Tavon Austin should be one of the Big 12's top receivers in 2012.
Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is still two months away, but it's never too early to project how the year might play out. Athlon will be taking a look at how each position stacks up in the BCS conferences and nationally until the start of the season.
Each unit ranking was evaluated based upon how it will perform in 2012 - not how the team played in 2011.
Ranking the Big 12's Receiving Corps for 2012
1. West Virginia – With Robert Woods and Marqise Lee returning, USC should own the top receiver duo in college football, but West Virginia can’t be too far behind. The Mountaineers bring back senior Tavon Austin and junior Stedman Bailey, and both players are coming off 1,000-yard seasons. Austin is one of college football’s top all-purpose threats, as he caught 101 passes last year, while rushing for 182 yards and averaging 14.1 yards per punt return and 26.1 on kickoffs. Bailey led the team by averaging 17.8 yards per catch and recorded 1,279 yards on 72 receptions. This group could be even better in 2012 if junior Ivan McCartney improves upon his 49 catches from last year. The final starting spot in the receiving corps could go to senior J.D. Woods, who caught seven passes in nine contests in 2011. Freshmen Deontay McManus, Travares Copeland, Jordan Thompson and Dante Campbell all could figure into the rotation this season.
2. Baylor – Quarterback Robert Griffin and receiver Kendall Wright are gone, but the Bears should push for 275-300 passing yards a game once again. With senior Nick Florence taking over under center, Baylor won’t be rebuilding from scratch on offense. There’s no shortage of capable targets for Florence, starting with Terrance Williams. He averaged 16.2 yards per catch on 59 receptions last year and recorded 11 touchdowns. The senior should contend for first-team All-Big 12 honors in 2012. Senior Lanear Sampson and junior Tevin Reese finished spring practice locked into starting spots, with Reese the team’s top big-play threat after averaging 17.2 yards per catch last year. Sophomore Levi Norwood will likely start at the second inside receiver spot, while Jay Lee, Antwan Goodley and Clay Fuller will provide depth. Tight end Jordan Najvar caught 15 passes last season and will return as the starter in 2012.
The depth isn’t Sooner-esque after Ryan Broyles graduated and Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks were removed from the roster. But the starting talent is all Boomer Sooner. Kenny Stills is an All-American candidate and should be in for a huge year as a junior. Consistency is really the only missing piece to his game. Newcomer Trey Metoyer was an elite signee in the 2011 class but needed a year at prep school. All signs point to immediate contribution from Metoyer in 2012. Junior college transfer Courtney Gardner is also cut from the same big, physical mold as Metoyer and will help with depth right away. A stellar true freshman class, featuring top 100 names Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal, will be a welcome sight come fall camp. Derrick Woods should also contribute as well. This is a very talented group with loads of upside but has very little experience and proven depth.
This Horned Frogs group is as deep as any collection in the league and is one of the positions of strengths on the roster. Josh Boyce could be a superstar after 61 catches, nine of which were touchdowns, and coming just two yards shy of 1,000. Skye Dawson and Brandon Carter are outstanding No. 2 and 3 options for Casey Pachall after combining for 68 catches, 852 yards and eight scores last fall. The coaching staff is excited about redshirt elite talent, try 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, LaDarius Brown joining the ranks as well. Each of the four names can offer something unique to the offense and they mesh perfectly together. Corey Fuller and Stephen Bryant will get the reps at tight end.
5. Texas Tech – Darrin Moore was one of college football’s leading receivers through the first two weeks of 2011, catching 21 passes for 339 yards and four touchdowns. However, a leg injury against Nevada limited his effectiveness and he missed the next three games before returning for the Oct. 22 upset win over Oklahoma. Although Moore returned to the lineup, he was never the same until the last two weeks of the season. With the senior back at full strength, and Eric Ward returning after a standout sophomore campaign, the Red Raiders should have no shortage of targets for quarterback Seth Doege. Senior Alex Torres suffered a torn ACL late in the year, but is expected to return in time for opener. Jakeem Grant, Bradley Marquez, Javares McRoy and Aaron Fisher will provide depth, while tight end Jace Amaro is back after catching seven balls last season. This is a solid group, but with the depth at receiver in the Big 12 this year, it’s hard to rank Texas Tech any higher.
