Interesting answers out of ESPN’s Big 12 Blog roundtable yesterday. The three writers that cover the blog – Jake Trotter (head writer), Bandom Chatom, and Max Olson – discussed the league’s best offensive and defensive players, as well as the conference’s most critical injuries. Each writer was allowed to select one player to focus on. And when the question was asked, who is the Big 12′s most underrated player, Trotter and Olson both chose Wildcats (Tyler Lockett for Trotter and Ryan Mueller for Olson).
This is a story that K-State fans are used to – someone in the national media mentioning that a lightly recruited (Lockett) or even walk-on (Mueller) player is doing incredible things in Manhattan, but their lack of five-star rating coming out of high school and location at K-State forces them to go under the radar. Yet Lockett and Mueller have put together seasons that aren’t just good – they’re absolutely elite.
Trotter went offensively with Lockett, and noted that he should absolutely be a first teamer on the All-Big 12 squad. No argument here – Lockett averages 162 all-purpose yards per game. That’s amazing. It leads the conference by a long shot. What he’s done the past two weeks, taking good cornerbacks and making them cry, makes him the best route-runner I’ve seen in the nation this year. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the 278 receiving yards he put up against Oklahoma. With close loses to Texas and Oklahoma State with Lockett watching both games injured on the sidelines, you have to think the Wildcats would be in contention to win the conference and go BCS bowling if Lockett was available.
Olson opted to go defense with Mueller, who has had an equally remarkable year. Mueller’s not playing with the best defensively line, and that causes him to receiver more attention from blockers than he’d like. It doesn’t matter. No one can contain him. His motor fires on ten cylinders all game long, while other players are only equipped with eight and are only willing to engage six. He has 10.5 sacks, 17 tackles for loss. His sacks have created 56 lost yards and the tackles for loss have caused 70 yards lost. He’s also forced three fumbles and recovered one (the strip at Baylor in which he flew approximately 10 yards to knock the ball away from quarterback Bryce Petty and recovered it himself). Mueller has been a beast all year for this team.
There’s no question both Mueller and Lockett will be on the All-Big 12 team. There’s no disrespect here. But they deserve those spots nationally too. It will be a travesty if they’re not. But as the league’s most underrated players, well, we all remember when the quarterback with the best stats in the nation had to take a backseat in the Heisman voting last year to a kid with one exciting win on his resume because Johnny Manziel captured the nation’s attention playing in the SEC, while Collin Klein put up better numbers but didn’t win the hearts and minds of voters because all he did was win. And throw. And run. Under the radar.