12 storied programs...the old Big 8 plus four from the old SWC, the Big 12 has a ton of history.
Oklahoma, and the record for most wins in a row. Nebraska. Texas. Aggieland. The border rivalry between Missouri and Kansas.
The schools have always been known for tough D's, good running attacks, and innovation. They popularized the 5-2 defense, the forward pass in the 30's, the Wishbone offense in the 60's, and more recently the multiple option air passing attack that has racked up yards and victories.
The best player for each program was a very difficult choice in most cases, given the talent that has come through the doors of each. Here is our list...
Mike Singletary left his mark on Baylor University.
As soon as he graduated, the school inaugurated the Mike Singletary Award.
It is given each year to the senior football player who is best recognized for "contribution to Baylor football while bringing honor to the school both on and off the field."
Singletary was a 6-1, 232 pound linebacker who lettered four years. He had 97 tackles as a freshman, 232 (a school record) as a sophomore, then 188 and 145. The total, 662, set a school record.
In 1978, he had 35 tackles in a game against Arkansas, 31 against Ohio State.
He was all-Southwest Conference three years and All-America two years. In 1979 and 1980 he won the Davey O'Brien Award, given to the outstanding player in the Southwest. (The award has since been changed to a national quarterback trophy.)
In 1980 he helped Baylor to the Southwest Conference championship.
Singletary played 12 years with the Chicago Bears 1981-92 and was in the Pro Bowl 10 times. He is a member of the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, and is the current head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
White was known for his ability to break off long runs against the opposition.
Against Utah in 1936, scored on runs of 90, 41, 40, and 38 yards. Colorado won 31-7.
Against Utah in 1937, he had touchdown runs of 85 and 37 yards, a field goal, and two extra points. Colorado won 17-7.
His longest run in college was a 102-yard kickoff return against Denver in 1936.
In 1937 he led the nation in scoring, rushing, total offense, and all-purpose running. He averaged 246 yards a game in all-purpose running, a record until 1988.
White, the champion athlete, was surpassed by White the student. He was Phi Beta Kappa and a Rhodes Scholar.
He played pro football with Pittsburgh in 1938, studied at Oxford University in England in 1939, played professionally with Detroit in 1940-1941. In two of his seasons, he led the National Football League in rushing.
White served in the Navy in World War II. Then he studied law at Yale and graduated first in his class in 1946. He returned to Colorado to practice law.
In 1962, he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. That same year, the National Football Foundation awarded White its Gold Medal.
He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, and the NFL's 1940's all-decade team.
Matt Blair was one of the greatest defensive players in Cyclone history.
A two-year letter winner who played on ISU’s 1971 Sun Bowl team, Blair was named the game’s most outstanding defensive player despite ISU’s loss.
After sitting out the 1972 season with a knee injury, he rebounded with a fine senior campaign in 1973.
Blair earned All-America honors, tallying 77 tackles, one interception and three fumble recoveries. He was invited to play in the Hula Bowl, East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl.
Following his senior season, he was drafted in the second round of the NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings.
His stellar professional career included six Pro Bowls and two Super Bowl appearances. He ended his career as the Vikings’ most prolific defender, owning career marks for tackles and interceptions. He also held the NFL record for blocked kicks.
Out of all the stars in the collegiate and professional football galaxies, one of the brightest was Gale Sayers, known as the "Kansas Comet."
Sayers streaked through his career at KU with 2,675 yards rushing and 3,917 all-purpose yards.
Picked as an All-American twice, Sayers topped the Jayhawks' charts in touchdowns, rushing and kickoff returns during his three seasons.
As a junior and a senior, he also led his team in receiving and punt returns. His most memorable? It was probably when he became the first NCAA Div. I player to make a 99-yard run, which he did in 1963 against Nebraska in Lincoln.
Sayers also had a 96-yard kickoff return against Oklahoma, helping KU win 15-14 in an upset during his senior year.
He set a record for most yards in a game versus Oklahoma State in 1962, churning and spinning his way to 283 yards in 21 carries, including a 96-yard touchdown run. Kansas scored 29 points in the final two quarters and won 36-17.
His uncanny ability to change direction made him one of football's most elusive ball carriers. And, when his collegiate days had ended, the record book would show he had logged 2,675 yards rushing.
Sayers left Kansas for a seven-year career with the Chicago Bears...and his star continued to climb. He twice led the National Football League in rushing and was named All-Pro in five of his seven pro campaigns.
He is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
Gary Spani dominated the defensive side of the ball and is the first player from the school to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Spani, a Kansas native, become Kansas State's first consensus All-America in 1977.
