olson: Because I am a man of honor and integrity, I selected two ends and two tackles for my All-Big 12 defensive line, even though this was not required. That made excluding Mueller and Shawn Oakman or Tapper a difficult but necessary call. But I stand by my admirable self-restraint.

Chatmon: Malcom Brown is going to make me regret leaving him off my list. The Texas defensive tackle could emerge as a nightmare in the middle for Charlie Strong's Longhorns. As much as I wanted to include him on my first team, I had to go with a few proven veterans ahead of him.

Trotter: Besides Mueller, Reed and Tapper, the toughest omissions were Baylor running back Shock Linwood and Oklahoma offensive tackle Daryl Williams. Linwood had a big two-game stretch last year that flashed his talent. But I also think he's going to share carries with Devin Chafin and Johnny Jefferson, which could drive down his individual numbers. Williams is the best of a terrific Sooners offensive line, which is tops in the league. But Oklahoma's strength up front lies in its depth, not just the talent of any one individual player.

Our All-Big 12 ballots

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
7:30
AM ET
The deadline for media to turn in All-Big 12 ballots to the conference office comes Friday. The official All-Big 12 team won't be released until Big 12 media days in Dallas in a couple weeks.

But below, the Big 12 blog team released the ballots we turned in to the office to you for your viewing pleasure.

Later this morning we'll go into more depth about how we went about selecting our ballots.

But before we do that, the ballots:

BRANDON CHATMON'S BALLOT

Offense

WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

TE: E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State

OL: Spencer Drango, Baylor

OL: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech

C: Dominic Espinosa, Texas

OL: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State

OL: Daryl Williams, Oklahoma

WR: Antwan Goodley, Baylor

QB: Bryce Petty, Baylor

RB: Malcolm Brown, Texas

RB: Shock Linwood, Baylor

PK: Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma

PR: Levi Norwood, Baylor

[+] EnlargePetty
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBaylor QB Bryce Petty made it on all three ballots.
Defense

DL: Devonte Fields, TCU

DL: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State

DL: Cedric Reed, Texas

DL: Charles Tapper, Oklahoma

LB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma

LB: Bryce Hager, Baylor

LB: Ben Heeney, Kansas

DB: Kevin White, TCU

DB: Daryl Worley, West Virginia

DB: Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State

DB: Sam Carter, TCU

P: Trevor Pardula, Kansas

KR: B.J. Catalon, TCU

Player of the Year Awards

Offensive Player of the Year: Bryce Petty, Baylor

Defensive Player of the Year: Devonte Fields, TCU

Newcomer of the Year: Nick Harwell, Kansas

Quick explainer: The Big 12 features more proven stars heading into this season than it did in 2013 but that didn't make my preseason All-Big 12 team any easier. Several young players seem ready to take their contributions to another level at the expense of established playmakers. The receiver position was a no-brainer (although two receivers on the squad seems a little odd), while the running back position is so littered with unknowns I considered just throwing a darts at the dart board and hoping for the best. Overall I ended up going with proven production over up-and-coming stars, meaning my postseason All-Big 12 squad could look much different than this version.

