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. 18 — incredibly, a four-way tie with a crimson and cream flavor:
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Just like they’ve done in the trophy case and elsewhere, Oklahoma dominates voting of the Top 25 players in Big 12 history — evidenced by four Sooners tied at No. 18.
And not just four Sooners, but four of the most dynamic, decorated and accomplished players in OU history.
Sam Bradford, Ryan Broyles, CeeDee Lamb and DeMarco Murray represent much more than just Oklahoma’s fifth Heisman Trophy, multiple career receiving records, and career touchdowns and total yards records.
But those are good places to start.
After setting several NCAA freshman records with 3,121 yards and 36 touchdowns (only eight INTs) in 2007, Bradford won the 2008 Heisman in leading the Sooners to the back-to-back Big 12 crowns and the BCS Championship Game. As a third-year sophomore, Bradford threw for 4,720 yards with 50 TDs and only eight INTs, won the Davey O’Brien and Sammy Baugh quarterback trophies and was named AP Player of the Year.
The Oklahoma City native completed 67.6 percent of his passes over 31 career games and twice led the NCAA in passer efficiency rating (he currently ranks third all-time with a career rating of 175.6), but his 2009 junior season was unceremoniously disrupted by a sprained shoulder in a season-opening loss to BYU and later a recurrence of the injury in a loss to Texas.
Bradford healed nicely, then lit up his pro day and became the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. The St. Louis Rams picked him to turn around a despondent decade, but the club never added to the Bradford pick with quality talent, and Bradford struggled through an injury-plagued pro career. He was NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2010, but never made it to the playoffs and played for the Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals before unofficially retiring in 2019.
The 2016 season in Minnesota was Bradford’s best as he led the NFL with a .716 completion percentage and threw for 3,877 yards with 20 TDs and 5 INTs. He surpassed 3,500 passing yards four times in his nine seasons, but four others seasons were cut in half (or more) by injuries.
According to Spotrac, Bradford made more than $130 million in his NFL career, including a record six-year, $78 million rookie deal that included a record $50 million in guaranteed money.
One of Bradford’s top receivers in 2008 was Broyles, who caught 46 passes for 687 yards and six TDs as a redshirt freshman. He followed that up with 89 receptions for 1,120 yards and 15 TDs in 2009, an NCAA-leading 131 catches for 1,622 yards and 14 TDs in 2010 and another 83 catches for 1,157 yards and 10 TDs (in just nine games) as a senior in 2011.
Catching most of his passes from Landry Jones, the Norman native set the NCAA record with 349 career receptions (which now ranks No. 3) and produced 4,586 yards (No. 3 in NCAA history, No. 1 Big 12) and 45 touchdowns (fifth all-time). Broyles earned consensus All-America accolades in 2010 and 2011. Broyles also was one of the Big 12’s top punt returners each of his four seasons, racking up 1,194 punt return yards (eighth in Big 12 history).
Sadly, the end of his senior season — a knee injury against Texas A&M — carried over into his NFL career. After being selected in the second round by the Detroit Lions, Broyles suffered another injury as a rookie in 2012 and caught just 22 passes for 310 yards and two TDs in just 10 games. He played six games in 2013 and five in 2014 before he was cut from the team and retired in 2015 with just 32 catches for 420 yards and two scores.
According to Spotrac, Broyles earned just over $3 million in his NFL career.
Lamb hasn’t officially started his NFL season yet — the first-round pick signed a four-year, $14 million rookie deal — but his teammates and coaches with the Dallas Cowboys say they expect big things.
In just three seasons in Norman, the Richmond, TX, product — a Louisiana native displaced by Hurricane Katrina — caught 173 passes for 3,292 yards and 32 touchdowns, ranking in the top four in school history in all three categories.
As a true freshman, Lamb caught 46 passes for 807 yards and seven touchdowns from Baker Mayfield. As a sophomore, he caught 65 passes for 1,158 yards and 11 TDs from Kyler Murray. And as a junior, he caught 62 passes for 1,327 yards and 14 scores from Jalen Hurts.
He was named consensus All-America and runner-up for the Fred Biletnikoff Award in 2019, when he ranked third in the NCAA (and led the Big 12) with an average of 21.4 yards per catch, the best single season (by volume) in OU history. Lamb also was among the Big 12 leaders in punt returns in 2018 and 2019.
Murray is simply the most productive player in Oklahoma history, setting school records for all-purpose yards (6,718) and total touchdowns (65). He also owns the school record for career kickoff return average (27.6) and catches by a running back (157, including an OU single-season mark of 71 in 2010). His career TD total ranks 13th in NCAA history.
Murray was a two-time first-team All-Big 12 pick in 2008 and 2010, when he rushed for 1,002 yards and 1,214 yards, respectively, and scored 38 touchdowns.
In the NFL, Murray carried on his rare combination of burning speed and physical pounding. He compiled three 1,000-yard campaigns and surpassed 160 carries and 650 rushing yards in all seven of his NFL seasons. That includes the 2014 rushing title with the Dallas Cowboys, when he led the league in carries (392), rushing yards (1,845) and rushing TDs (13), as well as a league-high 2,261 all-purpose yards.
Murray ran the football 1,604 times and caught 307 passes and combined for 9,339 all-purpose yards and 55 touchdowns in the NFL.
According to Spotrac, Murray made nearly $26 million in his NFL career, including a $5 million signing bonus and more than $9 million total for his one season with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015.
The Las Vegas native was hired in February to coach running backs at his alma mater.
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