|Who's the next Justin Blackmon?|
The Big 12 produced a bumper crop of wide receivers in wide receivers in 2011.
There was two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma St., the first wideout off the board in April's NFL draft. Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles broke the the NCAA record for career receptions despite playing in only nine games during his senior season. Baylor speedster Kendall Wright, another first-round draft pick, paired with Heisman-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III to help key the Bears' best season in recent memory.
All have moved on to bigger and better things, joined by a quality second tier of pass catchers such as Jeff Fuller of Texas A&M and OSU's Josh Cooper. When you factor in the defections of A&M and Missouri to the SEC, seven of the league's top 10 in receptions are gone.
The loss of all that pass-catching talent leaves some enormous holes out wide in the Big 12's spread offenses. Who will step up as the go-to guys in the league this year? Here are a few candidates.
*Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
The Mountaineers' dynamic duo out wide introduced themselves into the national football consciousness in scintillating fashion in January at the Orange Bowl. The two receivers combined for nearly 400 all-purpose yards and 5 touchdowns against Clemson's hapless secondary en route to a blowout victory.
Considering that WVU is now entering a conference resplendent with high-tempo passing attacks, Bailey and Austin should help the 'Eers fit right in. It's not a stretch to say WVU has the top two receivers in the league individually, let alone as a combo.
*Jaxon Shipley, Texas
You probably recognize the last name from Texas football lore. As a freshman, Shipley flashed the athleticism and "student of the game-ness" that helped make his brother Jordan such a potent offensive threat for the Longhorns a few years ago.
Whether Jaxon's Colt McCoy is on campus right now remains to be seen. If so, Shipley will give that his quarterback a productive target to match.
*Kenny Stills, Oklahoma
Stills and Ryan Broyles formed a devastating one-two punch the last two seasons. Like the rest of OU's O, though, Stills saw his effectiveness drop like a pass to Roy Roundtree when Broyles went down last year with a season-ending knee injury.
Now, the Sooners are hoping Stills recaptures the confidence that he played with in the beginning of his OU career, when he emerged as a dynamic deep threat for QB Landry Jones. Bob Stoops is also looking for the free-spirited Stills to step into the leadership void left by Broyles.
*Tracy Moore, Oklahoma St.
Adarius Bowman, Dez Bryant, Justin Blackmon – OSU has turned into Wide Receiver U. With Blackmon now out of othe picture, along with his partner in crime Josh Cooper, Mike Gundy will be looking for his next breakout pass catcher this fall.
He's probably already found that guy in Moore. The senior snagged 45 balls a year ago for 672 yards and 4 TDs.
Moore has yet to display the superstar qualities of his predecessors. He does have the skills to become one of the league's best wideouts in his final year in Stillwater, though.