Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes headline a solid group of quarterbacks returning in the Big 12 for 2016. Mayfield is one of the leading Heisman contenders and should pick up where he left off in 2015 after a standout debut in Norman. The depth in the league extends to Baylor with the return of Seth Russell from a season-ending neck injury, and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph is poised for a career year in 2016.
With fall practice starting for all 128 teams, Athlon is updating its quarterback rankings from earlier this year. Here’s an updated look at how the projected starting quarterbacks in the Big 12 rank for 2016:
To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2016. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors - pure talent, supporting cast, 2016 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) - were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the Big 12 for 2016.
Big 12 QB Rankings for 2016
10. Ryan Willis, Kansas
A case could be made for Willis to be a spot or two higher on this list. In 10 appearances as a true freshman in 2015, Willis threw for 1,719 yards and nine scores. Willis didn’t have much help from his supporting cast and was often playing from behind for a Kansas team that finished 0-12. While Willis showed promise last fall, he spent the spring recovering from a wrist injury, which allowed backup Montell Cozart to make a push for the starting job. Is there actually a battle between Cozart and Willis for the starting job? Or was Cozart’s appearance at Big 12 Media Days more of an indication he will play some role in the offense this fall? If Willis is the starter, move him up a spot on this list.
9. Jesse Ertz, Kansas State
Injuries took a toll on Kansas State’s quarterback depth chart last year. Three players received a start under center, with Ertz suffering a season-ending knee injury in the first drive of the opener against South Dakota. Ertz accumulated just one rush attempt for five yards in game action last year. He’s expected to return to full strength in 2016 and should hold off Joe Hubener and Alex Delton for the starting job. Ertz earned Iowa Gatorade Player of the Year honors in 2012 and threw for 7,317 yards in his high school career.
8. Joel Lanning, Iowa State
New coach Matt Campbell was a standout hire for Iowa State, and his background on offense should help the Cyclones take a step forward on that side of the ball in 2016. Lanning showed promise in a late-season stint as the starter, throwing for 1,246 yards and 10 scores and running for 330 yards and four touchdowns. With two talented skill players (RB Mike Warren and WR Allen Lazard) at his disposal, Lanning could move up this list by a spot or two during the 2016 season.
Podcast: The 2016 Big 12 Preview
Related: Big 12 Football 2016 Predictions
7. Shane Buechele, Texas
After averaging only 25.3 points in Big 12 games last season, Texas coach Charlie Strong hit the reset button on offense. Former Baylor assistant Sterlin Gilbert was hired from Tulsa to coordinate the Longhorn attack, and all signs suggest the new play-caller will hand the controls of the offense to Buechele. The Arlington native ranked as a four-star prospect in the 2016 signing class and enrolled in time to compete in spring ball. Buechele completed 22 of 41 passes for 299 yards and two scores in the final spring scrimmage.
6. Skyler Howard, West Virginia
Howard capped his first season as West Virginia’s starter with a huge performance (532 yards and five touchdowns) in the Cactus Bowl victory over Arizona State. Will Howard pick up where he left off? In 13 games last fall, Howard threw for 3,145 yards and 26 scores and rushed for 502 yards and six touchdowns. Those are solid totals, but Howard needs to perform better in conference action (50.4%, 12 TDs, 11 INTs in Big 12 games in 2015).
5. Kenny Hill, TCU
Whether it’s Hill or Foster Sawyer that wins the starting quarterback job in Fort Worth, TCU’s offense may not slip too far on the stat sheet. Coordinator Doug Meacham has transformed this attack into one of the Big 12’s best, and the Horned Frogs are loaded with promising skill players. Hill threw for 2,649 yards and 23 scores as Texas A&M’s starter in eight games in 2014. He transferred to TCU after losing his starting job to Kyle Allen and left spring locked into a tight battle with Sawyer for the No. 1 spot.
4. Seth Russell, Baylor
Russell’s 2015 season was cut short by a neck injury in late October. But prior to the injury, Russell was one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, throwing for 2,104 yards and 29 scores in seven appearances. Russell is back to full strength and will participate in fall practice. His return is a huge boost for coordinator Kendal Briles and new coach Jim Grobe.
Podcast: Previewing The Playoff Top 4
3. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
Considering the uncertainty surrounding Baylor’s offense after the firing of coach Art Briles, let's give Rudolph a slight edge over Baylor's Seth Russell for the No. 3 spot. Rudolph struggled with a foot injury late in the 2015 campaign but still threw for 3,770 yards and 21 scores last season. With J.W. Walsh out of eligibility, Rudolph is poised for his best all-around year in Stillwater.
2. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech
Mahomes guided Texas Tech’s high-powered offense to an average of 45.1 points a game in 2015. In 13 games, Mahomes passed for 4,653 yards and 36 scores and rushed for 456 yards and 10 touchdowns. But here’s the scary thought for defensive coordinators in the Big 12: 2015 was just his first year as the full-time starter. Mahomes should be even more dangerous (and productive) for coach Kliff Kingsbury in 2016.
1. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
The combination of Mayfield and coordinator Lincoln Riley helped to spark Oklahoma’s offense last season, guiding the Sooners to the Big 12 title and a berth in the College Football Playoff. Mayfield earned Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year honors after throwing for 3,700 yards and 36 scores and running for 405 yards and seven touchdowns in 2015. Mayfield is the catalyst for the dynamic Sooner offense and is one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy in 2016.