Friday, December 9, 2016

My 2016 All-Big 12 team

Another season, another Big 12 title for the Oklahoma Sooners. Bob Stoops now has more Big 12 titles (or shares at least) with 10 then he has home losses in Norman (nine). That's a stunning stat that speaks to 17 years of scarcely interrupted dominance over this league.

Naturally, the Sooners are going to be well represented on my All-Big 12 list here after a brilliant season in which they didn't lose a single conference game. That's the first time that's happened since the Big 12 went to round robin scheduling in 2012. Well done, Oklahoma.

I tried to keep players in their real positions here and used my own positional designations to describe the various roles that you tend to find filled on Big 12 teams. Without further ado...

All Big 12 Offense

QB: Pat Mahomes II, Texas Tech
        Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

This was a tough one. Mason Rudolph is the main reason that OSU might be about to have their second consecutive 10-win season (probably not though, Colorado is pretty tough) but a great passing QB usually gets bested by a mobile guy in college and that's exactly what happened in Bedlam. Mayfield locked up his place over Rudolph with that victory.

Mahomes vs Mayfield is a much tougher argument to parse out. The fact is that Mahomes had to carry the weight for his entire team while Mayfield was playing with another Heisman finalist in Dede Westbrook (which is actually absurd, for the record, but no doubt he's good) and other fantastic skill weapons. Not to say that Mahomes had no help but throwing for 5k yards and scoring 50 TDs while playing hurt half the year is a pretty incredible accomplishment.

As much as OU's defense struggled this year, they were still several times better than the defense Mahomes had working on his behalf. Baker Mayfield is a fantastic QB and it's horrifying that he has another year of eligibility left, but if you had these guys switch places the Raiders are just as terrible and Oklahoma is at least as good.

RB: D'Onta Foreman, Texas
       Joe Mixon, Oklahoma

Samaje Perine had a good year but missed a lot of games to injury while Mixon was more of a constant within the Sooners' offense. I'll be curious to see if either return to Norman next season.

Foreman ran for 2k yards on defenses that did all they could to get extra numbers to the box to stop him. While Mixon is the more dynamic player in terms of all he can do on offense, and my OPOY, Foreman was the better pure running back this year.

Here's a shot of Mixon running a dig route:

That's one versatile dude. I also think Foreman was robbed of his place in New York for the Heisman ceremony. What a joke.

Ancillary: Winston Dimel, Kansas State
                  Blake Jarwin, Oklahoma State

I kept these the same as last year with Dimel maintaining an edge thanks to his 12 rushing touchdowns accumulated in goal line carries. The Wildcats kept Dimel on the field a great deal this year and he showed really well both as a lead blocker (particularly on outside zone, their specialty this year) and in that new role as a short-yardage rusher. Dude only had 30 carries on the year so almost half of them were worth six points.

Jarwin continued to be a very valuable piece of the OSU puzzle that allowed them to mix in a lot of double TE sets thanks to his solid blocking and very effective receiving. Only 17 receptions on the year but he was pretty heavily involved this year and a big part of the OSU offensive identity.

ISO WR: James Washington, Oklahoma State
                 Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma

The stats say this is a no-brainer, as does the (brainless) Heisman voting, but I'm going to buck consensus and roll with James Washington here as my "ISO" WR, which I give to the WR who the offense is looking to use as a primary outlet for punishing teams that load up elsewhere.

Washington is every bit the deep threat that Westbrook was and also had to work against press coverage more often, double teams, and with less surrounding help overall. Westbrook was phenomenal but he was also a guy that defenses could never zero in on due to the myriad of other threats that the Sooners were putting on the field.

Possession WR: Allen Lazard, Iowa State
                           Daikiel Shorts, West Virginia

I'm using this slot for the possession targets who often had the job of being chain-movers for their offense and to move around and convert first downs. Honorable mention to Mark Andrews here but he just didn't get enough action in that loaded Sooner skill group. Shorts was money in this role for the Mountaineers while Lazard split time between doing this and trying to be a deep threat for the Cyclones.

