Programs such as Baylor and TCU have risen up the ranks in the Big 12 in recent years through a mix of cunning coaches, unique schemes and fantastic player development. While their successes are starting to pay dividends on the recruiting trail, these upstarts generally lack the depth of some of the traditional powerhouses. That can make moving on from departing stars a little trickier.
The Big 12 is bidding adieu to a number of key contributors from the Bears and Horned Frogs this spring. Taken together, the two programs combine four of the 10 toughest players to replace in the conference in 2016. Their ability to find capable fill-ins will go a long way towards determining if they will continue contending at the top of the conference.
10 Toughest Players to Replace in the Big 12 in 2016
Andrew Billings, DL, Baylor
Billings' decision to forego his senior year in Waco led to one huge collective sigh of relief among Big 12 coaching staffs and offensive linemen. With apologies to co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Emmanuel Ogbah, the Bears' defensive tackle was the best defender in the conference last season. Even with its recent surge in recruiting, programs like Baylor don't exactly stockpile nasty defensive linemen of Billings' caliber. (Few do.) His loss leaves a gaping hole in the Bears’ D.
Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
Sorry, Andy Dalton, but Boykin took your place at the top of the list of great TCU quarterbacks under Gary Patterson. Injuries dogged the Horned Frogs' field general down the stretch run of the 2015 season, but when healthy, Boykin was every bit as electric as he was in '14. Adding to Patterson's worries, Alamo Bowl hero Bram "Red Baron" Kohlhausen also graduated. That leaves Texas A&M transfer Kenny "Trill" Hill and the bro-country-frontman-monikered Foster Sawyer competing for the open job in the offseason.
Le’Raven Clark, OL, Texas Tech
Clark leaves Lubbock as one of the most accomplished players in school history. The fifth-year senior made his third appearance on the All-Big 12 team in 2015 and had 51 consecutive starts in four years. Kliff Kingsbury will miss his steady presence on Patrick Mahomes’ blind side.
Josh Doctson, WR, TCU
Corey Coleman might have been the most productive wideout in the league last fall, but Doctson will be the toughest to replace. Boykin owes much of his success to Doctson, who is a master of corralling deep balls. He gave the Horned Frogs a legitimate deep threat to round out their arsenal of receiving weapons as they made the transition to the Air Raid in the last two seasons.
Spencer Drango, OL, Baylor
Drango joins Clark in the parade of noteworthy offensive linemen leaving the Big 12. Drango was a four-year starter for Art Briles thanks in large part to a skill set that fit Baylor’s requirements to the letter. The departure of Drango and three other starters from the Bears’ offensive line could create some headaches for Briles. Luckily, the Bears are playing their customarily forgiving non-conference schedule, which should give the newcomers on the line time to get their feet under them.
Karl Joseph, DB, West Virginia
Joseph's mid-season knee injury struck a big blow to the Mountaineers' salty defense, which was never the same after he went down. Aside from his leadership, Joseph is a potential first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft. WVU will have a tough time replacing his physical presence in helping against the run and punishing receivers in the middle of the field.
Emmanuel Ogbah, DL, Oklahoma State
Ogbah’s ability to wreak havoc in opposing defenses was one of few bright spots on OSU’s defense in ‘15. The Houston native led the conference with 13 sacks for the season and finished second in tackles for a loss with 17. As OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer looks for Ogbah’s replacement this spring, the early entrant may work his way into the first round of the upcoming draft.
Hassan Ridgeway, DL, Texas
Ridgeway failed to match his previous production as he fought through injuries last season. Nevertheless, he gave the Texas D an imposing presence up the middle. Best of luck to Charlie Strong when it comes to finding an adequate replacement for Ridgeway among the group on hand in Austin.
Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma
Quarterback Baker Mayfield deserves a healthy amount of credit for reigniting Oklahoma's offense in 2015. The same goes for Shepard, though, whose absence in the second half of the 2014 season played a big role in the Sooners' tailspin. Shepard was a model of consistency throughout the '15 campaign and turned it on in OU's biggest games, including two highlight-reel touchdowns against Tennessee and 14 catches for 177 yards and a pair of scores versus Baylor.
Cody Whitehair, OL, Kansas State
Another standout on the offensive line. A four-year starter on the offensive line for Bill Snyder, Whitehair garnered a first-team spot on the 2015 All-Big 12 squad. Whitehair’s combination of durability and versatility should make him a valuable asset at the NFL level. He was even more valuable to the Wildcats over the last four years.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.