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Conference Preview: Big 12 Breakdown

John McKechnie

John is the 2016 FSWA College Writer of the Year winner. He is a Maryland native and graduate of the University of Georgia. He's been writing for RotoWire since early 2014.

The Big 12 is synonymous with high point totals, and there's obvious merit to the assumption. Baylor and TCU respectively finished first and second in the nation in points scored per game last year, checking in at 48.2 and 46.5 points per game, respectively, and schools like Oklahoma (21st), Kansas State (23rd) and West Virginia (36th) also posted strong numbers in 2015.

As you might expect, a conference with such high point totals has more than its fair share of fantasy factors. The Big 12 features what might be the nation's top two fantasy quarterbacks in Seth Russell (Baylor) and Trevone Boykin (TCU), and players like Samaje Perine (RB, Oklahoma), Sterling Shepard (WR, Oklahoma) and Corey Coleman (WR, Baylor) are all capable of finishing atop their respective positions in the fantasy point totals this year.

With all of that noted, it's safe to say you'll need to familiarize yourself with this conference to stay afloat in college fantasy football this year. Read onward to prepare accordingly.

Fantasy Stars

1. Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma


Although he stands at just 5-foot-10, 191 pounds, Shepard is an absolute force regardless of his size. He’s a menace once he gets the ball in his hands, making people miss, pulling away from defenders, or even hurdling them in some cases. Shepard is coming off back-to-back 51-reception seasons and has never caught less than 45 balls in a season. He racked up 51 grabs, 970 yards, and eight touchdowns through the first six games of last season before a groin injury derailed his season. Even with his injury-shortened season, Shepard still has a chance to overtake Kenny Stills on OU’s all-time reception list if he can record 57 or more catches this season. The Oklahoma quarterback situation might be a concern for some, but Shepard already showed the ability to dominate with Trevor Knight throwing him the ball, and Oklahoma's hiring of offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley (ex-East Carolina) should cause a healthy increase in Oklahoma's pass attempt volume.


2. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU


Considering he enters 2015 as the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy (9/2 odds), it barely seems possible that Boykin was competing against Matt Joeckel for the starting role a year ago. Boykin was spectacular last season as he turned the Horned Frog offense into the second-most prolific unit in all the land (46.5 PPG). He did anything and everything, as evidenced by his 3,901 passing yards, 707 rushing yards, and 41 combined touchdowns. Boykin also has one of the top targets in all of college football returning in Josh Doctson, as well as Kolby Listenbee and Deante Gray. His mix of weapons and overall maturation in both the passing and running game make Boykin a near-lock to be a top three fantasy quarterback this season.


3. Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma


You probably remember Perine from his record-breaking 427-yard romp over Kansas just one week after Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon broke that record against Nebraska. You might also remember that Perine was a true freshman when he was thrashing Big 12 competition on a weekly basis. He figures to be the workhorse back for Oklahoma again this year, even as Oklahoma shifts to an East Carolina-style Air Raid offense. The odds of Perine reaching last year's 13-game total of 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns might not be very good in a more pass-heavy offense, especially with elite talents like Alex Ross and Joe Mixon pushing for carries, but Perine showed he's too good of a player to truly be held back by any particular scheme.


4. Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor


The redshirt junior is coming off a season where he snagged 64 passes for 1,119 yards (17.5 YPC) and 11 touchdowns to earn consensus All Big-12 honors. Some may be concerned with a potential dropoff in production without Bryce Petty under center, but as you’ll see, Seth Russell should be more than capable of running Baylor’s offense once he gets the keys to the Ferrari. Throw in the fact that Antwan Goodley (60 catches, 830 yards, 6 TD) is out of the picture and Coleman should be in line for another huge season as Baylor figures to be in the hunt for a college football playoff berth.


5. Seth Russell, QB, Baylor


Russell gave a glimpse of his ability in his start against Northwestern State in Week 2 last season as he casually threw for 438 yards and five touchdowns IN ONE HALF. Granted, it was against Northwestern State, but doing that in one half against anyone is impressive. Now Russell is the heir apparent to Bryce Petty and is primed to take over a loaded offense under the guidance of Art and Kendall Briles. He’s got the tandem of Coleman and K.D Cannon as the big names, along with the 6-foot-3 Jay Lee as his primary targets in a high-scoring, uptempo offense. Part of Russell's high fantasy appeal is his running ability – he likely has double-digit touchdown upside as a runner.

