Our annual Big 12 of the Big 12: A dozen conference standouts to follow this season
The Longhorns and Sooners remain, well, the Longhorns and Sooners. And their impending exits to the SEC should only create more headlines.
But Texas and Oklahoma shouldn't dominate all of the conference's chatter. The Longhorns haven't had the Big 12's offensive player of the year since 2009. The last time a Texas player was the conference's defensive player of the year was 2017. Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Baylor have all won those awards in recent years. And the reigning offensive and defensive MVPs are both still on Iowa State's roster.
Our annual Big 12 of the Big 12 offers the dozen top players to watch this season regardless of position, listed in alphabetical order.
Greg Eisworth II, DB
Eisworth's teammate, current Iowa State linebacker Mike Rose, was last year's Big 12 defensive player of the year, but Eisworth might be the Cyclones defender who wins it this season. He's a three-time first-team all-conference honoree, and according to Iowa State, no Big 12 player has ever been honored four times. Eisworth started his collegiate career at Trinity Valley Community College, but has accumulated 199 tackles and 22 passes defended in his three seasons in Ames.
After first scrimmage, Sarkisian on Texas QBs:‘Neither guy played up to the standard that I view as acceptable’
Breece Hall, RB
Iowa State also has 10 starters coming back on offense, including its quarterback and All-American tight end. Then there's Hall, the league's reigning offensive player of the year who also led the country in rushing last season with 1,572 yards. His 23 total touchdowns broke a 24-year-old school record, and he carries a 12-game touchdown streak into this season. Perhaps his most impressive stat? In 511 career touches, Hall has lost only one fumble.
D'Shawn Jamison, CB
The Texas corner made the Big 12's preseason team for the second straight year. Jamison has made 19 career starts, and his one-handed snag two years ago at West Virginia remains the most memorable of his three career interceptions. He spent the 2018 season at receiver but now is a mainstay in the secondary. He also has shined on special teams; Jamison has scored on two kickoff returns, one punt return and a blocked two-point conversion.
Ochaun Mathis, DL
Mathis, a Manor native, closed out the 2020 season on a tear for TCU. In his final five games, he recorded eight sacks. His nine sacks for the season were a top-10 single-season mark in school history, and his 14 tackles for loss ranked 12th nationally. If he can match the pace he set last season, he might back up the claim of longtime Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson, who said Mathis could become one of the greatest defensive ends in TCU history.
Marvin Mims, WR
As an Oklahoma freshman, Mims became the first Sooner to earn freshman All-American accolades by the Football Writers Association of America. He led OU with 610 receiving yards and nine touchdown catches, and his 37 receptions tied for the team lead. He caught at least one pass in every game but exceeded five catches only once.
Jalen Pitre, DB
As Baylor struggled to a 2-7 season in Dave Aranda's first year, Pitre became the only Bears player to earn All-Big 12 first-team honors. He led Baylor with 60 tackles and had a pair of interceptions, both of which he returned for touchdowns. He became only the eighth player in school history to record two pick sixes in the same season.
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Spencer Rattler, QB
Some pundits are projecting Rattler to become the third Oklahoma quarterback in five years to go No. 1 overall in the NFL draft. But can he establish himself as the best quarterback in the Big 12 first? The redshirt sophomore threw for 3,031 yards and 28 touchdowns in his first season as the starter. The Big 12, however, honored Iowa State's Brock Purdy and Texas' Sam Ehlinger on the all-conference team.
Bijan Robinson, RB
The five-star freshman rushed for 703 yards on only 86 carries last season, an average of 8.2 yards per carry. But 355 of those yards came against Kansas State's and Colorado's porous run defenses to close the season. There are four teams that had top-20 rushing defenses last year on Texas' schedule, so the sophomore will have plenty of chances to prove himself to new coach Steve Sarkisian, who has hinted that Robinson will get more touches.
Tyler Shough, QB
Among all Big 12 newcomers, Texas Tech's new quarterback has a chance to make the biggest impact. Shough's passing numbers over his three years at Oregon weren't spectacular — 1,703 yards and 16 touchdowns — but the Ducks played only seven games last season, and he previously backed up Justin Herbert. Last year Shough led the Ducks to the Pac-12 title. He arrives in Lubbock as the Red Raiders have gone just 8-14 the past two years.
Josh Sills, OL
One of two Oklahoma State players on the preseason all-conference team, Sills showed his versatility last year in his first season in Stillwater. He started 11 games, playing as a left guard, right tackle and left tackle. He was an honorable mention selection on the All-Big 12 team. Two years earlier, he picked up second-team honors while playing at West Virginia; he played for the Mountaineers in 2016-19.
Dante Stills, DL
The preseason all-conference pick enters his fourth season at West Virginia with 12 career sacks. Seven of those came in 2019. He has 75 career tackles, including 28½ for loss. Stills' father, Gary, was an All-Big East linebacker for West Virginia who still ranks third in school history with 26 sacks. His brother Darius was an All-American nose tackle at West Virginia last season.
Deuce Vaughn, RB
Vaughn broke loose often in 2020, when the Kansas State freshman was the Wildcats' leading rusher and receiver. (The last player to lead the Wildcats in both categories was Mack Herron in 1969). Vaughn averaged 5.2 yards per carry and 17.4 yards per reception and scored nine touchdowns, accounting for 20.3% of Kansas State's total scoring. He was the Big 12's offensive freshman of the year.