Dallas Colleges: Micah Awe

Stat crunch: Big 12 returning tackles

May, 27, 2014
May 27
9:00
AM CT
Last week, colleague Max Olson crunched the numbers on the total career starts each Big 12 team has coming back for next season.

What Max unearthed was that Texas (by far) leads the Big 12 in career starts returning, both offensively and defensively. TCU’s defense ranked second behind the Longhorns’ defense, while the Iowa State offense placed second. The Horned Frogs could have their most dominant defense yet in the Big 12, and the Cyclones could feature their best offensive attack in years, suggesting both teams could also be in for bounce-back 2014 campaigns.

Yet while revealing, compiling returning starts doesn’t tell the entire story when examining team experience, since the equation doesn’t account for those who played key roles as reserves. TCU safety Derrick Kindred, Texas Tech linebacker Micah Awe and Baylor end Shawn Oakman weren’t starters last year. But they were still valuable players on their respective teams.

To examine returning experience in another way, I’ve tallied up the percentage of tackles returning for every team in the Big 12:

With nine starters back, it’s not surprising the Sooners top this chart. But the number of returning starters isn’t the only reason why Oklahoma is optimistic about its 2014 defense. The Sooners also bring back several key defensive performers that weren’t full-time starters last season. End Geneo Grissom, who notched three sacks against Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, only started five games in 2013. Linebacker Jordan Evans thrived whenever his number got called as a freshman. And tackle Jordan Phillips only started four games but was playing at an All-Big 12-caliber level before suffering a season-ending back injury in early October.

On the flip side, Oklahoma State is at the cellar of this list, and not just because it graduated seven starters. The Cowboys also lost several defensive reserves that played a bunch, including linebacker Joe Mitchell, cornerback Tyler Patmon and safety Zack Craig.

Of course, like with returning starts, a high level of returning tackles doesn’t guarantee success. And it doesn’t necessarily preclude it, either.

Oklahoma ranked 119th nationally in returning tackles (40 percent) last season. But by the end of the season, the Sooners were wreaking havoc in the backfield of the two-time defending national champs.

The tackle equation can be an indicator of the defenses that might be formidable. Oklahoma State and Baylor both had 73 percent of their tackles returning from 2012 going into last season. Both wound up being formidable, ranking first and second in the league in both fewest yards per play and points per drive.

That bodes well for the defensive prospects of Oklahoma, Kansas, TCU, Texas and West Virginia, which all have like tackle rates coming back for 2014.

Big 12 post-spring breakdown: LBs

May, 6, 2014
May 6
3:00
PM CT
With spring ball done, we’re re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Tuesday with linebackers. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. Oklahoma (pre-spring ranking: 1): While the future of inside linebacker Frank Shannon remains unclear, the Sooners have a tailor-made replacement in Jordan Evans ready to go. Shannon was OU’s leading tackler a year ago, but Evans was the defensive MVP of the spring game in his place. Blitzing outside linebacker Eric Striker had a huge spring coming off his three-sack performance in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. And the Sooners had another blitzing linebacker in juco transfer Devante Bond emerge in March, which could give them flexibility to move Striker around. Dominique Alexander, the reigning Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, solidifies OU’s perch atop this positional ranking, even with Shannon’s future in limbo.

2. Texas (2): Steve Edmond sparked controversy with his Baylor comments, but he also impressed coach Charlie Strong this spring with his knack for making tackles. Edmond and Dalton Santos team up to give the Longhorns a reliable combination on the inside. Athletic sophomore Timothy Cole took advantage of his opportunities with the first-team defense during the spring but should fall back into a spot role once Jordan Hicks returns this summer from a second consecutive season-ending injury. This will be a good group of linebackers, but Hicks playing up to his five-star potential is what could make it great.

3. West Virginia (3): After struggling at the “Spur” linebacker spot in 2013, Isaiah Bruce moved back inside this spring, where he starred as a freshman All-American two years ago. Bruce said he didn’t feel as comfortable playing outside and that showed, as he didn’t record a sack last season despite playing off the edge. Taking over in the Spur is converted safety K.J. Dillon, who was as impressive as any West Virginia defender this spring. With the ability to drop back in coverage, attack the run and rush the quarterback, Dillon seems to be a much better fit at the Spur. If he continues to progress at his new spot and Bruce gets back to his old self playing alongside tackling machine Nick Kwiatkoski inside, the Mountaineers will be stout at the second level.

