There are a few players in the Big 12 who are going to be keys to the success of their teams.
If West Virginia was to lose Geno Smith, the Big 12’s preseason offensive player of the year, it obviously would be a huge blow to the Mountaineers. Ditto for Texas and defensive lineman Alex Okafor, the conference’s preseason defensive player of the year.
They are obviously important players, and there are many more who are clearly vital to their teams.
But here are five X factors who will likely play a major role in determining the Big 12 race:
- Gabe Ikard, OL, Oklahoma: It may be tough to call a preseason second-team All-American and a player on the Outland Trophy watch list an X-factor. Make no mistake, though: if quarterback Landry Jones is to lead the offense to a Big 12 championship, Ikard will have to play well enough to justify those preseason honors. Oklahoma has lost several players who were projected to make an impact along the offensive line, making the presence of Ikard this season that much more vital. His versatility will be a strength in a season during which OU may make some position shifts to put the best possible front five on the field. Ikard played left guard and center at a high level in 2011.
- Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia: The Mountaineers are installing a new defense this season, replacing the 3-3-5 stack they utilized for the past decade with a hybrid 3-4. Given the high-flying nature of the conference’s offensive schemes, that may be easier said than done. Regardless, if WVU is to stop opponents’ passing attacks, it will have to rely on a true freshman at free safety. Joseph, who enrolled early and participated in spring practices, is listed at the top of the depth chart. Can Joseph overcome his inexperience and provide solid play?
- Daymond Patterson, WR, Kansas: Quarterback Dayne Crist is getting all the attention because of his reunion with coach Charlie Weis in Lawrence. But Crist will need someone to throw to -- and Patterson could be his primary option. A fifth-year senior, Patterson may have been the Jayhawks’ best receiver in 2011 had he not suffered a season-ending injury in the first game against McNeese State. His loss was a significant blow during a season in which seemingly nothing went right. If Weis’ inaugural campaign is to be a success, Patterson will have to play well.
- Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor: There may be no taller task in the entire Big 12 this season than Baylor’s attempt to replace Robert Griffin III. But last year’s Heisman Trophy winner isn’t the only skill position player coach Art Briles lost. Running back Terrance Ganaway had a strong 2011 season as well, running for more than 1,500 yards. Seastrunk, who transferred from Oregon, should have the talent to fill in nicely for Ganaway. If he can live up to his billing, the Bears may do better than their predicted seventh place finish in the Big 12’s preseason poll.
- Ty Zimmerman, S, Kansas State: A solid player throughout his first two seasons in Manhattan, Zimmerman is now a junior and will be expected to help lead the Wildcats’ defense from the back end, as evidenced by the fact he was voted a team captain this season. Playing behind one of the conference’s top defenders in linebacker Arthur Brown, if Zimmerman can lead the secondary to success, K-State may again have one of the better defenses in the Big 12, as the Wildcats held seven opponents to 25 points or fewer in 2011 -- no small feat in the Big 12.
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from Big 12 bloggers C.J. Moore and Patrick Southern, follow @CBSSportsBig12.