The Big 12 was loaded with some of the best wide receivers in the country last season with Justin Blackmon, Kendall Wright, and Ryan Broyles leading the charge. The trio combined for 312 receptions, 4,342 yards, and 42 touchdowns even with Broyles missing the final four games of the season. That's some major production that will be missing from the league when the 2012 season kicks off.
Wide receivers from the Big 12 have brought home four of the past five Biletnikoff awards thanks in large part to Michael Crabtree and Justin Blackmon who each won the award twice. Who's going to step up this season to fill the void you ask? It's likely to be one of these guys.
Kenny Stills, junior - Oklahoma
The Sooners struggled through the final four games of 2011 after Broyles went down with a season ending knee injury. Improvement at the position has been a focus this offseason, a fact that wasn't helped by the offseason dismissals of several of OU's top returning receivers. The losses mean the Sooners will rely on several talented newcomers to fill the void.
The one constant, however, remains Stills who enters his junior season with 122 career receptions. He'll need to take his game to the next level if Oklahoma hopes to compete for a national title. He'll be helped by the fact that he has one of the best quarterbacks in the nation throwing hin the ball in an offense geared towards racking up big yards through the air.
Tavon Austin, senior; Stedman Bailey, junior - West Virginia
Sure Blackmon, Wright, and Broyles are gone, but there's a new kid on the block in the Big 12 and the Mountaineers bring with them two players who could turn out to be the two most productive receivers not only in the Big 12, but also the country. You really can't talk about one without mentioning the other which is why they're both included here.
Neither Austin or Bailey are blessed with great size, but that doesn't take away from their playmaking ability on the field. The duo racked up a combined 173 receptions last season and that number should only grow this season.
Combine the talents of the West Virginia duo with a Heisman candidate quarterback in Geno Smith playing in Dana Holgorsen's offense for the second straight season and you have the recipe for some big time points to be put on the scoreboard. If you're still not a believer, just ask Clemson how that works.
Eric Ward, junior - Texas Tech
Ward led the Red Raiders in receiving last season with 84 receptions including 16 in one game against Baylor so he's far from an unknown in the Big 12. Given offensive coordinator Neal Brown's penchant for throwing the football and considering Seth Doege's return at quarterback, it wouldn't be surprising to see Ward eclipse the 100 reception mark in 2012.
Tevin Reese, junior - Baylor
Reese has big shoes to fill in trying to replace Kendall Wright who's off to the NFL but he's already proven he's going to be a force for Big 12 defenses to deal with. Reese had 96 catches over his first two seasons and could very well come close to doubling that number in 2012. He runs a 4.3 forty-yard dash to go along with a 45-inch vertical and will make Nick Florence's job trying to replace Robert Griffin just a little bit easier.
Josh Boyce, junior - TCU
TCU loves to lean on the running game but that doesn't mean they can't throw it, as well. Quarterback Casey Pachall completed 66% of his passes last season and his favorite target was Boyce who should be in for another big season this fall. Boyce was named to the first team Mountain West all-conference team in 2011 after hauling in 61 passes for 998 yards. Boyce is only four touchdown catches shy of becoming TCU's all-time leader in category, a record he could have in the bag before the calendar flips to October.
Chris Harper, senior - Kansas State
The Wildcats didn't throw it much last season but that doesn't mean that don't have a solid corps of receivers capable of putting up big numbers if given the chance. Kansas State will always lean on the running game as long as Bill Snyder is running the show, but it wouldn't be shocking to see them air it out a few more times this season to take some pressure off the running game and Harper will be one of the main benefactors if and when they do.
Christian Matthews, junior - Kansas
All we hear about in Lawrence is quarterback Dayne Crist, but he has to have somebody to throw it to, right? Matthews only had 11 catches a season ago but with Charlie Weis calling the plays, Matthews figures to be a much bigger part of the offense in 2012 along with D.J. Beshears, Kale Pick, and Daymond Patterson.
Trey Metoyer, freshman - Oklahoma
Metoyer might only be a freshman but he figures to be a huge part of the offense from the get go. Kenny Stills will start off being Landry Jones number one target, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Metoyer be the guy by the end of the season, so long as he can handle the grind of the college football season.
Somebody at Oklahoma State
Justin Blackmon came out of nowhere during his sophomore year when the Cowboys switched to Dana Holgorsen's attack prior to the 2010 season. The system is still largely in place under Todd Monken so you know the Pokes are going to throw the ball down the field.
Freshman QB Wes Lunt will be directing the offense to start the year and who becomes his favorite target is a bit of an unknown but the most likely candidates are Tracy Moore, Josh Stewart and Charlie Moore. All three have shown flashes of great play in the past and each will likely have their chance to become the go-to guy in 2012.
The Cowboys also welcome of crop of seven freshmen wide receivers to campus this fall and it wouldn't be surprising to see one or more of the newcomers become an important part of the offense as the season progresses.