4. Kansas (5): If the Jayhawks finally climb out of the Big 12 cellar for the first time in six years, it will be on the back of Ben Heeney and a Kansas defense that returns nine starters. One of those nine returners is Heeney’s linebacker wingman, Jake Love, who delivered a strong spring game with a scrimmage-high 10 tackles. The Jayhawks have several weaknesses, but the tackling of their linebackers is not one of them.

5. TCU (6): They get overshadowed by the units in front of and behind them, but linebackers Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet simply fulfill what’s asked of them. The Horned Frogs were surprisingly solid at linebacker last year. They should be even better in 2014.

6. Texas Tech (7): The Red Raiders received a huge boost in the spring from Kenny Williams, who made a seamless -- and voluntary -- position switch from running back to the “Raider” linebacker position. With honorable mention All-Big 12 pick Pete Robertson on the other outside spot and veterans Sam Eguavoen and Micah Awe and Utah transfer V.J. Fehoko manning the middle, the Red Raiders have a solid foundation. Ex-Ohio State linebacker Mike Mitchell, who attended Tech’s spring game, could give the unit another boost in the summer. He was an ESPN 300 recruit last year and could be eligible immediately at his next school.

7. Kansas State (8): Coach Bill Snyder seemed to be reasonably pleased with returners Jonathan Truman and Will Davis, who have locked up two of the linebacker spots. If D'Vonta Derricott, who was in the ESPN Junior College 50 and had offers from Miami, Wisconsin, Arizona State and a host of Big 12 programs, can make an impact at the third linebacker spot, the Wildcats could quickly solidify their biggest question spot defensively.

8. Baylor (4): Middle linebacker Bryce Hager will be fine once he finally recovers from a groin injury. That means Aiavion Edwards, who exited spring as the starter on the weak side, will be the key as the Bears attempt to overcome the graduation of All-Big 12 performer Eddie Lackey. Baylor, though, still has big expectations for juco transfer Grant Campbell, even though he finished spring as a backup on the depth chart. After a shaky first few practices, Campbell began to come on late in spring drills.

9. Oklahoma State (9): The Cowboys picked up a valuable transfer during the spring in former Michigan safety Josh Furman, who will be eligible immediately after getting his degree. Furman isn’t a star, but he has plenty of experience and could be a real asset teamed with juco transfer D'Nerius Antoine at Oklahoma State’s “Star” linebacker spot. On the weak side, fellow juco transfer Devante Averette really shined before suffering some mild injuries at the end of spring ball. The Cowboys will be even better there if 2012 four-star signee Seth Jacobs emerges.

10. Iowa State (10): The Cyclones remain in transition mode at linebacker while working to replace the production of departed All-Big 12 performer Jeremiah George. Redshirt freshman and former QB Alton Meeks was one of the defensive surprises of the spring; he currently sits atop the depth chart at middle linebacker. The other big defensive surprise was walk-on senior Drake Ferch, who beat out returning starter Jared Brackens on the strong side. Jevohn Miller is the third starting linebacker, but he figures to be a placeholder on the weak side until Luke Knott returns from last year’s season-ending hip injury.
Since last week, we've been analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. Monday, we continue with the Texas Tech Red Raiders, who released an official two-deep after finishing up spring ball last month:

OFFENSE (starters in bold)

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDavis Webb had a great spring and returns to lead the offense.
QB: Davis Webb (So.)

This one is pretty simple. Webb, who broke out in the bowl game, is loaded with potential and had a fabulous spring with 13 touchdowns and no turnovers over three open scrimmages. With no other QB on the roster, incoming freshman Patrick Mahomes will assume the backup spot by default.

RB: DeAndre Washington (Jr.), Quinton White (So.)

