The Big 12, as is widely known, has to fight for respect in the world of the Power Five conferences. Yet, the conference had a solid outing during bowl season which saved what’s left of its reputation. The Oklahoma Sooners beat the Auburn Tigers in the Sugar Bowl and the Oklahoma State Cowboys dominated the Colorado Buffaloes in the Alamo Bowl. The Sooners and Cowboys look like the favorites to win the Big 12 once again in 2017. With the Texas Longhorns generating hype behind new head coach Tom Herman they could be a threat as well. West Virginia, TCU, and Kansas State have talent returning also. Star power could be a big factor for the Big 12 in 2017. Now let’s take a look at the five best players returning to the Big 12 in 2017.
Best Returning Big 12 Players in 2017
1. Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Oklahoma
OU brings back not only the best player in the Big 12 but one of the best quarterbacks in the entire country with Mayfield. However, Mayfield loses his best weapon in wide receiver Dede Westbrook. He threw for 3,965 yards and 40 touchdowns with only eight interceptions. Mayfield posted career-highs in touchdowns, passing yards, quarterback rating, and yards per attempt.
The Sooners need to find a replacement for Westbrook but they still have the centerpiece of their offense returning. Mayfield automatically makes the Sooners a threat to not only win the Big 12 but also get a spot in the College Football Playoff.
2. James Washington, wide receiver, Oklahoma State
OK State returns one of the best wide receiver-quarterback combinations in all of college football. Washington could very well be the best deep threat among all receivers in the nation in 2017. He had his best individual season with the Pokes last season where he caught 71 passes for 1,408 yards and ten touchdowns.
Washington is not the only good receiver returning for the Pokes. Marcell Ateman, Jalen McCleskey, and Chris Lacy, all return to OK State for 2017. Meanwhile, Washington has the chance to be the best receiver in the Big 12 next season.
3. Mason Rudolph, quarterback, Oklahoma State
The other part of the wide-receiver-quarterback combination returning for OK State is quarterback Mason Rudolph. He posted his first season passing for more than 4,000 yards. Rudolph was also incredibly efficient throwing 28 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. Furthermore, Rudolph and Washington could be the best combination on offense for the Pokes since Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon.
Rudolph has an arsenal of weapons returning at receiver and running back with rising sophomore Justice Hill, who was the first thousand yard rusher for the Pokes since Joseph Randle in 2012.
4. Malik Jefferson, linebacker, Texas
The Horns return possibly the most talented defensive player in the Big 12. However, the Big 12 does not have too much of an emphasis on anything but high-powered offenses. Jefferson posted 6.5 sacks and 9.0 tackles for loss, both career-highs. He is the leader of the UT defense which needs a bounce-back season after a rough outing in 2016. Jefferson’s progression flew under the radar because of the constant headlines regarding the job status of former head coach Charlie Strong and the fact that the Horns did not finish the season bowl eligible. Watch out for him in flying all over the field in Austin in 2017.
5. KaVontae Turpin, wide receiver, TCU
Finding the fifth best player returning in the Big 12 is no easy task. Yet, Turpin is the best weapon the Horned Frogs have. He missed five games during the 2016 season and was held in check for most of the eight games he played in. After catching eight touchdown passes during his first year with TCU, Turpin only caught one last season. However, Turpin seems primed for a big year in 2017 as the entire TCU team looks to rebound from a disappointing season.