At this time a year ago, Baylor’s Andrew Billings and Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah were coming off outstanding sophomore seasons which resulted in All-Big 12 honors. The duo went on to earn All-America status in 2015, building upon those breakout seasons.
This year, there are several 2015 All-Big 12 honorees who could be ready to follow a similar path. Here is a look at five Big 12 players who earned first- or second-team all-conference honors in 2015 who could rise to All-America status in 2016.
WR K.D. Cannon, Baylor
2015 honors and stats: A second-team All-Big 12 selection, Cannon had 50 receptions for 868 yards and six touchdowns. His 210 receiving yards against Oklahoma State was the third-highest single-game total in the Big 12 a year ago.
Why he could be even better in 2016: Cannon is poised to become the Bears' primary pass-catcher after a couple of seasons in the shadows of Corey Coleman and Antwan Goodley. Now Cannon will get the chance to prove he can be a No. 1 receiver while improving all aspects of his game as a receiver. His blazing speed has already put fear in the hearts of Big 12 defenders but 2016 could mean Cannon getting the ball in even more dangerous positions all over the field.
LB Elijah Lee, Kansas State
2015 honors and stats: The Wildcats' first underclassman to lead the squad in tackles since 2008, Lee recorded 80 tackles including 7.5 tackles for loss and five sacks to earn second-team All-Big 12 honors.
Why he could be even better in 2016: Lee will have several talented players returning around him, which should only make it easier to show off his unique playmaking ability. Defensive tackle Will Geary, linebacker Charmeachealle Moore and safety Dante Barnett are just a few of the returning players on the Wildcats defense who should help free up Lee to excel for a second straight season. And big games on big national stages -- for example, the season opener at Stanford -- could stamp Lee’s name on the mind of college football fans from coast to coast.
CB Jordan Thomas, Oklahoma
2015 honors and stats: Thomas was terrific as a sophomore, earning All-Big 12 second-team honors. He finished with 46 tackles with five interceptions and four pass breakups.
Why he could be even better in 2016: Even though teammate Zack Sanchez earned first-team All-Big 12 honors in 2015, Thomas was as good as anyone in Oklahoma’s secondary a year ago. Not many outside of the Big 12 region consider Thomas a household name but that could change after early-season matchups with Ohio State and Houston. The junior cornerback made a major leap from his freshman to sophomore season and could see a jump to All-America status in 2016 during his third season at Oklahoma.
DE Charles Walker, Oklahoma
2015 honors and stats: All-Big 12 second team after recording 36 tackles (25 solo) including 10 tackles for loss and six sacks along with one forced fumble.
Why he could be even better in 2016: A disruptive force along the Sooners' defensive line as a sophomore, Walker has the unique talent to become the unquestioned top lineman for Oklahoma as a junior. With a terrific combination of mobility, quickness and strength, Walker can line up anywhere along Oklahoma’s defensive line and be a disruptive force. His sophomore season was a breakout campaign but he is still just scratching the surface of his potential and could become consistently dominant as a junior. The Sooners should be in the College Football Playoff hunt and if Walker is a driving force he could become one of the first names on the postseason honor lists.
WR James Washington, Oklahoma State
2015 honors and stats: The Cowboys receiver became one of the Big 12’s best as a sophomore, finishing with 53 receptions for 1,087 yards and 10 touchdowns to earn second-team All-Big 12 honors.
Why he could be even better in 2016: The chemistry between Washington and quarterback Mason Rudolph should be as high as ever and the Cowboys are sure to spend some time this offseason coming up with new ways to get the ball into Washington’s hands. He showed the speed to beat teams deep and the quickness to make plays on sweeps and screens in 2015, but was largely overshadowed by the dynamic trio of Coleman, TCU’s Josh Doctson and Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard. This season, he should be out of their shadows but still making plays which could help earn All-America recognition in a conference known for producing All-America pass-catchers.