Before the Big 12 Season begins, there are several names you need to know.
Perhaps you've already heard most of these names. However, this article comes with a special, one-time JD Guarantee that if you watch any Big 12 football in 2010, you will know each and every one of these names by the time the season is over.
Look for these guys on last year's awards lists, this year's preseason awards lists and, most importantly, the final set of All-Big 12 awards lists.
Depending on which team your home team is and which half of the conference that team is in, there is a vastly expansive group of other names out there that are more than deserving of your attention.
However, this article will deal only with the biggest of the big, ranked from low to high.
So, without further ado, here are the Big 12's finest of 2010.
First of all, when you're done reading this, let me know about which names I've forgotten.
Secondly, you should probably know these guys' names too, just in case.
Grant Ressel (K, Missouri)
The guy is just a great feel-good story.
Alex Henery (P/K, Nebraska)
I've always appreciated a guy who can place-kick or drop-kick.
Bryant Ward (FB, Oklahoma State)
Less use doesn't make him any less than the best fullback in the conference.
Austen Arnaud (QB, Iowa State)
He makes dumb decisions, but he moves the ball.
Taylor Potts (QB, Texas Tech)
This kid has the tools for any system.
Rodney Stewart (RB, Colorado)
He could have a breakout season.
Bront Bird (LB, Texas Tech)
He's simply a solid linebacker trying for a fresh start.
Justin Springer (LB, Kansas)
Springer has been drawing raves since the very first spring practice.
Colby Whitlock (DT, Texas Tech)
He just didn't quite match up statistically to the other ends on this list.
Derrick Washington (RB, Missouri)
It's hard to put a guy on a list like this if you're uncertain about his future.
Adrian Taylor (DT, Oklahoma)
Just another extremely talented Sooner defender.
You're the hardest group to include, and I do recognize that you are underrepresented in this article as well. I lend you my deepest apologies.
And a special shout-out to Texas...
Who is vastly underrepresented. After this research, I can see that this truly is, top-to-bottom, the most talented team in the Big 12.
For instance, I count four running backs and five wide receivers that would start for nearly every average team in the nation on the Longhorns' roster.
Can Bill Snyder re-assemble his depleted defense?
And this slide goes out to wide receivers and defensive backs across the conference.
There were just too many of you and you simply didn't stand out enough from either your team or the other players in the conference.
However, there are so many of you that are so talented, I think I'll mention you anyway...
Jalil Brown, Kevin Rutland, Chris Harris, Alfonzo Dennard, Emmanuel Lamur, Jasper Simmons, Eric Hagg, Dejon Gomes and Jonathan Nelson are at or near the talent level of guys like Carl Gettis.
Chykie Brown might be better, but placing non-starters on a list like this is risky.
They either just lack his experience or their teams are not in a position where they are as heavily relied upon as Gettis.
Markques Simas and Toney Clemons will fight each other and Scotty McKnight for catches from bad quarterbacks in Colorado.
Hubert Anyiam will lead his Cowboys receiving corps, but he probably won't compare statistically to the other guys listed.
Ryan Tannehill and Uzoma Nwachukwu will both be really big in college station this season, but Fuller will be bigger.
I couldn't have eight players on a 50-person list from a school who I don't think will get fourth place in a 12 team league.
Texas Tech's Alexander Torres and Detron Lewis catch a lot of passes, Lyle Leong catches a lot of touchdowns, and Tremain Swindall catches everything in between.
All four will have the stats, but it's really difficult even to guess which one or two will be the biggest in 2010.
As previously mentioned, Texas' wide receivers aren't too shabby, either.
The only reason Garrett Gilbert doesn't make this list, and I mean the absolute only minimum eensy-weensy reason why Gilbert doesn't appear is a fantastic reason for a coach to have.
The talent on this team is simply spread too thick and too evenly.
Especially considering the fact that the Longhorns want to run the ball more, Garrett Gilbert will have one of the easiest jobs in the league.
He'll be sitting behind one of the conference's best offensive lines distributing mid-range passes and hand-offs to all of his immense surrounding talent at his own leisure.
I'm not saying Gilbert won't be working hard and earning his place as the signal-caller on one of America's premier collegiate football teams.
I'm just saying that Gilbert's supporting cast will give him all the time he needs and aid his development, as opposed to the other way around.
I will make a point throughout this article not to create synonymous situations between players of different teams.
However, with seniors Marquez Herrod and Jake Laptad, exceptions must be made.
Laptad and Herrod are, simply put, the only true threats that their respective defensive lines have had in the past few seasons.
Both face constant added pressure from offensive lines and both often watch their defense gashed and picked apart.
