The Big 12 has earned a reputation as a pass-first, ask questions later league, and for the most part, well, it’s true. Tommy Tuberville wanted to build an SEC-type power running squad at Texas Tech, and he got so fed up hearing calls from fans who loved seeing the Red Raiders air it out under Mike Leach that he ditched out on three recruits at dinner in order to take the Cincinnati job.
West Virginia epitomized that air it out mentality, but the Mountaineers enjoyed even more success after they started handing the ball off to Tavon Austin instead of throwing it to him.
Unfortunately, Austin is heading to the NFL, but Lache Seastrunk is not. Quarterback Nick Florence led the nation in all-purpose yards for the Bears, but Baylor does not upset then-No. 1 Kansas State without the emergence of the 5-foot-10, 205-pound Oregon transfer.
The outspoken Seastrunk has guaranteed a Heisman Trophy in 2013. The award would make him the second Baylor star in a three-year span to win it after RGIII took it home in 2011, and if he can repeat his 19 carry, 185-yard effort in his team’s upset of the Wildcats over a full season, he may just wind up in the conversation. He did not receive more than seven carries until the eighth game of the season, but he still finished with a whopping 1,012 yards and a robust 7.73 yard-per-carry average.
He will be leaned heavily upon as coach Art Briles breaks in a new quarterback in Bryce Petty, and could wind up with the biggest stat line in the conference.
But he may not.
As for WVU, who loses not only Austin but also quarterback Geno Smith, Andrew Buie steps into the marquee role as the team’s runner. As a sophomore, he rushed for 850 yards and seven scores, flashing brilliance along the way. The 5-foot-9, 188-pounder piled up more than 200 yards in a win over Big 12 bully Texas, proving he can make moves against anyone. In 2013, he will have the opportunity to do so yet again, only without other future NFL stars sucking up most of the touches.
Kansas’ 2012 season may have been one for the dumpster, but in the case of James Sims, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The Jayhawks had a lot of issues en route to a 1-11 year, but Sims was an absolute star. Forced to sit out the first three games of the season due to a suspension, Sims lit the conference on fire the rest of the way, rushing for 100 or more yards in six consecutive games. Like Seastrunk, he managed to break 1,000 yards (1,013) despite missing significant time.
Also like Seastrunk, Sims will be asked to carry an even heavier burden in 2013, as coach Charlie Weis gets new quarterback and BYU transfer Jake Heaps acclimated after sitting out all of last season.
John Hubert also steps into the spotlight following the departure of a quarterback — Heisman finalist Collin Klein. Hubert scored 15 touchdowns and averaged more than five yards a pop on his way to 952 yards as a junior. Obviously, the motivation to dominate the Big 12 in his final season in the Little Apple will be there.
Oklahoma, and running back Damien Williams, finds itself and himself in yet another similar situation. Landry Jones ran the show in Norman for four years, but with him departing for the NFL and the unproven Blake Bell stepping into the fold, Williams will be asked to lead the Sooners to the conference title as a senior. After finishing fifth in the conference with 946 yards, he may prove himself up to the task.
Jonathan Gray will not have any of the pressure of the departing seniors, nor will he be asked to be the star of the show. As a frosh, Gray rushed for 701 yards, and all of Longhorns Nation is expecting huge things out of him and the team’s balanced attack under signal caller David Ash.
Another young gunner primed for a bigger year is TCU’s BJ Catalon, who finished his freshman season with 584 yards. Obviously, with a full offseason to hits the weights, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound star should be leaner and meaner come 2013.
But will that make him the conference’s best back?
Or will any one of the seniors, in their swan songs, put together a season to remember? With all the pass-happy offensive attacks this league boasts, the potential for the running game to really make some noise is astounding.
Can guys like Kenny Williams at Texas Tech or Jeremy Smith at Oklahoma State or Shontrelle Johnson at Iowa State put together elite seasons despite their programs’ wide-open offensive schemes?
Don’t ask us — We have no idea who will be the best in the Big 12 in 2013.
But perhaps you do.
We’re just going to come right out and ask it …