With Kenny Williams taking over as the starting “Raider” linebacker, Washington takes over as the starting running back. Washington has two seasons of experience and was just as productive out of the backfield as Williams was in 2013. White will have to perform in a backup role to fend off incoming four-star freshman Justin Stockton.

WR: D.J. Polite-Bray (So.), Devin Lauderdale (So.)


IR: Jakeem Grant (Jr.), Brent Mitcham (Sr.)

IR: Bradley Marquez (Sr.), Jordan Davis (Sr.)

WR: Reginald Davis (So.), Derreck Edwards (Jr.)

The playmaking potential is boundless in the speedy trio of Grant, Marquez and Davis, who combined for four touchdowns in the National University Holiday Bowl. Polite-Bray can fly, too, and made a living hauling in bombs downfield during the spring to emerge as the fourth starting receiver. With bulky tight end Jace Amaro and Eric Ward (who ranked 29th in the Big 12 in yards per catch), the Red Raiders struggled at times last season to stretch the field. With a major upgrade in speed across the board at the position, that won’t be an issue in the fall. Jordan Davis gives Tech a reliable fifth option inside when Kliff Kingsbury goes to his five wide receiver sets.

LT: Le’Raven Clark (Jr.), Poet Thomas (RFr.)

LG: Alfredo Morales (Jr.), James Polk (Sr.)

C: Jared Kaster (Jr.), Tony Morales (Jr.)

RG: Trey Keenan (So.), Baylen Brown (So.)

RT: Rashad Fortenberry (Sr.), Josh Outlaw (RFr.)

The offensive line two-deep could undergo a transformation once junior-college transfer Dominique Robertson arrives in the summer. Offensive line coach Lee Hays has said that he would consider swinging Clark to guard to boost the run game, should Robertson show up ready to play. Hays was given this option after Fortenberry was awarded another year of eligibility in the spring. At the moment, right guard is the biggest question up front, but if Clark were to slide inside, he and Morales could team up to give the Red Raiders a powerful run-blocking duo at the guard spots.

DEFENSE

DE: Branden Jackson (Jr.), Zach Barnes (So.)

NG: Jackson Richards (Jr.), Donte Phillips (Jr.)

DT: Demetrius Alston (Jr.), Keland McElrath (Jr.)

This appears to be the biggest question on the entire team. Jackson is coming off a solid sophomore season, with nine tackles for loss and four sacks. But Tech, which finished next-to-last in run defense in 2013, got pushed around in Big 12 play with the unit its currently projecting to start. That’s why Tech signed four juco defensive linemen -- Brandon Thorpe, Marcus Smith, Rika Levi and McElrath – in its 2014 class. To toughen up their front, the Red Raiders will need at least a couple of those jucos to pan out.

BANDIT: Pete Robertson (Jr.), Kris Williams (So.)

WLB: V.J. Fehoko (Sr.), Malik Jenkins (So.)

MLB: Sam Eguavoen (Sr.), Micah Awe (Jr.)

RAIDER: Kenny Williams (Sr.), Austin Stewart (Sr.)

This is a unit that really came together over the spring. What started as an experiment could result in the Red Raiders uncovering their answer at the “Raider” linebacking spot vacated by Terrance Bullitt. Even though he sat out the spring game, Williams had a tremendous run of practices at the position and was rewarded with a spot atop the depth chart. Elsewhere, the Red Raiders are in good shape. Robertson was an honorable mention All-Big 12 performer last season, and Eguavoen and Awe were third and sixth on the team in tackles. Some big-time help could be on the way this summer, too. Former Ohio State linebacker Mike Mitchell, who was an ESPN 300 recruit last season, attended Texas Tech’s spring game and could be in line for a hardship waiver to play immediately at his next school.

BC: Justis Nelson (So.), Thierry Nguema (So.)

FS: J.J. Gaines (So.), Jalen Barnes (RFr.)

SS: Keenon Ward (So.), Dorian Crawford (Sr.)

FC: Dee Paul (So.)

