The Big 12 of the Big 12: Our annual list of the conference’s best dozen players

Posted August 30th, 2017


What’s that old quarterback adage? If you can’t figure out where the safety is, you’re destined to throw another pick.

It’s what an offensive coordinator always talks about when he calls over his quarterback after a throwing error.

Mason Rudolph took the study of interceptions to a much deeper level in the offseason. Oklahoma State’s senior quarterback scrutinized video of his past foibles as he prepped for this season. There was an interception in early September, then another one two games later. Skip through all of the October film. There were two in early November. Same game. Lesson over.


Rudolph threw four picks among his 448 throws over the Cowboys’ 13 games in 2016. For better context: For every interception Rudolph threw, there were at least seven touchdowns.

There’s no reason to believe that Rudolph, who has started since November of his freshman year, will take a step back in his game, especially given that the Cowboys return a wealth of offensive talent. We think Rudolph will only get better, which is why he tops the American-Statesman’s annual Big 12 of the Big 12 list of the conference’s top dozen players regardless of position.

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is second. But unlike Rudolph, he doesn’t have an experienced and impressive supporting cast of skilled players. Mayfield can ab-lib, but he can’t work miracles. Rudolph can lean on receiver James Washington, the No. 3 player list, and tailback Justice Hill, who is “on the radar.”

RELATED: Kevin Lyttle shares (and defends) his ballot for the Big 12’s preseason team

The preseason list, which will be updated later in the season, is filled with offensive players — it is, after all, the big-play Big 12. There are nine of them on the list. Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong is the top defensive guy on the list, coming in at No. 6.

Rudolph’s lack of real mistakes a year ago was a key reason the Cowboys were 10-3. His worst game in terms of interceptions came against Kansas State on Nov. 5. Rudolph made up for the miscues with two late scoring drives, including an 82-yard touchdown pass to Washington, to win the game, 43-37. Besides the pair of picks, Rudolph also set career highs for completions (34), attempts (55) and touchdown passes (five).

Rudolph hasn’t thrown an interception since that night in Manhattan. He comes into the season opener against Tulsa on Thursday night with a streak of 123 consecutive passes without a pick. His longest streak last year was 164 straight.

It’s reasonable to expect that a team with a senior quarterback, dynamic receivers, a 1,000-yard rusher and a consistent line will compete for a Big 12 championship.

“Everyone’s locked in,” Rudolph said. “Everyone wants to use every single second of preparation to kind of maximize their reps.”

Mayfield could be the best player in the league. He’s already receiving Heisman love as the other option to Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, who won the trophy last year. There’s a compelling argument for Mayfield to be at the top. He finished third in last year’s Heisman vote and he’s handled the starting job with the Sooners for two seasons. His game almost is as clean as Rudolph’s. His offensive line is terrific. But there are way too many unknowns regarding the OU tailbacks and receivers.

Here’s our preseason Big 12 of the Big 12:

Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph is coming off a 4,000-yard season. (GETTY IMAGES)

1. Mason Rudolph, quarterback, Oklahoma State

He’s 22-6 as a starter. He’s among the leaders nationally in returning quarterbacks in career marks — passing yards (third), passing yards per game (second), passing yards per attempt (second), pass efficiency (third) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (sixth). Rudolph owns 11 school records and likely will end his career as tops on the school list for pass attempts, pass completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns.

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield was a Heisman Trophy finalist last season. (Getty Images)

2. Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Oklahoma

In two seasons as the OU starter, Mayfield has been a part of 89 touchdowns. No other Sooners QB has enjoyed such a prolific stretch in his first two seasons as a starter. He’s passed for 7,665 yards and rushed for 582. His 76 career passing touchdowns at OU rank second to Sam Bradford’s 82, which he had in his first two seasons. Mayfield is ahead of Bradford, who won the 2008 Heisman, in completion percentage (69.5 versus 67.6) and efficiency rating (184.28 to 175.62). He’s third in school history in total offense (8,247 yards), fourth in passing yards (7,665), TD passes (76) and 300-yard passing games (12).

Wide receiver James Washington (28) of the Oklahoma State Cowboys looks to the crowd after scoring in front of defensive back Dane Jackson (11) of the Pittsburgh Panthers September 17, 2016 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)

3. James Washington, wide receiver, Oklahoma State

His career numbers are exceptional. Washington’s reception yardage (2,923), touchdowns (26) and yards per catch (19.2) are tops among returning receivers who compete for teams in Power 5 leagues. He’s also one of five Cowboys receivers to sport multiple 1,000-yard seasons.

Connor Williams-Texas Longhorns
Former Texas offensive guard Dan Neil believes left tackle Connor Williams could become the best offensive lineman in school history. AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

4. Connor Williams, left tackle, Texas

Offensive linemen don’t generate many stats. But here’s one that stood out for Williams: He allowed only one sack in 2016. Plus he was the lead blocker for All-American tailback D’Onta Foreman, the Doak Walker Award winner. If projections hold, Williams could be the top offensive lineman selected in next year’s NFL draft. He’ll have to make the decision whether to leave early, though. He lost 19 pounds of fat and added 12 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-6 frame to get ready for this season.

