The best of Big 12 football: Gearing up for the 2010 season
Dozens of names, teams and moments as we prepare for the Big 12's final season with 12 teams.
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1. QB Robert Griffin, Baylor: If Griffin comes back healthy from his knee injury, the Bears become a bigger hurdle than they are without him. The Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in 2008, Griffin is one of the most explosive playmakers in the conference when healthy.
2. QB Garrett Gilbert, Texas: The Longhorns' sophomore signal caller has the pedigree to be a star. But replacing Colt McCoy is easier said than done, as the former Texas star sits atop the record books in seven major passing categories.
3. DT Jared Crick, Nebraska: After playing alongside Ndamukong Suh last season, Crick becomes the focal point of opposing game plans this season. He showed playmaking ability alongside Suh, but can he do it with all eyes on him?
4. QB Kale Pick or Jordan Webb, Kansas: This duo faces the task of replacing Todd Reesing, who led the Jayhawks to their best all-time record (12-1) and BCS berth in 2007. Pick is the favorite to win the job as a dual-threat quarterback but Webb could earn time as a spread-type signal caller.
5. QB Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State: Weeden is the key to the Cowboys' offensive success. His arm and passing ability are ideal for Dana Holgorsen's offense, but he's only played one half of football, so it remains to be seen how he handles the rigors of a full season. His health and production could be the key to OSU's season.
6. DT Jamarkus McFarland, Oklahoma: The sophomore has the talent to become a playmaker along the Sooners' defensive line and help fill the void left by Gerald McCoy. If he can emerge inside, that makes sack master Jeremy Beal even more dangerous.
7. LB Zaviar Gooden, Missouri: An impressive athlete, the Tigers are hoping Gooden steps in to fill the playmaking void left by Atlanta Falcons first-round pick Sean Weatherspoon. Gooden is a 6-foot-2, 225-pounder with reported 4.37 speed, 40-inch vertical and a 405-pound bench.
8. K Justin Tucker, Texas: Who? ... The Longhorn kicker is going to be counted on to replace Hunter Lawrence, who was superb for Texas in 2009. If the Longhorns find themselves in any close games this season, they will be counting on a junior who has never kicked a collegiate field goal heading into the season.
9. K Patrick O'Hara, Jimmy Stevens, Bryce Easley, Oklahoma: Much like Texas, if the Sooners find themselves in any close games, one of these three specialists must step up and make a kick.
10. OL Nick Martinez, Oklahoma State: Martinez is slated to start at left tackle, a position manned by NFL top-10 pick Russell Okung for the past four seasons. A versatile performer, Martinez will have to hold off young competitors for the job, including redshirt freshman Parker Graham.
11. WR Jerrell Jackson, Missouri: Slated to become Missouri's No. 1 receiver and replace Danario Alexander, Jackson stepped his game up late last season, when an injury to Jared Perry pushed him into the No. 2 receiver role. The Tigers expect big things from the junior.
12. QB Tyler Hansen, Colorado: When Hansen took over the starting job from Cody Hawkins in late 2009, the Buffaloes' offense improved. Now the junior could be the key to Colorado's success this season ... and Dan Hawkins' job security.
12 best players flying under the radar
1. WR James Kirkendoll, Texas: With Jordan Shipley gone, the Longhorns will turn to Kirkendoll to be Garrett Gilbert's go-to receiver. Like Shipley, Kirkendoll has a flare for the big play. As a third option, Kirkendoll turned six of his 48 receptions into scores last season.
2. DB Jonathan Nelson, Oklahoma: By the end of last season, few defenders in the league were playing at a higher level than Nelson. If OU fills its void at cornerback with other players, Nelson will stay at safety. But he is versatile enough to shift to corner if the Sooners need him there.
3. RB Christine Michael, Texas A&M: Sure, there's Daniel Thomas, DeMarco Murray and Kendall Hunter. But no back was more highly ranked coming out of high school than Michael. Now a sophomore, Michael should have plenty of running lanes with QB Jerrod Johnson commanding most of the attention from opposing defenses.
4. WR Kendall Wright, Baylor: Without QB Robert Griffin, Wright was not a huge factor in the Big 12 last season. But with Griffin back, Wright, one of the fastest players in the league, could also become one of its biggest playmakers.
5. WR Scotty McKnight, Colorado: McKnight is largely unknown because the Buffs have been so bad offensively. McKnight still had 76 catches last season, and could vie for All-Big 12 honors if Colorado can finally get settled at QB.
6. OT Donald Stephenson, Oklahoma: Sooner fans may know about him, but no one else does. Yet even though Stephenson has yet to play a meaningful down, Bob Stoops compared his talent at left tackle to that of Trent Williams.
