<
>

The nation's best league for QBs is easily the Big 12

Trevone Boykin, Seth Russell and Baker Mayfield all rank in the top 20 nationally in passing yards. AP Photo, Getty Images

Credit Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads with figuring out the best way to describe the current state of quarterback play in the Big 12.

The perfect line came to mind while watching film of Baylor quarterback Seth Russell throwing for 380 yards and rushing for 160 against West Virginia over the weekend.

"What he did on Saturday," Rhoads said, "just opened up a whole 'nother can of headaches."

"I think it's a resurgence," Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "I think you'd put them up with anybody in the country right now."

But really, the Big 12 might already be the best. While other leagues struggle to find dynamic passers, Ohio State continues to flip-flop and graduate transfers start at Florida State, Alabama, Michigan, Oregon and others, Trevone Boykin and a fast-rising group young passers have made the Big 12 a hot spot once again for prolific quarterback play.

They might not be able to match the accomplishments of the unbelievable 2008 group led by Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Graham Harrell, Chase Daniel, Zac Robinson and Todd Reesing. That's still the gold standard. But there's certainly enough star power to make the 2015 class one of the Big 12's finest.

The king of the crew is still TCU's Boykin, the Big 12's best threat to secure its first Heisman Trophy since 2011. Some quality quarterbacks have come through the conference since Robert Griffin III won the honor, but they've been three relatively down years by Big 12 standards. This year seems different. Boykin has some serious competition for No. 1.

Russell, the latest heir to the Baylor offensive juggernaut, is exceeding expectations. He's No. 1 in the country in QBR, passer efficiency and passing touchdowns and runs better than any BU quarterback since RG III.

"Man, I'm having a hard time finding faults. I really am," Baylor coach Art Briles said. "He's pretty complete. And I'm talking about mentally, as a teammate, everything."

The same can be said of Patrick Mahomes, who has accounted for 2,852 total yards and 26 scores and elevated Texas Tech's offense to another level as a true sophomore. He has evoked Johnny Manziel comparisons from Big 12 coaches for his ability to extend, escape and exploit defenses under pressure.

By QBR standards, Russell, Boykin and Mahomes are enjoying three of the top 10 seasons by a Big 12 quarterback in the past decade. They're operating the top three scoring offenses in college football too.

And Mahomes is establishing himself as the face the next wave of elite signal-callers. Oklahoma State's sophomore stud Mason Rudolph has an 8-1 record and is averaging 305 passing yards per game as a starter. In just five starts, Texas redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard ranks as the No. 1 rusher among all Power 5 quarterbacks.

And, of course, there's Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield, who already has been a starter at two Big 12 programs. He has accounted for 23 touchdowns and three interceptions in his first six starts as a Sooner.

We've seen a college quarterback surpass 500 total yards in one game eight times this season. Six of those performances belong to Big 12 passers. Boykin has three all by himself, and Mayfield's 572 yards against Tulsa still hasn't been topped.

"Everybody's got good QBs in this league," Briles said.

And thanks to the Big 12's round-robin schedule, those QBs hit teams in rapid succession. Kingsbury faced Boykin and Russell back-to-back to start Big 12 play. Texas took on Rudolph, Boykin and Mayfield in consecutive weeks. So did Kansas State.

"All of them have presented a tremendous challenge to us," K-State coach Bill Snyder said. "I don't see that changing throughout the course of the season."

That challenge is only increased when they hardly get touched. TCU, Baylor and Texas Tech rank among the top 15 nationally in fewest sacks allowed. That's as much a product of those quarterbacks' aptitude as their quick-fire offenses.

"They're not going to stand back there and pat the ball like everybody did in 1968," Briles said. "Those days are over. That's just not the way today's game is played."

Even if you can get pressure, they can just take off and run. The Big 12's current starting quarterbacks already have combined for 2,690 rushing yards (excluding sacks) on the season. Five have gained at least 300 yards on the ground this year, and two more are close. That athleticism is essentially a job requirement to play in the Big 12 these days.

"It makes a dramatic difference in how defenses have to play you and the total capacity of your offense," Snyder said.

Those headaches Rhoads described will be affecting the Big 12 title race over the next six weeks and will, almost certainly, impact playoff races.

And in the broader scope, the Big 12 just might be back as the premier league for QB play, according to Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, who has developed a knack for coming up with comparisons for every QB his defense will face. In Boykin, he saw Michael Vick. Mayfield reminded him of Brett Favre.

"That's what the Big 12 is all about, isn't it?" Bedford said. "You're going to play the best of the best offensively."