Big 12 Football: Power Ranking Top 10 Players Heading into 2014 Season

Sean Frye@Sean_E_FryeFeatured ColumnistAugust 12, 2014

Big 12 Football: Power Ranking Top 10 Players Heading into 2014 Season

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The Big 12 routinely produces some of the nation's elite athletes.

    From prolific passers to stellar wideouts to shutdown corners, the country's premier conference of the midwest has a knack for attracting the best players and getting the most out of them.

    Heading into 2014, some of the top players at each position nationally lie in the Big 12—including quarterback Bryce Petty and wide receiver Tyler Lockett.

    Ranking the top players is a near impossibility, as the depth of the conference runs so deep, but it was done.

    With that, let's check out the top 10 players in the Big 12.

10. Michael Hunnicutt

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    The only kicker on this list, Michael Hunnicutt has routinely been one of the best kickers in the country since arriving in Norman in 2011.

    The Sooners' place-kicker has connected on 86 percent of his kicks over his career (62-of-72) and has a career long of 53 yards.

    Last season, he was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award and was named an All-Big 12 second team member.

    This year, he was selected to the 2014 preseason All-Big 12 team and is poised to make a run at being a finalist for the Groza award.

9. Ben Heeney

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    Although the Kansas Jayhawks have been the bottom-feeders of the Big 12 for what seems like forever now, linebacker Ben Heeney has become one of the staples of excellence in the league.

    Last year, he was a second-team All-Big 12 honoree after racking up 87 tackles, including 11.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. He also hauled in three interceptions.

    NFL Draft Scout ranks Heeney as the ninth-best inside linebacker in the upcoming 2015 class. So, should Heeney put up another stat-stuffing year in Lawrence, the Hutchinson, Kansas, native should see his NFL dreams become a reality.

8. Karl Joseph

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Like Ben Heeney, WVU defensive back Karl Joseph might be ranked higher on this list if his team was actually winning games on a consistent basis.

    Nevertheless, this 2014 preseason All-Big 12 honoree is without a doubt one of the best shutdown defensive backs in the conference, as balls are rarely thrown in his vicinity.

    A safety with a knack for finding the ball and knowing where he needs to be, Joseph had 68 tackles, an interception and four deflections last season. His freshman year in 2012 was arguably his best season, with six breakups and two picks.

    Regardless, Joseph is consistently one of the best safeties in the conference, earning him a spot on this list.

7. Ryan Mueller

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    The biggest playmaker on Bill Snyder's defense heading into 2014, Ryan Mueller is a blue-collar workhorse at defensive end for Kansas State.

    Last season, he was named by the Football Writers Association of America as a second-team All-American, was the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year and a first-team All-Big 12 honoree.

    He finished 2013-14 with 62 tackles, including a massive 18.5 for loss and 11.5 sacks.

    Now set to be a redshirt senior in 2014-15, Mueller is bound to be one of the most feared linemen in the nation.


6. Cedric Reed

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    USA TODAY Sports

    With 10 sacks, five forced fumbles and 19 tackles for loss last season, defensive end Cedric Reed is, along with Ryan Mueller of Kansas State, among the top defensive ends in the Big 12.

    Named a preseason All-Big 12 member this year, Reed is the top threat for the Longhorns on defense for a team undergoing a rebuilding process.

    At 6'6" and 258 pounds, Reed is a monster with the league's quickest first step off the line.

    He's also reliable, as he's started 19 straight games for Texas. If he can stay healthy again in 2014-15, he'll likely be headed to the NFL draft with a high enough stock to be drafted on the first or second day.


5. Antwan Goodley

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Bryce Petty's favorite target on last year's Big 12 champion Baylor Bears squad is back for his senior season in 2014.

    Antwan Goodley led the Bears last year with 71 catches for 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns.

    At 5'11", Goodley doesn't necessarily use his size to win jump balls but rather has burnout speed that can toast nearly every defensive back that lines up against him.

    With Tevin Reese gone from last year's team, it's no secret that Goodley is far and away the best receiver on a team that loves to throw the ball.


4. Spencer Drango

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Without a doubt the best offensive lineman in the conference, superstar left tackle Spencer Drango is as crucial an element to Baylor's Big 12 title defense as Antwan Goodley or Bryce Petty.

    With the loss of Cyril Richardson from last year's star-studded offensive line, the load now falls squarely onto Drango's shoulders to protect the league's best gunslinger in Petty.

    According to Chuck Carlton of The Dallas Morning News, teammates know that Drango is their unquestioned leader and is destined to be a high draft pick next year.

    “You know what you’re going to get with Drango,” teammate and offensive lineman Troy Baker said. “He’s a stud. The NFL is all over him for a reason.”

    Drango is responsible for Petty's blind side, so there's no question as to his importance on this squad.

3. Eric Striker

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    USA TODAY Sports

    An All-Big 12 second-team honoree by league coaches last year, linebacker Eric Striker is the leader of the Sooners defense this season.

    In the team's Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, Striker had a coming out party by setting career highs in sacks (3) and tackles (7). He also forced his first-ever fumble in that game.

    Now a junior, Striker has established himself as the most feared linebacker in the conference and the anchor for a team favored to win the Big 12 this season.

    Per Eric Bailey of the Tulsa World, Striker could see some playing time at safety this year after playing it in high school.


2. Tyler Lockett

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    USA TODAY Sports

    If you're looking for the nation's most explosive wide receiver, look no further than Manhattan, Kansas. There, you'll find Tyler Lockett.

    The top superstar for the Kansas State Wildcats this year, Lockett routinely made opposing defenses look helpless last year. Seven times he eclipsed the century mark in receiving yards in a game, finishing the year with 1,262 yards and 11 touchdowns.

    His best game came in a loss to Oklahoma, where he racked up 278 yards and three scores as he toasted the Sooner secondary.


1. Bryce Petty

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Arguably the Big 12's only true Heisman candidate, there is no doubt who the best player in the league is.

    It's Baylor Bears quarterback Bryce Petty.

    Many thought Petty was snubbed last season when he failed to receive an invite to New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation despite leading Baylor to its first Big 12 title.

    Still, Petty finished last year fourth in the nation with 4,200 passing yards and 12th in the country with 32 touchdowns.

    Now with fewer options at running back following the departures of Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin, Petty may be called upon to throw the ball more this season, which means his numbers could improve, if that's even possible.

    If Baylor wants any shot at fending off the competitors in what is sure to be one of the toughest conferences in the nation and defend its conference title, Petty has to take charge.