For the second straight season the Big 12 will feature just 10 teams. However, it's a different 10 teams than the 2011 version of the conference. Former Big 12 staples Texas A&M and Missouri have bolted for the SEC promise land, leaving newcomers TCU and West Virginia to fill the void. Don't feel bad for the Big 12, though, the Horned Frogs and Mountaineers add two powerhouse programs to an already powerful conference.
Story lines abound for Big 12 this season: Charlie Weis and friends join the fray in Lawrence, Kansas; Collin Klein looks to duplicate his 40-touchdown season at Kansas State; Oklahoma hopes to rebound from a disappointing 2011; Oklahoma State tries to continue its rise without Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon; Baylor enters the post-RGIII era; and newcomers West Virginia and TCU look to stake their claims to their new conference.
Top 5 FANTASY STARS
1. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
Klein is the nation's top fantasy quarterback following last season's phenomenal touchdown numbers. In 2011, Klein ran for 27 touchdowns (second in the nation) and threw for 13 more, on his way to more than 1,100 yards on the ground and 1,918 yards through the air. He won't light up the stat sheet throwing the ball, but he'll threaten 100 yards rushing every game. The biggest question with Klein is simply health - he needs a high level of carries to maintain his fantasy value. Last season, he rushed 317 times, third most in the nation and most among quarterbacks by nearly 100 carries.
2. Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State
Aside from Wisconson's Montee Ball, Randle might be the best fantasy running back in the country. It remains to be seen if he can match his 2011 production without Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon this season, but coach Mike Gundy's offense will give Randle many opportunities to excel. In 2011, Randle rushed for 1,216 yards and 24 touchdowns on just 208 carries, and his 26 total touchdowns are second to only Ball among returning running backs. What's more, Randle is active in the passing game, catching more than 80 passes the last two seasons.
3. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Smith leads one of the nation's most potent offenses into a new conference that has a recent history of playing little to no defense. The 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns he put up through the air in 2011 seem easily attainable this year against vulnerable Big 12 competition. With Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey back at receiver, Smith is in a good position for fantasy proudction in 2012.
4. Kenny Stills, WR, Oklahoma
After playing behind Ryan Broyles for most of 2011, Stills will get the opportunity to prove he is the man in Norman. Stills brings a lot of big-play potential to a potent Sooners offense, averaging 13.9 yards per catch in 2011. Stills was banged up on a few occasions last season (concussion, knee), but if he stays on the field he will be senior Landry Jones' favorite target.
5. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Austin and Bailey led the way for a Mountaineers' receiving corps that helped quarterback Geno Smith rack up more than 4,300 yards in 2011, and Austin looks primed to build on that performance in 2012. Austin, who led the team with 101 catches last season, was second on the team in receiving yards (1,186) and touchdown receptions (8). Against often porous Big 12 defenses, Austin should put up similar numbers, and his value will truly show in PPR leagues.
Daymond Patterson, WR, Kansas
Patterson injured his groin in the opener last season and missed the rest of the year, so he might be flying under the radar entering this season. In 2010, Patterson hauled in 60 catches, showing his upside. Combine coach Charlie Weis' offense with a more capable quarterback than Kansas has had the last few seasons (Dayne Crist), and Patterson could be the true definition of a sleeper. If you're looking for late draft value or a free agent pick-up in the first couple weeks, Patterson could be a steal, especially in Big 12 leagues.
Dayne Crist, QB, Kansas
It's been a long and winding road for Crist, who battled injuries and benchings at Notre Dame before graduating and transferring to Lawrence to play for his former coach. While his career stats are far from breathtaking, he had a decent 2010 (more than 2,000 yards, 19 total touchdowns). If he can get back to that form, he could provide some rushing touchdowns because he isn't afraid to tuck it and run. He's familiar with the system, and he's the latest installment of a grad-school quarterback transferring to a new program for one last shot at proving himself. While he probably won't be this year's Russell Wilson, he will have plenty of draft value after other Big 12 quarterbacks are off the board.
Dustin Garrison, RB, West Virginia
This 5-foot-9 sophomore will play most of the season right in his backyard. The Pearland, Texas, product enters his second season at West Virginia with sleeper written all over him. Garrison ran for 742 yards on just 136 carries in 2011 and also caught 24 passes. On a stacked West Virginia offense it's easy to overlook Garrison, but he could end up being a poor man's Joseph Randle if he can steal some touches from the Mountaineers' other stars.
Jared Barnett, QB, Iowa State
Barnett is locked in a quarterback battle with less-than-impressive-senior Steele Jantz. Barnett was instrumental in the Cyclone's monumental upset over Oklahoma State last season and should be the favorite to end up with the starting job (even if Jantz is given the reins initially). In limited time, Barnett threw for 1,201 yards and six touchdowns. He will have to limit his mistakes and improve his decision making, but his 104 carries for 437 yards in 2011 gives him potential in the running game. If you're looking for a second quarterback late in your draft, Barnett could end up being a steal.