Slot: Jalen McCleskey, Oklahoma State
         Jonathan Giles, Texas Tech

Hang on, we have to pause and make an important announcement...

The winner of the Darren Sproles water bug trophy for most outstanding tiny person is Jalen McCleskey!!!!!!

Ahem...roll music*

Isn't he tiiiiiinyyyyyyy? Isn't he wooooonderfuuuulllll!

Runner-up goes to his teammate, OSU RB Justice Hill.

It really seemed like Kavontae Turpin was going to win this trophy but his unfortunate injury diminished his impact this season. Better luck next year, Kavontae. Read up on the illustrious history of the award here.

Giles was fortunate enough to be the slot receiver for Texas Tech, which makes it easy to be recognized here.

LT: Connor Williams, Texas
       Orlando Brown, Oklahoma

I'm not on a personal mission to knock every great Sooner player down to 2nd team, at least as far as you know, I just think they had one of the best players at multiple positions and it had a multiplier effect for the whole team. Orlando Brown was one of their best players overall and could be part of a mass exodus from Norman this coming offseason. He was good in pass protection but also lethal in their counter-trey run game and leading out on tunnel screens.

Connor Williams was completely dominant this last year and I'd venture to guess that at least 1/3 of D'Onta Foreman's yardage came running behind him.

LG: Ben Powers, Oklahoma
        Jake McMillon, Texas

The best left guards in the conference this year didn't play very complete seasons. Adam Pankey was good here for WVU but had to move out to left tackle due to injuries. Abdul Beecham was playing very well for K-State and then got injured, leading to Tyler Mitchell taking back over.

Jake McMillon was one of the more dominant run blockers in the conference in the games he played, although the guy he replaced (and who replaced him again when he was injured) Patrick Vahe was also quite good. Ben Powers locked down that left side for the Sooners so he'll get the nod, McMillon was the best but just didn't have enough chances to show it.

OC: Kyle Fuller, Baylor
        Tyler Orlosky, West Virginia

Fuller was one of the bright spots for Baylor this year and a crucial component to their run game, which they relied on heavily all year. Orlosky has been good for a while now at West Virginia but rarely really stands out to me. Hat tip to Erik Wren who was solid for OU and Reid Navjar who was really good and returns next season at K-State.

RG: Kyle Bosch, West Virginia
        Terrale Johnson, Kansas State

Hat tip to Dru Samia who moved inside later in the year and played well for Oklahoma, he'll probably be on a first or second team wherever he lines up next season. I'm giving this one to WVU guard Kyle Bosch, a Michigan transfer who was a focal point for a very solid Mountaineer run game.

Terrale Johnson was one of my favorite players to watch all season. He's maybe 6-1, is carrying some extra weight around the midsection, and just doesn't look the part at all. However, he regularly executed excellent reach blocks, worked well in tandem with their RT, and was one of the biggest scrappers in the whole conference. He was an absolute joy to watch.

Here was one of many good outside zone runs to the right involving Risner, Johnson, and Dimel:

RT: Dalton Risner, Kansas State
       Aviante Collins, TCU

Right tackle is often a very poor spot in the Big 12, go watch some games and you'll see DCs regularly target the right side with blitzes. K-State is probably the only team in the conference who put their best OL at RT so naturally Risner is a shoo-in for first team if you're actually going by position. Collins is a guy who's been pretty solid for a few years now though so I'll give him the nod.

All Big 12 Defense

End: Jordan Willis, Kansas State
         Josh Carraway, TCU

Willis led the league in sacks with 11.5 and was THIS close to being my DPOY. Carraway was another who made a living rushing off the edge but also played some pretty good run defense.

Nose: Darrien Howard, West Virginia
          Will Geary, Kansas State

Howard shocked me with his athleticism and he was pretty disruptive playing nose for the Mountaineers this year. Geary is a mainstay here, never one of the more dominant players in the league but always one of the good ones.

Texas' Chris Nelson had a case here but he fell off down the stretch.

Tackle: Vincent Taylor, Oklahoma State
              Aaron Curry, TCU

Taylor was the foundation of Oklahoma State's defense and sixth in the league in sacks with six on the year. For a defensive tackle that's very good. Curry was also very disruptive and is just hard to reach or get hands on in TCU's scheme up front.

