Biggest Shoes to Fill in the Big 12 in 2021
Oklahoma Offensive Line
The Sooners won't lack experience up front on offense, but they will be missing two key players. Both center Creed Humphrey and right tackle Adrian Ealy have departed for the NFL. Ealy started for two seasons, earned All-Big 12 honors during both seasons, and only gave up three sacks as a senior. Humphrey was one of the most athletic and agile centers in recent memory. He also started for three years--earning All-Conference and All-America selections. The unit didn't play as well as many hoped last season, but a veteran presence should at least keep things steady this year. Transfer Wanya Morris will help quite a bit with the real question marks being Erik Swenson at right tackle and Andrew Raym, the only underclassman on the unit, at center.
The Longhorns have plenty of talent at the position based on recent recruiting rankings, but new head coach Steve Sarkisian is not ready to name a starter yet. Whoever is tapped as the signal-caller will have huge shoes to fill. Sam Ehlinger made 43 career starts in four seasons in Austin and leaves as the fourth winningest quarterback in program history. The top candidates to replace him are redshirt freshman Hudson Card and junior Casey Thompson. Both players were rated in the top 200 of their respective high school recruiting classes. Thompson is the one with experience--guiding the team to a comeback victory in last year's Alamo Bowl, but Card is the one with more hype surrounding him.
Texas Wide Receiver
Leading receiver Josh Moore returns, but the rest of the receiving corps experience heavy turnover. Big play threats Tarik Black and Brennan Eagles both left for the pros, and speedster Jake Smith has transferred to USC. Sophomore Jordan Whittington is projected to be WR2, but the third spot is up for grabs. Senior tight end Cade Brewer can help ease the situation, but Texas will need someone else to step up. That may call for an increased role from former walk-on Travis West or freshmen Xavier Worthy and Troy Omeire.
Baylor's offense is experienced at many positions, however quarterback is not one of them. While Charlie Brewer never seemed to light the world on fire, he sneakily became one of the best statistical quarterbacks that Baylor has ever had. He transfers to Utah after starting most games the past four seasons and throwing for almost 10,000 yards while holding many other program accolades for the position. Junior Gerry Bohannon is the lead candidate to take the reins and sophomore Jacob Zeno is the only other QB who has played in a college game.
Oklahoma State Wide Receiver
The Cowboys lose one of the most versatile players in the nation in two-time Biletnikoff Award finalist Tylan Wallace plus two more experienced receivers in Dillon Stoner and Landon Wolf. The three combined for1,724 yards and 11 receiving touchdowns in 2020 and each contributed in the return game as well. Senior Tay Martin, who had a promising start to his career for Washington State in the PAC-12, and the top returning receiver from last year, Braydon Johnson, will be counted on to make for plays and help develop the new guys.
The good news for Oklahoma is that it will have two starters returning in the secondary, The bad news is it will have three new starters filling out the rest of it. Tre Brown and Tre Norwood left for the pros after being steady and reliable presences for a majority of four years. Brown was a constant All-Big 12 performer, while Norwood led the conference in interceptions during 2020. Also, Brendan Radley-Hiles, the team's top nickelback for the last three years, has transferred to Washington. Their replacements--Jaden Davis, Woodi Washington, and Jeremiah Criddell-- have all been key contributors and started games, but they do not have the experience of last season's Oklahoma secondary.
West Virginia Defensive Line
Darius Stills was one of the best defensive linemen in this conference. His brother Dante will help pick up the slack as will the return of Taijh Alston from injury. I would not characterize this as a deep position group, and whoever earns the starting nose tackle job will have his work cut out for him. The logical choice seems to be Jordan Jefferson because he has played the most, but freshman Ahkeem Mesidor and sophomore Jalen Thornton may be in the picture as well.
The Horned Frogs lose two of their three starting safeties in Trevon Moehrig and Ar'Darius Washington--both of whom left for the NFL. Moehrig was an imposing presence on the backend with plenty of physicality and great coverage ability. Washington was one of the smaller safeties but used speed to make great plays. Senior La'Kendrick Van Zandt returns after leading the team in takeaways and being named Honorable Mention All-Big 12. Nook Bradford will enter the starting lineup after playing as the top reserve last season and TJ Carter transfers in from Memphis. Although he is an extremely decorated player, Carter spent the majority of his Memphis career at corner and has little experience as a safety.
Kansas Wide Receiver
Kwamie Lassiter II and Luke Grimm are the only returning Jayhawk receivers to have amassed at least 100 yards last season. Former All-Conference receiver Andrew Parchment has also left, transferring to Florida State after posting over1,000 receiving yards in his Kansas career. They do get a reprieve with the addition of Buffalo transfer Trevor Wilson, who had 319 yards last year, but this position is a mess at Kansas.
Kansas State Defensive End
Bronson Massie has the unfortunate task of following Wyatt Hubert at defensive end for the Wildcats. Yes, Massie is coming off of a career-best season as a rotational player and appears very capable, but Hubert was a different breed of player. He started 29 games over three seasons and finished his career 8th in team history in sacks and among the nation's leaders in sacks and tackles for loss per game. That can't just be replaced overnight. It'll take some hard work to fill those shoes.