In this Nov. 14, 2015, file photo, Oklahoma offensive tackle Orlando Brown (78) keeps Baylor’s Travon Blanchard (48) away from quarterback Baker Mayfield during an NCAA college football game in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

5. Orlando Brown, left tackle, Oklahoma

If Williams isn’t the best lineman in the league, then it’s Brown, who’s two inches taller and 30 pounds heavier. Brown, whose dad played in the NFL, is the leader of what is rated as the top offensive line in the Big 12. Mayfield proclaimed that Brown and the rest of the guys on his line were so good, he could be the Sooners’ starting tailback.

LAWRENCE, KS – OCTOBER 31: Quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Oklahoma Sooners is tackled by defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. #46 of the Kansas Jayhawks during the game at Memorial Stadium on October 31, 2015 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

6. Dorance Armstrong, defensive end, Kansas

This disruptive Jayhawk is considered the top defender in the league. He was a unanimous all-conference first-team selection last fall when he registered 10 sacks, second-best in the league. His 20 tackles for a loss topped the Big 12. His stat line also included 56 total tackles, three forced fumbles, five quarterback hurries and two fumble recoveries.

OU cornerback Jordan Thomas (7) knocks the ball away from UT wide receiver John Burt (1) in the first quarter at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

7. Jordan Thomas, cornerback, Oklahoma

He’s headed into his fourth year as a starter and is viewed as the best defensive back in the Big 12. Thomas is a two-time all-conference pick. He registered 17 pass breakups last fall, including four in the first half against the Longhorns.

HOUSTON, TX – DECEMBER 28: Byron Pringle #9 of the Kansas State Wildcats catches a pass for a 79 yard touchdown as he beats Nick Harvey #1 of the Texas A&M Aggies and Larry Pryor #11 during the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl on December 28, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

8. Byrone Pringle, wide receiver/kick returner, Kansas State

The conference’s best returnmen usually come from Manhattan. One of them has been named all-conference in six of the last eight years. Pringle could pad the streak. His 28.7-yard average per kick return was tops in the league in 2016. He also had a penchant for big plays, with a 99-yard kick return and pass receptions of 83 and 79 yards.

Shane Buechele-Texas Longhorns
Texas quarterback Shane Buechele tries to get past TCU linebacker Travin Howard in the second quarter at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Friday November 25, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

9. Travin Howard, linebacker, TCU

His 130 tackles led the Big 12 a season ago, when he was first-team all conference. Of his total tackles, 72 were solo. The total ranked ninth nationally and was the third best in Gary Patterson’s 16 years at TCU. He’s surpassed 100 tackles in each of the last two seasons.

Iowa State wide receiver Allen Lazard (5) avoids tackles from Texas safety Kevin Vaccaro (18) and cornerback Sheroid Evans (1) on a punt return in the second quarter at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

10. Allen Lazard, wide receiver, Iowa State

Lazard was so consistent last fall that he posted 100-yard receiving games six times. That was second best in the conference and 12th nationally. His 69 catches led Iowa State. So did his yardage (1,018) and touchdown catches (seven).

Justin Crawford (25) of the West Virginia Mountaineers runs the ball against the Missouri Tigers in the first half of the game at Milan Puskar Stadium on September 3, 2016 in Morgantown, West Virginia. West Virginia defeated Missouri 26-11. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

11. Justin Crawford, running back, West Virginia

He started only four games a season ago, but still rushed for more than 1,000 yards (1,184). He averaged 7.3 yards per carry, which was best in the Big 12 and sixth nationally.

LUBBOCK, TX – NOVEMBER 05: Keke Coutee #20 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders is gang tackled by the Texas Longhorns defense during the game on November 5, 2016 at AT&T Jones Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. Texas defeated Texas Tech 45-37. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)

12. Keke Coutee, wide receiver, Texas Tech

Had a very slow start to 2016. But he had a wow ending, amassing 221 receiving yards against Baylor. Even when the quarterbacks change, a Red Raiders wideout always will have eye-popping production. It’s Coutee’s turn to dominant a stat sheet.


  • KaVontae Turpin, WR/R, TCU
  • Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma
  • Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, LB, Oklahoma
  • Collin Johnson, WR, Texas
  • Justice Hill, RB, Oklahoma State
  • Kyle Hicks, RB, TCU

BIG 12 OF THE BIG 12: 2016

How our final list of the league’s 12 best players looked at the end of last season, including where they ranked on our 2016 preseason list. Bolded players are back in 2017:

1. D’Onta Foreman, Texas RB (2016 preseason: Not ranked)

2. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma QB (1st)

3. Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma WR (not ranked)

4. Patrick Mahomes II, Texas Tech QB (2nd)

5. Jordan Willis, Kansas State DE (10th)

6. Rasul Douglas, West Virginia CB (not ranked)

7. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State QB (6th)

8. Connor Williams, Texas LT (not ranked)

9. James Washington, Oklahoma State WR (5th)

10. Jordan Evans, Oklahoma LB (not ranked)

11. Joe Mixon, Oklahoma RB (not ranked)

12. Vincent Taylor, Oklahoma State DT (not ranked)

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