Big 12's best

Our choices for the conference's top 12 football players

D’Onta Foreman’s statistics were sparkling this season. The only knock against the Texas tailback was that he played for a mediocre team.

The seven-loss Longhorns missed the postseason for the second straight December. Foreman was downgraded as a Heisman Trophy candidate since there’s an (invisible) asterisk that winners generally come from the nation’s best teams. And because Foreman didn’t have a final game in which to dazzle, he lost the national rushing title to San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey. The Aztecs standout ran for 119 yards in the Las Vegas Bowl against Houston to break the NCAA career rushing record.

Pumphrey ended the year with 2,133 yards, besting Foreman’s 2,028, which he accomplished in 11 games.

But in the Austin American-Statesman’s Big 12 of the Big 12 — our annual list of the conference’s 12 best players, regardless of position — we’re tossing team records and picking the best individual players in the league. Topping the list is Foreman, hands down.

The Doak Walker Award winner had an incredible stretch of four games in the core of the Longhorns’ conference schedule. He totaled 1,008 yards — a quality number for an entire season — in games against Baylor, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Kansas. But Texas went only 2-2 in those games, dampening any national enthusiasm for his Heisman campaign.

In the first week of December, Foreman, UT’s first 1,000-yard back since Jamaal Charles in 2007, announced he would leave school a year early and enter the NFL draft.

“I had a wonderful season, so just striking when the iron’s hot,” Foreman said at his goodbye news conference. “That’s how I feel. I’ve got to try to strike when the iron’s hot.”

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield finished third in the voting for the Heisman Trophy. (BRETT DEERING/GETTY IMAGES)

It was a down year overall for the conference. Champion Oklahoma suffered two September losses to Houston and Ohio State that quickly took the Sooners out of the national playoff picture. Runner-up Oklahoma State did the same with an odd loss to Central Michigan. The defeat came on a last-play Hail Mary scoring heave and lateral that should not have counted. And Baylor and TCU took huge steps backward, recordwise.

The surprise was West Virginia, though the Mountaineers eventually faded with losses to the Sooners and Cowboys.

But the league still had talent, mostly on offense and concentrated at quarterback.

Oklahoma became the first team in 11 years to send two players to the Heisman ceremony. Quarterback Baker Mayfield finished third, and receiver Dede Westbrook was fourth. The last team with two players in the Heisman top five was Texas Tech in 2008, with Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree finishing fourth and fifth.

“You put in so much work during the offseason,” said Mayfield, who finished No. 2 on our best-of-the-Big 12 list after leading the way in 2015. “The extra work that Dede and I put in together, with routes, just working on perfecting our craft — it’s kind of like it’s a reward for all the work we put in.”

Our final list of the American-Statesman’s annual Big 12 of the Big 12 — the top 12 players in the conference — regardless of position:

Texas running back D'Onta Foreman put together a school-record streak of 13 100-yard rushing games. (JAY JANNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

1. D’Onta Foreman, RB, Texas: Won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top tailback.

Foreman put together a mammoth string of 100-yard games, reeling off a school-record 13 straight. That’s the longest active streak in the country.

His worst game of the season was 124 yards. He averaged 184.4 yards per game, which is 10th-best in NCAA history.

Preseason rank: Unranked

Former Lake Travis High School star Baker Mayfield averaged more than 11 yards per completion. (RAYMOND THOMPSON\/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Former Lake Travis High School star Baker Mayfield averaged more than 11 yards per completion. (RAYMOND THOMPSON/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

2. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: The former Lake Travis High School star is on track to break the NCAA record for quarterback efficiency.

He heads into the Sugar Bowl with a rating of 197.75. Russell Wilson owns the record of 191.78, which he set in 2011.

Here’s a fun fact — three of the four most efficient seasons have been turned in by Big 12 quarterbacks. Baylor’s Seth Russell (189.72 in 2015) and Robert Griffin III (189.48, 2011) rank third and fourth.

Mayfield’s rating is so high because he averaged more than 11 yards per completion.

Preseason rank: First

Sooners wide receiver Dede Westbrook had three plays that were longer than 70 yards. (BRETT DEERING\/GETTY IMAGES)

Sooners wide receiver Dede Westbrook had three plays that were longer than 70 yards. (BRETT DEERING/GETTY IMAGES)

3. Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma: The former standout from Cameron Yoe certainly was a late bloomer on the big-time college stage.

He sat out a season after high school, then enrolled in junior college before signing with the Sooners. He won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver.

