MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–Big 12 football is known for its high-power offenses and the 2016 season should be no different with some of the country’s top quarterbacks reigning in one league.
Last season Baylor’s Seth Russell, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes lit up the scoreboard on a weekly basis.
Now with the college football season right around the corner, the Big 12’s top arms are ready to help their team fight for a spot in the college playoff.
The conference returns nine of 10 starters and West Virginia University head coach thinks this could be one of the most electrifying years for the Big 12 quarterbacks.
“This reminds me of some of the those 2006, 2007, 2008 years where we had a lot of older guys that were returning guys,” Holgorsen said. “Quarterback play has been great in this league for a long, long time. The last couple of years it’s been a little bit more spotty, but seeing all these guys coming back with what they can do, I think is pretty good, with all the returning guys.”
2016 Top 10 Big 12 Quarterbacks:
- Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma-During the 2015 season, the senior quarterback shined on the field. Mayfield threw for 3,700 yards and 36 scores last season, completing 68.1 percent of all his passes. The Austin, Texas native was phenomenal at home and dominated teams on the road. Away from Norman, Mayfield had completed 107-of-157 passes for 1,302 yards and 17 touchdowns. Against Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound quarterback passed for 14 touchdowns and had one interception. Mayfield wasn’t just a one trick pony. He had the ability to get the job done on the ground, running for 405 yards and seven touchdowns. The combination of Mayfield and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley was a deadly one in 2015. Oklahoma’s offense averaged 43.5 points per game, which is the most since the 2008 campaign.
- Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech– Last season Mahomes led the nation with an average of 393 total yards per game, totaling for 46 touchdowns (36 passing and 10 rushing). He led all Big 12 quarterbacks by throwing for 4,653 yards. The junior rushed for 456 yards. Mahomes ranked second in the nation in completions per game with 28 and third in points responsible for (278.0). He is a mobile quarterback with a big arm. The 6-foot-3 Whitehouse, Texas native’s 2015 season was eighth all-time in most passing yards at Texas Tech. In 17 starts, Mahomes has thrown 6,2000 yards for 52 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. His freshman season, Mahomes tallied 625 yards of total offense against Baylor, a Texas Tech school record. The Red Raiders lost some key players but Mahomes is still expected to have an explosive season.
- Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State- Oklahoma State started the 2015 season 10-0 and a big part of that success was due to the play of Rudolph. But with two games remaining, the 6-foot-4, 220-poound quarterback suffered an ankle injury, which hampered his performance. He is undoubtedly the leader of the Cowboys offense. As a sophomore, Rudolph threw for 3,770 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2015. He completed 62.3 percent of his passes and ranked second in the conference among quarterbacks with 16 passing plays of 40 yards or more. The Rock Hill, SC native surpassed 300 yards passing six times and 400 yards three times last season. He ranked in the top 10 in the nation in completions of 30 yards or longer with 28 and completions of 40 yards or longer with 16. Despite splitting reps with J.W. Walsh, Rudolph was the Big 12 leader with 14.28 yards per completion and was second in the league in passing yard. Entering his junior campaign, it will be Rudolph’s time to shine. It is finally his offense to run.
- Seth Russell, Baylor- In the midst of a sexual assault scandal, Baylor can take away one positive heading into the season, senior quarterback Russell returns. He was the starting quarterback for the Bears through the first seven games last year before suffering a season-ending neck injury against Iowa State. Before his injury, Russell was the top-rated FBS passer. As a starter, he tallied 2,104 yards and 29 touchdowns while throwing six picks. If the senior can return to form, Baylor could have an explosive offense. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder has versatile and tough running back Shock Linwood and receiver KD Cannon to connect with. The trio has the potential to do big things if Russell stays healthy. Jarrett Stidham took over for Russell after his injury. As a true freshman, he completed 23 of 33 passes for 419 yards and three touchdowns against Kansas State before suffering an injury.
Skyler Howard, WVU- This season will be Howard’s final chance to prove himself to the Mountaineer faithful. He showed moments of brilliance last season but struggled mightily at times. The 6-foot, 207-pound season passed for 3,145 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2015. But he threw 14 interceptions and surpassed 300 yards only two times. Howard completed just 58.4 percent of his passes. The Fort Worth, Texas native closed out last season with a magnificent performance in WVU’s 43-42 win over the Arizona State Sun Devils in the Cactus Bowl. He won the Offensive MVP after a bowl record setting performance where he threw for 532 yards and five touchdowns. Howard’s receiving corps from last season is back and Holgorsen is hoping the senior quarterback and his receivers are developing a good rapport. But Howard needs to find consistency for the Mountaineers to stand a shot at the Big 12 title.