The Red Raiders have reason to be cautiously optimistic about their young secondary. Gaines was performing at a high level last fall before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury five games into the year. He was a limited participant during spring ball and should be good-to-go again for the fall. Ward had an MVP spring, laying out several receivers with big hits to solidify the other safety job. Nelson returns after starting as a true freshman, essentially leaving the field cornerback spot as the only lingering competition. Nigel Bethel II, the four-star gem of the 2014 recruiting class, has the talent to vie for that job when he arrives on campus. Even though he didn't appear on the depth chart, safety transfer Josh Keys, who did enroll early, could add valuable depth once he settles into coordinator Matt Wallerstedt’s scheme.

Spring primer: Texas Tech Red Raiders

March, 6, 2014
Mar 6
3:00
PM CT
Texas Tech kicked off its spring ball Wednesday. Here’s a preview of what to look for from the Red Raiders during their spring practices:

Offensive returner ready to take next step: Reginald Davis flashed what he’s capable of while taking a kick to the house in the bowl game. Davis, a former smaller class quarterback, has been picking up the nuances of playing wideout the last two years and seems primed for a breakout campaign. With Eric Ward gone, the Red Raiders will be looking for another playmaker on the outside. Davis has the speed and explosiveness to be just that.

[+] EnlargeTexas Tech
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsWith his speed and explosiveness, WR Reginald Davis looks poised to have a breakout season this year for the Red Raiders.
Defensive returner ready to take the next step: Cornerback Justis Nelson signed with the Red Raiders last year with an offer list that included Bucknell, Colgate and Harvard. But Nelson proved to be a pleasant surprise as a freshman, starting the final three games for the Red Raiders. He also picked off an Arizona State pass to seal Tech’s bowl win. Nelson doesn’t have top-end speed, but he has the awareness and ball instincts to make plays in the secondary. He figures only to get better, too.

Redshirt freshman to watch: Offensive guard Josh Outlaw was the highest-rated signee in last year’s class. The Georgia native signed with the Red Raiders, despite reporting offers from several SEC powers. Even though Tech returns Alfredo Morales and Baylen Brown at guard, Outlaw is talented enough to break into the rotation after redshirting last season, especially with Beau Carpenter off the team now.

Most significant position battle: The Red Raiders need to figure out how they’re going to replace Terrance Bullitt at the pivotal Raider outside linebacker spot. Despite playing injured, Bullitt led all Big 12 linebackers in pass breakups last season. The Red Raiders have a host of possibilities to fill his role, including seniors Dorian Crawford and Austin Stewart and redshirt freshmen Collin Bowen and Jacarthy Mack. If Tech can find the right answer here, the entire linebacker corps could be very solid, with Micah Awe, Sam Eguavoen and Pete Robertson all back after productive seasons.

Key midterm enrollee: After ranking ninth in the Big 12 in rush defense and losing top inside D-linemen Dartwan Bush and Kerry Hyder, the Red Raiders desperately need a newcomer to emerge at defensive tackle. They have one option already on campus in juco transfer Keland McElrath, who chose Tech over West Virginia and Kentucky. McElrath has reportedly been dealing with a stress fracture, but if he can get healthy, he can give the Red Raiders some much needed beef up front.

Question that could be answered: The Red Raiders will be counting on several inexperienced players on the defensive side next season. Nose guard, defensive tackle, Raider linebacker, cornerback and safety are all positions of contention. Tech needs to build depth on this side of the ball, and with reps going out to numerous players, the competition for time should be intense across the board. Coming out of spring, the Red Raiders should have a decent idea of who they’ll be able to rely on in the fall.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: The Red Raiders really won’t know whether sophomore quarterback Davis Webb will be ready to take the next step until he’s out on the playing field. After an up-and-down true freshman season, Webb was fabulous in the National University Holiday Bowl, giving him plenty of momentum going into the offseason. He has plenty to work on this spring, notably eliminating the big mistakes that plagued him at times as a freshman. But his progress won’t be easily measured until he’s playing in a game again.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: LBs

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
3:00
PM CT
As we await the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12, continuing Tuesday with linebackers. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the linebacking corps going into the spring:

[+] EnlargeDominique Alexander
William Purnell/Icon SMIDominique Alexander was a star as a true freshman and leads a loaded Oklahoma linebacking corps.
1. Oklahoma: After a couple of lean years, the Sooners are loaded at linebacker again. Dominique Alexander was the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, Frank Shannon led the defense in tackles as a sophomore, and Eric Striker is budding into the most ferocious blitzing linebacker in the country (just ask Alabama). Jordan Evans played extensively as a true freshman, too. This is an athletic group that can cover, stop the run and get to the quarterback.

