|Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press|
|Baylor QB Bryce Petty was prolific in his first season as a starter.|
It's fun to talk about numbers in sports, and while projecting stats might seem an exercise in futility to some, did we mention that it's fun to talk about numbers in sports?
Besides, we're still about six weeks away from the start of the college football season, so why not slip on the Nostradamus hat and try to figure out who will lead various statistical categories in each league?
Today, we're spotlighting the Big 12 before hitting the Pac-12 on Thursday and the SEC on Friday.
Passing yards: Baylor QB Bryce Petty
Buzz: Petty led the Big 12 in passing yards last season by a country mile (nearly 1,500 yards to be more precise) and finished fourth nationally despite nearly 200 fewer attempts than those signal-callers ahead of him. With Antwan Goodley back to lead a deep receiving corps, Petty should easily be able to hold off Texas Tech's Davis Webb and top the conference in passing once again.
Rushing yards: Baylor RB Shock Linwood
Buzz: The Big 12 is as tough as any league to figure out when it comes to projecting who will be the conference's leading rusher because so many quality backs will get carries. Texas will feed Malcom Brown, Joe Bergeron and, if healthy, Jonathan Gray a ton while West Virginia has one of the deepest backfields in the country. You can pick just about any team in the league and there are a number of candidates who could end up atop the charts. Baylor had the Big 12's leading rusher a season ago in Lache Seastrunk, and Linwood, Seastrunk's injury replacement, ran for 881 yards on just 128 carries, so he's as good a bet as any.
Receiving yards: Kansas State WR Tyler Lockett
Buzz: Yes, Antwan Goodley is the leading returning receiver to the Big 12 and should put up huge numbers once again, but given the depth Baylor has at the position, one figures they'll spread things out quite a bit this year. Lockett wasn't too far behind Goodley and the Wildcats' passing game will be the strength of the offense this year with quarterback Jake Waters continuing to develop.
Tackles: Kansas LB Ben Heeney
Buzz: One of the few bright spots for the Jayhawks on defense, Heeney might be the first player from the program drafted in five years when the calendar ticks over to 2015. He was named second-team All-Big 12 the past two seasons and is a first-team candidate this year. Considering he's the Big 12's second-leading returning tackler, chances are Heeney can find himself atop the list in 2014 if teams don't scheme away from him too much.
Sacks: Kansas State DE Ryan Mueller
Buzz: Like a number of these categories, there were a wealth of options to pick from with guys like Cedric Reed (Texas), Devonte Fields (TCU) and a number of others all having a case. Mueller has the motor and hustle you expect out of a former walk-on and set a school record last season with 11.5 sacks as a terror off the edge, but could be in store for an even bigger year for the Wildcats.
Interceptions: TCU S Sam Carter
Buzz: Carter's five picks last season placed him in a tie for second place in the conference right behind first-round pick Justin Gilbert. Carter is the leader of the deep Horned Frogs secondary and should have plenty of chances to lead the league in interceptions this year given how much teams throw the ball around and the pressure the TCU defense puts on them. He's a savvy veteran and should be able to hold off other contenders like Texas' Quandre Diggs, West Virginia's Karl Joseph and Kansas' Isaiah Johnson, among others.
Follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.