Top 10 performances from Big 12 players in 2015

Three star QBs and a Texas RB headline our list of the best 2015 game performances among returning Big 12 players.

| 12 months ago
(Mike Ehrmann, Getty Images)

(Mike Ehrmann, Getty Images)

Top 10 performances from Big 12 players in 2015

PFF grades every play of every college football game involving an FBS opponent, meaning we were witness to a long list of impressive individual performances last season. Which ones stood out the most?

We ranked the top 10 from the Big 12 from 2015 among players returning for the 2016 season:

1. Baylor QB Seth Russell vs. West Virginia, Week 7

The Bears got off to an incredible start in the 2015 season, thanks to a dominant offense led by Seth Russell. Until an injury ended his season early, he was right near the top of our QB grades rankings. His biggest game came against West Virginia, where he posted a +11.8 overall production grade, which is one of the highest grades we ever give a quarterback in a single game. He completed 20-of-32 aimed passes (with five of those 12 incompletions being dropped passes) for 381 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions — including this absolutely perfect downfield throw:

Russell +1.5

He was equally impressive rushing the ball, gaining 152 yards on 11 designed runs, forcing four missed tackles and adding another touchdown. He gained 547 total yards on the day alone, easily good enough for the top performance in the conference last year.

2. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield vs. Tulsa, Week 3

Mayfield recently ranked eighth in our PFF College 101, after a phenomenal season last year for the Sooners. He graded above +2.0 in 11 of his 13 games, and his game against Tulsa was at the top of the list. This was as fine a passing clinic from a college quarterback as you’ll ever see. Mayfield completed 32-of-37 aimed passes (with one drop) for 487 yards and four touchdowns. On throws more than 20 yards downfield he was a perfect 4-of-4 for 144 yards and a touchdown. He also added 95 rushing yards on just ten carries, forcing two missed tackles and scoring two touchdowns that helped lead to his +9.8 overall grade.

3. Texas RB Chris Warren III vs. Texas Tech, Week 13

This was easily one of the most surprising games by a running back in the Big 12 last year. Prior to his game against Texas Tech, Warren had exactly 18 carries for 88 yards, 0 touchdowns and one missed tackle forced on the season. He was finally thrust into the starting role in Week 13, and absolutely went off. He rushed for 276 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries in that game. He forced an insane 11 missed tackles. But the most impressive thing about his performance was the 196 yards he gained after first contact. That means on average he was hit 3.2 yards downfield and still managed to pick up a first down every rush. That’s nearly eight yards after contact per carry. He followed that up with another strong game in Week 14, an upset win over Baylor, which bodes very well for Texas’ rushing attack this coming season.

This run gives you an idea for what Warren did versus the Red Raiders:

Warren LOL Run

4. Oklahoma DT Matthew Romar vs. Texas, Week 6

The fact that Romar’s game against Texas is fourth on this list, despite recording just one single QB hurry en route to a +0.8 pass-rush grade, shows just how dominant he was against the run. In 32 run-defense snaps, he recorded zero negatively graded plays. He recorded five solo run stops, and assisted on two others. He was consistently fighting off double teams and disrupting the play, shrinking holes and clogging up lanes. Texas was very successful running the ball that game, but of their 329 yards rushing, only 45 yards on 12 carries came up the middle where Romar was frequently positioned. That’s why his +8.7 grade ranks so high on the list.

5. Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph vs. Kansas State, Week 5

Yet another top-level QB finds his way on this list. This time it’s the cannon-arm Rudolph, whose +7.5 grade in his game against Kansas State came entirely from his passing performance. He completed 34-of-50 aimed passes for 437 yards and three touchdowns to one interception. He made big-time throws and, as usual, pushed the ball down the field with skill. He went 4-of-7 on throws over 20 yards downfield for 125 yards and a touchdown. What was most impressive, though, was that he actually played better when the Wildcats’ pass rush got to him. He averaged 9.7 yards per attempt and threw two touchdowns when dealing with pressure, compared to just 7.4 and 1 TD to 1 INT when faced with a clean pocket.

6. Baylor RB Johnny Jefferson vs. North Carolina, Russell Athletic Bowl

This is a performance that nearly everyone remembers. Jefferson really came on late in the season after a slow start and put on an absolute clinic in the Bears’ final game of the season, the Russell Athletic Bowl. Part of a rushing attack that gained 640 (!) yards on 83 (!!!) carries, Jefferson led the way with an almost unheard of 299 yards rushing on 23 carries. That’s 13.0 yards per carry. Of those yards, 119 of them came after first contact and he managed to break five tackles on the day. Most of the time he was just blowing by people on his way to one of his three touchdowns on the day and a +5.3 rushing grade.

7. Baylor DE K.J. Smith vs. Rice, Week 4

Smith actually had two of the 10 highest-graded games in the Big 12 last year, but we’re only going to highlight his most impressive one. That was in Week 4 against the Rice Owls, where he managed to grade out at +7.0 despite playing a mere 23 snaps. He was busy in those snaps, recording two quarterback hurries and a quarterback hit, as well as drawing a holding penalty. All of those pressures came within three seconds of the ball being snapped. Against the run he made four solo stops, and beat multiple double teams to help disrupt the play. Perhaps if Baylor had used him a bit more frequently, this game might’ve been even higher on this list.

8. Oklahoma DE Charles Walker vs. Tennessee, Week 2

Here’s another player who made our PFF College 101, coming in at No. 46 as the highest-ranked Big-12 defender. Much of that is due to his stellar play against the run, and his game against Tennessee really highlighted that. While he did record two quarterback hurries and a positive pass-rushing grade, most of his +6.7 overall grade came from his play against the run. All five of his tackles stopped the running back short of a four-yard gain. He was routinely standing up his blocker, disrupting pull blocks and generally wreaking havoc all over a Tennessee run game that gained just 59 yards on 21 carries to Walker’s side of the field.

9. Oklahoma OT Orlando Brown vs. Iowa State, Week 10

Finally, we get an offensive lineman making the list with his strong play. Orlando Brown had a very up-and-down season, but his game against Iowa State was quite impressive. He was on the field for 39 passing dropbacks, and didn’t allow a single pressure on any of them. In fact, in 65 total snaps on the day, he was only beaten by his man on two of them. The rest he either won significantly or did exactly what he was supposed to do. Even the times he was beat, the defender couldn’t make a tackle or a real play on the ball-carrier. His strong run-blocking grade of +4.3 was one of the biggest reasons the Sooners rushed for a ridiculous 301 yards on 34 carries.

10. Kansas State C Dalton Risner vs. Kansas, Week 13

Based on how Kansas played last year, it’s almost not fair to put anything done against them on this list. But still, Risner was very impressive in this game, as he was all season long for the Wildcats. Against Kansas, he didn’t allow a single pressure in 24 dropbacks. But he was even better in anchoring a rushing attack that gained 237 yards and scored five touchdowns. Well over half of those yards came before contact, which means the offensive line was doing its job. Risner was only beaten three times in 44 rushing plays, and none of them were near the point of attack. It was a truly impressive performance from the top returning center in the Big 12, and the Wildcats should look forward to more of those this season.

| Analyst

Bryson has been an analyst at Pro Football Focus since 2014, and has also been a contributor to 120 Sports.

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