This season, both defenses have the potential to be all-around better. Maybe both of these seniors will finally get the opportunities and attention that both deserve.
Carl Gettis probably isn't the most superb cornerback around, but the guy has definitely been around for a long time.
In his fourth and final year as a starter, Gettis will be known as the leader of the best secondary group he's played on in his career.
Missouri fans would love to see Gettis be more aggressive and get his hands on a few more passes in 2010.
Once again, trying to compare two different players in different scenarios on different teams is not a good idea.
With these two gentlemen, however, another exception should be made.
Both Cody Davis (a sophomore) and Trent Hunter (a junior) have extremely bright futures ahead of them should they become more aggressive in their coverage.
Being a safety is about more than laying the smack-down on folks; you've got to be versatile.
Safeties are the last line of defense, but they're not meant to be walls. Go ahead and jump a route once in awhile.
Davis and Hunter could be two of the conference's best defensive backs in 2011.
Garrick Williams, a junior outside linebacker, simply has the right kind of size, athleticism, and instincts to succeed as a Big 12 linebacker.
In 2009, as a mere sophomore, he notched over 70 tackles (good enough for second on the team) and registered 8.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
The real reason people envision Williams as a rising star is because they see what makes Von Miller successful and see similar intangibles from Williams.
Miller has an inch and 10 pounds on Williams, but the junior linebacker is a clean tackler and is beginning to play more consistently with a good downhill mentality.
Image Courtesy: AggieAthletics.com
Ugo Chinasa has boatloads of experience and grows as a producer each and every season in which he is on the field.
In 2009, he had the pleasure of working with one of the more talented Oklahoma State defenses of recent memory.
In 2010, however Chinasa has the opportunity to and will severely need to step up and be a team leader on a suddenly-much-younger Cowboy defense.
If Chinasa can keep improving, his statistics in 2010 will reflect his growth and earn him the recognition he deserves.
Similarly to Roy Helu Jr., whom you will see in a few slides, Alexander Robinson has simply made the most of the additional opportunities he's received every consecutive year of his career.
However, unlike Helu, I'm not sure Robinson will be able to continue progressing under such wear and tear. Guys standing 5'9" and weighing less than 200 pounds just aren't every-down kind of backs.
In fact, Austen Arnaud needs to find a way to get his other playmakers the ball (primarily Darius Reynolds) to keep Robinson healthy, fresh and effective.
This being said, every real football fan has to appreciate the way Robinson plays.
Can Bill Snyder re-assemble his depleted defense?
Emmanuel Lamur made a name for himself making big plays for the special teams in 2010.
Fellow safety and returning starter Tysyn Hartman has made an even larger name for himself among opposing quarterbacks (he picked off five passes and broke up more than 10).
Hartman admittedly arrives on this list in part because Kansas State has no other defender to default to (save for maybe Lamur).
However, the former quarterback can easily garner some true recognition by taking his signal-caller leadership skills and additional experience to the back end of a defense that truly needs a leader.
If you don't like Scotty McKnight, you plain-and-simply-put don't like football.
What walk-on has ever come around to lead his team in receptions for three straight years (amassing a total of 169 for almost 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns) in an offense as bad as Colorado's has been?
That's flat-out an impressive feel-good story.
McKnight doesn't have much of a ceiling left to reach for, and wide receivers Markques Simas and transfer Toney Clemons are certainly the future of this passing attack, but you've got to hope McKnight gets the kind of senior season he deserves.
Daymond Patterson is on this list for one reason only: lightning.
Patterson has never shown exceptional hands (above average, certainly), and isn't simply filled-to-the-brim with experience as a receiver, either.
However, this little wideout is lightning. Patterson will be handling punt returns, kick returns, and, if he shows he can get open quickly, he'll be handling the bulk of Kale Pick's passes as well.
If Kansas' offense is any good at all, Patterson will be a big reason why.
This is a unique grouping. Still, their contributions to the team and league will be very similar.
Tim Biere, raising a young quarterback, should have a breakout season from the tight end spot.
I have said before that he is, as an individual relative to his respective position, Kansas' best positional player.
With McNeill of Nebraska now at wide receiver, he may be the conference's best.
Tanner Hawkinson, however, plays one of the most increasingly popular positions in the sport, left tackle, and he plays it extremely well for a young guy.
There's a lot of potential and he's already garnering awards, but still has some fine-tuning to do.
The real reason I group them together is because they are good friends and both came into the program originally as touted tight ends. I knew they'd both find their way onto the field somehow.
It's been said many times before and shall be said many times again.