7. Derrick Washington, Missouri: After a subpar 2009 campaign, Washington dropped 10 pounds during the offseason and says he's quicker than ever, which he showed during an impressive spring. If Washington continues that into the fall, Missouri will be a load to handle offensively.
8. LB Orie Lemon, Oklahoma State: OSU fans know about Lemon, who was primed to anchor the Poke defense before suffering a season-ending knee injury the week of the opener. Lemon is back, and, if fully recovered, could become one of the top linebackers in the league.
9. WR Alex Torres, Texas Tech: He's no Michael Crabtree, and this is no longer Mike Leach's offense, but Torres, a former walk-on, should be among the top receivers in the league.
10. QB Austen Arnaud, Iowa State: Hard to believe a QB could fly under the radar. But that's the case with Arnaud, who missed three games with a bruised hand last season. Arnaud, who has a commanding presence, is the leader of the Cyclone offense, and if he plays well, Iowa State could be in store for another bowl appearance and another winning season.
11. S Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State: A physical hitter who also excels in coverage, expect Martin to be OSU's top playmaker in the secondary. If the junior continues to improve, he could be in the running for All-Big 12 honors.
12. RB Rex Burkhead, Nebraska: After coming back from injury late in the season, Burkhead was probably Nebraska's best offensive weapon. In the Holiday Bowl, he ran for 92 yards and a TD. The Huskers need him to build off that performance to help turn around an offense that stunk last season.
Big 12's best moments
1. Vince Young's TD scamper: Capping one of the top individual performances in college football history, Young dashed 8 yards for the game-winning TD as Texas topped USC 41-38 to win the 2005 national championship.
2. Superman lives: Safety Roy Williams sailed over the Texas offensive line and collided with quarterback Chris Simms. The hit jarred the ball loose, and OU linebacker Teddy Lehman intercepted it as he stepped into the end zone to seal a 14-3 Red River victory for the Sooners in 2001.
3. The last straw: In a Big 12 Championship battle featuring Heisman contenders Colt McCoy of Texas and Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska last year, the Huskers appeared to have the game won after McCoy's incompletion sailed out of bounds as time expired. But officials put time back on the clock, and Hunter Lawrence nailed a 46-yard field goal to give Texas a 13-12 victory and an appearance in the national title game. Had Nebraska won, would the Huskers have stuck it out in the Big 12?
4. Touchdown, Crabtree: In a desperation effort, Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell found Michael Crabtree along the sideline for a 28-yard TD, as the Red Raiders stunned Texas, 39-33. Despite losing to OU, Tech finished in a three-way tie for the South Division title in 2008.
5. Sooner Magic returns: It was no one play. Just total domination. OU's defense throttled Florida State's high-powered attack, as the Sooners rolled to a 13-2 victory in the Orange Bowl to claim the school's seventh national championship in 2000.
6. K-State falls: In 1998, the Manhattan Miracle was near complete, as Kansas State was one game away from a berth in the national championship. But in the Big 12 Championship, Texas A&M took K-State to double overtime, then pulled off a 36-33 upset when Sirr Parker hauled in a 32-yard TD reception on 3rd-and-17.
7. Huskers win on a kick: In the waning seconds of a 1997 game, Nebraska QB Scott Frost dropped back to pass, needing a TD to tie Missouri and send the game to overtime. The pass bounced off Shevin Wiggins' chest and appeared headed toward the turf. But Wiggins kicked the ball up, into the outstretched arms of Matt Davison. The Huskers went on to win 45-38 in overtime, and eventually won the national title.
8. Marshall to the rescue: In the final moments at Kyle Field, linebacker Torrance Marshall returned an interception 41 yards for a score, lifting OU to a remarkable 35-31 victory, which propelled the Sooners to the 2000 national title.
9. Crouch with the catch: With his signature Heisman moment, Eric Crouch reeled in a 63-yard TD reverse throwback pass, igniting Nebraska to a 20-10 win over the Sooners in 2001.
10. Brown rolls left: Facing a 4th-and-1 at the Longhorns' 28 late in the inaugural Big 12 Championship in 1996, Texas QB James Brown rolled left and found tight end Derek Lewis for a 61-yard, game-clinching first down. Texas won 37-27.
11. Brown counter play shreds Nebraska: In one of the greatest single performances by a Big 12 running back, Chris Brown sliced and diced Nebraska's defense for 198 yards and six TDs, and Colorado rolled to a 62-36 shootout victory. Colorado advanced to the 2001 Big 12 title game, but it was Nebraska that advanced to the national title game.
12. K-State shocks the world, Sooners: In another stellar performance by a Big 12 running back, Kansas State's Darren Sproles went off for 235 rushing yards, and the Wildcats hammered top-ranked OU 35-7 in the 2003 Big 12 title game. It was the last time a North team won the Big 12 Championship game.