Some of the top players in the Big 12 this year are (clockwise, starting from top left) Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield, Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes, Baylor's Seth Russell, Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph, Texas' Malik Jefferson, TCU's Josh Carraway, Baylor's KD Cannon, Okahoma's Samaje Perine and Oklahoma State's James Washington.

Football

Our preseason Big 12 of the Big 12: It’s the year of the quarterback

Posted August 31st, 2016

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It’s clear there will be a talent reset in the Big 12 this season.

Sure, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is back. He finished fourth in last year’s Heisman Trophy balloting and will be in the mix for this year’s award along with Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey. He’s the clear No. 1 in the American-Statesman’s Big 12 of the Big 12, preseason edition.

But the glittery stars are no longer in the conference constellation. Receivers Corey Coleman (Baylor) and Josh Doctson (TCU) were first-round picks. Horned Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin, who this time a year ago led this preseason list, now plays for the Seattle Seahawks. Emmanuel Oghah, Andrew Billings, Spencer Drango, the tried and true guys, are in the NFL.

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So who, after Mayfield, the talented former Lake Travis High School standout, might be the Big 12’s next big thing? We’ll offer more quarterbacks. Because isn’t the Big 12 always about the quarterback?

“Offensively, this is the best conference in the country,” Mayfield said. “It’s home to the best quarterbacks.”

Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes could push Mayfield as the league’s top player. We have him at No. 2 entering the season. Mahomes, during interviews at Big 12 media days, said it’s clear to him which league is the most quarterback friendly.

Mahomes was a counselor at the Manning Academy this summer. The camp, run by Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning, trains the best young quarterbacks. The top college quarterbacks in the country are the counselors. The Big 12 was represented by Mayfield, Mahomes, Seth Russell and Mason Rudolph.

“You could see it when we were around those other quarterbacks,” Mahomes said. “We were all like, ‘We have the best quarterbacks. I don’t know why you are all talking like you do.’”

Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury, who is the league’s top quarterback coach now that Art Briles is no longer is employed in the league, really likes Mahomes. Kingsbury said the key to Mahomes blossoming is the fact he gave up baseball and his idea of becoming a two-sport star to concentrate solely on football.

“It’s the first full offseason he’s ever had as a football player,” Kingsbury said. “So (he’s been in) the weight room, film with his teammates, working on mechanics and working on his footwork. He worked on becoming a better all-around quarterback and last year made spectacular players, really carried us at times, moving around and making things happen. … This year we’re going to work on things with him when the ordinary play is there let’s take it. When you have to be extraordinary you have that ability to go do it. I think you will see a much more refined, athletic, polished quarterback this fall.”

Baylor returns Russell, who was the hottest quarterback in the country last October. In his sixth start of the season, Russell was the oddsmakers’ choice for the Heisman after he threw for 380 yards with five touchdowns and rushed for 160 and a score in a win over West Virginia. But late in his seventh game, Russell broke a bone in his neck as he tried to convert a third down. He missed the rest of the season after surgery.

Russell has pronounced himself 100 percent healthy. But questions will linger until he’s thrown passes against real competition. That’ll show us how he’s recovered from his injury and made the transition from Briles to acting head coach Jim Grobe.

Then there’s Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, who helped lead the upstart Cowboys to a Sugar Bowl berth. Rudolph split some snaps with J.W. Walsh last season, but it’s his Cowboys show this fall.

Mayfield, though, is the Big 12’s best until another over-achiever comes along.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops isn’t that comfortable talking about superlatives in the preseason. Ask him again in December.

“You have to earn it,” Stoops said. “Overall, hopefully (Mayfield) can be in that conversation at the end of the year.”

“Right now he’s worked hard,” Stoops said. “I believe he’s made improvements as he (has) gone through this year. He’s in better shape.”

“The Heisman, and the people that get invited to that, it’s the players that kind of have the most spotlight and are on the best teams. That will mean the team is good, so if it comes along with the ride, I’ll be very happy.”

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

Quarterback Baker Mayfield returns as the Sooners' starter in 2016. And, thanks to a Big 12 rule change this summer, can return to Oklahoma in 2017, too. (Brett Deering/Getty Images)
Quarterback Baker Mayfield returns as the Sooners’ starter in 2016. And, thanks to a Big 12 rule change this summer, can return to Oklahoma in 2017, too. (Brett Deering/Getty Images)

1. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

In his first year as a Sooner, Mayfield threw for 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns with only seven interceptions.

