Thus far, we’ve covered the Sun Belt, MAC, Conference USA, Mountain West, and American Athletic Conference in our preseason roundtable series. This week, we’ll move on to the Power 5 conferences, starting with the Big 12.
Q. Who is the player to watch in the Big 12 Conference?
On Twitter @EliHershkovich
Following a spectacular season in Ames, Iowa, Mike Warren is my pick.
The redshirt sophomore became the first Iowa State player to win the Big 12 Freshman of the Year award in program history a season ago, rushing for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns. Additionally, Warren’s 111.5 yards per game ranked No. 18 among Division I running backs. The 6-foot, 200-pound grinder ran for more than 125 yards five times, including a magnificent display versus Texas Tech, when he churned for 245 yards on just 23 yards (10.7 YPC).
In 2016, head coach Matt Campbell will don Iowa State’s headset after departing Toledo, where he accumulated a 35-15 record in five seasons (9-2 in ‘15). Although the Rockets boasted two tailbacks with 900-plus yards last campaign, expect Campbell to recognize Warren’s ceiling and consistently feed him carries. In fact, he witnessed the running back’s talent firsthand, as the Lawton, Oklahoma native pounded Toledo’s defense for 126 yards on 21 touches in Week 3.
While Iowa State’s offensive line is fairly inexperienced, losing four of its five starters from a year ago, the unit is led by veteran offensive line coach Tom Manning, who was on Campbell’s staff for the previous four campaigns. On top of that, Campbell used to own that title himself. Together, the two should discover the right combination to suit Warren.
If Iowa State’s passing offense, which ranked No. 63 in the nation (226.3 yards per game) can improve, Warren’s numbers should spike up. Subsequently, since Iowa State has only made an appearance in the final AP Top 25 Poll twice in school history (1976 and 2000), the workhorse represents a symbol of hope.
On Twitter: @CFBZ
As a sophomore, Patrick Mahomes threw for over 4,600 yards and 36 TD. The Red Raiders also improved from 4-8 to 7-6 last season. Even though he may be over-shadowed by Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph, Mahomes is the guy I will have my eye on this year in the Big 12.
The Red Raiders have a challenging schedule down the stretch. Mahomes, now a junior, will need to be a vocal leader on and off the field. His continued developed will be of keen interest to me this year as well as what kind of statistics he can put up.
I’ll go with Baker Mayfield.
Make no mistake about it: Mayfield was the best quarterback in the Big 12 last year. Sure, other players threw for more yardage, but Mayfield led the league in completion percentage (68.1%), yards per attempt (9.4), and TD passes (36). His numbers were even better in conference play, as he completed 69% of his passes for an average of 9.5 per attempt and an amazing 25-3 TD-to-INT ratio.
While his overall numbers are impressive, what really stands out about Mayfield is how well he played in the fourth quarter. During the final 15 minutes of the game, he completed 38 of 47 passes (80.9%) for 320 yards and 3 TDs. Two of those scores came in the final nine minutes of the Tennessee game, as Mayfield brought the Sooners back from the dead to defeat Volunteers 31-24 in overtime.
Of course, his fourth quarter heroics shouldn’t have come as a surprise, as Mayfield was his best with the game on the line. In situations where Oklahoma had the ball and was within 7 points either way, Mayfield connected on 126 of 184 passes for 1,826 yards with an amazing 21/2 TD-to-INT ratio.
It’s hard to argue with those results.