He defined what it means to be a big-play guy. Westbrook had three plays that were longer than 70 yards and a national-best 26 catches of at least 20 yards.

Preseason rank: Unranked

Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II led the nation in passing with 5,052 yards. (RONALD MARTINEZ/GETTY IMAGES)

4. Patrick Mahomes II, QB, Texas Tech: Like Foreman, Mahomes didn’t have the same bold glitter on the national stage because his Red Raiders won only five games.

Still, he led the nation in passing with 5,052 yards, besting Cal’s Davis Webb, Mahomes’ former teammate, by 757. The margin basically represents Mahomes’ yardage against Oklahoma, when he threw for an NCAA-record 734. He also had 819 total yards against the Sooners.

Preseason rank: Second

Kansas State defensive end Jordan Willis racked up 11.5 sacks. (CHARLIE RIEDEL\/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Kansas State defensive end Jordan Willis racked up 11.5 sacks. (CHARLIE RIEDEL/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

5. Jordan Willis, DE, Kansas State: The senior had 11.5 sacks this season and was the consensus selection as the top defensive player in the Big 12.

Willis was so consistent in his career that he registered three straight seasons with double-digit sacks. That’s a nice number considering the nontraditional offenses that are so prolific in the conference.

Preseason rank: 10th

This end-zone interception was one of eight picks by West Virginia cornerback Rasul Douglas. (RAYMOND THOMPSON/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

6. Rasul Douglas, CB, West Virginia: Douglas’ eight interceptions are tied for the national lead with Florida State’s Tavarus McFadden. The Big 12’s best cover man also had a pick six.

Overall, the receivers he covered caught 36 of 86 throws sent Douglas’ way.

Preseason rank: Unranked

Mason Rudolph directed the Oklahoma State offense and amassed 3,777 passing yards. (BRETT DEERING/GETTY IMAGES)

7. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State: This season Rudolph ran the Cowboys’ show, as opposed to a year ago, when he didn’t play in short-yardage or goal-line situations.

Rudolph ranked eighth in the country with 3,777 passing yards, just ahead of Mayfield’s 3,669. His touchdown-to-interception ratio was a relatively clean 25-to-4.

Preseason rank: Sixth

Texas offensive tackle Connor Williams was a consensus All-American as a sophomore. (RODOLFO GONZALEZ/AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

8. Connor Williams, LT, Texas: The Longhorns sophomore was viewed as the best offensive tackle in the country, earning consensus All-America honors.

Williams allowed only two sacks in 900 snaps. He was credited with 32 knockdowns and posted a blocking grade of at least 90 in six of the 11 games he played.

Preseason rank: Unranked

Oklahoma State wide receiver James Washington averaged 19.5 yards per catch. (RICHARD W. RODRIGUEZ\/FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM)

Oklahoma State wide receiver James Washington averaged 19.5 yards per catch. (RICHARD W. RODRIGUEZ/FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM)

9. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State: The Cowboys standout was one of three receivers in the Big 12 to amass more than 1,000 receiving yards.

Washington totaled 1,209 in 12 games and averaged 19.5 yards per catch.

Preseason rank: Fifth

Jordan Evans (left) had four interceptions as well as 44 tackles on running plays. (BRETT DEERING\/GETTY IMAGES)

Jordan Evans (left) had four interceptions as well as 44 tackles on running plays. (BRETT DEERING/GETTY IMAGES)

10. Jordan Evans, LB, Oklahoma: He was adept at playing both the run and the pass.

Evans intercepted four passes with five pass breakups. And he made 44 tackles on running plays.

Preseason rank: Unranked

Oklahoma's Joe Mixon had 1,183 yards rushing even though he split time at tailback. (SUE OGROCKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

11. Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma: The tailback split time with teammate Samaje Perine. Still, he posted the stats of someone who was constantly on the field.

He carried the ball 168 times for 1,183 and eight touchdowns. And he caught 32 passes for 449 yards and five scores.

Mixon also returned kicks and punts.

Preseason rank: Unranked

Oklahoma State defensive tackle Vincent Taylor clamped down on opposing offenses with 43 tackles and 5.5 sacks. (BRETT DEERING/GETTY IMAGES)

12. Vincent Taylor, DT, Oklahoma State: He got a free trip to New York as a finalist for the Piesman, an award that honors the best catch, throw or run by a lineman.

Taylor earned the trip when he blocked an extra point against Texas, then pitched it to an open teammate for a two-point play. Taylor blocked four kicks this season.

On defense, he also had 43 tackles with 5.5 sacks.

Preseason rank: Unranked