The Big XII Conference has undergone more than its share of turnover in the last couple of years. Missouri and Texas A&M followed Nebraska and Colorado out of the conference into other pastures, and the league welcomed West Virginia and TCU to replace the departed programs. WVU and TCU finished 2011 ranked and start 2012 ranked, while Missouri and Texas A&M failed to be ranked in either poll. All in all, 6 of the 10 teams in the Big XII open the season ranked in preseason polls.
A preseason look at our picks for the Big XII all-conference team in 2012:
QB: Geno Smith, West Virginia – Narrowly edging out Landry Jones for this pick, Geno Smith exploded onto the college football scene in 2011 by throwing for 4,385 yards and 31 TD’s. Included in this effort was a 463-yard performance against LSU and the 407-yard, 6-TD decimation of Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Surrounded by weapons and with an improved offensive line, Smith could challenge the 5,000 yard mark in Dana Holgorsen’s offense in 2012.
RB: Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State & Malcolm Brown, Texas – Joseph Randle is the leading returning rusher in the Big XII, coming off a 1,216 yard and 25 TD season in 2011. Randle will be more the focus – on both offense and of opposing defenses – in 2012 as Oklahoma State breaks in a true freshman QB. Malcolm Brown had an injury-plagued and somewhat disappointing freshman year in 2011, but Brown has the best pedigree of any RB in the conference and figures to get the lion’s share of carries in 2012 for the Longhorns.
WR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia, Stedman Bailey, West Virginia, and Kenny Stills, Oklahoma - I’m dispensing with the TE and going with 3 WR’s, much as pretty much everyone in the Big XII does anyway. Tavon Austin’s days as a well-kept secret ended the night of the Orange Bowl when he caught 12 passes for 123 yards and 4 TD’s. For the season, Austin posted 101 catches, 1,186 yards, and 8 TD’s, and he may be the most exciting player in college football. Stedman Bailey, a high school teammate of Geno Smith, actually led WVU with 1,279 yards receiving and 12 TD’s in 2011, including 7 games of over 100 yards. Kenny Stills didn’t take the leap forward in 2011 that many expected, but he should be Landry Jones’ favorite big play target in 2012.
C: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma – Moved to C after Ben Habern quit football due to a neck injury, Ikard played several games at the position last season with Habern out of the lineup and should be among the best at the position in the entire country.
G: Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State & Mason Walters, Texas - Lane Taylor enters 2012 with 36 career starts under his belt and didn’t allow a sack in 2011 in a prolific passing offense. Mason Walters enters his third season as the Longhorns’ RG and is quickly becoming one of the nation’s elite at the position.
T: Cyril Richardson, Baylor & LaAdrian Waddle, Texas Tech – Cyril Richardson has played both G and T during his career at Baylor, but was moved inside to LG in spring ball. Regardless of position, he is an elite OL that will be playing on Sundays.
DL: Alex Okafor, Texas, Meshak Williams, Kansas State, Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas, and Stansly Maponga, TCU - Since the Big XII doesn’t require voters to choose between DE and DT, and since the interior DL in the Big XII isn’t the conference’s strong suit, loading up on pass rushers seems the way to go here. Alex Okafor’s name will be called very, very early in the 2013 NFL draft, and should improve on an 8-sack season that resulted in him being a First-Team All American in 2011. Jackson Jeffcoat is a bit lost in Okafor’s shadow after being hampered with a torn pec in 2011 despite being more highly recruited out of high school, but he teams with Okafor to terrorize OT and QB’s all over the conference. Stansly Maponga had 9 sacks and forced 5 fumbles in 2011 and will be key as TCU’s defense faces far, far better offenses than it saw in the Mountain West. Meshak Williams is more of a LB than he is a DL, but he is a disruptive force that had 7 sacks and 10 tackles for loss in 2011.
LB: Arthur Brown, Kansas State, Tom Wort, Oklahoma, and Jake Knott, Iowa State – Arthur Brown, a transfer from Miami, burst onto the scene to become one of the best LB’s in the Big XII in 2011. Brown enters 2012 as a preseason All-American at ILB. Tom Wort has struggled with injuries while in Norman, but the MLB for Oklahoma’s defense should break out in 2012 as one of the premiere LB’s in the conference. Jake Knott had 115 tackles in Ames and teams with AJ Klein to form the best LB duo in the Big XII. Knott is best remembered for forcing the interception of Brandon Weeden in OT last season that knocked Oklahoma State out of the National Championship Game.
CB: Carrington Byndom, Texas & Broderick Brown, Oklahoma State - Carrington Byndom is a prototype shutdown CB, holding Justin Blackmon to only 48 yards last season when Texas played OSU. Broderick Brown was All-Big XII in 2011 after intercepting 5 passes and making 68 tackles.
S: Kenny Vaccaro, Texas & Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma – Kenny Vaccaro is a safety in the Troy Polamalu mold, attacking the line of scrimmage and making plays all over the field with his speed and athleticism. Tony Jefferson is more of an Ed Reed player, playing centerfield and ballhawking. Vaccaro and Jefferson are among the best at their positions in the country.
K and P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State - Quinn Sharp was 22-of-25 on FG attempts in 2011, and also averages 45.6 yards a punt for his career as the Cowboys’ punter. Sharp also had 63 touchbacks on kickoffs in 2011, 21 more than anyone else in the country.
You know that a conference is silly deep when guys like Landry Jones, Josh Boyce, A.J. Klein, and Justin Gilbert don’t crack the lineup, but that’s the reality of the 2012 Big XII. And, as an added bonus, the games are actually fun to watch…enjoy the season.