The Big 12’s top 15 players in 2014

Quarterback Trevone Boykin

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It’s that time of year again. Today, we’ll look back at the best players in the Big 12 in the 2014 season. Unlike the preseason list, players’ entire careers are not taken into account. This isn’t a list of the best NFL prospects or the most productive players. It’s a list of the best players in the Big 12 this season. Think of it like this: If I knew back in August what I know now, this is how I would value each player. For kicks and giggles, here’s my full preseason list from last May.

Making these cuts is always nearly impossible, but here are the 15 best players in the Big 12 this season. 

1. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU. Preseason ranking: Unranked. Boykin was the Big 12’s breakout player of the year and finished fourth in the Heisman voting after throwing for 3,901 yards, 33 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. He also ran for 707 yards and eight scores. After throwing just one TD and seven picks as a starting QB in Big 12 play last year, plenty of people (myself included) thought Matt Joeckel’s transfer from Texas A&M to TCU meant a permanent move to receiver for Boykin. A year later, he’s stifling laughter and enjoying his status as a Big 12 champion and one of the Heisman frontrunners for 2015.

2. Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas State. Preseason ranking: 2. Lockett gets my vote as the player in the Big 12 who is most refined at his position. His route running is immaculate and his hands are outstanding. He’s undersized, but once camp starts, he’ll wow whatever NFL team lands him with a mid-round pick. His 1,515 yards and 11 touchdowns both led the Big 12 (third nationally) and he was often uncoverable. It’d be impossible to find a player who more embodies the Snyder ideal of daily improvement. Lockett grew from a speedy special teamer as a freshman to the game’s most polished receiver as a senior. 

3. Malcom Brown, DT, Texas. Preseason ranking: 8. Brown was the most dominant and disruptive interior lineman in the Big 12 and earned consensus All-America honors while helping Texas’ defense finish eighth nationally in yards per play. He finished with 70 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, which are eye-popping numbers for a defensive tackle and don’t come close to telling the full story of his impact. 

4. Kevin White, WR, West Virginia. Preseason ranking: Unranked. Speaking of physical imposition, nobody in the Big 12 was better at using their physical gifts this year. White’s 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame and ability to box out and jump over defenders drew season-long, deserved comparisons to NFL All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald. He finished with 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns and led the Big 12 with 109 catches. He began the season with seven consecutive 100-yard games. Justin Blackmon and Michael Crabtree are the only other FBS players to match that streak since 2000. 

5. Paul Dawson, LB, TCU. Preseason ranking: Unranked. Dawson’s nose for the ball was unequaled this season, which earned him Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. His 136 tackles were ninth-most nationally and the most for any player in the Big 12 since 2010. He led the league with 20 tackles for loss and returned one of his four interceptions for a touchdown against Oklahoma, a play that officially announced TCU’s entrance into the Big 12 title race. 

6. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor. Preseason ranking: 1. It’s never good when your season begins with broken bones in your back, but it hardly fazed Petty. He bounced back and finished with 3,855 yards and 29 touchdowns to just seven picks. He also added six rushing scores and what will surely be a gawdy second Big 12 title ring. Very, very few quarterbacks have equaled that. Petty may have fallen a bit short of lofty preseason expectations, but he was still outstanding.

7. Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor. Preseason ranking: Unranked. The strongest high schooler in America is now the strongest college football player in America and one of the Big 12’s most underrated talents. Much of that is because he plays next to Shawn Oakman, but go back and watch Baylor’s games and look for big No. 75 in the middle of the line. He’s only scratched the surface of his potential, and he and Oakman are going to wreck the Big 12 next year on one of the nation’s best defensive lines. Oh yeah, and he did this.

8. Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma. Preseason ranking: Unranked. Joe Mixon and Alex Ross got most of the recruiting hype, but Perine was the Sooners’ true freshman who brought the most noise to the field. He wrote his name into the college football record books with a 427-yard, five-touchdown day against Kansas. Perine started a little slow and Oklahoma’s offense too often drifted away from him, but he finished with 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns. Most importantly, he got most of the college football world (myself included, sadly) to learn how to pronounce his name. That’s no small feat. He topped 100 yards in five of his final six games, and somehow got just five carries in the one game he didn’t. New offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley can’t let that happen in 2015. 

9. Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor. Preseason ranking: Unranked. At 6-foot-9 and 280 pounds, Oakman is as freakish as college athletes come. He’s still raw, which should send a shudder down the spine of Big 12 quarterbacks, considering he already logged 19.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks this year. He shocked the college football world when he turned down a likely first-round draft selection to return to Baylor for 2015. Just about every coach I’ve talked to about Oakman agrees that he’ll be a top three pick next May. 

10. B.J. Finney, C, Kansas State. Preseason ranking: 9. He was the Big 12’s best offensive lineman this year and–get this–was a former walk-on. Have you ever heard such a story at Kansas State? The only reason he slid a spot on this list was because of breakout years from so many players above him. The three-time All-Big 12 selection had an outstanding four-year career in The Little Apple that included a Big 12 title.  

11. Ben Heeney, LB, Kansas. Preseason ranking: 10. Heeney isn’t underrated as much as he’s underexposed. His effort never waned as losses piled up in Lawrence. He was everywhere for the Jayhawks the last three years and peaked this year with 127 stops, including 12 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. 

12. Spencer Drango, OT, Baylor. Preseason ranking: 14. Drango’s absence late last year was one of the biggest reasons why Baylor’s offense slowed and the Bears stumbled down the stretch. This year, he was back to 100 percent after back surgery and like Oakman, plans on returning to Baylor for 2015. He’s a smart, quick, athletic tackle at 310 pounds with a bright future at the next level.

13. Sam Carter, S, TCU. Preseason ranking: 15. Carter picked off four passes and broke up five more. He and Chris Hackett were a gigantic reason TCU allowed just 105 passes longer than 10 yards this season. Among Big 12 teams, only Texas allowed fewer. Carter confirmed his status as one of the Big 12’s best hitters and leaves a huge hole in the Frogs defense moving forward. 

14. Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State. Preseason ranking: Unranked. Ogbah loudly announced his arrival in Oklahoma State’s season opener against Florida State, following up on his quietly outstanding freshman season in 2013. He sacked Jameis Winston twice and finished the year with 17 tackles for loss and 11 sacks.  

15. Daryl Williams, OT, Oklahoma. Preseason ranking: Unranked. It’d be tough to build a more ideal offensive tackle. Williams was a two-time All-Big 12 talent at tackle (left in 2013, right in 2014) for the Sooners at 6-foot-6 and 329 pounds. He broke out in 2014 and stood out on one of the nation’s best offensive lines. 

Honorable mention (in no order): Jordan Hicks, Le’Raven Clark, Quandre Diggs, Eric Striker, Chris Hackett, John Harris, Sterling Shepard, Karl Joseph, E.J. Bibbs, Pete Robertson

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