The return of Robert Griffin means both less and more for this talented junior wide receiver.
Kendall Wright may see fewer total passes lobbed his direction. However, because of Griffin's electric playmaking nature, when Kendall Wright does get his hands on the ball, he should have plenty of extra space to work with.
Watch for his yards per catch to eclipse his freshman mark of 13, his touchdowns nearly double that of last season, and don't forget that Wright likes to line up in the backfield every now and again as well.
America's best pass-catching back is back yet again for one final go-round at Texas Tech.
Baron Batch has amassed almost 1,700 yards and 22 touchdowns throughout his career at Texas Tech, and has maybe even more impressively notched over 100 catches for almost 800 yards in the past three years.
The thing you have to like most about Batch is simply that he produces. If you give him the ball, whether on the ground or in the air, he'll take good care of it and he'll do something with it.
Batch probably goes down as one of the most memorable backs in Texas Tech history.
If there is a strength to such a terribly depleted defense, I'd say it's the secondary.
That experienced Cyclone secondary happens to be led by 2009's defensive newcomer of the year in senior safety David Sims.
Sure he got into some legal troubles, but the versatility of the undersized safety on the field (five interceptions, three forced fumbles and 88 tackles in 2009) will help us forget all about that by the end of Week 2.
Despite dealing with an injury or two, Roy Helu Jr. has only gotten better over the past two years as he's gotten more opportunities.
In 2010, due to an expected-to-improve passing attack, the experience of the personnel surrounding him, and the continued emergence of Rex Burkhead, Helu probably won't get any additional duties.
However, his yards per carry may eclipse that 6.4 mark he achieved his junior year.
Whether the yards, attempts and touchdowns go up or down, the fact remains that Helu is a quality running back and a known commodity in this conference.
Mike McNeill has instantly become the most physically imposing wide receiver in the Big 12. The best part is that his blocking skills will by no means go to waste.
Having an effective receiver and qualified blocker at the slot receiver should really do wonders for running back Roy Helu Jr., as well as the entire Nebraska offense.
Don't forget about the true No. 1 guy in Niles Paul, though. Paul has all sorts of game-breaking ability despite not needing (or getting) to touch the ball very often.
Like McNeill, Paul's true value comes from his versatility. He happens to be one of the conference's more dangerous return men.
One of the Big 12's best individual cover corners, Jimmy Smith is under a lot of pressure to live up to the hype he's produced for the past few seasons and become a true danger in the secondary.
Smith has all the measurables to be the corner who takes away half the field; he just needs to be a little more aggressive.
Breaking up a few more passes here and picking off a few more there will go a long way to solidifying Smith's rep as one of the Big 12's best.
Christine Michael might get more love for being the extremely talented freshman, but Cyrus Gray brings some irreplaceable dimensions to this team as well.
Gray can play out of the slot, return kicks and he seems like the kind of small back who, even in short-yardage situations, can weasel through the line and get the ball where it needs to go.
Michael still carries the running load and is fully deserving of most of the hype he will get. He's a quality, every-down running back.
Just don't underestimate the great value that Gray brings to this team as well.
Nobody stands to benefit more from having his teammates graduate than Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp.
Jackson is the clear favorite of Missouri fans. He's a smooth receiver with decent size, speed and hands who will see a majority of the timing-passes thrown his way.
Kemp, on the other hand, is simply an astounding big-play guy. He'll have to be reliable to catch more than deep balls this season (he averaged 18 yards per catch over 23 catches in 2009).
With Kemp at 6'4" and 220 pounds, though, Gary Pinkel will find a way to get him the ball.
Expect the stats to lean Jackson's way, but as far as defenses are concerned the two will be equally threatening.
Pierre Allen did not have an exemplary junior season. There was nothing wrong with it (five sacks, 12 tackles for loss) by any normal defense's standards. Most of the attention simply went to the big fellas in the middle.
This year, not only is one of those big men gone for good, but Allen's partner on the other edge is gone as well.
Allen, who has great size and athleticism for the defensive end position, needs to command attention in 2010 to free up space for some younger guys in order to help this defense remain the best.
Offensive linemen don't have many stats to work with, but size can sometimes tell part of the story.
At 6' 9" and 315 pounds, Nate Solder is more of a novel.
Ryan Miller isn't much smaller at 6'8", 310 pounds.
Solder is probably the more popular, experienced name playing the more difficult position (LT as opposed to LG), but the two make such a great combo that I could hardly split them up.
Miller has another year of eligibility and a really high ceiling working to his advantage, too.
The Red Raider defense may not always be popular, but linebacker Brian Duncan deserves to be.