2. Texas: This is the deepest linebacking corps in the league, with starters Peter Jinkens, Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond all returning off a unit that improved dramatically after the rocky nonconference start. After allowing a school-record 550 yards rushing to BYU, Texas had the Big 12’s fourth-best rush defense in conference games. Whether this group can take another step up will depend on what happens with Jordan Hicks, who enters his fifth year in the program after suffering season-ending injuries in back-to-back years. Hicks was the No. 1 linebacker in the country coming out of high school and has played well when healthy.

3. West Virginia: This will be the strength of the defense, as Brandon Golson, Isaiah Bruce, Jared Barber and Nick Kwiatkoski all return with significant starting experience. Kwiatkoski was West Virginia’s leading tackler last season, and Bruce was a freshman All-American the season before. Wes Tonkery and Jewone Snow also have starting experience, and Shaq Petteway, who missed last season with a knee injury, was a key rotation player the previous year. This level of experience and production with give the new defensive regime of Tony Gibson and Tom Bradley a foundation to build around.

4. Baylor: Bryce Hager is one of the best returning linebackers in the league. He was a second-team all-conference pick two years ago and would have earned similar honors last season had he not missed the final three games of the regular season with a groin injury. Grant Campbell, a three-star juco signee, is already on campus and will vie for the vacancy of departing All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey. Kendall Ehrlich and Aiavion Edwards are the only other players at the position with any meaningful experience, but Raaquan Davis, a former four-star recruit who redshirted last season, could be a factor.

5. Kansas: Middle linebacker Ben Heeney was a second-team All-Big 12 selection after finishing fourth in the league in tackles per game. His wingman, Jake Love, got beat out by juco transfer Samson Faifili during the preseason but took over when Faifili suffered an injury and was solid. As long as Heeney remains healthy, the Jayhawks will be solid here.

6. TCU: Projected to be the Achilles’ heel of the TCU defense last season, Paul Dawson, Marcus Mallet and Jonathan Anderson actually gave the position stability. Dawson led the Horned Frogs with 91 tackles, Mallet was third with 70 and Anderson was fourth with 66. All three will be seniors in 2014 and should give the Horned Frogs a solid, reliable linebacking unit again.

7. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders and their 3-4 scheme graduate two very productive players in Will Smith and Terrance Bullitt. Smith was second in the Big 12 in tackles, and Bullitt led all Big 12 linebackers in pass breakups. Austin Stewart and Micah Awe go into the spring as the favorites to replace Bullitt and Smith, respectively. Two starters do return in Sam Eguavoen and Pete Robertson, who was honorable mention All-Big 12 thanks to his impact off the edge. Tech also has several intriguing young players, including Jacarthy Mack, Malik Jenkins and Kahlee Woods, who will all be second-year players.

8. Kansas State: The Wildcats lose two stalwarts to graduation in captains Blake Slaughter and Tre Walker. The only returner is former walk-on Jonathan Truman, who was second on the team in tackles from the weak side. The Wildcats will be hoping for big things from D'Vonta Derricott, an ESPN JC 50 signee who had offers from Miami and Wisconsin, among many others. Will Davis, who was Slaughter’s backup as a freshman last season, could thrive if he secures the starting role in the middle.

9. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are somewhat decimated here with the graduations of all-conference veterans Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey. The only returning starter, Ryan Simmons, could move inside, which would open the door for hard-hitting jucos D'Nerius Antoine and Devante Averette to start on either side of him. Seth Jacobs, who was a four-star recruit two years ago, should jump into the rotation, and the Cowboys could get an instant boost from freshman Gyasi Akem, who was an ESPN 300 signee. The potential ascension of this group, though, hinges on what Antonie and Averette accomplish.