Sleepers

1. Pat Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech


Texas Tech’s offense has reliably been one of the nation’s top passing offenses since the days of Mike Leach and it’s no different under Kliff Kingsbury. Mahomes will have to compete with Davis Webb to win the starting job outright, but his dual-threat ability and superior passing skills should ensure that he’s under center in Week 1. He started the last three games of the season and lit it up to the tune of 1,319 yards, 14 touchdowns and just two picks in that span. And it wasn’t like he was going up against non-conference pushovers in those games, either, as all three were against Big-12 rivals (Oklahoma, Iowa State, and Baylor). Mahomes’ performance against Baylor alone, when he torched the Bears for 596 yards and six touchdowns as a true freshman, should land him on your radar heading into your draft. Kingsbury emphasized ball security during Big 12 Media Days, noting that the past two seasons have seen far too many turnovers committed by the quarterbacks. Mahomes threw four picks last season; Webb threw 13. If ball security is priority number one for Kingsbury when deciding the quarterback competition, Mahomes should have the starting gig locked up and be on his way to a big season as the Red Raiders’ signal caller.


2. Chris Carson, RB, Oklahoma State


Carson is a former JUCO (Butler Community College) player that had committed to Georgia before switching to Oklahoma State shortly before national signing day. He was a four-star talent and has very little competition standing in his way. Desmond Roland and Tyreek Hill are both gone, leaving Carson and Rennie Childs, who averaged under four yards per carry last season. Oklahoma State offenses are generally high-scoring, both through the air and on the ground, and that should be the case once again in 2015 with the promising Mason Rudolph leading the way at quarterback. You’ll have to keep an eye on the running back competition throughout fall camp, but Carson could wind up being a steal in your draft provided he wins the job.


3. Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma


Westbrook is another JUCO transfer, but he’ll be suiting up for the crimson in cream in Norman this fall. At Blinn Community College last season, Westbrook racked up 76 grabs for 1,487 yards and 13 touchdowns in just eight games, which earned him a top ranking among JUCO wideouts. Westbrook showed explosiveness when his number was called in the spring game, taking a screen for 28 yards and a reverse for 20. Westbrook’s talent should land him a starting job behind Shepard in new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley’s Air Raid system. Riley was the mastermind behind East Carolina offenses that scored so highly with Shane Carden at quarterback. This sort of attack should play to Westbrook’s strengths as an athlete and allow for him to flourish with the Sooners this season.


4. Ke'aun Kinner, RB, Kansas


If you’re sensing a trend among these sleepers, that’s because the Big 12 had a great haul in recruiting JUCO talent this year. Kinner is coming off a 1,696-yard, 22-touchdown campaign at Navarro Junior College in 2014, earning him NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year honors. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound running back enters Kansas’ fall camp as the heavy favorite to win the starting running back gig. Kinner does fall into the deep sleeper category, however, given that Kansas only has two projected returning starters along the offensive line in an offense that ranked 112th in the nation in rushing last season. That said, Kinner’s probable workload alone raises his floor to where he could be a nice pickup in later rounds of your draft.


5. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State


With Daxx Garman transferring to Maryland, Rudolph is ready to take over as the next Oklahoma State starting quarterback. In limited action last season, Rudolph racked up 853 yards and six touchdowns on 86 pass attempts (57 percent completed, 9.92 YPA) and led the Cowboys to a bowl game victory over Washington. He has a deep group of receiving weapons around him with Brandon Sheperd, David Glidden and James Washington leading the way.


Busts

Charles Jones, RB, Kansas State


K-State had some major attrition this offseason, returning just six projected starters on the offensive side of the ball. Among its losses were its three best players in quarterback Jake Waters and the wideout tandem of Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton. Jones figures to be the featured back with DeMarcus Robinson’s graduation, but Jones wasn’t overly impressive as the most used running back in 2014. Sure, the loss of Lockett and Waters may translate to an emphasis on the ground game this season, but it’s no sure thing that it translates into massive improvement for Jones. He failed to separate from Robinson – a below average talent – and it's possible that redshirt freshman Dalvin Warmack will prove to be significantly better than Robinson.

Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma

Knight went from penthouse to outhouse quickly after being the hero of the 2014 Sugar Bowl. After an up-and-down 2014 season, Knight may be unseated by Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield, who had to sit out last season. Knight threw just 14 touchdowns last season compared to 12 interceptions, and he only rushed for more than 61 yards just once (against Iowa State's weak run defense). With Oklahoma installing an Air Raid offense, there's also the concern that he just might not be much of a system fit. A rotation between Knight and Mayfield is another possibility, though one no more palatable to Knight's fantasy owners.

Skyler Howard, QB, West Virginia

Howard put up 829 yards, eight touchdowns, and no picks last season to go with a 50.9 completion percentage (56-for-110) as Clint Trickett’s replacement. This year, Howard figures to have the starting job locked up but he will have to quell those accuracy concerns early on to make sure he stays the quarterback throughout the season. A 50-percent completion rate simply won’t cut it, and he’ll have to find a way to bump up that passing efficiency without the help of Kevin White, who earned a top-10 selection in May’s draft. Howard may well turn out to be a productive dual-threat quarterback in West Virginia’s high-powered offense, but the lack of a true top receiver and the abundance of accuracy issues are enough to make me pass on him, at least as the starter in a shallow league.

Jordan Thompson, WR, West Virginia

Kevin White and Mario Alford have moved on to the NFL, leaving Thompson as the top returning target in West Virginia’s offense. At 5-foot-7, 176, Thompson reeled in 49 passes for 598 yards and two touchdowns last season – solid numbers to be sure, but there are doubts about him being a true No. 1 receiver with such a small stature. Daikiel Shorts (6-foot-1, 200) and Shelton Gibson (5-foot-11, 188) provide bigger targets for the accuracy-challenged Skyler Howard and may become his favored options over the course of the season. Thompson has some ability and should be able to put up solid production, but he’s no Kevin White 2.0, and both Shorts and Gibson might have better upsides.

Iowa State’s Receiving Corps (Allen Lazard, Quenton Bundrage, and D’Vario Montgomery)

With Bundrage missing all of the 2014 campaign after tearing his ACL in the season opener, Lazard and Montgomery combined for a nice one-two punch on the outside for the Cyclones. Lazard (45 Rec, 593 Yds, 3 TD) and Montgomery (44 Rec, 605 Yds, 2 TD) won’t have to compete with the since-graduated E.J. Bibbs for targets, but Bundrage will gobble up Bibbs' former workload and then some. Bundrage pulled in 48 receptions for 676 yards and nine touchdowns in his last healthy season (2013) and is fully cleared to play at this point. With that, quarterback Sam Richardson will have a full complement of proven receivers at his disposal this season. That certainly bodes well for the Cyclones improving upon a 2-10 showing in 2014, but it doesn’t do much for Lazard, Bundrage, or Montgomery’s individual fantasy values, as each of the three is good enough to steal targets from the other two in any given game.


Team-by-team player rankings. Ranking spot noted parenthetically.

Baylor


QB Seth Russell (1), RB Shock Linwood (45), RB Devin Chafin (85), WR Corey Coleman (6), WR KD Cannon (23), WR Jay Lee (27)

Iowa State

QB Sam Richardson (35), RB Tyler Brown (119), RB Mike Warren (120), WR Allen Lazard (102), WR Quenton Bundrage (103), WR D'Vario Montgomery (104)

Kansas

RB Ke'aun Kinner (77)

Kansas State

RB Charles Jones (83)

Oklahoma

RB Samaje Perine (19), RB Alex Ross (107), RB Joe Mixon (131), WR Sterling Shepard (4), WR Dede Westbrook (78), WR Durron Neal (170), TE Mark Andrews (32)

Oklahoma State

QB Mason Rudolph (46), RB Chris Carson (39), WR Brandon Sheperd (67), WR James Washington (120), WR David Glidden (161)

TCU

QB Trevone Boykin (2), RB Aaron Green (33), WR Josh Doctson (16), WR Deante Gray (62), WR Kolby Listenbee (73)

Texas

RB Johnathan Gray (56)

Texas Tech

QB Patrick Mahomes (8), RB DeAndre Washington (52), RB Justin Stockton (128), WR Jakeem Grant (32), WR Devin Lauderdale (38), WR Dylan Cantrell (125), WR Ian Sadler (134)

West Virginia

QB Skyler Howard (50), RB Rushel Shell (86), RB Wendell Smallwood (88), WR Daikiel Shorts (90), WR Shelton Gibson (124), WR Jordan Thompson (142)