Athlon Awards: Ranking the Best Units in the Big 12

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Robert Griffin is Athlon's top Big 12 quarterback for 2011.

<p> The Athlon Awards for 2011 continue with a look at the best units in the Big 12.</p>

Kickoff for the 2011 season is just a few weeks away. To help pass the time before the opening weekend, Athlon will be taking a look at the best units by conference. 

A "1" signifies the best unit in conference, while a "12" indicates the worst.

Athlon's 2011 Big 12 Unit Rankings

Best Quarterbacks – Baylor
Robert Griffin missed most of 2009 due to a torn ACL but showed little rust in his return. He was the driving force behind Baylor’s first bowl appearance since 1994, passing for 3,501 yards and 22 scores, while adding 635 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. Griffin finished third in the Big 12 in total offense with 318.2 yards per game. As long as the junior stays healthy, the Bears will feature one of the Big 12’s most dangerous offenses.

(Note: Although depth was considered, much of the emphasis for the rankings at this position was based upon the starter.)

2. Oklahoma
3. Oklahoma State
4. Texas A&M
5. Texas
6. Missouri
7. Texas Tech
8. Kansas State
9. Iowa State
10. Kansas

Best Running Backs – Texas A&M
One of the big reasons for Texas A&M’s turnaround in the second half of last year was the rushing attack. Christine Michael suffered a season-ending leg injury against Texas Tech, but Cyrus Gray finished the year with seven consecutive games of at least 100 rushing yards. Before his injury, Michael was having a solid season, rushing for 631 yards and four scores in eight games. Both backs return in 2011, and both have a shot at 1,000 yards.

(Note: Although depth was considered, much of the emphasis for the rankings at this position was based upon the starter.)

2. Oklahoma
3. Oklahoma State
4. Texas
5. Texas Tech
6. Missouri
7. Kansas
8. Baylor
9. Kansas State
10. Iowa State

Best Wide Receivers/Tight Ends – Oklahoma
The Big 12 is home to some of the nation’s best receiving corps, but the edge goes to Oklahoma. Ryan Broyles is an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-American, and after catching 131 passes last year, he should be in position to lead all receivers in college football in receptions once again. Kenny Stills caught 61 passes last year as a true freshman and figures to be a bigger part of the offense with Cameron Kenney out of eligibility. Trey Franks, Justin McCay and Dejuan Miller will figure into the receiver rotation, while tight end James Hanna should challenge for All-Big 12 honors.

2. Oklahoma State
3. Texas A&M
4. Missouri
5. Baylor
6. Texas
7. Texas Tech
8. Kansas
9. Kansas State
10. Iowa State

Best Offensive Line – Oklahoma State
Despite returning only one starter last year, offensive line coach Joe Wickline quickly turned his group from a question mark into an undeniable strength. The front five led the way for the Cowboys to finish No. 1 in the Big 12 in scoring, passing and total offense. The line allowed only 10 sacks, and OSU’s rushers averaged over five yards per carry last year. All five starters return in 2011, including Athlon Sports preseason second-team All-America tackle Levy Adcock. Although the Cowboys return some of the top skill players in the nation, the offensive line is certainly a big part of their success. 

2. Texas A&M
3. Missouri
4. Texas Tech
5. Oklahoma
6. Baylor
7. Texas
8. Iowa State
9. Kansas
10. Kansas State

Best Defensive Line – Missouri
Despite the departure of Aldon Smith, the Tigers are in great shape along the defensive front. End Brad Madison registered 7.5 sacks last year in a limited role and should become the Tigers’ top pass-rushing threat. Jacquies Smith will start at the other end spot, while Michael Sam and promising redshirt freshman Kony Ealy will provide depth. Tackle Dominique Hamilton’s return to full health is huge, as the defense struggled to stop the run in his absence. Terrell Resonno registered 35 tackles last year, while former 5-star recruit Sheldon Richardson arrives from junior college. The duo will join Hamilton in the interior.

2. Texas
3. Oklahoma
4. Texas A&M
5. Oklahoma State
6. Texas Tech
7. Iowa State
8. Baylor
9. Kansas
10. Kansas State

Best Linebackers – Oklahoma
The strength of the Oklahoma defense is clearly with this unit. Senior Travis Lewis is the anchor of this group with 41 career starts, but will miss at least the first month of the season due to a broken bone in his foot. Joining Lewis in the starting lineup will be sophomore Tony Jefferson, who will play a hybrid safety/linebacker role this year, which should help Oklahoma’s young secondary. Tom Wort has shined in limited action and will be expected to increase his snaps in 2011, most likely at middle linebacker. Sophomore Corey Nelson is listed as a backup but will figure prominently into the rotation - especially while Lewis is sidelined - and become one of the leaders for this unit in 2012.

2. Texas
3. Missouri
4. Iowa State
5. Texas A&M
6. Oklahoma State
7. Kansas State
8. Kansas
9. Baylor
10. Texas Tech

Best Defensive Backs – Oklahoma
Jamell Fleming has been reinstated at Oklahoma, which pushes the Sooners over Texas A&M for the top secondary in the Big 12. Fleming started all 13 games last year and collected 71 tackles and five interceptions. Joining Fleming at cornerback will be junior Demontre Hurst and sophomore Gabe Lynn. Hurst is expected to start on the other side, but Lynn will see plenty of snaps. Oklahoma will be breaking in two new starters at safety, but the coaches have high hopes for sophomore Aaron Colvin and junior Javon Harris. The Sooners ranked fourth in the Big 12 in pass defense last season, but finished eighth nationally in pass efficiency defense.

2. Texas A&M
3. Texas
4. Oklahoma State
5. Kansas State
6. Texas Tech
7. Missouri
8. Iowa State
9. Kansas
10. Baylor

After ranking all of the individual units in the conference, here's a look at what the combined totals look like - 

Team QB RB WR OL DL LB DB Totals
Oklahoma 2 2 1 5 3 1 1 15
Texas A&M 4 1 3 2 4 5 2 21
Oklahoma State 3 3 2 1 5 6 4 24
Texas 5 4 6 7 2 2 3 29
Missouri 6 6 4 3 1 3 7 30
Texas Tech 7 5 7 4 6 10 6 45
Baylor 1 8 5 6 8 9 10 47
Iowa State 9 10 10 8 7 4 8 56
Kansas State 8 9 9 10 10 7 5 58
Kansas 10 7 8 9 9 8 9 60

Other Big 12 Content

Ranking the Big 12's Top 35 Players for 2011

Athlon's 2011 Big 12 Predictions
Athlon's 2011 All-Big 12 Team
Will Oklahoma and Texas A&M Leave the Big 12?
Oklahoma State's Dynamic Duo
Is Missouri the Big 12's Surprise Team?
Over/Under on Texas Wins in 2011

CFB Conferences: 

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