He could suffer a little in the early going as he transitions to the outside in the 3-4 defense, but look for Duncan to embrace his new role and flourish in it quickly.
If the Red Raiders have a quality season in 2010, it will be because of the rebuilt defense. Duncan is in the driver's seat of that defense, and Tommy Tuberville has handed him the keys.
Four interceptions and almost 90 tackles as a junior in 2009 from the safety position simply make Quinton Carter one of the deadliest men on field in 2010.
He's a ball-hawk. He's a hitter. He's just another great college defensive back playing for Bob Stoops.
Expect the fifth-year senior to become the true leader of the Sooners' secondary without Dominique Franks around.
Blaine Gabbert may have the highest ceiling of any quarterback in the Big 12.
If his decision-making gradually improves with experience, allowing him to cut down from last year's 19 sacks and nine picks, Gabbert will simply become the conference's most dangerous.
As a junior and a second-year starter, Gabbert may not vastly out-do last season's 3,500 yards and 24 touchdowns statistically. However, expect to see him take control in big games and win them with his fantastic natural abilities.
I refuse to pick my poison with this secondary. Had Earl Thomas returned to this team, Mack Brown's group of defensive backs would have been his most experienced (and probably most talented) ever.
Gideon is a ball-hawking safety who gets stronger every year.
Curtis Brown never seems to leave the field and can get his hand on nearly every pass thrown his way.
Aaron Williams is, at absolute worst, the second best cornerback in the league going into his junior season.
Every fan has their favorites (Williams is probably the consensus best), but it seems that all three are on a similar tier as playmakers and projected contributors in 2010.
Even Chykie Brown will have a major impact, and some depth charts have him listed as the second starter. I'd say that's just for show as Brown is a decorated senior. Williams is the real deal there.
Due to a disappointing injury, Jeff Fuller watched his Aggies endure a six-game stretch in which he caught only three passes.
Outside of those games, Fuller was an up-and-coming force-of-a-sophomore to be reckoned with and had established a truly special connection with an increasingly special quarterback.
If he picks up right where he left off last season, expect to see his uber-athletic 6'4" frame dominating the middle of the field and gobbling up the air above the end zone in 2010.
Oklahoma State is a quality team full of quality football players. This being said, not many of them are really 'big name' types of guys. That certainly isn't a complete reflection of the team overall, though, which has the potential to be rather successful in 2010.
Kendall Hunter has the potential to earn plenty of attention, though. An injury in 2009 allowed Keith Toston to become the starter and, due to his success, head coach Mike Gundy left the hot-handed senior remain the starter even when Hunter returned to the lineup.
Now Hunter is back at full health and looks forward to carrying the load for the Cowboys again in 2010. If he can return to 2008 form, he will become the Daniel Thomas of the Big 12 South but with a much better supporting cast.
Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson are simply two more uber-athletic diamonds of Mack Brown linebackers.
The juniors could become one of the most-feared linebacker duos in the Big 12. Without a doubt, Acho and Robinson already constitute what is one of the most versatile and well-rounded linebacking corps around.
Look for both to take big steps forward in 2010 under the defensive and linebacking genius of Will Muschamp.
Guys like Sergio Kindle and Lamarr Houston may have opened up holes for guys like Sam Acho, but they detracted a lot of public attention from Acho as well.
This year he's getting his due. No team can ever afford to focus on a single Texas defender and one of the best secondaries in the nation will give Acho all the time he needs. Ten sacks and 14 tackles for a loss might seem laughable to Acho by this time next season.
He seems like he'll be the next of a great line of touted Texas defensive ends.
Leading your team in tackles with 100+ in two consecutive years is pretty good. It's even better when considering that Travis Lewis will only be a junior in 2010.
He'll be one of the best linebackers in the country, though. Lewis has good measurables for the position to go along with plenty of experience and instincts.
Look for him to statistically round out his game in the pass coverage and rushing departments in 2010.
It takes an athletic guy to carry 260+ pounds at 6'3" and still manage to cause havoc in the backfield amounting to 11 sacks and almost 20 tackles for a loss in a single season.
Jeremy Beal is, in fact, that athletic.
He'll bull rush, he'll speed rush and he'll break ankles of offensive tackles.
In fact, with a little help from his supporting cast, Beal could easily post the most impressive 'in-the-backfield' statistics of any defensive lineman in the conference in his senior season.
Not many guys will get the overall attention being received by this electric track-star of a team leader.
Griffin has plenty of unfinished business to take care of on the field. The Bears will need him if they expect to win more than a pair of conference games this season.