- Kenny Hill, TCU- Trevone Boykin has moved on to the NFL and TCU must find a new starting quarterback. Hill has yet to be named the Horned Frogs starter but many believe that is who head coach Gary Patterson will go with this fall. The Texas A&M transfer turned heads in the 2014 home opener for the Aggies. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Hill threw for 511 yards in the 52-28 win over South Carolina. In eight starts that year, he threw for 2,649 yards, 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Hill earned the No. 21 passing grade in the country that season, which was higher than No. 1 pick James Winston. But the Southlake, Texas product struggled mightily the second half of the season and lost his starter role. Last season Hill sat out after transferring to TCU. The junior is a good fit for the Horned Frogs offense but has to prove himself and that his struggles are a thing of the past. If Hill can’t win or maintain the job sophomore Foster Sawyer will be in the wings waiting for his chance.
- Shane Buechele, Texas- Texas has yet to name a starting quarterback but Buechele is turning heads in the Lone Star state before ever playing a snap. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound true freshman was a highly regarded four-star recruit. He threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns on 22 completions during the Longhorns’ spring game in April. Buechele is a hard working, accurate quarterback with a quick release. During his high school career, Lamar product passed for 6,379 yard and 73 touchdowns. He was also capable of getting the job done on the ground, rushing for 1,805 yards and 21 scores. Buechele was tabbed the top quarterback in Texas. He has drawn many comparisons to former Texas standout Colt McCoy. For the first time since McCoy graduated the Longhorns could have a top-notch quarterback to lead them.
- Jesse Ertz, Kansas State- After suffering a season ending ACL injury last season, Ertz is healthy and ready to regain his job as the Kansas starting quarterback. He rushed once against South Dakota for five yards before getting injured in 2015. Ertz was one of the top prep quarterbacks out of high school in 2013. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound sophomore broke the Iowa high school state record for career touchdowns with 96. He was fifth in state history with 7,317 career passing yards. During his prep career, he had over 9,000 total yards and 130 touchdowns. Ertz believes being sidelined last season helped him grow as a leader and a quarterback. He appears to be 100 percent healthy and is ready to battle Joe Hubener and redshirt freshman Alex Delton for reps.
Joel Lanning, Iowa State-Lanning is the only quarterback that Iowa State has with any playing experience. He was the back up most of the season but got the nod the final five games. In 11 games, the 6-foot-2, 235-pound junior completed 107-of-193 passes for 1,247 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was the second-leading rusher on the team with 330 yards. Lanning is a dual threat and will have star running back Mike Warren, who tallied 1,339 yards last season. He will also have wide receiver Allen Lazard. Lanning needs to improve on his accuracy but first year head coach Matt Campbell had a lot of success on the offensive side at the ball and should help the Ankeny, Iowa native’s development.
- Ryan Willis, Kansas- As a true freshman, Willis started 10 games last season. He threw for 1,719 yards and nine touchdowns. The 6-foot-4, 211-pound Overland Park, Kan. native had his best game of the season against Texas Tech, where he passed for 330 yards, completing 35 of 50 passes, for two scores. His 1,719 passing yards last season ranked 15th on the Jayhawks all-time single-season leaderboard. Willis was a Rivals three-star prospect out of high school. He threw for 5,986 yards and 65 touchdowns during his two seasons as a starter at Bishop Miege High School. But a wrist injury has hampered Willis heading into the 2016 season and Montell Cozart has been working hard to earn the starting quarterback position back. Cozart was a team captain and the starter before suffering a shoulder injury three games into the season last year but he had a disappointing spring game for Kansas in April. Heading into camp, it’s a wide-open race for the leader of the Jayhawks’ offense. Whoever is the starter come opening day better be ready for coach David Beaty’s air raid system, which is said to be similar to the one Kliff Kingsbury runs at Texas Tech.
With 10 good quarterbacks, the Big 12 is ready for an offensive explosion this fall in the battle for the Big 12 championship.
“You can look across the country and there’s two or three teams in college football who win games with what people would consider average quarterbacks,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said at Big 12 Media Days. “They’re really good teams. And they’ve got really good players. The rest of us need really good quarterback play to be successful. The Big 12 has that.”
Cover Photo Credit: Kelsie VanderWijst, BGS