He was a Heisman Trophy Linebacker Award finalist and was named defensive MVP in both the East-West Shrine Game and the Japan Bowl.
A three-time All-Big-8 Conference selection, he was recognized as the Defensive Player of the Week four times, becoming the first player in Big-8 history to repeat all four years.
Spani was also named UPI's Big-8 Defensive Player of the Year in 1977.
While at K-State, he was twice named the team's Most Valuable Player and captain, led the team in tackles three times, and closed his collegiate career as the school's all-time leader in four separate tackling categories.
He averaged 17 tackles per game his senior year, and recorded at least 20 tackles in four games.
Gary was a third round draft choice of the Kansas City Chiefs, where he starred for nine seasons and retired as the leading tackler in franchise history.
Selected for the Miller/NFL "Man of the Year" Award in 1983, and voted NFL O'Grady's "Crunchman of the Year" in 1984; he is also an inductee of the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame.
Spani is a member of the Kansas State Sports Hall of Fame and Ring of Honor, K-State's All-Century Team, AP's All-Time Big-8 Team, and has been named to Sports Illustrated's 50 Greatest Players of the 20th Century from the state of Kansas.
Winslow redefined the Tight End position in football.
Before Winslow, most tight ends ran short- to medium-length pass patterns. Kellen was one of the first tight ends to run deeper routes due to his unique combination of size and speed.
As a freshman, he only played in three games and caught one pass. The next year, new coach Warren Powers installed an expanded passing offense in which Winslow and the Tigers flourished.
That year, Mizzou upset Notre Dame and Nebraska, two teams which were rated among the nation's top five teams, while Winslow's number of catches improved to 16.
In his junior year, he won the first of back-to-back All-Conference selections. As a senior, he added Consensus All-America honors to his list of accomplishments.
Winslow went on to have a Pro Football Hall of Fame career in nine seasons with the San Diego Chargers, where he caught 541 passes for 6.741 yards and nine touchdowns.
He is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
Tradition-rich Nebraska has many, many talented players to choose from. Heisman winners Eric Crouch, Mike Rozier and Johhny Rogers.
Dave Remington, who was so good that he has a trophy named after him. So selecting Suh was a difficult choice...but he is the most dominant line player to come along in this era.
In 2006, Suh played in all 14 games as a backup defensive lineman and earned freshman All-Big 12 honors from The Sporting News. Despite coming off the bench, he finished the year with 19 total tackles, and ranked among the team leaders in tackles for loss (8) and quarterback sacks (3½).
In his sophomore season, Suh started in 11 of the Cornhuskers' 12 games, and recorded 34 total tackles on the season.
As a junior in 2008, Suh recorded a team-high 76 tackles, 7½ sacks, 19 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions (both returned for touchdowns) and a touchdown reception while playing fullback.
He became the first Nebraska defensive lineman to lead the team in tackles since 1973. Suh earned First-team All-Big 12 honors in 2008, the first Nebraska interior defensive lineman to earn those honors since Steve Warren in 1999.
In 2009 Suh registered 82 tackles and 12 quarterback sacks and had 26 quarterback hurries, 23 tackles for loss, 10 pass breakups, three blocked kicks, and one interception, including 12 tackles (seven for losses, a school single-game record) and 4½ sacks in a 13-12 loss to the Texas Longhorns in the Big 12 Championship Game, for which he received game MVP honors.
He helped the Huskers defense rank first nationally in scoring defense (10.4 ppg), tied for second in total sacks (44), first in pass efficiency defense (87.3), seventh in total defense (272.0 ypg), ninth in rushing defense (93.1 ypg) and 18th in passing defense (178.9 ypg).
He was a consensus First-team All-American and earned consensus First-team All-Big 12 honors and was the Associated Press National Player of the Year, Big-12 Defensive Player of the Year, the Defensive Lineman of the Year, and a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Suh was named the 2009 Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner as the top defensive player in the nation. CBS Sportsline also named Suh their Defensive Player of the Year.
The Touchdown Club of Columbus named Suh the winner of the Bill Willis Trophy. Suh also won the Lombardi Award for the top collegiate lineman or linebacker.[
Suh was selected as the winner of the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation's best defensive player and took home the Outland Trophy for the best interior lineman.
Suh was named the 2009 AP Player of Year, becoming the first defensive player to receive the award in its history.
Selmon is one of three brothers who played for Oklahoma. All three made All-America. One year, 1973, Lucious Jr., Dewey and Lee Roy were starters.
