The last decade the Big 12 has been defined year-in and year-out by its plethora of high-octane offenses. However, this year, for the first time in recent memory, there is a lack of big-name quarterbacks at the top of the list. Instead, most teams field a quarterback who is either untested (Bryce Petty, Baylor), underwhelming (David Ash, Texas) or has a checkered past (Casey Pachall, TCU). Still, given the talent surrounding most of players and the conference's penchant for high-scoring affairs, expect a new crop to emerge onto the national stage by putting up big numbers week-in and week-out.
TOP FIVE FANTASY STARS
1. Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
Seastrunk sits in the driver's seat for the Big 12 player of the year race and has the best chance of anyone in the conference to challenge for the Heisman trophy. He is a fast, strong back who finally lived up to his billing as a five-star recruit over the last half of 2012 when he rushed for 831 yards and six touchdowns over the final six games.
2. Tevin Reese, WR, Baylor
Reese is the Bears' leading returning receiver, and while he'll see more defensive attention with Terrance Williams' graduation, he'll also see plenty of targets come his way. The adjustment period with new quarterback Bryce Petty should be brief as Baylor has a relatively soft non-conference schedule and then opens conference play with West Virginia at home. And with Lache Seastrunk keeping defenses honest in the backfield, Reese should find plenty of space in the secondary.
3. Eric Ward, WR, Texas Tech
Ward had great chemistry with the outgoing Seth Doege, hauling in more than 80 catches and double-digit touchdowns each of the last two seasons. This year, he must adjust to a new head coach and a new quarterback, but Ward should see increased targets with last season's leading receiver, Darrin Moore (92 receptions), gone. And Texas Tech's Air Raid offense should continue to prosper under new coach and former Red Raiders quarterback Kliff Kingsbury.
4. Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Amaro has the prototypical build for an NFL tight end and should have a breakout season as he helps bring along new quarterback Michael Brewer. Amaro will prove to be a match-up problem and has the versatility to line up along the line or in the slot. He'll be an important safety blanket and very easy to spot in the red zone.
5. J.W. Walsh or Clint Chelf, QB, Oklahoma State
The battle for the starting quarterback job will be fierce, but both Walsh and Chelf proved effective when they saw the field last season. Since Mike Gundy took the reins in Stillwater, he has consistently pushed the offensive tempo. Whoever wins the job will also benefit from having four of the top five receivers from 2012 return to the roster. Oklahoma State's quarterback, whoever it is, is poised for fantasy success.
Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma
The "Belldozer" has already proven he can be an effective goal-line threat, and at 6-foot-6, 263, it's easy to see how the massive Bell can strike fear in his opponents when the Sooners come within smelling distance of the endzone. In the spring game, Bell showed he is also very capable throwing the football as well. There's no way he puts up near the aerial numbers the Sooners saw from Landry Jones last season, but he'll make up for it with his feet and his knack for busting through goal-line defenses for the score.
Casey Pachall, QB, TCU
Despite leaving the team midseason last year to enter drug and alcohol treatment, Pachall remains one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the Big 12. Pachall produced a superb 10-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season before his suspension. His off-field issues might scare off some fantasy owners, but that might just make him undervalued in drafts as he's expected to easily beat out Trevone Boykin for the starting quarterback job at TCU.
Tony Pierson, RB, Kansas
Pierson showed his explosiveness at points last season and really demonstrated just how dangerous a weapon he can be when utilized. He might be slight in stature, but he is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the football. The Kansas coaching staff realizes the importance of getting the ball in his hands if they want to turn the program around and look to get him involved in both the ground game and moving him out wide as a receiver in the passing game.
Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas State
Kansas State hasn't exactly been known for having a flashy passing attack, but it has a true weapon in Lockett. He steps into the role as the Wildcats' primary target, and the speedster should receive a solid portion of the targets sent to the departed Chris Harper last season. Lockett proved last year he is dangerous in the return game, and this year should be equally effective hauling in passes.
Waymon James, RB, TCU
James is recovering from an ACL injury, and his numbers weren't that gaudy in his first full season as a starter two years ago. However, he suffered the injury early enough last season (game two) that he should be ready to go once the season starts. He took the lion's share of the snaps at running back during the spring game and has the experience and leadership TCU will need if it wants to challenge for the Big 12 title in just its second year of membership.
James Sims, RB, Kansas
Sims is a solid running back and was one of the few bright spots (1,013 yards, 10 total touchdowns) in an ugly season for the Jayhawks last year. But as impressive as his 2012 campaign was (and considering Kansas lacked anything resembling a passing game, it was very impressive) Sims must still compete for carries in a crowded backfield. Add in an offensive line that will feature three new starters as well as what should be only a marginally improved passing games and it will be hard for Sims to repeat the numbers he put up last year.
John Hubert, RB, Kansas State
Hubert is not a bad option and will most likely see his carries increase with Collin Klein no longer in the picture. But that also means he'll become the focal point for defenses, and he'll no longer have the experienced Klein to take the pressure off or to rumble for a first down and keep the chains moving. Hubert remains a decent option, but don't expect a breakout year.
Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor
Petty steps into an enticing situation in his first year under center for Baylor, as he has talented weapons around him and a coach who knows how to get the ball into their hands. While he'll post good numbers this season and will excite Baylor fans about the future, expecting him to step in and replicate the production of RGIII and Nick Florence is a bit much for a quarterback who has only attempted 14 career passes.
Sam Richardson, QB, Iowa State
Richardson was pressed into duty toward season's end last year due to injuries. He has the quarterback job to himself this season and has talent behind him at running back. But Richardson is green, and it's hard to invest in sophomore quarterback with three career starts.
David Ash, QB, Texas
Ash actually has potential for a breakout season in 2013. It will be his third year in the system, and he took a step forward as a passer last season. But while he's the starter entering the season, if he struggles he could quickly find himself under the same pressure that forced out former five-star recruit Garrett Gilbert. Essentially, it's put-up-or-shut-up time for Ash, and he hasn't done enough to inspire much confidence to date.
TEAM-BY-TEAM FANTASY STARS
Overall position ranking in parenthesis.
QB Bryce Petty (8), RB Lache Seastrunk (6), WR Tevin Reese (8), WR Levi Norwood (38), K Aaron Jones (4)
Iowa State Cyclones
QB Sam Richardson (38), TE Ernst Brun (14)
RB James Sims (50)
Kansas State Wildcats
QB Daniel Sams (29), RB John Hubert (64), WR Tyler Lockett (53)
QB Blake Bell (15), RB Damien Williams (73), WR Jalen Saunders (48), K Michael Hunnicutt (16)
Oklahoma State Cowboys
RB Jeremy Smith (21), WR Josh Stewart (32), WR Tracy Moore (70), TE Blake Jackson (10)
WR Mike Davis (40), WR Jaxon Shipley (49)
TCU Horned Frogs
RB Waymon James (46), WR Brandon Carter (35), K Jaden Oberkrom (2)
Texas Tech Red Raiders
QB Michael Brewer (34), Eric Ward (5), TE Jace Amaro (5), K Ryan Bustin (9)
West Virginia Mountaineers
RB Charles Sims (25), WR Jordan Thompson (46)