Each fall brings a new crop of players in college football. There are the popular returning names and stars that we know, but there are up and comers, transfers, and others who don’t have that name recognition of others. So as we get closer to Big 12 media days and the college football season, Pete Mundo and Derek Duke have put together a list of the top 25 players in the Big 12 Conference for the 2018 season. Sure this will likely not be the list by season’s end, but as of right now, this is what we predict to be the case heading into the season.
Just missed the Top 25:
Yodny Cajuste, OL, West Virginia
Gary Johnson, LB, Texas
Kendall Adams, DB, Kansas State
Jah’Shawn Johnson, DB, Texas Tech
Marcel Spears, LB Iowa State
Alex Barnes, RB Kansas State
Jalen McClesky, WR Oklahoma State
No. 25: Texas Longhorns DE Breckyn Hager
The Longhorns are losing a ton of key pieces on the defensive side of the ball, but they need this unit to excel again under Todd Orlando to make a big jump in Year 2 with Tom Herman at the helm. Hager has become the the emotional leader of the defense. In 2016, despite only starting in five games, he finished second on the team with 64 tackles (41 solo), while recording 13.5 tackles for loss and six sacks, leading UT in both categories. Last season the numbers dipped a bit, but he still had 9 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. Hager is known to be the kind of player who practices as hard as he plays in games, which is something UT has lacked in recent seasons. He should be put in a position by Orlando to be one of the most feared pass rushers in the Big 12 this fall.
No. 24: Iowa State Cyclones DB Brian Peavy
Peavy nearly left after his junior season for the NFL, but elected to return to Ames for one more run with the Cyclones. Peavy was a team captain in 2017 and helped anchor an Iowa State defense that ranked third in total defense, averaging just 366.2 yards allowed per game. As for his own numbers, Peavy ranked third on the team in total tackles with 88 in 13 starts, along with nine pass breakups. With Joel Lanning graduated, Peavy needs to become even more of a leader, not just by example but with his words and emotion. He’s got every opportunity to make this defense his and keep the upward trajectory of Matt Campbell’s program continuing in the same direction.
No. 23: Texas Tech Red Raiders OL Jack Anderson
Anderson was the top prospect in Kliff Kingsbury’s Class of 2017 and he played immediately and impressed immediately. He was named a freshman All-American by ESPN and USA Today, the first Texas Tech player to accomplish that since Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield in 2013. The right guard started all 13 games at right guard as Tech improved its running game by nearly 40 yards per game to 140.9 yards per contest. With Texas Tech having to work in another new quarterback, protection will be key and having a stud like Anderson on the line is a great place to start. He may not get the attention he deserves, but Jack Anderson is the real deal in Lubbock.
No. 22: West Virginia Mountaineers WR Gary Jennings
Along with fellow WR David Sills, Jennings put together a big-time season in 2017 racking up 1,096 receiving yards. But he only had one touchdown grab because Sills was too busy grabbing all of them. However Jennings’ 97 catches were nearly 40 more than Sills and he outpaced his teammate in receiving yards. At 6’1”, 205, Jennings would likely be the top target on several Big 12 teams, but he was not given the press he was worthy of last season. WVU could have the most explosive offense in the Big 12 this fall and expect those touchdown numbers between Jennings and Sills to even out a bit. The addition of Alabama transfer T.J. Simmons should also help the WVU wide receiving corps be a balanced attack.
No. 21: Kansas State DB Duke Shelley
Shelley is expected to help turn around a secondary that struggled mightily last season. I went to the spring game in April and Shelley was billed as the leader of the defense as Bill Snyder sent him out to be the first defensive player to speak to the media after the game. Shelley played in 12 games last season as a junior, finishing with 56 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack and 2 interceptions. Shelley also has to become the veteran to help the young players with D.J. Reed leaving early to the NFL. The Wildcats have a chance to surprise lots of folks this fall behind an offense that is stout on the line, has two nice options at QB and a lot of talent at the skill position, but if Shelley and the defense can’t get on track, then they’ll be fighting for a bowl game.
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