Ranking the Big 12's Quarterbacks for 2016

Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes is poised for another huge season.

The Big 12 is home to some of the nation’s top quarterbacks in 2016. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, Baylor’s Seth Russell and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph headline a top-heavy group of signal-callers in the conference, with West Virginia’s Skyler Howard and TCU’s Kenny Hill in the next tier. This group of quarterbacks could get deeper if Texas freshman Shane Buechele continues to develop after a strong performance in the spring game. 

 

How do the new starters in the Big 12 project with Heisman Trophy candidate Baker Mayfield and Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes? Athlon has ranked all 10 starters 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.

 

Ranking the Big 12's Quarterbacks for 2016

 

1. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

2016 Year of Eligibility: Senior

 

The combination of Mayfield and new coordinator Lincoln Riley provided a much-needed spark for Oklahoma’s offense last season. The Sooners averaged 43.5 points a game in 2015, which was their highest mark since 2008 (51.1 ppg). Additionally, Oklahoma led all Big 12 teams in scoring for conference-only matchups (47.2 ppg) last year. Mayfield threw for 3,700 yards and 36 scores but also showcased his ability to improvise and create plays with his legs by recording 405 yards and seven touchdowns on 141 rushing attempts. Mayfield won’t have standout receiver Sterling Shepard at his disposal this fall, but Oklahoma’s offense is still one of the best in the nation, and the senior quarterback returns to Norman as one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman.

 

Related: Ranking College Football's Top 25 Toughest Schedules for 2016

 

2. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech

2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior

 

The Big 12 got an early glimpse of Mahomes’ talent in a late-season stint as Texas Tech’s starter at the end of 2014. Mahomes tossed 14 scores over the final three games that year and torched Baylor for 598 passing yards in the season finale. Mahomes carried that momentum into 2015 and delivered a monster statistical year for coach Kliff Kingsbury. Mahomes led all Big 12 quarterbacks by throwing for 4,653 yards and tied for first in the league with 36 touchdown tosses. He also rushed for 456 yards and 10 scores on 131 attempts. Texas Tech has to fill a couple of key voids on the offensive line, while running back DeAndre Washington and receiver Jakeem Grant have expired their eligibility. However, that shouldn’t slow Mahomes this fall, as the junior should be one of the nation’s top 10 quarterbacks for 2016.

 

3. Seth Russell, Baylor

2016 Year of Eligibility: Senior

 

Russell was on pace for a monster statistical year in his first season as Baylor’s starting quarterback, but a neck injury against Iowa State in late October sidelined the Texas native for the rest of 2015. Through seven games, Russell threw for 2,104 yards and 29 scores and tossed only six picks on 200 attempts. He was limited in spring practice but is expected to be fully cleared for contact by fall drills. If Russell returns back to full strength as expected, he should push Patrick Mahomes for the No. 2 spot on this list. And if Russell has any setbacks, Baylor’s quarterback position is in good hands with sophomore Jarrett Stidham. 

 

Related: College Football's Top 30 Running Backs on the Rise for 2016

 

4. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State

2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior

 

Putting Rudolph at No. 4 among Big 12 quarterbacks for 2016 shows just how deep this conference is at the top in terms of talent under center. In his first full season as Oklahoma State’s starter in 2015, Rudolph threw for 3,770 yards and 21 scores and completed 62.3 percent of his passes. Additionally, Rudolph ranked second among Big 12 quarterbacks with 16 passing plays of 40 yards or more. A late-season foot injury slowed Rudolph in Oklahoma State’s final two games, but the junior is expected to return to 100 percent for 2016. Rudolph should challenge for a spot among the nation’s top 10 quarterbacks this season.

 

5. Kenny Hill, TCU

2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior

 

Trevone Boykin leaves big shoes to fill in Fort Worth for the Horned Frogs. Co-coordinator Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie should keep TCU’s offense performing at a high level, but matching last year’s 11 wins will be tough unless Kenny Hill or Foster Sawyer provides stability under center. Hill is the favorite to start after sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules. In two seasons at Texas A&M, Hill threw for 2,832 yards and 24 scores and showcased his dual-threat capability by adding 193 rushing yards on 59 attempts. Hill is a good fit for TCU’s offense and has a deep group of skill players at his disposal. However, Hill has to prove his second-half struggles with the Aggies in 2014 are a thing of the past, as well as hold off Sawyer for the No. 1 spot in the fall.

 

Related: Ranking the Big 12's Coordinator Tandems for 2016

 

6. Skyler Howard, West Virginia

2016 Year of Eligibility: Senior

 

In his first full season as West Virginia’s starter, Howard had his share of ups and downs directing Dana Holgorsen’s high-powered attack. In 13 appearances, Howard threw for 3,145 yards and 26 touchdowns and added 502 yards and six scores on the ground. However, Howard only completed 54.8 percent of his passes and tossed 14 interceptions. Those numbers need to improve for Howard to climb on this list in 2016. The senior does have momentum on his side this fall, as he closed out the 2015 season by torching Arizona State for 532 yards and five scores. Is Howard poised to take the next step in 2016?

 

7. Shane Buechele, Texas

2016 Year of Eligibility: Freshman

 

The quarterback battle in Austin between Buechele and Tyrone Swoopes is expected to continue into the fall. However, while spring game performances aren’t necessarily the best indicator of where any quarterback competition stands, it will be tough to keep Buechele on the sidelines after his performance on April 16. In Texas’ spring game, Buechele threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns on 22 completions. It’s a small sample size, but Buechele looks ready to be the No. 1 quarterback.

 

8. Joel Lanning, Iowa State

2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior

 

New coach Matt Campbell has a good foundation in place on offense, as the Cyclones return two All-Big 12 candidates in running back Mike Warren and receiver Allen Lazard, while quarterback Joel Lanning returns after starting the final five games of 2015. Under Lanning’s direction, Iowa State recorded back-to-back 30-point performances against Oklahoma State and Kansas State, while defeating Texas 24-0 on Oct. 31. Lanning finished the season with 1,246 passing yards and 10 scores and added 330 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Campbell has a strong track record of success on offense at Toledo and should help Lanning’s development in 2016.

 

Related: Grading College Football's New Coach Hires for 2016

 

9. Jesse Ertz, Kansas State

2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior

 

Ertz was the victim of bad luck last year, as his 2015 season ended on Kansas State’s first offensive play from scrimmage against South Dakota. On a five-yard run, Ertz suffered a torn ACL and was sidelined the rest of the season. Joe Hubener and Kody Cook filled in admirably at quarterback in Ertz’s absence, but the Wildcats finished seventh in the Big 12 in scoring. Ertz is the frontrunner to start in 2016, with Hubener, redshirt freshman Alex Delton and true freshman Skylar Thompson also in the mix for snaps.

 

10. Ryan Willis, Kansas

2016 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

 

Willis was tossed into the fire as a true freshman last season and showed promise for coach David Beaty. In 10 games, Willis threw for 1,719 yards and nine scores. His best performance of the season came against Texas Tech, as Willis nearly led the Jayhawks to an upset win by completing 35 of 50 passes for 330 yards and two scores. With a full offseason to work under Beaty and coordinator Rob Likens, as well as the addition of transfer receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez, Willis should show improvement in his second year as the starter. 

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