One of the most noteworthy elements of the Big 12 race this season is how many of the top contenders are relying on newcomers at key positions.
It starts with defending conference champion Oklahoma State, which is banking on a true freshman to replace Cleveland Browns first-round draft pick Brandon Weeden at quarterback.
Texas could have a junior-college transfer starting at left tackle, while Oklahoma is counting on a five-star prospect to make the transition from prep school phenom to big-play college receiver.
So many true freshmen or junior college transfers could make an impact in the Big 12 this season that we struggled to limit our list to five players. The Big 12's reliance on newcomers is apparent when you notice what school is missing from this list.
Kansas could be using as many newcomers as just about any major conference program in the country this season during Charlie Weis' first year on the job. However, we didn't feel any of the Jayhawks' true freshmen or junior college transfers would make as much of an impact as the five players on our list. Keep in mind we were considering only true freshmen and junior college transfers - not transfers from Division I schools - for the purposes of this project. That's why we didn't include Notre Dame transfer and former five-star prospect Dayne Crist, who is projected to open the season as Kansas' starting quarterback.
Texas OT Donald Hawkins Particulars: 6-5/310; Northwest Mississippi Community College Recruiting rating: Four stars (No. 15 junior college prospect) Buzz: Hawkins enrolled at Texas early and made enough of an impression during spring practice that he has an excellent chance of opening the season as the Longhorns' starting left tackle. Hawkins was a two-year starter at Northwest Mississippi and was a National Junior College Athletic Association first-team All-America selection last fall. On the other side of the line, East Mississippi Community College transfer Brandon Moore could start at defensive tackle.
Baylor LB Eddie Lackey Particulars: 5-11/220; Riverside (Calif.) Community College Recruiting rating: Three stars Buzz: Lackey participated in spring practice and exited those workouts as Baylor's projected starter at weak-side linebacker. Lackey actually returned kickoffs as well as played defense his freshman year at Division II program Northwood University in Midland, Mich. He collected 54 tackles - eight for loss - and broke up six passes last season at Riverside Community College.
Oklahoma State QB Wes Lunt Particulars: 6-4/211; Rochester (Ill.) Recruiting rating: Four stars (No. 7 pro-style quarterback in 2012 class) Buzz: Lunt is about to make history by beginning his college career as Oklahoma State's starting quarterback. Lunt, an early enrollee, was named the Cowboys' starter at the end of spring practice. No true freshman quarterback has started a season opener for Oklahoma State since at least 1950. The last true freshman quarterback to start any game at Oklahoma State was Tone Jones in 1993. Lunt threw for over 7,000 yards with 65 touchdowns and only eight interceptions during his last two years at Rochester, where he played on two state championship teams. Defensive tackle Calvin Barnett of Navarro (Texas) Community College and wide receiver Blake Jackson of Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College could also step right into featured roles.
Oklahoma WR Trey Metoyer Particulars: 6-1/190; Chatham (Va.) Hargrave Military Academy Recruiting rating: Five stars (No. 1 prep school player in 2012 class) Buzz: Metoyer originally signed with Oklahoma after catching 108 passes for 1,540 yards and 23 touchdowns his senior year at Whitehouse (Texas) High, but he needed to spend one year in prep school before beginning his college career. He showed his big-play ability by catching six passes for 72 yards in the spring game. He should team up with Kenny Stills to give Landry Jones a pair of outstanding targets this fall as the Sooners attempt to replace Big 12 career receiving leader Ryan Broyles. Metoyer scored at least 15 touchdowns in three straight seasons at Whitehouse.
Texas Tech LB Will Smith Particulars: 6-3/228; Riverside (Calif.) Community College Recruiting rating: Three stars Buzz: Smith heads into preseason camp as Texas Tech's first-team middle linebacker. Smith has taken a rather indirect route to Texas Tech, but he opened up plenty of eyes with his performance in spring practice. He spent a year at Division II program Northwood University in Midland, Mich., before playing at Riverside Community College last year. Smith collected 13 tackles for loss to help Riverside put together an undefeated season. He made six tackles and picked off a pass in Texas Tech's spring game.