NORMAN, Okla. — In 2008, the Big 12 had unmatched star power.
Four of the top five finishers in the Heisman race hailed from the conference, including the winner, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford. Texas’ Colt McCoy was second, Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell was fourth and his teammate, Michael Crabtree, was fifth. Since then, the league has consistently produced top contenders for the award, with Baylor’s Robert Griffin III winning in 2011.
This year, the conference will be lucky to land anyone in the top 10.
Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, the Big 12’s top contender heading into the season, finished fourth last year. He had a chance to make himself a front-runner this year, but struggled in losses to Houston and Ohio State.
“I believe Baker will shine for us as we go through the year,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “I really believe that. The guys works too hard not to. Like everybody, he’ll learn from these games and not press too much.”
Mayfield is among the Big 12 quarterbacks who will bring some excitement to the league, even though they won’t have last year’s stage, when Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Baylor were in the running for a spot in the College Football Playoff. This year, the highest-ranked team is No. 16 Baylor . Texas is No. 21 and Oklahoma is No. 25.
Baylor’s Seth Russell might have the best shot at being a Heisman finalist. He was in the conversation last year before he suffered a season-ending neck injury. Now, he’s back, and the Bears are unbeaten. He hasn’t put up numbers like last year, but that could change in conference play. Baylor hosts Oklahoma State on Saturday.
Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, a big, pro-style quarterback, passed for 540 yards last week in a win over Pittsburgh. The biggest strike against him? That loss to Central Michigan that came after the Chippewas were incorrectly awarded an untimed down.
Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes leads the nation with nearly 500 yards passing per game heading into his conference opener Sept. 29 against Kansas. The strike against him is that the big numbers have come in wins over Stephen F. Austin and Louisiana Tech, and in a loss to Arizona State.
Kansas coach David Beaty believes Mahomes is a special player.
“He’s really good,” Beaty said. “He’s very talented. He’s big. He’s hard to tackle. He’s very well-coached. He’s got a ridiculous arm. He can throw it from anywhere, and he breaks rules because he’ll throw it to the wrong guy and he’ll still put it in there.”
TCU’s Kenny Hill has put up big numbers, too, but the Horned Frogs lost to Arkansas, and what appeared to be a chance to make a splash against Oklahoma on Oct. 1 isn’t what it could have been because of the Sooners’ slow start.
The receiver position doesn’t have quite the star power as last year, either. Baylor’s Corey Coleman, TCU’s Josh Doctson, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard and Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant are all in the NFL. This year, the league’s most explosive receiver is probably Oklahoma State’s James Washington. He caught nine passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns against Pittsburgh and was the conference’s offensive player of the week. Baylor’s KD Cannon is also a standout.
The running back position is unusually weak, at least statistically. The league’s leading rusher, Texas’ D’Onta Foreman, has 288 yards in two games. After that, there is a significant drop off. West Virginia’s Rushel Shell is second with 87 yards per game. That would have been eighth in the conference at the end of last season.
Samaje Perine, one of Oklahoma’s all-time leading rushers, has pounded out just 149 yards in the first three games, and is actually second on the team in rushing behind Joe Mixon. Iowa State’s Mike Warren, a preseason all-conference pick, is averaging 51 yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry. Baylor’s Shock Linwood has just 213 yards through three games.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter @CliffBruntAP