If Griffin has squashed the injury bug and can pick up right where he left off, he will be one of the Big 12's top two or three all-around dynamic playmakers.
This redshirt sophomore has the size, the speed, the instinct, and, because of his youth, the opportunity to become one of the most storied pass rushers in Missouri's history.
Don't put all your eggs in his basket. After all, the kid is just a sophomore and he'll be receiving all sorts of extra attention in 2010 from offensive lines.
However, a little help from a very experienced secondary might result in the extra second Smith needs every play to begin chipping away at the history books.
I'm not sure what all needs to be said about Daniel Thomas.
He will be playing behind a mediocre offensive line, between a depleted corps of receivers and more than likely with an unproven quarterback behind him.
Yet somehow, Thomas will succeed.
It won't be pretty (actually, it will be rather painful for defenders), but mark my words: he will succeed.
Toss out that disgusting Nebraska game (five picks and completing less than half of nearly 60 passes won't get you far), and what you've got here is a Heisman contender.
Landry Jones, even as an Oklahoma guy, won't get far in that race if he doesn't play his best ball against the best defenses like, shall we say, Nebraska?
Who knows? Maybe the final Big 12 championship game will be the perfect time for Jones to strike back?
There's a lot of talk about what DeMarco Murray can do when he's not injured or splitting carries. I for one am a complete believer.
A primary worry lies in the drop in yards per carry from 2008 to 2009, but Murray made up for lost yardage by becoming one of the nation's most useful pass-catchers out of the backfield.
Last year, Murray totaled over 700 yards rushing and 500 receiving. This year expect, without a doubt and barring great misfortune, at least 2,000 yards total.
Jerrod Johnson is not just another athletic quarterback with half an arm. He's an athlete of freakish size and nature with an excellent, accurate arm and good leadership skills.
However, touted senior Texas A&M quarterbacks of the recent past have been known to fall apart due to injury of otherwise. (therefore producing the next great young quarterback). Anyone remember Reggie McNeal or Stephen McGee?
Johnson needs to play bigger in big games in 2010 for A&M to reach the next tier, to break the Aggie senior quarterback curse and to merit all this attention he's getting.
Prince Amukamara reminds me a lot of former Kansas cornerback and first-round draft pick Aqib Talib but with an even higher ceiling.
Both are exceptionally athletic, stout, on-an-island, ball-hawking, pure cover corners. However, Amukamara has even better make-up speed.
Look for Amukamara to be such an intimidating presence that his statistics actually fall (five interceptions and 11 passes broken up in 2009) in 2010. You can bet that very rarely is any half-decent quarterback going to bother tossing a pass his direction.
Mr. Amukamara is one of the top two cornerbacks in college football today.
Von Miller only gets a video because Getty Images are not bringing up any photos of him.
However, Miller is the type of guy you have to see play to really appreciate anyway.
Miller is the essence of the ever-more-necessary type of hybrid athlete and his head coach Mike Sherman knows how to utilize it.
A repeat 17-sack season might not be likely due to all of the attention he's getting, but rest assured that all the attention he's getting will only help the rest of his defense.
Don't fret if you don't hear his name next to outrageous defensive statistics game in and game out.
Hopefully for Miller's sake, offenses didn't spend the offseason figuring the Joker position out.
Four tackles really stood out in the Big 12 in 2010. Three of them are now solidifying their places on NFL rosters.
The fourth is Nebraska's Jared Crick. Not many defensive tackles (ones not named Suh, McCoy, or Houston) boast almost 10 sacks and 15 tackles for a loss in a single season, especially as a sophomore.
But Crick is equally effective at plugging holes. His 70+ tackles in 2009 were second-most only to Ndamukong Suh in the Big 12 from the interior of a defensive line.
Crick will be one of the most pivotal players in the conference, and maybe the nation (in terms of getting his team to or preventing another team from getting to a national championship) in 2010.
Take away a three-game stretch last season where Ryan Broyles dealt with a shoulder injury and you have one of the most consistent and dangerous playmakers in the game today.
I hear a lot of talk about other junior wide receivers in this class, and they may have more upside in the long run.
However, Broyles will be one of America's most productive. If he stays healthy, expect him to demolish the 89 catches, 1,120 yards and 15 touchdowns he racked up in 2009 as his quarterback finds his stride.
The craziest part is that watching College Football Live on ESPN might give you the impression that DeMarco Murray or Landry Jones could win the Heisman.
Those are both entirely plausible, but never was one mention made of Ryan Broyles.
If he hits 100 catches, 1,250 yards and 15 touchdowns along with decent special teams statistics (did I mention he's an excellent return man too?), he has to get an invitation, at least.