Big XII Football: Players To Watch

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 1: Kick returner Tavon Austin #1 of the West Virgina Mountaineers grabs a bouncing kick and runs for a touchdown against the South Florida Bulls December 1, 2011 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. West Virgina won 30 - 27. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Each and every year a new class comes in hoping to leave a lasting impression not only upon the program but all upon the conference. This year is no different as there are a few game changers that many will have their eye on. However, college football is a progression. Fans may not have gotten a glimpse at a future star because of the depth chart. The 2012 season will mark a make or break year for some. Here are some players across the conference to keep your eye on.

There will be no Sooners on this list as we, as Sooner fans, are already a bit familiar with the new names on the roster.

Wes Lunt - QB - Oklahoma St. Cowboys
Wes Lunt comes in after Oklahoma St. had posted it's best season to date behind the performances of Joseph Randle, Brandon Weeden, and Justin Blackmon. Now, with only Randle returning, it is time for the Cowboys to turn a new page. Due to the luxury of being able to enroll early, Lunt has won the starting job as a true freshman and is expected to be a 4-year starter. However, the bigger test will be in the fact that OSU thinks they have arrived as an annual conference contender. Riding the shoulders of a true freshman will be a tall task while expecting him to be a leader. He may have the same problem Landry Jones had in the fact that he was not his predecessor.

Geno Smith - QB - West Virginia Mountaineers
This should come as no surprise. Geno Smith had one of the most productive seasons as a quarterback largely in part to his receiving core. Smith will once again garner the attention of defenses in the Big XII sold on stopping him. After posting a 4385 yard season with 31 touchdown passes, it will be interesting to see how he copes with a new better competition every weekend.

Tavon Austin - WR - West Virginia Mountaineers
This is a kid that no one seems to be talking about when they mention the Heisman. While it is far to early to tell who will be a legitimate threat to win the award, Tavon Austin should be mentioned. This is a do it all kind of player who has the ability to run the ball as well as be a deep threat and feared kick returner. After a solid season, his breakout moment came in the Orange Bowl as he recorded four touchdowns on 12 receptions. Throughout the season, he averaged 11.7 yards per catch as well as 11.4 yards per carry. Combine him with Smith and Dana Holgorsen and you get a very potent offensive attack.

Stansly Maponga - DE -TCU Horned Frogs
Stansly Maponga led the Horned Frogs in tackles for loss last season with 13.5 and 9 by the way of the sack. He works hard and is very active on defense forcing five fumbles which ranked him in the top 10 in forced fumbles. The move to the Big XII will rely on players like Maponga more so to get pressure on the quarterback as it is a pass-heavy conference.

Quandre Diggs - CB - Texas Longhorns
If it hasn't been said enough, defending the pass in the Big XII is going to be key for the success of the Longhorns. This is shaping up to be another year where they will have to ride their defense and hope the offense can put a few points on the board. Quandre Diggs stepped up in a big way as a freshman to show fans what he was capable of and that his ceiling was high. He tied for third in the conference with 17 passes defended while recording four interceptions, a Texas freshman record. However, Diggs will not only see time on defense but also in the return game...think Tyrann Mathieu. Last season he returned 19 kickoffs for 371 yards but will be coming off an injury.

Jake Knott - LB - Iowa St. Cyclones
Last but not least, we have Jake Knott who may be part of one of the best linebacking duos in the nation alongside A.J. Klein. Last season Knott was second on the team in tackles, behind Klein, with 115. However, aside from having the knack of finding the ball he also came up with two interceptions and four forced fumbles for the Cyclones. Look out for this kid as he seems to have closing speed and could be a game changer for Iowa St. barring any form of injury.

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