Over the past six years, Big 12 defenses have fallen victim to a group of talented wide receivers, and the 2013 season will be no different. As is the natural state of this conference, wide receivers will reign supreme.
That might sound like a difficult chore given what they lost. Baylor's Terrence Williams led the nation in yards and West Virginia's Steadman Bailey finished third. The latter finished with 114 receptions, tied with teammate Tavon Austin—a top 10 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft—for second best in all the land.
How is the greater Big 12 receiving corp expected to recover?
Simple: That's what they do.
Every year this conference loses prolific college receivers, and every year they come back just as strong. Here's a look at all the Big 12 wide receivers since 2007 who have made at least one media version of the All-America team:
- 2012 Terrance Williams (BU): AP All-American
- 2012 Steadman Bailey(WVU): FWAA All-American
- 2011 Justin Blackmon (OSU): AP All-American
- 2011 Ryan Broyles (OU): FWAA All-American
- 2011 Kendall Wright (BU): PFW All-American
- 2010 Justin Blackmon (OSU): AP All-American
- 2010 Ryan Broyles (OU): AP All-American
- 2009 Jordan Shipley (TEX): AP All-American
- 2009 Danario Alexander (MIZZ): SI All-American
- 2008 Michael Crabtree (TTU): AP All-American
- 2008 Dez Bryant (OSU): AP All-American
- 2008 Jeremy Maclin (MIZZ): Rivals All-American
- 2007 Michael Crabtree (TTU): AP All-American
- 2007 Jordy Nelson (KSU): AP All-American
That's 14 All-American-type seasons in six years, with no year having fewer than two candidates. So who stands poised to follow in their footsteps?
Almost every team projected at the top of the Big 12 has at least one receiver capable of breaking through this season. Oklahoma State's Josh Stewart is probably the best, having caught 101 passes for 1,210 yards as a sophomore last season. Now he's an upperclassman and the quarterback position should be (slightly) more stable. Those numbers do not represent his ceiling.
The rebuilt Texas Longhorns have a senior leader in "Magic" Mike Davis, who hauled in 57 passes for 939 yards as a junior. That average of 16.5 yards per catch speaks well to Davis as a downfield threat. In 2013, as David Ash continues to get better, he could become an even bigger part of the intermediate game, too.
Tevin Reese takes over the esteemed No. 1 position on Baylor's depth chart, following in the footsteps of Terrance Williams and Kendall Wright—both of whom were included on the list above. If last year was any indication, Resse is up to the task: He racked up 957 yards and nine touchdowns despite playing next to the nation's leading receiver.
Reese also possesses the Kendall Wright-type speed that's so dangerous in Baylor's attack. If Bryce Petty is half as good as head coach Art Briles seems to think he is, Reese could be the breakthrough player of the season. Not just in the Big 12 but in the nation!
Oklahoma's diminutive duo of Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard are dangerous, too. They may not put up the same individual stats as some of their peers, but together—even though neither checks in at six feet tall—they have the same kind of impact.
We haven't even mentioned Eric Ward who, in all likelihood, could post better numbers than the rest. Oklahoma State and Baylor have "wide receiver U" the past few years, but historically that title has belonged to Texas Tech. And Eric Ward is next in a line of greats that includes Michael Crabtree and Wes Welker, among plenty of others.
The Red Raiders' star hauled in 82 passes for 1,053 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. And yes, at times, Texas Tech passing numbers get inflated. But turn on Ward's tape and you'll see that he is not a mere product of his system. He beats defenders on his own and earns every yard. Those numbers belong to Ward, not Texas Tech.
The Big 12 lost some talented receivers last season, but the conference is still as rich as ever at that position. The names listed above only scratch the surface, impressive as they are.
There are still Kevin White and K.J. Myers, filling the sizable shoes of Bailey and Austin at West Virginia. There's still Tyler Lockett, the nation's leading kickoff returner who now stands poised to be the leader of Kansas State's offense. There are still guys like Charlie Moore at Oklahoma State or Jaxon Shipley at Texas, guys who play off the talented men listed above and reap the benefits of single coverage.
To predict a regression among Big 12 receivers this year would be to go against history. And no conference values its history quite like this one. They'll do what they do best in 2013. Come the end of the year, when cadres of pasty football writers coalesce to pick the All-American teams, history will prevail once again.
The Big 12 will continue its trend.