MAX OLSON'S BALLOT

Offense

WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

TE: E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State

OL: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech

OL: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State

C: B.J. Finney, Kansas State

OL: Quinton Spain, West Virginia

OL: Spencer Drango, Baylor

WR: Antwan Goodley, Baylor

QB: Bryce Petty, Baylor

RB: Malcolm Brown, Texas

RB: Shock Linwood, Baylor

PK: Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma

PR: Levi Norwood, Baylor

Defense

DL: Devonte Fields, TCU

DL: Chucky Hunter, TCU

DL: Malcom Brown, Texas

DL: Cedric Reed, Texas

LB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma

LB: Bryce Hager, Baylor

LB: Ben Heeney, Kansas

DB: Quandre Diggs, Texas

DB: Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma

DB: Sam Carter, TCU

DB: Chris Hackett, TCU

P: Nick O'Toole, West Virginia

KR: B.J. Catalon, TCU

Player of the Year Awards

Offensive Player of the Year: Bryce Petty, Baylor

Defensive Player of the Year: Devonte Fields, TCU

Newcomer of the Year: Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State

Quick explainer: Petty, Lockett and Goodley are easy choices, but from there it gets tricky and you can make a case for a ton of players being deserving of preseason all-conference honors. On defense, the Big 12's ballot provides flexibility with DL, LB and DB as the three position categories, but I still tried to put together a unit with true defensive tackles and safeties. When in doubt, I went by 2013 production. How well these guys would all fit together on a playing field, who knows? But there's plenty of star power and proven talent in this lineup.

JAKE TROTTER'S BALLOT

Offense

WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

TE: E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State

OL: Spencer Drango, Baylor

OL: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech

C: B.J. Finney, Kansas State

OL: Quinton Spain, West Virginia

OL: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State

WR: Antwan Goodley, Baylor

QB: Bryce Petty, Baylor

RB: Johnathan Gray, Texas

RB: Keith Ford, Oklahoma

PK: Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma

PR: Daje Johnson, Texas

Defense

DL: Devonte Fields, TCU

DL: Chucky Hunter, TCU

DL: Malcom Brown, Texas

DL: Shawn Oakman, Baylor

LB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma

LB: Ben Heeney, Kansas

LB: Bryce Hager, Baylor

DB: Daryl Worley, West Virginia

DB: Kevin White, TCU

DB: Sam Carter, TCU

DB: Quandre Diggs, Texas

P: Nick O'Toole, West Virginia

KR: Corey Coleman, Baylor

Player of the Year Awards

Offensive Player of the Year: Bryce Petty, Baylor

Defensive Player of the Year: Devonte Fields, TCU

Newcomer of the Year: Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State

Quick explainer: The official Big 12 ballot doesn't differentiate between offensive tackles and guards, defensive tackles and ends and cornerbacks and safeties. But like Max, I still tried to keep position integrity, which made putting this ballot together significantly more difficult. But unlike Max and Brandon, I attempted to project out this year's all-conference team instead of leaning on rehashing last year's, which is why Worley, Oakman and Ford made my preseason team over more conventional selections like Sanchez, Mueller and Linwood. Those three gambles could make me look incredibly smart at the end of the year -- or incredibly dumb. Time will tell.
Could Oklahoma State surprise the nation and make an appearance in the College Football Playoff?

Travis Haney, our colleague at ESPN Insider, took a closer look at the Cowboys’ chances Insider today with three reasons why Mike Gundy’s program will make the playoff and three reasons why the Pokes will not make the playoff.

One reason the Cowboys could earn a playoff berth is junior-college signee Tyreek Hill, writes Haney:
“Reports from Stillwater indicate that Tyreek Hill could be a dynamic playmaker, which is why he deserves his own category here. … The objective: Get him the ball, preferably in space. Coach Mike Gundy told me he would ideally like to see Hill receive 20 touches per game at running back and receiver. "It's our job to get him going," offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich told me. "We have to make sure to prepare our talent for [the opener against] Florida State.”

One of the reasons Oklahoma State could struggle to make the playoff is the Cowboys' offensive efficiency, which took a step backward in 2013, writes Haney:
“Oklahoma State was the standard for offensive efficiency in both 2011 and 2012, finishing third in the country both seasons. Due to a variety of factors, not the least of which was a continually unsettled situation at quarterback, the Cowboys dropped to 45th in yards per play in 2013 (5.91, compared to more than 7 in the previous two years). Clint Chelf stepped in and operated, more or less, as a caretaker of the offense, while an improved defense often kept OSU in games.”

It would be a major surprise if the Cowboys earn a berth in the College Football Playoff but, as Haney notes, 2014 could pay big dividends for 2015.
“In reality, this is a team that could set the table for future efforts. The FSU opener could give fans a nice (or unpleasant) gauge for how wide the gap is between elite and where the Pokes currently reside.”
Two weeks ago, we ranked every team in the Big 12 position-by-position coming out of the spring. Putting that together, we’ve ranked the overall league position-by-position. In other words, what is the league’s strongest position? What is its weakest?