10. Iowa State: The Cyclones graduate their defensive cornerstone in Jeremiah George, who was a first-team all-conference performer after leading the Big 12 with 133 tackles. Replacing George won’t come easy. There’s reason to hope that Luke Knott can become Iowa State’s next cornerstone at the position. The younger brother of Cyclone LB great Jake Knott, Luke Knott started five games as a freshman and quickly racked up 45 tackles before suffering a season-ending hip injury, which required surgery. If he makes a full recovery, Knott has the talent to become the next in a growing line of All-Big 12 Iowa State linebackers. Seniors Jevohn Miller and Jared Brackens, who combined for 19 starts last season, flank Knott with experience.

Big 12's unsung heroes

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
11:30
AM CT
It's that time of year.

September is the time when new names start to emerge in the Big 12 and prove themselves as players who will be key components of their teams' success. Here's a look at one player from each school whose season-opening performance might have been overlooked, yet they could become important playmakers for their teams this fall:

Defensive end Shawn Oakman, Baylor: The Penn State transfer could end up being a terror for Big 12 offenses this fall. At 6-foot-9, 275 pounds, he brings terrific size and athleticism to the Bears’ defensive front. He was extremely disruptive against Wofford, recording six tackles including 3.5 tackles for loss in Baylor’s 69-3 win.

Linebacker Jared Brackens, Iowa State: Against Northern Iowa, Brackens was one of the few bright spots in a disappointing loss for the Cyclones. He recorded 10 tackles and one sack,as he is trying to help Cyclone fans forget about A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. If Brackens continues to play like he did against UNI, the Cyclones should fell terrific about their linebacking corps with Brackens alongside Jeremiah George and Jevohn Miller.

Safety Dante Barnett, Kansas State: Lining up alongside preseason All-Big 12 safety Ty Zimmerman, Barnett could give the Wildcats the conference’s top safety duo if he continues to play like he did against North Dakota State. The sophomore finished with seven tackles including one tackle for loss and an interception. He was a shining light in the upset loss to NDSU.

Defensive end Charles Tapper, Oklahoma: Sooners’ coach Bob Stoops has been consistent in his praise of Tapper leading up to the season opener. The sophomore didn’t disappoint on Saturday as he was able to consistently get pressure on Louisiana-Monroe quarterback Kolton Browning in OU’s 34-0 win. Tapper had three tackles and one quarterback hurry in his first collegiate start.

Running back Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State: The junior could emerge as a solid No. 2 option in the Cowboys backfield this season. The buzz in Stillwater says he’s matured and found a renewed focus that should help him be an impact player in OSU’s offense. He had 10 carries for 46 yards against Mississippi State and saw extensive time alongside Smith and quarterback J.W. Walsh in the Pokes’ diamond formation.

Running back Jalen Overstreet, Texas: The Longhorns have so many explosive skill position players it’s unfair. Add Overstreet to the mix after his nine-carry, 92-yard, two-touchdown performance against New Mexico State. UT moved Overstreet from quarterback because the coaches recognized he was too talented to be standing on the sidelines, and now Overstreet gives the Longhorns another weapon to allow offensive coordinator Major Applewhite to be creative with his play calling.

Cornerback Kevin White, TCU: Returning All-Big 12 cornerback Jason Verrett gets all the headlines, but White was consistently around the ball against LSU. With the Tigers picking on him, he won some individual battles and lost some individual battles but held his own with four tackles, four pass breakups and a fumble recovery. White made a strong case that the Horned Frogs have the Big 12’s top cornerback duo.

Linebacker Micah Awe, Texas Tech: Awe could emerge as one of the key players in the Red Raider defense as a sophomore. He’s an athletic, quick linebacker who plays with a physicality that belies his size. He was consistently around the ball against SMU with 5.5 tackles including 0.5 tackles for loss. If Awe can make plays from sideline to sideline in the Big 12, he’ll become more than just the other No. 18 for the Red Raiders.

Receiver Daikiel Shorts, West Virginia: The true freshman had been the buzz of WVU’s preseason camp and backed up the praise he received by leading the Mountaineers in receptions in his first collegiate game. He had seven receptions for 63 yards in their 24-17 victory over William and Mary.

