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.
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:
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.