Perhaps no team gained as much from players staying put. Ryan Broyles coming back ensures that the Sooners have the Big 12's best receiving corps for junior Landry Jones to throw to. Broyles had a sensational 2011, and should be just as strong with a great group around him. Linebacker Travis Lewis also decided to come back, a decision that will significantly impact the Sooner defense. With Lewis, Oklahoma has a powerful linebacking unit to build the defense around.
The Tigers could have been primed for a run at the Big 12 title in 2011, but will likely slide back to the middle of the pack after losing their best offensive and defensive players in quarterback Blaine Gabbert and defensive end Aldon Smith, both of whom project as potential top-10 picks. Gabbert's loss hurts less, as James Franklin provides a quality signal caller who is an excellent runner. But it always hurts to lose an edge rusher of Smith's ability, the kind who makes a whole defense better. With those two, this Tiger team closely resembles the one that beat Big 12 South champ Oklahoma last year. Without that duo, Missouri probably is looking at a finish between fourth and sixth in the league.
Winner: Oklahoma State
Cowboy head coach Mike Gundy said Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon weren't ready for the NFL, but raise your hand if you actually believed him. Apparently, Weeden and Blackmon did, electing to return to school. Weeden is the Big 12's version of Chris Weinke, an overaged quarterback who is tearing apart the league with a powerful arm and great decision-making. Blackmon is his favorite target, and returns after putting up the second-best receiving season in Big 12 history as a redshirt sophomore. The Cowboys did graduate Kendall Hunter, but with Weeden and Blackmon back, there isn't a lot of doubt that the running game will be just fine.
OK, so the Longhorns could really be the only other loser, as the Big 12's only other team to lose a player to the draft. But this one has an added sting to it. Losing Aaron Williams as an early entry means that Texas won't return any of its top three cornerbacks from the 2010 season, and leaves true sophomore Carrington Byndom as the unit's most experienced player. Byndom should be OK from the get-go, as he's a long and talented cover guy who saw some important snaps, but a true freshman could seize the spot opposite Byndom, should Eryon Barnett or A.J. White not take advantage of the opening. If Texas gets in a pinch, Kenny Vaccaro and Adrian Phillips have both spent time at the nickel back spot, though each are better suited for that role, or at safety.