Could Petty be the next Manziel?

August, 15, 2013
8/15/13
12:00
PM CT
Very few people knew the name Johnny Manziel at this time last year. Twelve months later, the Texas A&M quarterback is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and sits in the center of the college football landscape.

This season, we’ll sit back and watch as other names emerge and become difference-makers or even Heisman Trophy contenders for their teams. The Big 12 is littered with candidates who fit the bill, but none of them seems more prepared to make that leap than Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty. And if the Bears can compete for the Big 12 title, don't be surprised if Petty can work his way into the Heisman conversation.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsBaylor QB Bryce Petty has the tools and the talent around him to potentially become a Heisman candidate in 2013.
The junior quarterback has spent his college career as an apprentice to Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence, two of the conference’s most productive quarterbacks in the past two seasons. At 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, Petty brings great size and a live arm to the Bears’ backfield alongside running back Lache Seastrunk and has a deep group of talented, though somewhat inexperienced, receiving targets led by Tevin Reese.

Thanks to a talented surrounding cast, Petty doesn’t feel pressured to be as productive as Griffin and Florence.

“I really don’t,” he said. “I think that’s because [making plays] is what I was brought here to do. There’s no pressure to do that. I feel like the guys I have around me are going to make that happen, I just need to get the ball to them.”

The early returns are good for Petty, who was 11-of-16 for 166 yards and one touchdown in the Bears’ scrimmage on Aug. 10. He appears to be getting much more comfortable as a main man behind center.

“Bryce is more calm and collected,” Seastrunk said. “He’s making better decisions. It’s great to see.”

Petty isn’t the only relatively unknown name that could make major waves in the Big 12 in 2013. Here’s a look at one candidate from each school who could rise from unknown to game changer this season.

PODCAST
Randy Galloway, Matt Mosley, and Mark Friedman react to Dez Bryant's comments regarding the NCAA's ongoing investigation of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Listen Listen
CB Charlie Rogers, Iowa State: The redshirt freshman is poised to start at cornerback. At 6-1, 202 pounds, Rogers brings unique size to the perimeter and has shown terrific improvement since he arrived in Ames, Iowa.

TE Jimmay Mundine, Kansas: The junior enters the season with 21 career receptions in two seasons but might be ready for a breakout season in 2013. He could emerge as the favorite target of quarterback Jake Heaps as teams focus on slowing running back James Sims.

S Dante Barnett, Kansas State: He played in all 13 games as a true freshman, recording 24 tackles while helping the Wildcats earn a BCS berth. He should embrace a much larger role as a sophomore in KSU’s secondary.

WR Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma: Shepard was so impressive as a freshman, he helped transform the Sooners’ offense into a four-receiver attack. He finished his first year with 45 receptions for 621 yards and three touchdowns and is poised to become a primary target alongside Jalen Saunders as a sophomore.

WR Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State: As the next Cowboy to don No. 81, the name Justin Blackmon looms over Seales’ shoulder. Fortunately for OSU, he seems to have the size, power and athleticism to rise to the occasion. The buzz in Stillwater says Seales is destined to be a game changer in the future. And the future could be as early as this year.

WR Daje Johnson, Texas: Every time he touched the football as a true freshman, he was electric. With the Longhorns turning up the tempo, it could provide Johnson more opportunities to use his game-breaking speed to terrorize defenders.

RB Aaron Green, TCU: A well-known name out of high school, Green sat out last season after transferring from Nebraska. Even though the Horned Frogs have some quality running backs already in the fold, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Green rise to the top of the depth chart and emerge as one of the Big 12’s top runners.

LB Micah Awe, Texas Tech: One of two true freshmen to escape a redshirt season for the Red Raiders in 2012, Awe is poised to start at linebacker as a sophomore. With natural football instincts, a physical mentality and leadership skills, he could be the anchor of the Red Raiders' defense.

WR Mario Alford, West Virginia: The junior college transfer could help Mountaineers fans get over the loss of Tavon Austin. At 5-9, 175 pounds, Alford is another quick, versatile talent at the disposal of Dana Holgorsen.

SPONSORED HEADLINES