Lee Roy won the Outland and Lombardi awards as the nation's best lineman. In his three years as a starter, Oklahoma went 32- 1-1 and won two national championships.
He was named a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete in 1975. He was also named the UPI lineman of the year, and received both the Outland and Lombardi awards.
Lee Roy stood 6-2 and weighed 256 pounds as a college player; he captained the 1975 team. He was named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988, the GTE Academic All-America Hall of Fame in 1994, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995.
Bear Bryant used to say, "when you get in the end zone, acti like you've been there before" This epitomized Barry Sanders.
When he scored, he simply handed the ball to the official. He didn't talk trash or dance in the end zone. But then, the end zone was pretty familiar territory for him.
When he went to Oklahoma State, he played behind All-America Thurman Thomas for two seasons.
When Barry became the starting tailback, he put together the most remarkable season ever compiled by a college running back.
That year, he set 34 NCAA records in winning the Heisman Trophy, Camp, and Maxwell Awards as the nation's top player.
Barry led the nation in rushing (2,628), all-purpose yards (3,250), and scoring (234 points). He rushed for over 300 yards in six games and exceeded 200 yards seven times.
In the seasons that he spent as a back-up he excelled on special teams, leading the nation in kickoff return average in 1987.
Sanders was the third overall selection in the 1989 draft. He won the NFL MVP award three times and was an All-Pro in each of his ten seasons.
He retired at the peak of his career and turned down millions of dollars in endorsement deals, stating, "I value my privacy over endorsements."
He is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
Texas coach Daryl Royal said there was only one player he ever saw who could have gone straight from high school. That would be the "Tyler Rose," Earl Campbell.
In a four-year career, he rushed for 4,443 yards. This was the fifth highest total of all time when he retired.
His rushing covered 928 yards as a freshman, 1,118 as a sophomore, 653 as a junior (he missed four games), and 1,744 as a senior.
He was All-America as a sophomore and senior, led the nation in rushing and scoring and won the Heisman Trophy in 1977. He had 21 games in which he topped 100 yards and three over 200.
He went pro with the Houston Oilers, was named Most Valuable Player in the National Football League three times, and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame one year after making the College Football Hall of Fame.
He wore No. 20 at Texas, No. 34 with the Oilers, and both numbers have been retired.
The passing game was dominating Southwest football during the late 1930s, yet a fullback named John Kimbrough was proving at least one team was still getting the most out of the ground game.
The hulking Texas A&M star ran through opposing defenses with a force that usually created its own holes in the line.
This pile-driving back rushed his way to All-America honors in 1939 and 1940 and led the Aggies to 20 victories in 21 games during those two years.
In 1939, it was a perfect 11-game record, a 14-13 victory over Tulane in the Sugar Bowl and the first and only national championship for the school.
The following year, the Aggies went 9-1-0, beating Fordham in the Cotton Bowl, 13-12. There was no more familiar sight than that of the 6-2, 210-pound Kimbrough crashing across the goal line, his high knee action breaking tackle after tackle.
Kimbrough's coach, Homer Norton, compared him to the legendary Red Grange, Jim Thorpe, and Bronko Nagurski. There were few who disagreed.
His nickname was Jarrin' John. In the 14-13 Sugar Bowl victory over Tulane, he rushed for 152 yards on 26 carries and scored two touchdowns. At 6'2" and 210 pounds, he was a force in an age of sub-200-pound linemen.
Kimbrough served as a pilot in the Army Air Corps in World War II, retiring with the rank of captain.
He played three years professionally with the Los Angeles Dons 1946-1948. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
Donny Anderson was a three-time all-Southwest Conference halfback 1963-65 and two-time All-America halfback 1964-65.
As a sophomore at Texas Tech, he intercepted a pass and ran 43 yards against Washington State.
As a junior, his record included a 90-yard run from scrimmage against Texas Christian and a 68-yard punt against Southern Methodist.
His credits for his senior year of 1965 were astonishing. He ran a kickoff back 100 yards against Oklahoma State, caught 10 passes against Arkansas, and scored 17 touchdowns on the season.
The Sporting News named him co-winner (with Jim Grabowski of Illinois) of its Player of the Year Award.
His 5,111 yards on all-purpose running was a Texas Tech record. This includes his career yardage by rushing, receiving, kick returns, and interception returns.
Anderson played nine years of pro football after Texas Tech as a running back and punter, including two Super Bowl seasons with the Green Bay Packers. He is a member of the college Football Hall of Fame.