The Big 12 conference has been one of the most talked about conferences the past few years. There have been countless rumors of teams leaving, teams joining, and even the conference dying off. Through it all however two things have remained the same; first Oklahoma and Texas still dominate this conference, and secondly any of these guys can beat you on any given day.
The addition of an explosive West Virginia team and fundamentally sound TCU team should make this conference all the more fun to watch this coming season. Here are 20 sleepers you need to know.
RB Dominique Whaley-5’10, 197 lbs.
The former walk-on turned into fan favorite, Dominique Whaley has bided his time and earned his place on this Sooners team. He is a hard runner, who keeps his legs churning through contact. He does a nice job playing with his size and stays low through the hole. He doesn’t offer great speed or much break tackle ability. He is a hard working back who may not get drafted but will find his way into a camp and find a way to make a team.
WR Justin Brown-6’3, 209 lbs.
Justin Brown may have not even gotten into Norman, OK yet but him making out list is the exact kind of impact we expect from the former Nittany Lion. Brown will come into Oklahoma as their biggest WR and will be expected to make an impact immediately. The former Penn State player has struggled with his hands and with consistency throughout his collegiate career but made great strides forward last year. He has the speed to get deep and the athletic ability to make the big play.
WR Mike Davis-6’2, 182 lbs.
Davis is a 6’2 speedster who will be hoping that this long Texas nightmare of QB issues is finally over and being the program. Davis who can absolutely cook down the field will have to become a bigger part of this Longhorn offense this season. While Davis’s overall numbers were good (45 rec for 609 yards) his one TD in 2011 will not be acceptable in 2012.
CB Carrington Byndom*-6’0, 180 lbs.
While most of the attention in the Texas defensive backfield is properly focused on star SAF Kenny Vaccaro its been Carrington Byndom’s play at CB that has made this Texas defense so stifling. Byndom has been the CB you see flash across the screen as he blows us screen passes and outside runs (8 TFL in 2011), he’s also the guy who is running step for step in his WR’s hip pocket and making a play on nearly every pass (15 PBU, 2 INT’s in 2011). He should only get better as we enter 2012 which is bad news for a wide open Big 12.
WR/TE Blake Jackson*-6’3, 238 lbs.
Everybody is wondering who is going to replace Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden for the Cowboys this year. We know that the ball will be handed to freshman Wes Lunt at QB but we don’t know is who is going to pick up Blackmon’s production. Look for the JUCO transfer, Jackson, to step in and take a large roll. He was an NJCAA All-American last year and has surprising speed and athleticism for a player his size.
DE Nigel Nicholas-6’3, 269 lbs.
With Richetti Jones and Jamie Blatnick graduated from Oklahoma State the main pass rushing duties will fall to Nicholas who was very good in a reserve role. Nicholas though will have to find a way to be more effective in getting to the QB as he only got two sacks last season. His pass rush skills are a bit raw and some technical teaching this spring and fall should help him get off the blocks and to the QB.
OC Joe Madsen-6’4, 310 lbs
There may not be a more important player to this offense this year than Joe Madsen. With the Mountaineers moving to the Big 12 it will be on Madsen to lead this line against unfamiliar foes and keep opponents away from star QB Geno Smith. Madsen is quite possibly the most athletic OC in this draft class since he is often asked to get to 2nd level or pull to try and spring a RB or WR who gets the ball in space.
LB Terence Garvin-6’3, 223 lbs.
The place where you first notice West Virginia’s change for the Big 12 is on the defensive side of the ball. Gone is the former 3-3-5 defense that was a staple in the Big East. In it’s a place is a more pro style 3-4 defense. With that change in formation can a position switch for Terence Garvin who moved from SAF to LB in the new alignment. It’s not a big switch as Garvin already spent a lot of time in the box in the old alignment but his coverage skills and old safety mentality could make him a dangerous weapon on the edge of this Mountaineer defense.
LB Kenny Cain-6’1, 210 lbs.
The leading tackler for TCU returns after an offseason of disaster and distraction. A number of TCU’s former defensive players were implicated in a drug sting in Fort Worth this past spring and that included star LB Tanner Brock. Cain who was the Horned Frogs leading tackler last year will now come back to a defense that is a shell of its former self and will be looking to reload. There will be a lot of pressure on Cain to lead by example and make plays in a brand new conference that is loaded with playmakers.
RB Matthew Tucker-6’1, 227 lbs.
When RB Ed Wesley decided to leave school and enter the NFL Supplemental draft a door opened for Tucker that had previously seemed slam shut. Tucker who in 2011 was the goal line and short yardage back for TCU scored 12 TD’s but finished third on the team in both carries (123) and yards (703). Just when it seemed like Tucker would be destined for the same role in ’12, Wesley leaving has created an opening. Tucker’s tough and bruising style will now compete with Waymon James for the starting role in the TCU offense this fall.
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