Baylor's Lache Seastrunk
When you think of Big 12 football, you think of a strong passing game. But that will change this year for many teams.
Five Big 12 teams are breaking in new quarterbacks, as veterans Landry Jones, Seth Doege, Nick Florence, Geno Smith and Collin Klein are all gone.
That doesn't mean the new quarterbacks won't step up, but with so many proven weapons returning in the backfield, we will probably see greater rushing productivity.
So who are these weapons?
One is a big-time Heisman candidate from a team that isn't synonymous with running the ball. Another is on a team that hasn't been bowling since 2008.
It's going to be an interesting year in the Big 12.
Last season, Andrew Buie rushed for 851 yards and seven touchdowns in a pass-heavy offense that featured quarterback Geno Smith. Since Smith is gone and we have no idea who the starting quarterback will be, Buie will have to be relied upon to move the sticks.
Defense was the Cyclones' strength last year, but with key departures at linebacker, specifically Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, the offense is going to have to step up.
James White has a big load on his shoulders. The senior rushed for 505 yards and two touchdowns, but he is still rehabbing from a torn ACL. Also in the mix are DeVondrick Nealy, Rob Standard, Jeff Woody and Aaron Wimberly.
Kenny Williams rushed for 824 yards and five touchdowns last year, but that was under head coach Tommy Tuberville.
With Tuberville out and Kliff Kingsbury in, more of a passing offense may be in store.
Williams and Quinton White combined for 30 carries and 130 rushing yards in the Red Raiders' spring game, which means either the defense has continued to be stingy or the offensive line isn't getting enough push.
Either way, one shouldn't expect to see a dominant ground game. But Kingsbury also hasn't shown all of his cards.
TCU's offense—specifically the rushing game—has a lot of opportunities to improve, since it was eighth in the league a year ago. B.J. Catalon was TCU's leading rusher with 582 yards, and teammate Matthew Tucker had 515.
The current depth chart lists Waymon James, Jordan Moore, Aaron Green or B.J. Catalon as the starting running back. Head coach Gary Patterson said in April that Catalon was one of the most improved players on the offense.
James was the team's leading rusher in 2011 before going down with a knee injury early last season. Adding Kyle Hicks this summer should probably result in a running back-by-committee approach again this fall.
Jeremy Smith finished the 2012 season with 371 rushing yards and eight touchdowns as Joseph Randle's backup. But with Randle gone after declaring early for the NFL draft, the lead running back role falls to Smith, who had six carries for 40 yards and a touchdown in the Cowboys' Heart of Dallas Bowl victory over Purdue.
Mike Gundy reloads better than most head coaches, but he's going to have to rebuild a decimated offensive line to help block for Smith. The offense lost three starting linemen, including All-Big 12 first-teamer Lane Taylor.
One of the reasons why John Hubert was so effective in the Big 12 was the number of weapons Kansas State had on offense last season. Hubert was the league's fourth-leading rusher, but quarterback Collin Klein's ability to run kept some of the defensive focus off Hubert.
The Wildcats have lost a lot of talent from their senior-laden 2012 squad. While we can expect quarterbacks Daniel Sams or Jake Waters to keep up the passing numbers, all defensive eyes will be more focused on Hubert this fall.
Oklahoma's backfield probably deserved to go higher on this list because the talent is so deep. But two things held me back.
First, if Blake Bell is named the starter, he will be running the ball a lot, which could affect the running backs' numbers.
Second, with a defense that only returns four starters, the Sooners may have to depend on the pass to keep them in the game, which would reduce the rushing numbers as well.
In any case, there is no doubt about the talent in the running back corps.
James Sims was the conference's most productive rusher last season, but good rushing numbers are almost expected when your team is nationally ranked No. 117 in passing.
It would be a feather in head coach Charlie Weis' cap to see Sims get selected in the 2014 NFL draft, so Sims should be featured again this season. But with quarterback Jake Heaps working with a rebuilt offensive line, Sims might not post the same numbers.
Still, Sims deserves to be near the top.
The Texas Longhorns are loaded at running back. Take your pick: Joe Bergeron, Malcolm Brown or Johnathan Gray.
It's ridiculous the amount of talent Texas has in its backfield. But if the Longhorns' defense doesn't improve, the rushing numbers won't improve because the pressure will be on David Ash's arm.
Texas' top rusher was Gray, yet he was ranked only 11th in the league last season. Expect his numbers to rise dramatically.
Lache Seastrunk is not only the best running back in the Big 12, but he could be one of the best in the country. So, yes, let's start that Heisman hype now.
Seastrunk racked up 1,012 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Glasco Martin added 889 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. That's quite a feat for a team that had the league's second-best passing offense.
With both Martin and Seastrunk in the backfield, you can count on head coach Art Briles helping at least one of these two to receive an invitation to New York City as a Heisman finalist.