Every college football team has players most would consider underrated. However, defining underrated players is no easy assignment, as that term varies in meaning between fans and experts.
The Big 12 has two potential playoff teams in place for 2015, as Baylor and TCU should once again rank near the top of contenders for a spot in the four-team postseason. Both teams have starpower and All-American candidates, but underrated players could make a big difference in key games. Additionally, under-the-radar players at other programs in the Big 12 are critical to improvement for a specific unit or the development of the team for the upcoming year.
Related: Big 12 2015 Predictions
With the 2015 season approaching, Athlon Sports wanted to take a look at some players deserving of more preseason accolades or discussion. In an effort to get to 10 names, we tried to stick to players that had yet to earn all-conference honors in their career. However, a few exceptions were made.
Big 12's 10 Most Underrated Players for 2015
Beau Blackshear, DT, Baylor
Blackshear won’t get the preseason accolades of fellow linemen Shawn Oakman and Andrew Billings, but the senior should push for All-Big 12 honors in 2015. Blackshear enters 2015 with 38 career appearances and started all 13 games for the Bears last season. In 2014, Blackshear recorded 44 tackles and 4.5 sacks. With Oakman, Billings and Blackshear leading the way, Baylor’s defensive line will be among the best in the nation in 2015.
Travis Britz, DT, Kansas State
Britz has earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors in each of the last two seasons and is due for his most productive year in Manhattan in 2015. The Missouri native played in 10 games in 2014 and recorded 27 stops (five for a loss), three sacks and two pass breakups. Britz started all 13 games for the Wildcats in 2013 and played in 11 contests as a true freshman in 2012. Interior linemen aren’t going to post monster statistics, which often pushes players like Britz out of the spotlight. The 293-pound senior is a key piece in Kansas State’s defense this year.
Related: Big 12 All-Conference Team for 2015
Daniel Burton, OG, Iowa State
Iowa State’s line allowed 30 sacks last year, but with three starters back, expect that total to decline in 2015. Burton started all 12 games for the Cyclones last season and started the first eight contests of 2013. An injury ended Burton’s 2013 campaign after the eighth game, but the Oklahoma native has been a mainstay on Iowa State’s offensive line the last two years. Burton should push for All-Big 12 honors this season.
Ty Darlington, C, Oklahoma
The Sooners have four new starters slated to step into the lineup up front this year. Darlington is the lone returning starter on the offensive line for new coordinator Lincoln Riley, and it’s critical for the senior to anchor a unit in transition with a change in scheme coming to Norman. Darlington started all 13 games last season and played in three games in 2013. Although the Florida native still has to be more consistent as a player, all of the necessary skills are in place for the senior to finish 2015 as one of the Big 12’s best centers.
Ben Goodman, DE, Kansas
It’s hard to pinpoint an underrated player for a team that returns just five starters for 2015. However, Goodman has been a steady performer for the Jayhawks over the last three years and enters 2015 with 24 consecutive starts. The Texas native recorded 21 tackles (two for a loss) and one sack last season. With a new coaching staff and a ton of roster turnover, Goodman will be one of the few senior leaders for David Beaty in 2015.
Kolby Listenbee, WR, TCU
Josh Doctson headlined TCU’s receiving corps last season, catching 65 passes for 1,108 yards and 11 scores. While Doctson led the way for the Horned Frogs in the three main statistical categories for receivers, Listenbee averaged a healthy 18.4 yards per reception. The 18.4 average on catches ranked fourth among Big 12 receivers, and Listenbee tied for second in the conference by recording seven receptions of 40 yards or more. With another year to develop in TCU’s offense, look for Listenbee to be an even bigger piece of the attack for quarterback Trevone Boykin.
Related: Big 12 2015 Predictions
Kevin Peterson, CB, Oklahoma State
With 14 returning starters, Oklahoma State should be one of the Big 12’s most improved teams this season. The Cowboys will show marked improvement on defense after giving up 31.2 points per game in 2014, as each level on that side of the ball has the returning talent to rank near the top of the league. Peterson is coming off his best statistical season in Stillwater, as he recorded 59 stops, two interceptions and 11 pass breakups in 2014. The Oklahoma native should be among the Big 12’s top cornerbacks in 2015.
Hassan Ridgeway, DT, Texas
Even with Malcom Brown leaving early for the NFL Draft, Texas is still in good shape up front. Desmond Jackson is back from injury at tackle, and the Longhorns have a good collection of depth and talent in place. Coach Charlie Strong and coordinator Vance Bedford will use a rotation of players to keep everyone fresh, but Ridgeway could be the unit’s top all-conference candidate. Ridgeway started 10 games in 2014 and recorded 43 tackles (11 for a loss) and six sacks.
Wendell Smallwood, RB, West Virginia
Rushel Shell is West Virginia’s No. 1 back, but the Pittsburgh transfer isn’t the only option in the backfield for coach Dana Holgorsen. Smallwood finished 2014 with 722 rushing yards and two scores and caught 31 passes for 326 yards. With West Virginia losing top receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford, reinforcements are needed at receiver. Don’t be surprised if Smallwood fills the role as an all-purpose threat in 2015.
Justin Stockton, RB, Texas Tech
Texas Tech’s passing game usually grabs all of the attention in Lubbock. But don’t overlook the rushing attack from coach Kliff Kingsbury’s team in 2015. Running back DeAndre Washington rushed for 1,103 yards last season, and Stockton provided another big-play element by averaging 8.3 yards per attempt on 48 carries. Stockton is a big play waiting to happen and should see more than the 60 offensive touches he accumulated in 2014.