Top 25 Players in Big 12 History: No. 14, Justin Blackmon/Tommie Harris

Tommie Harris and Justin Blackmon had different starting lines, but they both dominated their Big 12 Conference opposition
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As the Big 12 Conference ramps up its 25th football season, it’s a good time to look back through the league’s illustrious history and identify the best football players ever to suit up.

It was a daunting task to rank players from 14 schools over 24 seasons. Some schools, of course, didn’t participate in all 24 years.

Rather than select an all-time All-Big 12 team — we’ll endeavor to pull that off after the 25th season has concluded — publishers from SI affiliates who currently cover the Big 12 were asked to vote on their top 25 players.

Players were judged on both their college careers and their professional football exploits. National awards, championships and individual achievement were all considered.

In all, nearly 50 players received votes. Only 10 players were unanimous selections.

With that, the countdown continues with No. 14 — another tie between a Sooner and Cowboy:

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The two players tied at No. 14 on our list started their college careers in a completely different fashion.

Tommie Harris’ very first play at Oklahoma was a tackle for loss. In the 2001 season opener against North Carolina, Harris threw aside Tar Heels center Adam Metts — a senior and 2 1/2-year starter — went after quarterback Ronald Curry and instead stopped to knock down running back Willie Parker for a 4-yard loss.

Justin Blackmon needed a little more time and spent his freshman year, 2008, in redshirt.

But both left their schools among the most feared and accomplished both at their position and across college football.

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Ardmore, OK, native was mostly a role player during his redshirt freshman season in 2009, but his all-time greatness surfaced in 2010, when he caught 111 passes for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns, and then followed that with 122 catches for 1,522 yards and 18 TDs. In 38 games as a Cowboy, Blackmon scored 42 career touchdowns.

Justin Blackmon

Justin Blackmon

Blackmon won the Fred Biletnikoff Award each of those two seasons, joining Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree as the only two-time winner of the top receiver award. He was also Big 12 offensive player of the year in 2010, and was named consensus All-America both seasons.

Blackmon’s Cowboys won their only Big 12 championship in 2011, and but for a controversial missed field goal in a narrow loss at Iowa State, might have played — and might have been favored to win — the national championship that season.

After catching eight passes for 186 yards and three TDs in the Fiesta Bowl against Stanford, Blackmon announced he would skip his senior year and declared for the NFL Draft.

He was the fifth overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2012 draft and caught 64 passes for 865 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie.

But Blackmon played just two seasons before problems with addiction, violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy and arrests for DUI and marijuana possession ruined his pro career.

Blackmon was paid $12.5 million during his NFL career, including a signing bonus of $8.9 million, according to Spotrac.

Harris, a 5-star noseguard from Killeen, TX, was projected as Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, and he lived up to the hype. He was a two-time All-Big 12 pick in 2002 and 2003, was named consensus All-America in 2002 and earned unanimous All-America accolades in 2003.

Tommie Harris

Tommie Harris

The 6-3, 295-pound Harris capped his junior season by winning the Vince Lombardi Award as the top interior lineman in college football.

Harris’ game featured unnatural upper-body strength and equally freaky lower-body quickness. He could speed-rush on one play and bull-rush on the next, and most times blockers had no chance in a one-on-one matchup.

Harris went to the Chicago Bears with the 14th overall pick in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft, and he lived up to the hype there, too.

Harris played seven seasons with the Bears, finished second in the Defensive Rookie of the Year voting in 2004 and made three Pro Bowls (2004-06).

According to Spotrac, Harris’ career earnings in the NFL came to almost $26 million.

Harris played his final season in 2011 with the San Diego Chargers and retired in 2012 after the sudden passing of his wife less than two months after their wedding.

Tomorrow

No. 15

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