Props to Poona Ford who had a solid year at Texas and to Neville Gallimore at Oklahoma who's probably the next big thing at their DE spot.

Edge-Rusher: Dorance Armstrong, Kansas
                        Obo Okoronkwo, Oklahoma

Obo was a breakthrough player for the Sooners this year and they used him all over the field, but he slowed down at the end of the year (probably due to injuries) and finished just behind Armstrong. The young Kansas DE was a terror on the edge all year and was second in the league in sacks.

Texas' pair of Breckyn Hager and Malcolm Roach could be the future here.

Inside-backer: Jordan Evans, Oklahoma
                         Ty Summers, TCU

Travin Howard was good for TCU this year but Summers emergence was a key factor to TCU's steady rise in the defensive rankings over the course of the year. Jordan Evans was brilliant this season in run defense but also in coverage with four INTs and seven other break-ups to go along with his steady play between the tackles.

Earlier in the year I undersold Evan's importance in allowing Oklahoma a chance to make enough stops on defense to just blow everyone away. Hat tip to Texas' Malik Jefferson who had a tough season but was starting to finally show flashes of playing absolutely dominant football down the stretch, particularly when used as a spy on passing downs.

Outside-backer: Taylor Young, Baylor
                             Elijah Lee, Kansas State

Elijah Lee just barely missed first team here because Taylor Young moved all over the place for Baylor and was great in a variety of roles. Technically Lee is more of the outside-backer who played some in coverage but we have to give Taylor Young some attention here for his disruptive play on the outside.

+1 run supporter: Jordan Sterns, Oklahoma State
                               Pat Levels, Baylor

Jordan Sterns just completed a third consecutive year as the Cowboys leading tackler and an enforced in the middle of the field and against the run. He was really strong all three years, comparing favorably to predecessor Daytawion Lowe, and his younger brother Cade Sterns is a hot target in recruiting currently committed to LSU.

Pat Levels was a stud on the edge for Baylor that allowed them to mix in some 3-2-6 packages this year without getting gashed by the run thanks to his 12 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks playing on the edge. Levels goes down with Terrale Johnson as some of the "scrappers of the year."

Hat tip to Jordan Burton for Oklahoma State, who played a lot of roles for them over the last year and was quite good. Also to Denzel Johnson of TCU and Kyzir White of WVU.

Cover safety: Steven Parker, Oklahoma
                       Travon Blanchard, Baylor

Parker had to play all over the place for Oklahoma this year and he got targeted some but he also made a lot of tackles and showed range all over the field. I think it's likely they'll get him back one more year and he could benefit tremendously from being surrounded by a more experienced secondary that could set him up to make plays rather than scrambling to cover for everyone.

Blanchard was one of the best DBs in the league this year, despite missing some time to injury. If he returns next year (and he probably will), Matt Rhule will have a valuable and versatile piece on the back end.

Hat tip to Tre Flowers for Oklahoma State, who had a nice year and showed some nice erasing ability making physical tackles from deep alignments. Texas' P.J. Locke has a chance to win this award next season with increased snaps and the opportunities that will come from (likely) playing in Todd Orlando's scheme. Dante Barnett just missed the cut this year, he didn't seem quite as strong coming off injury.

Support safety: Nick Orr, TCU
                           Orion Stewart, Baylor

Nick Orr was brilliant for TCU this season and helped them to play this hybrid cover 6/cover 1 scheme that is pretty tough to beat:

He was also active in run support and had 84 tackles to go along with four INTs and five break-ups.

Orion "the hunter" Stewart completes a very solid career for Baylor in which he played a ton of run support but also moved around to help them cover for injuries/suspensions and totaled five INTs and four break-ups on the year. I'll never forget our brief Twitter spat when I expressed doubt that this kid could replace the physical Ahmad Dixon in run support and he took umbrage.

For the record, he wasn't as good as Dixon in run support but he was still quite good there and he brought quite a lot in coverage for the Bears over the last three years.

