Tavon Austin seems to get most of the credit, and he's certainly deserving because of his ability to be a factor in so many facets of the game. But Stedman Bailey might be the Big 12's top returning receiver after putting up 1,279 receiving yards, almost 18 yards per catch and 12 scores. Austin is a threat as a receiver (101 catches for 1,186 yards and eight touchdowns) a runner (11.4 yards per rush, one touchdown) and as a return man. Ivan McCartney is an underrated third option, catching 49 passes for 585 yards last year. Senior J.D. Woods is the front-runner at the inside receiver spot opposite Austin.
Kendall Wright is an obvious loss. But the rest of the Bears' vaunted and speedy receiving corps returns, headlined by Terrance Williams, one of the top couple receivers in the league. Williams has great size at 6-3 205, and the speed to run by defensive backs, as evidenced by his 957 receiving yards, his 16.2 yards per catch and his 11 receiving touchdowns. Opposite Williams is Lanear Sampson, who should produce even more than the 572 yards he put up last year. And with slick slot receiver Tevin Reese (51-877-7), the Bears have more than enough weapons to trouble defenses. Having Jordan Navjar and Jordan Monk at tight end, and even more depth behind that starting receiver trio, means that the Bears are in a great spot to continue their aerial dominance.
At first glance, this is too high for the Sooners, who lost Ryan Broyles to graduation, and may well have lost Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks to disciplinary measures. But in Kenny Stills, Oklahoma brings back one of the top outside receivers in the conference, somebody who had 61 catches for 849 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011. But is he even the best outside receiver on his own team? True freshman Trey Metoyer was the country's top receiver coming out of high school, then spent last year at a prep school to qualify. He put together a massive spring and has the look of an impact guy. If Oklahoma wants to go with a jumbo look, the Sooners could toss out Courtney Gardner (6-3 215) to pair with the 6-1 Stills and 6-2 Metoyer. If not, keep an eye on somebody like true freshman Sterling Shepard as a potential slot guy. Durron Neal and Derrick Woods could also have a chance to play as true freshmen.
The Horned Frogs have an advantage over most teams in the league in that they can go four-deep in their receiving corps without losing a beat, and with all four players providing something different. Thick outside receiver Josh Boyce does an outstanding job of beating man-to-man coverage, and finished just two yards shy of 1,000 last yearn while averaging 16.4 yards per catch and snagging nine touchdowns. Skye Dawson is one of the Big 12's fastest players and can get the ball in a variety of situations. Brandon Carter could be ready to emerge as a slithery player with great ball skills. And the emergence of redshirt freshman Ladarius Brown in the spring gives the Horned Frogs a huge 6-4, 220-pound target.
The Longhorns have three receivers who put up 100-plus yards in a game last year, but needs to get the whole unit going at the same time. Jaxon Shipley, who caught 44 passes for 607 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman despite missing time to injuries, could be the best overall player on the Texas offense. Mike Davis has shown the ability to be a No. 1 receiver at times, but needs to be more consistent. He had 45 catches for 609 yards last year. And Marquise Goodwin, the Big 12's fastest player, came on in a big way late in the season. Can he take that next step in 2012? At least one of a stellar freshman class of Cayleb Jones, Marcus Johnson and Kendall Sanders will play early, and a healthy John Harris could also factor in. At tight end, D.J. Grant has shown he can get the job done as a receiver, but must get better as a blocker. Keep an eye on redshirt freshman M.J. McFarland as well.
Best of the Rest
6) Texas Tech — As usual, the Red Raiders have a deep crop of pass catchers, led by a now-heathy Darrin Moore and last year's top threat Eric Ward. Alex Torres has a knack for getting open, and another four receivers could factor in in some respect. If Jace Amaro can overcome legal troubles, he has big-time tight end potential.
7) Oklahoma State — The Cowboys return some complementary pieces from a year ago, but are on the hunt for a true No. 1 receiver. It could be Tracy Moore, who moved from the inside to the outside in the spring. Fellow returning starter Isaiah Anderson is solid. One of Josh Stewart or Charlie Moore could break out and become a star as well. Blake Jackson plays the "big inside receiver," or tight end, in the Cowboy offense.
8) Kansas State — If the Wildcats lean a bit more to the pass this year, the biggest beneficiary could be Chris Harper, who showed flashes of being a big-time receiver in 2011. Harper runs extremely well for a player of his bulk, and is a tough cover. Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett are nightmare matchups in space, and Curry Sexton has an aptitude for the position. Travis Tannehill is a reliable target at tight end.
9) Kansas — The Jayhawk unit is buoyed by the return of top receiver Daymond Patterson, who missed 2011 with an injury. D.J Beshears and Kale Pick are solid options as well, but the Jayhawks seem to lack a top-notch target to scare defenses. Could it be incoming JUCO receiver Josh Ford? Or maybe Jacorey Sheperd, a sophomore who had moments as a true freshman? Tight end is strong with Jimmay Mundine, Trent Smiley and Notre Dame transfer Mike Ragone.
10) Iowa State — Josh Lenz is the lone returning starter from a Cyclone unit that didn't exactly strike fear into the hearts of opponents a year ago. Lenz should build on last year's 39-catch, 510-yard season, and Aaron Horne and Jarvis West both saw enough time to finish as Iowa State's third and fourth-leading receivers, respectively. West has the potential to be a breakout player, while Albert Gary could actually emerge as the Cyclones' leading receiver.