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The Year of the Big 12 Quarterbacks

When people think of great Big 12 quarterbacking in a single season, most go immediately to 2008. After all, that season featured two Heisman Trophy winners, two others who were in the running, and two more who generated conversations.

Three were first round NFL drafts, and eight of the 12 starters had quarterback ratings of 140 or better. And one other, Missouri backup Blaine Gabbert, would go on to become a first-round pick.

It was a magical year for the league because of the special play of Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford, Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, Texas’ Colt McCoy, Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell, Kansas’ Todd Reesing, Oklahoma State’s Zac Robinson, Kansas State’s Josh Freeman, Iowa State’s Austin Arnaud, Texas A&M’s Jerrod Johnson, Colorado’s Cody Hawkins, Missouri’s Chase Daniel and Nebraska’s Joe Ganza.

The conference, however, hasn’t had that kind of quarterback production since. Why? Part of the reason is because four universities have joined other conferences (Like him or hate him, Johnny Manziel made the Aggies great).

But it’s fair to say not every team has been able to continue to recruit the position at a high level.

And let’s face it – teams that are in the championship conversation have dynamic play from the sport’s most important position.

Could 2016 be the year each Big 12 defense has to prepare for outstanding quarterbacks every week? And better yet, who is the conference’s best quarterback?

That depends on which fan base you believe. Almost each one can make a legitimate case for why their quarterback is the best.

So let’s get the conversation rolling by starting with the preseason favorite to win the league’s offensive player of the year honors, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield.

After sitting out a year because of a transfer rule, Mayfield beat out Trevor Knight for the starting job last year. Knight was coming off an impressive performance in the Sugar Bowl win against Alabama. Mayfield ended the season by leading the Sooners to the College Football playoff and was a Heisman Trophy finalist.

Mayfield posted a completion percentage of 68.1 thanks to completing 269 of 395 passes for 3,700 yards, 36 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.

Bradford, who was a Heisman Trophy winner, had a 67.9  completion percentage for 4,720 yards, 50 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft

Texas Tech has little doubt Patrick Mahomes is poised for a breakout year. He finished 2015 with a completion percentage of 63.5 thanks to hitting 364 passes out of 573 attempts for 4,653 yards, 36 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Mahomes has a great pedigree – his dad is Pat Mahomes, who was a Major League Baseball pitcher for 11 years (keeping reading to learn about the other QB whose dad played in the MLB).

By contrast Harrell had a completion percentage of 70.6, threw for 5,111 yards, 45 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2008. And Harrell will always be remembered for finding Michael Crabtree for a touchdown on the last play of the 39-33 win against Texas in 2008.

In Stillwater, Oklahoma State believes they have the league’s best signal caller in Mason Rudolph. Rudolph battled J.W. Walsh for the starting job last season and has a case for why he should be considered. After all, he had a passing percentage of 62.3 after completing 264 of 424 passes for 3,770 yards, 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Zac Robinson was the man in 2008 with a percentage of 65.0. He completed 204 of 314 attempts for 3,064 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

While it’s been a tumultuous spring for Baylor, the Bears have good news in the sport’s most important position. Seth Russell is back after missing six games because of a neck injury.

In seven contests last season, Russell had a completion percentage of 59.5 by knocking down 119 passes out of 200 attempts for 2,104 yards, 29 touchdowns and six interceptions in his first year as the starter. He also had 49 rushes for 422 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Now look at the comparison to the 2008 quarterback, true freshman Robert Griffin III. He only passed for 2,091 yards with 15 touchdowns to 3 interceptions. Griffin also had 843 rushing yards and13 touchdowns. By the time Griffin finished at Baylor, he had captured the 2011 Heisman Trophy.

Iowa State’s Joel Lanning is the trigger man for the Cyclones. Last season he had a completion percentage of 55.4 thanks to hitting 107 of 193 passes for 1,247 yards with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions.

Nine years ago, Iowa State was led by Austen Arnaud, who had a completion percentage of 61.6 by notching 247 of 401 passes for 2,792 yards with 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Lanning is learning a new offensive scheme brought when Matt Campbell was named the head coach in November.

At the Little Apple, there might be a battle for starting quarterback, but not to Jesse Ertz. He won the job last year but tore his ACL in the first play of the 2015 season. Joe Hubener took over and posted a completion percentage of 47.6 by connecting 131 of his 275 pass attempts for 1,837 yards with nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Ertz is back this season, so he’ll have every chance to win the starting role again.

Back in 2008 there was no doubt who was the starter thanks to Josh Freeman. He had a completion percentage of 58.6 by nailing 224 of his 382 attempts for 2,945 yards, 20 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He also had 107 rushes for 404 yards and 14 touchdowns. Freeman was drafted No. 17 overall in the 2009 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Kansas has options at quarterback, but typically that means if there’s not one clear-cut guy, then a team doesn’t have one. Last season, a torn ACL during spring practices sidelined Michael Cummings for the fall, while Mozart Cummings and Deondre Ford each suffered injuries during the season that kept them from playing. So head coach David Beaty was forced to start true freshman Ryan Willis, who had a completion percentage of 52.1 thanks to hitting 164 of his 315 passing attempts for 1,719 yards with nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

What happened in Lawrence last season is a far cry from what the Jayhawks had in 2008. Todd Reesing had a completion percentage of 66.5 thanks to connecting 329 of his 495 passes for 3,888 yards with 32 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He capped the season by leading Kansas to a 24-21 win against Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

The great unknown are the Texas Longhorns, and it’s not because they don’t have a quarterback. Rather, it’s because they have better options. Head coach Charlie Strong has already said true freshman Shane Buechele will play this year. He, Tyrone Swoopes and Jerod Heard took the snaps during spring football until Heard hurt a shoulder and had to miss about the half practices and the spring game. Reports coming out of Austin indicate that Swoopes and Heard have each asked to be moved to other offensive positions (Swoopes to tight end and Heard to receiver).

But the Longhorns can’t allow that because they need to have backups.

Here’s the good news Texas fans – Buechele is the splitting image of Colt McCoy. They are similar in height, build, accuracy, work ethic and dedication. Add Buchele is the son of Steve Buchele, who played for the Texas Rangers, which means the youngster knows what it takes to perform at a high level.

Remember when McCoy set the NCAA record for most wins in a career? Buechele has a chance to do all that too. That’s because McCoy was a four-year starter.

So who will get the nod to start when Notre Dame visits the Lone Star State capitol Sept. 4?

That’s a great question, so stay tuned.

And though TCU wasn’t in the league in 2008, we couldn’t leave them out. The Horned Frogs are optimistic they have their new sheriff ready for his shot at running the offense. Kenny Hill will make his debut after sitting out all of 2015 because he transferred from Texas A&M. Let’s look at his last season with the Aggies in 2014. He had a completion percentage of 66.7 by connecting on 214 of his 321 attempts for 2,649 yards with 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

The quarterback in 2008 was Andy Dalton, who posted a completion percentage of 59.3 thanks to nailing 182 of his 307 attempts for 2,242 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. Dalton, at that time, was in his second year of starting and is now the starter for the Cincinnati Bengals.

West Virginia wasn’t a member in 2008 either. Still, the Mountaineers have to feel good about Skyler Howard, who returns after posting a 54.8 completion percentage. He completed 221 passes of 403 attempts for 3,145 yards, 26 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

If these 2016 signal callers perform at high levels, this season could see a rebirth of the Quarterback Conference that was established in 2008.

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