David Ash, QB, Texas
Assuming Ash recovers from a minor hamstring injury, it seems inevitable that he will be the starting quarterback for the Longhorns this season. Case McCoy is likely not a serious threat to Ash's job. Ash had an up-and-down 2011 but showed some upside. He will have to improve last year's eight interceptions to only four touchdowns, but he's surrounded by a slew of talented offensive weapons and a strong defense. For fantasy owners looking for a second quarterback late in drafts, it's worth taking a flyer on a highly recruited QB from a highly touted school.
Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
Jones enters his final season at OU on the cusp of many Sooners quarterback records, but you probably want to steer clear of Jones come draft day. He has history of struggling in big games, and Oklahoma will be in plenty of big games this season. With the emergence of sophomore battering-ram quarterback Blake Bell late last season, Jones saw his red-zone production plummet. Jones will put up big-time yards on a talented team, but if the touchdowns aren't there, he doesn't justify a high pick. There is plenty of fantasy value at quarterback this season. Don't get sucked into the big name at the big school.
Seth Doege, QB, Texas Tech
Doege could have been considered a major sleeper for most of the 2011 season, until the wheels came off down the stretch. He finished with a 4,000-yard season and 28 touchdowns, but over the last five games of the season he threw as many interceptions as touchdowns (6). At season's end it looked like defenses had started to catch on to Tech, and there is plenty of film on Doege's limitations. Various Big 12 quarterbacks are more worthy of your attention, like Casey Pachall (TCU), Dayne Crist (Kansas) and Jared Barnett (Iowa State).
Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor
Williams was part of an historic season in Waco last year, but now he has to replicate that as the No. 1 receiver, without a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. Robert Griffin III and Kendall Wright drew a lot of attention last season, and it allowed Williams to be a big-play receiver. While he made a lot of flashy plays, he only hauled in 59 passes. As the main attraction, it may be tough for Williams to put up top-10 fantasy receiver stats, especially with the inevitable dip in quarterback play. If you're choosing among the league's top-10 receivers, go with a wideout who has a proven quarterback throwing to him, like West Virginia's Tavon Austin.
Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas
The Longhorns used a slew of running backs in 2011, and it looks like Joe Bergeron might get most of the carries this season. Brown showed promise last year with three 100-yard games, but he only found the end zone five times on 172 carries. David Ash and the Longhorns passing attack should also be better this season, so the opportunities for multiple running backs to share so many carries might not be there.
Dominique Whaley, RB, Oklahoma
Whaley is trying to bounce back from a broken ankle that ended his surprise 2011 breakout season. He's highly ranked by most entering the season, but there is too much doubt surrounding his health to take a chance on him when plenty of quality running backs are on the board. Brennan Clay and Roy Finch also will make it tough on Whaley to remain the main attraction in the Sooners backfield. Both showed their potential last year, and Whaley will not be able to carry the load throughout this season, giving Clay and Finch plenty of opportunities to show what they can do. Big 12 running backs like Eric Stephens (Texas Tech) or James White (Iowa State) likely are safer picks.
TEAM-BY-TEAM FANTASY STARS
QB Nick Florence (29), RB Lache Seastrunk (31), WR Terrance Williams (9), WR Tevin Reese (27), K Aaron Jones (23)
QB Jared Barnett, RB James White, WR Josh Lenz
QB Dayne Crist (47), RB James Sims, WR Daymond Patterson, WR Kale Pick, TE Jimmay Mundine (33)
QB Collin Klein (1), RB John Hubert, WR Chris Harper, TE Travis Tannahill K Anthony Cantele (17)
QB Landry Jones (26), RB Dominique Whaley (53), WR Kenny Stills (6), WR Trey Metoyer (44), K Michael Hunnicutt (4)
QB Wes Lunt, RB Joseph Randle (2), WR Tracy Moore (47), WR Isaiah Anderson (62), TE Blake Jackson (32), K Quinn Sharp (7)
QB Casey Pachall (42), RB Waymon James (32), RB Matthew Tucker (34), WR Josh Boyce (29)
QB David Ash, RB Joe Bergeron, WR Jaxon Shipley, WR Marquise Goodwin, TE DJ Grant (35)
QB Seth Doege (17), RB Eric Stephens (60), WR Eric Ward (21), WR Darrin Moore
QB Geno Smith (13), RB Dustin Garrison, WR Tavon Austin (12), WR Stedman Bailey (14), K Tyler Bitancurt (20)