The last Heisman Trophy recipient from the Big 12 came in 2011. Robert Griffin III burst onto the scene to quarterback Baylor’s once-putrid program to a level of respectability. A couple more Bears will look to fill RG3’s socks this year at the ceremony for college football’s most prestigious individual award.
Yet, Seth Russell and KD Cannon will start the season a little lower on the Heisman totem pole than, say, Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield. Patrick Mahomes is another intriguing contender, given that a breakout season for Texas Tech would likely require a splendid season by the Red Raider. Then there are the running backs, a group that includes the Sooners’ battering ram, Samaje Perine.
With about a month to go before the season starts, here are the Big 12’s top 10 Heisman candidates before anyone has played a down.
1. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Heading into the season, Mayfield is unquestionably the Big 12's best Heisman bet. He plays for an elite program. As a two-time walk-on, he has a great story to sell. He'll put up gaudy statistics in Oklahoma's high-octane offense. Maybe most importantly, he has a magnetic personality that comes off as equal parts fun-loving drinking buddy and cocky gunslinger.
If the Sooners are in the College Football Playoff again at the end of the year, Mayfield will almost find an invitation to the Heisman presentation in his mailbox.
2. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
Mayfield may be the best biggest star in the Big 12, but there's a solid case to be made for Mahomes as the conference's best quarterback. Texas Tech's field general has a cannon for a right arm and dual-threat mobility. After sitting out baseball in the spring to concentrate on the gridiron, he'll deploy both even more effectively in the fall.
3. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
Rudolph leads a veteran OSU team that seems to be flying way under the radar this offseason. He throws a great deep ball, which should make for some nifty highlight packages to send out to Heisman voters late in the season. If the Cowboys could run the ball more effectively, it might actually help Rudolph’s cause.
4. Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma
The NCAA record holder for most rushing yards in a game should play an even bigger role in OU's offense this year than in 2015, when he rushed for 1,349 yards on 226 carries. He also happens to combine with Joe Mixon to form the best tandem of backs in the country, which actually could hurt his Heisman hopes.
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5. Seth Russell, QB, Baylor
Russell saw his superb start to the 2015 season cut short by injury. Interim head coach Jim Grobe says he intends to keep Art Briles' offense in place this year, so Russell will have his fair share of chances to rack up eye-catching numbers again if he stays healthy. Key question: Even though Russell wasn't involved in the scandal now engulfing Baylor, would Heisman voters feel uncomfortable voting for one of the Bears?
6. Mike Warren, RB, Iowa State
Warren lacks the hype of most legitimate contenders. Opponents around the Big 12 know exactly who he is, however. His ultra-productive freshman campaign in which he rushed for more than 1,300 yards provided one of the few bright spots for the Cyclones a year ago.
7. Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
History tells us that the odds of a defensive player winning this award are somewhere between slim and none. Yet, as one of the best linebacker prospects to grace the Big 12 in years, Jefferson has some serious skills. His odds of winning would go from infinitesimal to not quite so infinitesimal if the Longhorn defense helps lead the way to a promising season for coach Charlie Strong.
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8. Rushel Shell, RB, West Virginia
Shell and Wendell Smallwood gave WVU an underrated one-two punch in the running game last season, combining for 2,200 yards on the ground. Smallwood left early for the NFL, so the Mountaineers will feed Shell the ball even more so than in the past. He will need to score more than eight touchdowns in 2016 if he wants to be within shouting distance of the Heisman conversation.
9. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
Someone has to catch all those pretty deep balls that Mason Rudolph throws. Washington grabs a lot of them. He averaged a staggering 20.5 yards per reception in 2015, so expect the junior deep threat to draw plenty of bracket coverage from opposing defenses this fall.
10. KD Cannon, WR, Baylor
Another long-shot candidate, Cannon faces the same concerns as Russell when it comes to the team that he plays for. The sophomore wideout also is coming off an offseason injury that will raise concerns about his effectiveness early in the year. Cannon has a fitting surname, though, because he is explosive with the ball in his hands.
— 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.