Since 2000, four Big 12 football players have won the Heisman trophy: Eric Crouch (Nebraska), Jason White (Oklahoma), Sam Bradford (Oklahoma) and Robert Griffin III (Baylor). If Texas A&M had put off leaving the Big 12 for one more year, Johnny Manziel would have been the league's fifth winner, but alas, the SEC gets to claim him instead.
The conference is rich with big-arm passers, but it certainly hasn't lacked a stable of great running backs either. Ricky Williams (Texas), Rashaan Salaam (Colorado) and Barry Sanders (Oklahoma State) are just a few of the great running backs to come out of the Big 12.
This year, the conference lost a ton of talent, but there are still plenty of players who could be legitimate Heisman contenders—Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk is high on my list.
But we also have some early dark-horse candidates, the players who may have a shot if all the stars and planets align in the universe. In fact, we've got some potential dark-horse candidates on both sides of the ball.
We've even got one player who has never started a game for his team.
Remember to keep your mind open as you check out this list—after all, how many of you predicted in the previous two springs that Griffin and Manziel would win the Heisman?
Ready, set, who will strike the pose?
A Jayhawk as a Heisman candidate? Sure, why not?
James Sims is a stud and he deserves to be on this list. Sims led the league as the most productive rusher, averaging 112.56 yards per game and eclipsing Oklahoma State running back Joseph Randle, who averaged 109 yards per game.
With Jake Heaps (presumably) at quarterback, Sims may see a decrease in carries, but he also may see his yards-per-carry average increase.
If you can get the running game going, the passing game will open up. And if the passing game opens up, Sims may not carry the ball as much, but he may have bigger spaces to run through as the defense drops back into pass coverage.
Devonte Fields destroying quarterback Seth Doege
Defensive end Devonte Fields could be one of the greatest players to ever come out of TCU—sorry, LaDainian Tomlinson.
I'm a big fan of Fields and was thrilled to see him win the AP's Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and the Big 12 coaches' Defensive Freshman of the Year. He destroyed quarterbacks last year, finishing third among the league's sack leaders and having the eighth-best sack total of all FBS defensive players. A freshman did that.
And head coach Gary Patterson wants to see more from Fields.
Seriously, folks, it's been way too long (1997) since a defensive player (Charles Woodson) won the Heisman. Manti Te'o gave it a great run, but Devonte Fields may be the guy who finally breaks the 15-year defensive player futility streak.
Keep your eye on No. 95, the purple quarterback eater.
Wes Lunt, J.W. Walsh, Clint Chelf. Who will be the Cowboys' starting quarterback? Last week, head coach Mike Gundy made his decision and named Chelf as his starter, according to the Enid News.
All three played at quarterback during some point of the 2012 season, but Chelf elevated his status after his brilliant performance in the Heart of Dallas Bowl—Oklahoma State beat Purdue 58-14.
Chelf went 17-of-22 for 197 yards and three touchdowns.
The Cowboys' quarterbacks dealt with injury issues last season, but because of the quality of depth at quarterback, Oklahoma State still produced a 331.7 yards-per-game passing-offense average. That's pretty incredible when you consider that three different quarterbacks saw meaningful action last season and all three threw for over 1,000 yards.
With Chelf the designated starter, we can expect another year of a prolific passing attack and gaudy numbers.
Blake Bell has everything the Heisman loves in a quarterback.
Bell plays for a high-profile school and has a legion of fans that celebrates every time he enters a game. Bell also sacrifices his body to make crucial first downs (or touchdowns) and has the catchy nickname.
Bell has that Tebow-esque quality about him that makes him special—he's not afraid to take a hit and thrives on blasting up the middle, leaving linebackers sore after a nasty collision.
Bell might not be the starting quarterback for the Sooners—the junior has some stiff competition from sophomore Kendal Thompson and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight—but he'll certainly give the fans a show.
If Bell doesn't get the starting spot, maybe we should add Knight to this list as well. He's already turned heads while working with the scout team.
With quarterback Collin Klein now a Kansas State alumnus, John Hubert is probably going to shoulder a huge burden this season. He's going to be running a lot to help out his new quarterback (either Daniel Sams or Jake Waters), and for a potential Heisman candidate, that's somewhat good news as long as he stays healthy.
Hubert was an underrated back last year—he rushed for 952 yards and 15 touchdowns—and part of the reason why he was underrated was due to Klein's own outstanding rushing skills.
While Kansas State has lost a tremendous amount of talent, the O-line is completely intact, so the pass protection and rush blocking should be a big strength.
Okay, don't go into a tailspin—head coach Bill Snyder has not named his starting quarterback yet. But Jake Waters does have a lot more experience than reserve Daniel Sams, albeit Waters' college-level experience has been limited to playing at Iowa Western Community College.
Still, this kid is a winner.
Last season, Waters led his school to victory over Butler in the NJCAA National Championship. More on Waters from the Omaha World-Herald:
As the trigger man for an up-tempo attack that leads the country in total offense and points per game, Waters has thrown for 3,194 yards and a nation-best 39 touchdowns. He's been intercepted only three times in 293 attempts this year, and his completion percentage (72.4) is above the current NJCAA record (71.1 percent) set by Terrance Cain of Blinn (Texas) in 2007.
So could Waters, not Sams, be the quarterback who attempts to fill those huge shoes Klein left behind?
Consider this eye-opening quote courtesy of Scout:
Overall, co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel said of Sams, “He has some talent, but he needs to find some consistency. That light has to go on, or we will have to go on.”
So it's settled. There's no wondering who will be the starting quarterback at Texas. It's David Ash.
Last year, Ash had some moments of sheer brilliance. Against West Virginia, Ash went 22-of-29 for 269 yards and one touchdown. But Ash also took blame for an errant snap that led to a 16-yard loss—Anthony Fera then missed a game-tying field-goal attempt from 41 yards out.
This season, co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Major Applewhite has decided to put a spark in the offense and has installed a more upbeat tempo—this team should be more fun to watch provided the defense does its part to keep points off the board.
Ash has a cannon of an arm, and despite being more of a pro-style quarterback, he's been clocked at 4.6 in the 40. This new offense could help his confidence tremendously, but more than anything else, any time a Texas quarterback posts good numbers, he's in the Heisman conversation.