The Big 12 Conference is an offensive circus of a league, known for playing at an extreme tempo as defenses huff and struggle to keep up.
If the Big 12 had an official calling card, it would feature the faces of NFL first-round quarterbacks such as Vince Young, Sam Bradford and Robert Griffin III and wideouts as uber talented as Michael Crabtree and Dez Bryant.
Yet when the conference starts play this week — its first official game is Friday night, with Texas Tech traveling to Dallas to face SMU at the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium — league quarterbacks are question marks. There still are a ton of big receivers, but they obviously have to rely on the guys throwing the ball to put up the flashy stats.
Instead, the league known for so much passing might excel most this season at running the ball. Think old school — or at least to a time pre-2005 — with Ricky Williams, Cedric Benson and Adrian Peterson. Quarterbacks have to play catch-up.
TCU’s Casey Pachall, who missed half of last season as he dealt with his substance abuse, was the choice by the media for first-team all-conference quarterback. Yet Gary Patterson, his coach, hasn’t officially announced that he will be the starter for the Horned Frogs’ opener against LSU.
Texas, with David Ash, can boast a settled veteran to kick off the season. Oklahoma State sports two starters from a year ago, but coach Mike Gundy plans to go with both in the opener.
So tailbacks, led by Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk, will be the glamour guys, as they lead all positions on the list of the American-Statesman’s third annual Big 12 of the Big 12, our annual look at the conference’s top players, all positions considered.
We’ll update at midseason to see if the quarterbacks have caught up.
Here we go:
Lache Seastrunk, Baylor
The Bears’ running back is the self-proclaimed fastest player in the country. Over his last six games of 2012, Seastrunk averaged 138.5 yards per game and more than 8 yards per carry, and he comes into the season with four straight 100-yard games. He also tops the list of available tailbacks for next year’s NFL draft.
Jason Verrett, TCU
The Horned Frogs’ defensive back intercepted a conference-leading six passes in 2012, along with 22 pass breakups. He blocked a field goal in overtime against West Virginia.
Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
The senior defensive end missed half of last season with a torn pectoral. He’s likely to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft.
Devonte Fields, TCU
The defensive end registered 10 sacks last year as a freshman, but he’s in Patterson’s doghouse; Fields has been suspended for the Horned Frogs’ first two games. Still, he was the Big 12 media’s preseason pick for the league’s defensive player of the year.
Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State
The Cowboys’ wideout is the Big 12’s best returning receiver, coming off a 101-catch, 1,210-yard season. He averaged 105 receiving yards per game last year in Big 12 play.
Cyril Richardson, Baylor
There are two offensive linemen on this year’s list, but Richardson was voted the Big 12’s best by league coaches. He’s ranked as the top senior interior lineman for the 2014 draft.
Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
The tight end-turned-center has started 37 straight games for the Sooners at either guard or center. He’s an academic All-American, too.
Eric Ward, Texas Tech
The Red Raiders’ receiver has caught 166 passes over the past two seasons. He needs 1,200 yards to become the top receiver in Tech history.
Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma
Colvin, one of the league’s best defensive backs, notched four interceptions in 2012 and is drawing tons of attention from NFL scouts.
James Sims, Kansas
The running back rushed for 1,012 yards last year, one of the few bright spots on an otherwise woeful Jayhawks team.
John Hubert, Kansas State
Another top returning running back, Hubert earned all-conference honors last year and has topped 900 yards in back-to-back seasons.
David Ash, Texas
Call this the Big 12 of the Big 12’s designated placeholder for quarterback. Ash, with 18 career starts, gets it because he’s the top returning quarterback in the conference.
THEY COULD MAKE THE LIST
A few players we’d like to see more of before they crack our Big 12 of the Big 12:
Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma
The Sooners’ new starter is drawing rave reviews.
Jake Heap, QB, Kansas
The transfer from BYU was once a 5-star prep recruit.
Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia
He was second-team Conference USA a year ago at Houston.
Casey Pachall, QB, TCU
He missed more than half of 2012 in substance abuse rehab.
Johnathan Gray, RB, Texas
He’ll be a key focus offensively this season for UT.
Bryce Hager, LB, Baylor
He led the league in tackles in 2012, at 9.5 per game.
TEXAS VS. NEW MEXICO STATE
7 p.m. Saturday, LHN, 1300