Texas's defense sacks quarterback Patrick Mahomes II of Texas Tech during the first half at Royal Memorial Stadium on Thursday, November 26, 2015. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas’s defense sacks quarterback Patrick Mahomes II of Texas Tech during the first half at Royal Memorial Stadium on Thursday, November 26, 2015. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

2. Patrick Mahomes, QB Texas Tech

Mahomes threw for 4,653 yards and 36 touchdowns last year, his first as a starter. He also was enough of a threat to run — he gained 456 yards rushing — that defenses couldn’t quite key in on the Tech passing game.

Seth Russell will start at QB for Baylor. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Seth Russell will start at QB for Baylor. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

3. Seth Russell QB Baylor

Russell’s main obstacle may be trying to give the rest of the country a good image of Baylor, which has been rocked by a sexual assault scandal.

“I have to give a positive image for Baylor,” Russell said. It’s not just me. … The guys who have done the right thing and have set a positive image for Baylor.”

Running back Samaje Perine #32 of the Oklahoma Sooners looks for an opening against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane September 19, 2015 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma defeated Tulsa 52-38.(Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
Running back Samaje Perine #32 of the Oklahoma Sooners looks for an opening against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane September 19, 2015 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma defeated Tulsa 52-38.(Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)

4. Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma

Perine and backup Joe Mixon may be the best tailback tandem in OU history. Said Stoops: “It’s fair to say, yes, absolutely. These guys are such all-around players.” Perine started all 13 games last season and gained 1,349 yards. That was a drop from 1,1713 from the year before.

Texas's #14 Dylan Haines and #24 John Bonney take down Oklahoma State's James Washington during the first half at Royal Memorial Stadium on Saturday, September 26, 2015. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas’s #14 Dylan Haines and #24 John Bonney take down Oklahoma State’s James Washington during the first half at Royal Memorial Stadium on Saturday, September 26, 2015. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

5. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State

He was one of five Big 12 receivers with more than 1,000 yards last fall. And he’s the only one who’s back this year. His most impressive stat was the 20.5 yards per catch.

Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph gets ready to throw against Texas in last year's win at Royal-Memorial Stadium. (Shelby Tauber/AMERICAN)-STATESMAN
Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph gets ready to throw against Texas in last year’s win at Royal-Memorial Stadium. (Shelby Tauber/AMERICAN)-STATESMAN

6. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

Rudolph threw for 3,770 yards, which was second in the league after Mahomes. He threw for only 21 touchdowns, mainly because he was pulled in goal-line situations.

7. KD Cannon, WR, Baylor

Cannon will take over as the main Baylor receiver. As a secondary choice the past two seasons, he averaged 17.6 yards per catch with 1,898 total yards.

Texas running back D'Onta Foreman (33) is tackled by TCU defensive end Josh Carraway (94) and TCU linebacker Montrel Wilson (20) in the second quarter during the Texas at TCU game Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, in Fort Worth, Texas. (Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman)
Texas running back D’Onta Foreman (33) is tackled by TCU defensive end Josh Carraway (94) and TCU linebacker Montrel Wilson (20) in the second quarter during the Texas at TCU game Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, in Fort Worth, Texas. (Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman)

8. Josh Carraway, DE, TCU

Could be TCU’s best overall player. Carraway had nine sacks last year, while registering three fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and two pass breakups.

Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson walks off the field against Texas Tech during the first half at Royal Memorial Stadium on Thursday, November 26, 2015. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson walks off the field against Texas Tech during the first half at Royal Memorial Stadium on Thursday, November 26, 2015. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

9. Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas

He’s only a sophomore, but the media voted Jefferson as the preseason defensive player of the year. Jefferson was the league’s defensive freshman of the year last fall after starting nine games with 61 tackles.

Texas's Daje Johnson pushes back on the Kansas State defense of Jordan Willis during the second half of their game at Royal Memorial Stadium on Saturday, October 24, 2015. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas’s Daje Johnson pushes back on the Kansas State defense of Jordan Willis during the second half of their game at Royal Memorial Stadium on Saturday, October 24, 2015. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

10. Jordan Willis, DE, Kansas State

With 9.5 sacks. Willis leads all returning pass rushers in the league. He was second to Ogbah in 2015.

11. Noble Nwachukwu, DE, West Virginia

He should be the Mountaineers’ most disruptive defender. A year ago, he notched 8.5 sacks. Of his 47 tackles, 13 were for losses.

Iowa State running back Mike Warren tries to get around Texas defensive end Shiro Davis during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 24-0. (AP Photo/Justin Hayworth)
Iowa State running back Mike Warren tries to get around Texas defensive end Shiro Davis during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 24-0. (AP Photo/Justin Hayworth)

12. Mike Warren, RB, Iowa State

The sophomore is the top returning tailback in the Big 12 with 1, 339 yards. The Cyclones have changed coaches, so we’ll see how Warren thrives in a new scheme.

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