This past season, the Big 12 was unfortunately exiled from college football’s first ever playoff festivities, when co-conference champions Baylor and TCU came up just short of making the four-team field. The Horned Frogs and the Bears were the bright spots of what was an otherwise sub par 2014 campaign for the conference as a whole.
After finishing the season with just three teams ranked in the final AP Top 25, the league will be looking to re-establish itself on the national scene with a bounce back season in 2015.
The conference is welcoming back plenty of premier stars such as TCU QB Trevone Boykin, Oklahoma RB Samaje Perine, Baylor RB Shock Linwood, Oklahoma State DE Emmanuel Ogbah, Baylor DE Shawn Oakman and West Virginia S Karl Joseph. But the Big 12 is also loaded with plenty of emerging players who are primed and ready to have breakout seasons.
Here’s a look at five players who are ready to become stars in 2015.
Seth Russell, QB, Baylor
During Art Briles’ tenure at Baylor, the Bears have averaged over 3,800 passing yards per season.
It won’t be easy for the team to match that output in 2015 following the loss of starting QB Bryce Petty. However, Petty’s successor: Seth Russell, appears ready for the challenge of leading the high-powered attack.
Like Petty, the former 3-star prospect from Garland, Texas was not a heralded high school recruit. Still, the 6’3’’, 215-pound junior has displayed intriguing potential during limited relief opportunities.
This past season, Russell threw for over 800 yards on just 85 total passes (9.5 yards per attempt), averaged 5.7 yards on 32 carries and accounted for 11 total touchdowns.
Luckily, the new starting signal-caller will be surrounded by one of the best supporting casts in college football, which includes All-Conference performers such as RB Shock Linwood, WR Corey Coleman and OT Spencer Drango, and emerging star WR KD Cannon.
Russell, who recently had a very impressive showing in a spring scrimmage, should be able to pick up the intricacies of the offense rather quickly, which means Baylor should once again have one of the most dangerous passing attacks in the country. Even with a new quarterback leading the way, the Bears should be right back in the hunt for both a Big 12 title and a national championship in 2015.
Kamari Cotton-Moya, S, Iowa State
Following a disastrous two-win season this past fall, there certainly isn’t much excitement surrounding the Iowa State football program right now.
Last year, inconsistent and underwhelming performances plagued the Cyclones at nearly every position. The most consistent and dependable player actually turned out to be freshman safety Kamari Cotton-Moya.
After being forced to take a redshirt in 2013 due to an Achilles injury, Cotton-Moya emerged as an impact player in his first year as a starter. He led the team with 77 total tackles, including 55 solo stops, and won the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year award.
The 6’1’’, 194-pound free safety will play a key role in helping Iowa State’s struggling defense—a unit which ranked last in the league in total defense last season—attempt to make an improvement in 2015.
Ranthony Texada, CB, TCU
Ranthony Texada arrived at TCU back in 2013 as a skinny, underdeveloped 160-pound freshman who needed to add some much-needed bulk to his frame. A redshirt season not only gave Texada the chance to get stronger, it also afforded the young corner the opportunity to sit back and watch and learn from standout defensive backs such as Jason Verrett, Chris Hackett, Kevin White and Sam Carter.
That one year of sitting out prepared the young corner to handle a starting role in his first campaign, filling the sizable hole left by Verrett’s departure.
In his debut season, Texada proved he could handle the pressure, as he started all 13 of TCU’s games. He finished the season with 31 tackles, seven pass breakups and an interception. It was a performance that earned him a spot on Scout.com’s Freshman All-American team.
Now that key veteran starters such as Hackett, White and Carter have all left Fort Worth, Texada will be counted on to be the leader of TCU’s inexperienced secondary in 2015.
Though he may only be entering his second year as a starter, the former 3-star recruit from Frisco, Texas still looks like he’s ready to step into the spotlight and become the Horned Frogs’ next standout defensive back.
Brandon Sheperd, WR, Oklahoma State
In recent years, Oklahoma State has had its fair share of star wide receivers such as Dez Bryant, Justin Blackmon and Josh Stewart. Now it looks like Brandon Sheperd could potentially be the Cowboys’ next great pass-catcher.
Sheperd only caught 39 passes in 2014, but when he did have the ball in his hands, he was usually creating an explosive play. The speedy 6’1’’, 195-pound senior averaged 18.9 yards per catch, which was the third highest average in the Big 12, and 27 of his catches went for 10 yards or more.
Inconsistencies at the quarterback position bogged down the Oklahoma State offense in 2014. If the Cowboys can get those fixed, their explosive receiver will have the chance to really shine this fall.
Bryant, Blackmon and Stewart set the bar extremely high for Oklahoma State receivers. But Sheperd looks like he has the skills it takes to follow in their footsteps and become the next star wide out in Stillwater.
Charles Tapper, DE, Oklahoma
This offseason, Oklahoma will have to replace both DT Jordan Phillips and DE Chuka Ndulue, who were each second-team All-Big 12 performers in 2014. Their departures rally hurt the defensive front.
Fortunately, DE Charles Tapper should be able to step up and handle the role of being the line’s veteran leader in 2015.
After showing flashes of dominance in 2013, Tapper regressed this past season totaling just three sacks and 13 solo tackles.
Now that he’s entering his final season, it’s now or never for the 6’4’’, 281-pound senior.
As the talented elder statesman of the Oklahoma defensive line, Tapper will be counted on to finally play up to his potential and become the true terror in the trenches that he’s capable of being.