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Big 12's biggest midseason surprises, disappointments

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Need another reminder of how topsy-turvy the Big 12 has been and will be this season? All but one of the five biggest disappointments -- injured TCU defensive end Devonte Fields -- could stage a dramatic revival before it comes to an end. Heck, a Texas team that looked to be dead and buried a couple of weeks ago now sits atop the conference with a perfect 3-0 record.

And maybe that's the biggest takeaway from the Big 12 at the halfway point -- it's a conference that is simply unpredictable and thoroughly average. No one would confuse it for the deep Pac-12 or top-heavy SEC. And it shouldn't be a surprise, not with former members Nebraska tied for the lead in the Big Ten Legends Division, Missouri undefeated in the free-for-all SEC East and Texas A&M in the top 10 and capable of making a push for the BCS title with a little help.

Texas and Oklahoma are not back as elite title contenders with a national profile to match. Baylor looks to be all offense, just enough everything else. Oklahoma State thought it was ready for the big-time. TCU and West Virginia are going through growing pains in their new home. Kansas State has taken a step back, while Kansas and Iowa State have plenty of work to do.

Only Texas Tech has shown dramatic improvement from the end of last season, but has yet to face any of the top-tier teams in the conference.

The Big 12 has work to do, that much is clear.

Five biggest surprises


Baylor WR Antwan Goodley: Someone was going to step in for the departed Terrance Williams and put up huge numbers in the Baylor offense. Enter Goodley, a redshirt junior who has already tripled his previous career production in five games this season (26 receptions for Big 12-high 679 yards and six touchdowns). Goodley has exceptional game-breaking ability, as all but one of his scores covered at least 61 yards. Assuming he can address the drops that were an issue in the Bears' road win at Kansas State, Goodley (5-10, 225) is well on his way to being among the elite receivers in college football.

Texas Tech QB Baker Mayfield: Like something out of a Hollywood script, the walk-on true freshman has sparked the Red Raiders to an undefeated start under new head coach Kliff Kingsbury. In five starts, Mayfield has 1,488 yards and eight touchdowns against five interceptions, showing tremendous maturity and a skill set that melds perfectly with the Air Raid offense. Mayfield missed Texas Tech's last game with a knee injury, but no matter what happens over the rest of his career, he will always have this storybook start.

Baylor DE Shawn Oakman: After one season at Penn State, Oakman transferred to Baylor and has emerged as a key contributor on defense. Even though the redshirt sophomore doesn't start, Oakman is tied for the conference lead with nine tackles for loss and has forced two fumbles. At 6-foot-9 and 275 pounds, Oakman is just beginning to tap into his potential and could conceivably end up anywhere on the defensive line. While the BU offense obviously draws all the attention, Oakman could be the kind of defensive game-changer head coach Art Briles has been lacking.

Oklahoma CB Zach Sanchez: By the Sooners' lofty standards, Sanchez might have been overlooked as a modest three-star recruit. The starting spot opposite Aaron Colvin was supposed to go to Arizona transfer Cortez Johnson or maybe one of the more-touted newcomers like L.J. Moore. Instead, Sanchez (5-11, 176) has started every game this season, posted a team-high nine pass breakups to go with 21 tackles, and has been very steady in coverage. In a conference where corners will always be at a premium, Sanchez will keep the OU pass defense stout in seasons to come.

Kansas WR/RB Tony Pierson: Pierson was already a known quantity after rushing for 202 yards against Texas Tech last season, but it wasn't entirely clear how the junior would fare working mostly at wide receiver. Pierson promptly delivered 295 yards and one touchdown on 19 receptions in a three-game span before suffering a concussion. With his dynamic ability in the open field, Pierson (5-10, 175) is going to be an entertaining option for a moribund team.

Five biggest disappointments


Oklahoma State RB Jeremy Smith: Smith was supposed to be the next 1,000-yard rusher for the Cowboys, but is barely on pace to reach 500 this season. Smith is averaging 3.7 yards per carry and has just 233 yards in five games as the feature back replacing Joseph Randle. Smith has good measurables (5-10, 208) and looked adequate behind Randle last season, but has not been able to demonstrate the decisive one-cut running that Oklahoma State's balanced spread offense demands. Poor blocking from a reshuffled offensive line hasn't helped Smith either, but a change in the depth chart at running back would not be a surprise if he continues to struggle during the second half of the season.

TCU DE Devonte Fields: This season has been an absolute disaster for Fields, a far cry from his brilliant 2012 campaign when he earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman All-America honors by posting 10 sacks. Fields was suspended for violating teams rules and then suffered a season-ending foot injury, finishing with four tackles (two tackles for loss) in three games. Fields will aim to get healthy, recapture that brilliant form and hope that the dark clouds -- self-inflicted or otherwise -- are gone next season.

Kansas QB Jake Heaps: Rated as the top quarterback in the Class of 2010, putting him in lofty company alongside fellow highly touted recruits like Robert Woods, Keenan Allen, Sharrif Floyd and Jake Matthews, Heaps was supposed to revive the lagging Jayhawks passing attack and redeem himself after a miserable season at BYU. Instead, Heaps is averaging 194 passing yards per game for head coach Charlie Weis and his decided schematic advantage. He has eight interceptions against six touchdowns, and doesn't rank in the Big 12's top 10 in passing efficiency. Heaps looks to be one of the biggest recruiting busts in recent memory.

Texas' run defense: Everyone associated with the Longhorns on that side of the ball owns a piece of the disastrous two-game stint against BYU and Ole Miss where they allowed 822 rushing yards and had absolutely no answers for a running quarterback. If Texas continues its turnaround in Big 12 play to come away with nine or 10 wins, or even the conference championship and automatic BCS bowl berth, it will only serve as a confirmation of how much talent was wasted in those two atrocities.

Oklahoma FB Trey Millard: For all his remarkable athletic gifts, Millard (6-2, 253) continues to be wasted as the Sooners' coaching staff remains unwilling to use him as a featured component. Millard is averaging a career-low 6.6 yards per reception on just eight catches, even as the OU quarterbacks have struggled for most of the season. The versatile Millard is going have an NFL career that makes college fans say, "I knew that guy deserved more touches."

Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.

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