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCedric Reed will anchor Texas' defensive line.
In 2013, there’s no doubt the strength of the league was in the defensive backfield. Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett were the league’s two first-round picks. Safety Ahmad Dixon earned All-American honors and Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom, West Virginia safety Darwin Cook, Kansas State safety Ty Zimmerman and Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin were longtime stalwarts in their defensive backfields.

Here’s how the positions of the league rank going into 2014:

1. Defensive line: This was easily the most difficult position to rank by team, as line figures to be the defensive strength of TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The Horned Frogs had the league’s best run defense last season, and on top of returning basically the entire unit, will be adding back 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields. The Sooners are also loaded, led by All-Big 12-caliber ends Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper and tackle Jordan Phillips, and the could also go three-deep across the board next year. The Longhorns have two potential first-round picks up front in tackle Malcom Brown and end Cedric Reed. And Baylor coach Art Briles is already on record stating his D-line could go toe-to-toe with any in the country. Collectively, this should be the best the conference has been at the position since Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh roamed the middle five years ago.

2. Wide receiver: The league has two superstars at receiver in Baylor’s Antwan Goodley and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, who have the résumés to garner preseason All-American consideration. But they aren’t the only prolific playmakers here. Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage, Oklahoma State’s Jhajuan Seales and Texas’ Jaxon Shipley are all capable of 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Baylor might feature the best receiving corps in the country, Oklahoma State is a solid nine deep and West Virginia returns its entire starting lineup from last season. Even Kansas has the nation’s second-leading receiver from 2011 in Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell. Assuming the league’s quarterbacks can get them the ball, this could be another banner year for the Big 12’s pass-catchers.

3. Linebacker: Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and TCU return virtually their entire linebacker units from last year. And from Texas Tech’s Pete Robertson and Kansas State’s Jonathan Truman to Baylor’s Bryce Hager and Oklahoma State’s Ryan Simmons, the rest of the league basically has at least one proven linebacker coming back, too.

4. Offensive line: The strength of the Big 12's offensive lines resides in experienced centers and talented tackles. Kansas State’s BJ Finney, Texas’ Dominic Espinosa and Iowa State’s Tom Farniok are all four-year starters with a combined 113 career starts. At tackle, Baylor’s Spencer Drango, Texas Tech’s Le’Raven Clark and Oklahoma’s Daryl Williams have NFL futures. The league also boasts three other very stout and versatile players up front in Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair, West Virginia’s Quinton Spain and Oklahoma State’s Daniel Koenig, all three of which can man either guard or tackle.

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDavis Webb seems like one of the few sure things at QB in the Big 12.
5. Quarterback: The Big 12 has one Heisman candidate in Baylor’s Bryce Petty, a proven performer in Kansas State’s Jake Waters and two budding stars in Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight. The rest of the league is a big fat unknown at the game’s most-critical position. But if Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh and Texas’ David Ash regain their forms from two seasons ago, Iowa State’s Grant Rohach builds off his strong 2013 finish, Clint Trickett can stay upright at West Virginia, and transfer Matt Joeckel and sophomore Montell Cozart prove to be the answers at TCU and Kansas, the Big 12 could be on the way back to becoming the preeminent conference for quarterbacking once again.

6. Running back: Half the teams lost their leading rushers from last season, and that doesn’t include Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams switching positions to linebacker. The Longhorns pose a potentially devastating one-two punch in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, and the Mountaineers could go five-deep with Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood, Rushel Shell, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie. But the rest of the league will be leaning on potential more than past performance. That said, there is a lot to like in Baylor’s Shock Linwood, Iowa State’s Aaron Wimberly, TCU’s B.J. Catalon, Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill and Oklahoma’s Keith Ford.

