As we inch closer to the 2020 college football season -- whenever that will kick off, or if it kicks off -- it's time to start actually looking ahead. And as we look ahead, it's important to know who the returning stars of each conference are. For the Big 12, you might think the best players are all on offense. To a degree, you'd be right. Four of the top five players listed do have a home on that side of the ball. But as a -- no pun intended -- feverish defender of Big 12 defenses, don't overlook that side of the ball, either. There are a handful of guys who are among the best in the country at their respective positions and could be high NFL draft picks next spring.
With the scheduled start of the season a couple of months away (again, for now), let's start looking at the best returning players in the Big 12. Advanced stats courtesy of Sports Info Solutions.
1. Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State
The nation's leading rusher in 2019 (2,094 yards) was a workhorse in every sense of the word. His 328 carries and 21 touchdowns also ranked No. 1 in the FBS. But he wasn't just a load-bearing back; his advanced stats hold up as well. Hubbard averaged 6.4 yards per attempt and actually led the Big 12 at 3.7 yards after contact per rushing attempt -- both remarkable given his workload. With his speed and open-field agility, Hubbard once again is primed to put up video game-like numbers on an offense that should contend with one of college football's best.
2. Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas
What Hubbard is for Oklahoma State's running game, Ehlinger is for Texas' offense as a whole. While that statement might make it seem like Ehlinger should be No. 1, what Hubbard did, he did better than anyone else. Ehlinger is obviously good -- and in fact improved on his passing numbers from his sophomore season -- but he didn't lead the nation as a quarterback. (He did, however, finish fourth in total offense at 332.8 yards per game). Still, Ehlinger is cut from the same workhorse cloth as Hubbard as he accounted for about 71% of Texas' offensive production. Now a senior, Ehlinger is the gold standard for the do-it-all quarterback who puts up the kind of monster numbers that get you into the Heisman Trophy conversation.
3. Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU
He's not only the best safety in the Big 12, he was considered the top-graded safety in college football in 2019, per Pro Football Focus. In fact, Moehrig, a junior, had the third-most valuable season in the PFF College era. His advanced stats are absurd: One touchdown allowed on 30 targets with 11 passes defended, a 38.71 completion percentage against, 14.67 yards per game allowed, and a 29.17 quarterback rating allowed. He also had four interceptions and nearly had a fifth. He is a blanket in TCU's five DB defense.
4. Brock Purdy, QB, Iowa State
What has separated Ehlinger from Purdy thus far is probably more contextual than anything else. Their passing stats were similar a year ago, but Ehlinger has a major leg up as a runner. He basically gives Texas another running back (which is not intended to be a slight against him as a passer; that's just how he's built and used in Texas 'offense). Purdy was more of an option as a runner early on last season until freshman running back Breece Hall found his footing. All said, though, Purdy was still the conference's leading passer (3,982 yards) and took the step forward many figured he would as a full-time starter. As a junior, Purdy could end the 2020 season as the Big 12's top signal-caller.
5. Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma
How about some love for the big uglies in the trenches? Oklahoma's Rimington Trophy finalist from last year didn't allow a single sack on nearly 800 plays while registering 93 knockdowns. He was named the Big 12's Co-Offensive Lineman of the Year by the conference's coaches, which tells you a lot about what everyone in that league thinks of him. Humphrey was also a first-team All-Big 12 selection and will be on the short list for first-team All-America honors this year as a redshirt junior.
6. Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb was unquestionably the Big 12's best wideout in 2019, but had Wallace been healthy for a whole year he would have been in the conversation. He was, after all, the conference's leading receiver with 903 yards and eight touchdowns at the time of his ACL injury in early November. With Lamb gone to the NFL, Wallace, a senior, emerges as the Big 12's top pass-catcher. He's first among returning wide receivers in broken tackles (11), touchdowns, yards per game and is second in receiver rating (129.29). He had just two drops on 62 catchable targets. He's a yards after the catch stud and can stretch the field like few others.
7. Darius Stills, NT, West Virginia
Darius and his brother Dante made up a duo of defensive tackles as good as any in the Big 12 and were one of the few bright spots for 5-7 Mountaineers team. While both had a team-leading seven sacks, Darius led the way with 38 pressures, 18 hits and 10 knockdowns -- all tops among the conference's returning interior defensive linemen. He was also solid in run defense with 27 solo tackles. He's strong, quick and can shed blocks well, which allows him to be more than a gap stuffer. A senior, Stills will be one of the more coveted defensive linemen in next year's draft.
8. Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
The running gag about Texas failing to get an offensive lineman drafted changed with Connor Williams in 2018, but it could be completely disregarded with Cosmi. A top-notch pass blocker who has allowed just four sacks in 1,162 applicable snaps, Cosmi is a surefire first-round pick for the 2021 NFL Draft and would have had a shot at being the first tackle taken if Penei Sewell out of Oregon wasn't eligible. The redshirt junior is an anchor along Texas' offensive line and should be one of the most talked-about players out of the Big 12 this fall.
9. Garret Wallow, LB, TCU
If you're looking for a tackling machine, look no further. Wallow, a senior, led the Big 12 and was tied for 10th nationally with 125 tackles in 2019. And while his spot on the defense primarily makes him responsible for stops, he wasn't bad in pass defense, either, with zero touchdowns allowed, a pick and a 34.03 quarterback rating allowed on 18 targets. Originally a three-star safety coming out of high school, Wallow is but the next example of the great job coach Gary Patterson and his staff do in developing athletes on the defensive side of the ball.
10. Greg Eisworth II, S, Iowa State
The Big 12 often gets knocked for defense, sometimes unfairly. This season features a lot of strong defensive players, especially in the back end. Eisworth and TCU's Ar'Darius Washington got long looks at the final spot, and while Washington has more interceptions, it's worth pointing out that Eisworth dropped two. Meanwhile, he allowed just one touchdown on 24 targets with a 33.3 completion percentage against and a 39.76 quarterback rating allowed. Washington has better turnover and havoc-creating numbers, but Eisworth was a consistent pass defender on more targets.
Ranking the 10 best players in anything is going to lend itself to a lot of snubs. And if you know anything about me, I love to highlight as many players as I can. Here are some others who deserve recognition and a few nearly made the top-10 list.
Amen Ogbongbemiga (LB, Oklahoma State), Charlie Brewer (QB, Baylor), Terrel Bernard (LB, Baylor), Wyatt Hubert (DE, Kansas State), Andrew Parchment (WR, Kansas), Charlie Kolar (TE, Iowa State), Pooka Williams (RB, Kansas), Kennedy Brooks (RB, Oklahoma), Dante Stills (DT, West Virginia), Ar'Darius Washington (S, TCU)