The Big 12 Conference has been a league full of headline signal callers over the last few years. That should be true once again in 2005. Of the league's elite quarterbacks from a season ago, only Oklahoma's Jason White and Texas Tech's Sonny Cumbie will not return to lead their teams.
The league is led by a trio of dual-threat quarterbacks who may hurt defenses more with their legs than their arms. While Texas junior Vince Young is probably the most high-profile of that threesome, and an undeniable Heisman candidate, he was not named the conference's top QB by publishers in the Rivals.com Big 12 Network.
That honor went to Texas A&M Aggie Reggie McNeal. Based off of 2004 statistics, it's tough to argue with the choice. McNeal was third in the league, averaging 232 yards passing per game. He was also the conference's 12th leading rusher, gaining 718 yards on the ground. At 292 yards per contest, McNeal ranked only behind the pass-happy Cumbie in total offense.
In somewhat of a surprise, Young lands at number two on our list. For the first time, Young is without a doubt the leading man in Austin. Two-quarterback systems are a thing of the past, at least for now, and Cedric Benson and his automatic 1,000 yards are gone from the backfield. Young was fourth in the league, averaging 244 yards per game of total offense a season ago. However, just 154 of those came through the air each game, a total that put him eighth on the list of the league's leading passers. Young did account for 26 touchdowns (12 passing, 14 rushing), tops among the league's returning quarterbacks.
For the first time in three years, Missouri senior Brad Smith enters the season as something other than the Big 12's most highly regarded quarterback. Although Smith was third in the league in total offense last season (248.9 yards per game), the general consensus was that he had an off year. While he did throw for nearly 2,200 yards, Smith's rushing total fell from more than 1,400 to 553. He also threw two more interceptions as a junior than he had thrown as a freshman and sophomore combined. If he rebounds to his freshman and sophomore form, Smith has a chance to top this list at the end of the year. However, in our pre-season poll, the league's publishers voted him a distant third to McNeal and Young.
Behind Smith, Colorado's Joel Klatt is the league's most experienced signal caller. Klatt was fifth in passing and eighth in total offense in the Big 12 a season ago. However, in 13 games, he was intercepted 15 times and threw just 11 touchdown passes. But he did manage to lead the Buffs to a North division title, a feat they could well be favored to repeat this season.
Rounding out our list is the most green of the five. Iowa State's Bret Meyer didn't even start for the Cyclones until midway through last season. In significantly fewer snaps than Smith and McNeal (434), Meyer managed to throw for 1,926 yards and run for another 331 as a freshman. He led a Cyclone revival that put the program back in a bowl game and would have won the North division were it not for a short missed field goal in the season's final regular season game against Missouri.
We accepted nominations from all Big 12 schools for our listing of the top five players at each position. Eight schools returned their ballots to vote for our final selections. Five points were awarded for a first place vote and one for a fifth place vote. Below are the results from our quarterback poll.
The Final Vote 1.Reggie McNeal-35 points 2.Vince Young-34 points 3.Brad Smith-24 points 4.Joel Klatt-11 points 5.Bret Meyer-7 points
Over the next two weeks, the Rivals.com Big 12 Network will rank the top five players at running back, wide receiver, tight end, defensive end, defensive tackle, linebacker, cornerback and safety. We will also rank the top ten offensive linemen in the league.