7. Defensive back: With Gilbert, Verrett, Dixon, Colvin, Zimmerman, Cook and Byndom all gone, this position took a major attrition hit. Thanks to Sam Carter, Chris Hackett and Kevin White, TCU remains well stocked in its secondary. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have veterans back, too. Everywhere else, there is rebuilding to be done. But the next wave of secondary stars appears to be on its way. Cornerbacks Nigel Tribune (Iowa State), Justis Nelson (Texas Tech) and Daryl Worley (West Virginia) all started as true freshmen. So did Oklahoma State corner Kevin Peterson and West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, who are now both juniors. It might not be long before defensive back is a strength of the league again like it was last season.
Since last week, we’ve been examining the strongest and weakest positions for each team in the Big 12 going into the fall.

We pick up the series with the Oklahoma State Cowboys:

Strongest position: Wide receiver

[+] EnlargeMarcell Ateman
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtSophomore wideout Marcell Ateman could start for the Cowboys in 2014.
Oklahoma State doesn’t have an All-American like Justin Blackmon or Dez Bryant in its receiving corps. But the Cowboys do boast one of the deepest pass-catching units in the Big 12, if not the country.

Oklahoma State brings back six different receivers who have caught at least 14 passes in a season, headlined by Jhajuan Seales. As a freshman starter, Seales hauled in 39 receptions for 571 yards and three touchdowns. With Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore both gone, Seales will likely take over as the go-to target for quarterback J.W. Walsh.

The Cowboys, however, have several other up-and-coming receivers to complement Seales.

Marcell Ateman, who caught 22 passes as a true freshman last season, is the favorite to start on the outside opposite Seales. Brandon Sheperd (223 receiving yards) and David Glidden (15 catches) were also key parts of the rotation as redshirt freshman last season.

Oklahoma State will also be welcoming a pair of key parts from the 2012 receiving corps back to the lineup. Blake Webb and Austin Hays made starts as true freshmen two years ago, but they were sidelined by injuries for almost the entire 2013 season.

Hays, who was the favorite target of Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight at San Antonio Reagan High, has the versatility to play on the outside or in the slot. Webb, who also runs track, was the star of Oklahoma State’s “Orange Blitz” spring scrimmage, reeling in two bombs downfield.

On top of Webb and Hays, the Cowboys will be adding two more intriguing weapons to the fray.

Tyreek Hill, who was the No. 4 juco prospect in the country, stole the show in Stillwater this spring with his tantalizing speed. Hill will play running back, but the plan is to use him in the slot at times next season, as well.

Ra’Shaad Samples, another blazer, could be a factor in the slot as well. The top recruit from Oklahoma State’s 2013 signing class, Samples redshirted last season to get stronger.

Samples and sophomore C.J. Curry round out a nine-man rotation that won’t include a single senior in 2014, which is a scary future proposition for the defensive backfields of the conference.

Weakest position: Linebacker

The backbone of Oklahoma State’s stellar 2013 defense was the linebacker corps. Both Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey were three-year starters, and both earned first-team All-Big 12 recognition (Lewis from the coaches, Lavey from the media).

But Lewis and Lavey have both graduated, leaving a massive void in the middle of coordinator Glenn Spencer’s defense.

Spencer will be counting on junior Ryan Simmons to fill some of that void. Simmons, who was the third starting linebacker last season, has moved back inside to fill Lavey’s role. Simmons has All-Big 12 potential and will bring plenty of athleticism to middle linebacker.

Elsewhere, the Cowboys will be leaning heavily on transfers.

Juco transfer Devante Averette enrolled early, had a solid spring and should help solidify the weak side in place of Simmons along with Seth Jacobs and Kris Catlin.

Juco transfer D'Nerius Antoine and Michigan transfer Josh Furman will team up to man the “star” linebacker. Furman brings much needed experience to the group, having appeared in 32 games over his career with the Wolverines.

This is a unit that has the potential to rapidly improve in 2014. But it’s also one with many unknowns going into the season.

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