Lockdown corner: Rasul Douglas, West Virginia
                                Jordan Thomas, Oklahoma

Rasul Douglas led the league with eight interceptions, added seven break-ups, and is my DPOY. Here he is picking off TCU on one of West Virginia's zero-rat blitzes. His coverage ability on the outside was essential to their scheme and their near finish as one of the league's best defenses.

Jordan Thomas had 16 pass break-ups on the year and is one of the better deep coverage defenders in the entire league, perhaps the best. Oklahoma better hope he comes back next year.

Cornerback: D.J. Reed, Kansas State
                       Ryan Reid, Baylor

Here I'm acknowledging some versatile CBs here who may or may not have been asked to lockdown guys but were good all-around DBs for their teams.

Reed was mostly just a secondary corner for K-State but he was pretty aggressive about jumping routes and broke up 15 passes while picking off three more as a result. He also got beat deep some but he'll probably get even better here with time. Reid was largely avoided this year and made teams pay when they did go after him with three INTs and seven break-ups.

Texas' failure to get a CB on this list was a primary reason for their unexpected struggles on defense this year. That and the terrible LB play.

That's all for this year. As always, make note of your vehement condemnations of my choices in the comments!


  1. Why are OU fans going to hate this? Seems pretty consistent with other All Big-12 teams and at least you had Orlando Brown on there, unlike ESPN.

    1. Cause I had the Heisman finalists on my 2nd team and had Sooners littered across the 2nd team overall.

  2. Good list although as a biased Sooner fan I disagree with Washington over Westbrook. Westbrook scored about every way possible. Blowing past guys, competitive catches, slant and go routes, tightroping down sidelines etc. Westbrook's emergence really opened up OU's run game. But I do understand about Washington facing tougher coverages and getting more focus. However, in their only head to head battle...Westbrook outdid Washington despite playing less than a half.

    However, as a sooner fan, I think your most egregious slight was not have Dmitri Flowers as an ancillary. You didn't even give him a hat tip. The man did it all. He blocked, caught multiple TD passes, and even ran for over 100 yards as an emergency RB against Iowa St. So major fail there IMO.

    Thanks for taking the time to put the list together. Always enjoying reading your Big 12 insights.

    1. I think Westbrook vs Washington is pretty neck and neck, it'd take a more thorough dive than I performed to really suss it out so you might be right.

      You're definitely right about Flowers, probably should have earned a hat tip. Zac Veatch as well.

  3. I don't envy having to make a pick between Pat Mahomes and Mayfield for that first team QB spot. Really tough call, sort of reminiscent of the great usage rate versus efficiency debate in NBA circles around guys like Kobe and Iverson. And then you have to consider Mason Rudolph. That pass on the Jalen McLeskey highlight you linked is a thing of beauty. Right over the linebacker and between the safety/corners. I don't know if Mahomes or Mayfield are capable of making that pass very often.

  4. The selection of Jordan Thomas to this team is an indication of how poor the CB play was in the Big12 this year. As a Sooner fan, I cringed when the ball went in his direction. His inconsistency was baffling this year.

    1. You watched more than me but I thought he was rather good. It's hard to avoid getting beat pretty often when you're defending 80 snaps a game with very rare safety help from teams that regularly throw deep.

    2. Agree. I'd like to make a more global point.

      WR are substituted quite liberally. If CB aren't, the CB is at a disadvantage. Therefore, why don't teams sub out one CB at a time for one series in the second and third quarters?

      This will keep the starting CB fresher in the forth quarter and build depth. CB3 will prepare better during the week if he knows he will play on Saturday.

      Even so, there may be a dropoff from CB1, CB2 to CB3, but I think this dropoff is mitigated by fatigue. The comparison is whether snap 80 for CB1 is better or equal to snap 20 for CB3?

    3. Texas tried to sub CBs regularly this year, but none of them really knew what they were doing because they seemed to have botched the offseason install for the entire defensive backfield. So they ended up playing fewer guys as the season wore on, which actually helped the defense.

      I think you're probably right as a general rule, that's how it worked out at Texas though.

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