This was an alarming stat: Texas went without a 50-catch receiver for the first time since 2006 last fall. Considering the elite level recruiting Mack Brown has done at the position, this is completely unacceptable. Certainly, quarterback play needs to improve but Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis need to continue to develop into the stars most expected they would be coming out of high school. They combined for four total touchdowns last fall and should at least double that in 2012. Marquise Goodwin, John Harris and DeSean Hales also will vie for heavy reps while another talented collection of freshman, led by uber-recruit Cayleb Jones, try to make a name for themselves. D.J. Grant looks like the starting tight end but M.J. McFarland could be a rising star. Like always, there is loads of depth and talent, but Brown and Bryan Harsin need play-makers to step up.
7. Oklahoma State – Not only are the Cowboys losing quarterback Brandon Weeden, but they also have to replace standout receiver Justin Blackmon and No. 2 option Josh Cooper. The good news for coach Mike Gundy is the cupboard isn’t completely bare. Tracy Moore caught 45 passes for 672 yards and four touchdowns last season and was shifted to outside receiver in the spring, which should allow him to be a bigger factor in the offense. Senior Isaiah Anderson is back after catching 28 passes for 315 yards and four touchdowns last year, but the breakout candidate to watch will be Josh Stewart. He grabbed 19 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman last season and will team with junior college recruit Blake Jackson to man the inside receiver spots. Charlie Moore has been quiet in his career (6 receptions) but had a huge performance in the spring game and should factor more into the offense.
8. Kansas State
Chris Harper, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound senior, is as physically talented wideout as any in the Big 12 conference and should be poised for his best season in (Eugene) or Manhattan. He will be the top target for KSU this fall. Tramaine Thompson offers a different skillset and will utilize elite speed and agility to produce big plays. Freshman All-American Tyler Lockett was lost for the season in November but proved his all-purpose skill will be on display for three more seasons. These three are talented but there are few proven options behind them as names like Curry Sexton and Torell Miller try to carve out a role in the offense. Travis Tannahill is a dependable option at tight end.
9. Iowa State
Despite losing leading wideout Darius Reynolds, Iowa State’s cupboard isn’t bare. Transfer Aaron Horne was the Big 12’s Offensive Newcomer of the year after 38 catches for 431 yards. Josh Lenz, and to a lesser extent Jerome Tiller and Albert Gary, provide veteran presence and leadership. Second-year players Tad Ecby, Jarvis West, Quenton Bundrage and Ja’Qaurius Daniels are all going to fight for playing time as well.
10. Kansas – Charlie Weis’ offensive acumen will be put to the test this year. Getting Dayne Crist as a transfer from Notre Dame is a positive, but the Jayhawks lack a No. 1 receiver. Weis was hoping Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay would gain immediate eligibility, but the NCAA ruled he has to sit out 2012. Daymond Patterson missed nearly all of last year with an injury and his return will help bolster the receiving corps. Seniors D.J. Beshears and Kale Pick are expected to start, while juniors Chris Omigie and Christian Matthews and sophomore JaCorey Shepherd will contribute in the rotation. The Jayhawks will miss tight end Tim Biere, but Notre Dame transfer Mike Ragone and junior college recruit Charles Brooks will give Crist two experienced options.
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Athlon's 2012 Big 12 Predictions
Athlon's 2012 All-Big 12 Team
Big 12 Heisman Contenders for 2012
College Football Realignment Winners and Losers
The History of Big 12 Realignment
Introducing West Virginia to the Big 12
TCU Comes Home to the Big 12