The Big 12 turned out to be a surprisingly deep conference in 2018, thanks in large part to the presence of both veteran stars and emerging standouts.
While positions such as quarterback and wide receiver had the usual slew of big names in the offense-happy league, the defensive side of the ball produced a surprising number of impact players. Studs such as West Virginia linebacker David Long Jr. and Texas defensive lineman Charles Omenihu will cast long shadows over their teams in 2019.
The pair of defenders is among the 10 departed players who will be toughest to replace in the Big 12 during the upcoming season.
Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma
Last year, Baker Mayfield was supposed to be irreplaceable. Instead, the Sooners plugged in Murray, and he became OU’s second consecutive Heisman Trophy winner at QB. Ex-Alabama Crimson Tide QB Jalen Hurts will gun for a third straight statue as OU’s starter in 2019. Lincoln Riley would probably settle for “pretty good” over a Heisman-caliber season from his grad transfer QB.
David Long Jr., LB, West Virginia
Long won the Big 12’s defensive player of the year award last season after leading the conference with 19 tackles for a loss. Former WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson used Long as a designated disruptor. The Mountaineers will need to find a new heat-seeking linebacker to wreak havoc in opposing backfields.
Will Grier, QB, West Virginia
Grier put together a strong 2018 season that was overshadowed by Murray’s breakout campaign – WVU’s QB threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 37 TDs in 11 games. New head coach Neal Brown will have returnee Jack Allison and OU grad transfer Austin Kendall jockeying to replace Grier in the offseason. Either will have a hard time replicating Grier’s proficiency behind center.
Lil’Jordan Humphrey, WR, Texas
Humphrey turned into the Longhorns’ go-to offensive weapon over the course of the 2018. He ended the season with 86 receptions for 1,176 yards and nine touchdowns. More importantly, Humphrey caught 31 balls on third down last season, 25 of which generated first downs.
Head coach Tom Herman will struggle to find another player with Humphrey’s size and physical tools to torment defenses.
David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State
Montgomery’s decision to declare early for the NFL draft leaves a massive hole in the Iowa State offense. He carried the ball almost 22 times per game and averaged 4.7 yards per carry, both of which were key to the Cyclones’ physical offensive identity. Rising junior Kene Nwangwu looks like the clubhouse leader to step into Montgomery’s role as ISU’s workhorse at running back.
Dalton Risner, OL, Kansas State
The versatile Risner started for four seasons at both center and offensive tackle. He was key to making the Wildcats’ rugged rushing attack work. New KSU head coach Chris Klieman will need more mashers in the Risner mold to implement the physical style of offense he’s bringing with him from FCS dynasty North Dakota State.
Charles Omenihu, DL, Texas
The Big 12 is hurting for impact defensive linemen, and Omenihu was the best of the lot in ‘18. He appeared in all 14 games for UT and led the squad in tackles for a loss with 18. The Longhorns are going to be plugging in a host of new starters on defense in the fall, but the one who fills in for Omenihu might be the most important.
Joe Dineen, LB, Kansas
New head coach Les Miles actually has to identify a couple of replacements for productive defenders. The toughest will be Dineen, who rang up nearly 300 tackles in the last two years as one of few bright spots for the moribund Jayhawks. KU will miss Dineen’s leadership and motor in addition to all the stops.
Ben Banogu, DL, TCU
After transferring from Louisiana-Monroe to TCU in 2016, Banogu was a first-team All-Big 12 selection two years in a row. In his 27 starts with the Horned Frogs, Banogu became arguably the top pass rusher in the Big 12 with 17 sacks.
Banogu didn’t let up down the stretch of TCU’s disappointing ‘18 season, which speaks to the void he will leave in the Horned Frog D this year.
Austin Seibert, K/P, Oklahoma
Given all of Seibert’s responsibilities, this is akin to replacing three players. Seibert handled punting and placekicking duties for the Sooners for four years. He also served as kickoff specialist for three.
OU will miss the reliability Seibert demonstrated in his senior season when he nailed 17 of 19 field goal attempts. Seibert consistency on kickoffs flew under the radar, too: 91 of his 109 kickoffs went for touchbacks in ‘18.
— 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.