The Big 12 asked for preseason All-Big 12 ballots this week in preparation for the team announcement, and here's what mine looked like.
The full team will probably be released some time before Big 12 media days on July 25-26 in Dallas.
QB: Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State
RB: Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M
RB: Christine Michael, Texas A&M
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri
OL: Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State
OL: Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State
C: Grant Garner, Oklahoma State
OL: Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State
OL: Elvis Fisher, Missouri
DL: Brad Madison, Missouri
DL: Tony Jerod-Eddie, Texas A&M
DL: Kheeston Randall, Texas
DL: Frank Alexander, Oklahoma
LB: Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
LB: Keenan Robinson, Texas
DB: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
DB: Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State
DB: Trent Hunter, Texas A&M
DB: Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma
K: Grant Ressel, Missouri
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
KR: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
PR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
Offensive Player of the Year: Justin Blackmon, WR, OSU
Defensive Player of the Year: Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma
Newcomer of the Year: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State
Selections by team: Oklahoma State (7), Texas A&M (6), Oklahoma (5), Missouri (4), Texas (2), Iowa State (2)
And a few thoughts:
Before we get into this, let's talk philosophy for a bit. There's no concrete rubric for filling this ballot out, but my approach might be in the minority. This is not a prediction. I'm not a believer in that. That's what the postseason ballot is for, i.e., what actually happened. I'm not predicting anything. My ballot is a reflection of who I see as the best at the position entering the season. This comes into play at the very top of my ballot. Do I think Landry Jones will have a better 2011 than Brandon Weeden? Well yes, yes I do. But coming into the season, I thought Weeden was more impressive than Jones in 2010, if only just barely. For more explanation on this, head over here. I've discussed it at length several times. Check the Weeden or Jones player tags on the blog for even more discussion.
Tallying up the team counts, I feel bad that only six teams are represented on my ballot, but I'm not trying to achieve balance. I'm trying to achieve a ballot with the best player at each position heading into the season. That's just how it shook out. I'm surprised no one from Baylor cracked my ballot, and Kansas State, Kansas and Texas Tech went without any first-teamers on my ballot.
That said, a few guys who came close: Kansas running back James Sims, Texas Tech running back Eric Stephens, safety Cody Davis and Kansas State cornerback David Garrett. I nearly had Davis on my ballot, but narrowly went with Trent Hunter.
On that subject, the biggest observation I had filling this out: The second running back spot is near impossible. Just about anyone might get it on the official vote when its revealed by the Big 12. You could realistically make a convincing case for Sims, Stephens, Joe Randle, Roy Finch and even newcomers like Malcolm Brown, Bryce Brown or Oklahoma's Brandon Williams. And that's the first team! Unbelievable. Rex Burkhead and Rodney Stewart...where are you? If NU and CU were still in the Big 12, I'd probably put Stewart in that spot.
They're not, though. So, I went with Christine Michael. Why? Well, before Cyrus Gray went nuts last season, Michael was significantly better than Gray was. It was obvious. Then Michael broke his leg. Now, based on what I saw this spring and hear from summer workouts, he's back to full strength and even better. Can any other running back in the league say they were better than Cyrus Gray at any point? Much less last season? Absolutely not. So, I went with Michael. Heading into the season, he's the second-best back in the Big 12 when he's healthy. Consider, also: None of those other candidates have topped Michael's 844 yards in 2009 in any of their seasons, and Michael was probably on his way to a 1,000-yard season last year with 631 yards in just over seven games before the injury. So, not only is he what I believe to be the next-best back, he also has had the most impressive career.
I wasn't a big fan of putting three tackles and one guard on my ballot, but I did it. Deal with it. Originally, I had Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M on my ballot, but switched him out with the experienced Elvis Fisher, whose career to this point has been more impressive to me. I think Joeckel will be better eventually, but Dave Matter of the Columbia Tribune chimed in on Twitter and reminded me of Joeckel's early season struggles, and I recalled just how dominant Fisher was against some of the best defensive ends around, specifically Iowa's Adrian Clayborn and Oklahoma's Frank Alexander. I'm a bit embarrassed I even considered Joeckel over Fisher, to be honest.
I feel pretty good about my ability to evaluate tackles, but interior linemen? Not so much. There's a lot of other things to watch during live games. So when it comes to guards and centers, I tend to rely more on coaches' evaluations, guys who spend hours in the film room evaluating. Oklahoma State offensive line coach Joe Wickline isn't one to blow smoke, and he's one of the most respected position coaches in the league. He's also been incredulous this offseason that Grant Garner is criminally underrated at the conference level. So at a position that isn't very strong in the Big 12, I gave Garner the nod.
Some of the Big 12's strongest positions? Linebacker and receiver, clearly, where there were big snubs. (i.e., Jeff Fuller, Shaun Lewis and Emmanuel Acho). Some of the weakest positions? Defensive line, where I had some trouble finding four guys I really felt deserved a spot.
As for my newcomer of the year, Arthur Brown? Speed kills. K-State didn't have it last year. Brown does. He'll be great.
A few minor beefs with no real solution: I'd like to see the Big 12's ballot more reflect the style of play in the league. Not many teams are running two-receiver sets and not many teams are putting three true linebackers on the field. I'd like to see an option for a third receiver on the ballot, either in a WR/TE flex slot or by eliminating one of the running back spots. Big 12 teams aren't putting two backs on the field too often. I'd also like to see a space for a nickel back. Do I think Tony Jefferson or Ahmad Dixon are one of the best linebackers or safeties in the league? No. But at their position, they probably will be by season's end. However, they might get left off all-conference teams because of the ballot's set up.