- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Quick, name a Big 12 quarterback being mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Sam Bradford is now in the NFL after the 2008 Heisman winner’s injury-shortened time at Oklahoma. So is Colt McCoy, a two-time Heisman finalist who set the NCAA record with 45 victories at Texas.

Zac Robinson? Todd Reesing? Nope, they’re gone too after becoming the most prolific passers at their schools and helping Oklahoma State and Kansas get into the Top 10.

“A few years ago, we had the perfect storm with quarterbacks,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “I always said at that time it was hard to imagine that any league could have the number of high-level quarterbacks that there were. I think it’s a little bit more typical now.”

This season, most of the Big 12 quarterbacks are relative unknowns outside the conference _ and sometimes even outside their own schools.

That is much different from past years, when the likes of Bradford, McCoy, Chase Daniel, Graham Harrell, Brad Smith and Vince Young created plenty of national preseason hype.

“From a competitor’s standpoint, I’m a little excited about it that we don’t have those high-profile guys to worry about and lose sleep over,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said.

Texas coach Mack Brown is careful to separate experience from talent.

“We’ve got some great quarterbacks maybe that haven’t played as much as that little run on quarterbacks we had,” he said. “But I think at the end of the year we’ll be talking about how great this quarterback group is.”

There is dynamic dual-threat quarterback Robert Griffin at Baylor. But he is coming back from right knee surgery that limited him to only three games last year after his sensational freshman season in 2008 (2,934 total yards, 28 touchdowns).

Coach Art Briles won’t be able to blow the whistle Saturday night to keep Sam Houston State defenders from tackling Griffin, who got a medical redshirt and is still considered a sophomore.

“When he’s out there and the bullets are live, he’ll know how to respond,” Briles said. “Robert has good instincts and great talents to go with it.”

The league’s most experienced starters are Iowa State’s Austen Arnaud and Texas A&M’s Jerrod Johnson. Both seniors have started 23 games.

The 6-foot-5 Johnson, a receiver before being moved back to quarterback, led the Big 12 with 314 total yards per game and threw 30 touchdowns last season. But the Aggies still had a losing season.

The Longhorns’ Garrett Gilbert got shoved onto the national stage after McCoy got hurt on the first drive of the BCS national championship game. Gilbert threw the only two TDs _ and only four interceptions _ of his freshman season going 15-of-40 passing against Alabama.

Gilbert gets his first start for fifth-ranked Texas on Saturday at Rice.

“Those teams that lost players like Texas and Oklahoma, they always and will always have guys in the wings ready to step in,” Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said. “I’m sure that you lose a Bradford or McCoy, you look at it from the outside, you say `Wow, that’s too bad.’ … They have guys that will step up and play.”

After Bradford injured his shoulder in last year’s season opener, Landry Jones went on to throw for 3,198 yards, breaking Bradford’s Big 12 freshman record. Bradford was the No. 1 overall draft pick after bypassing his senior season.

“As far as me getting to Sam’s level, that’s not my goal. My goal is not to be Sam Bradford,” Jones said. “Yes, he is a great player. … But that’s not who I’m trying to be right now. I’m trying to be Landry Jones, the best player that I can be.”

Coach Bob Stoops said that, like Bradford, Jones has a good attitude and work ethic while being a humble team guy for the seventh-ranked Sooners. The coach doesn’t want to extend the comparisons much further right now.

“In all fairness to Landry, we love where he’s at. We love everything that he’s doing,” Stoops said. “But to compare him to the No. 1 pick in the draft and a guy that set records, it’s just not fair. … Just isn’t quite fair just yet.”

Zac Lee is back for Nebraska after starting 12 games last season, but coach Bo Pelini won’t say if he will still be the starter when the No. 8 Cornhuskers open Saturday against Western Kentucky.

Lee missed spring practice to recover from surgery on his right (throwing) elbow, possibly clearing the way for backup Cody Green or spring sensation Taylor Martinez to start.

Former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach often plugged in different quarterbacks with the same head-spinning results in his pass-happy offense. Kliff Kingsbury, B.J. Symons, Sonnie Cumby, Cody Hodges, Harrell and Taylor Potts all led the Big 12 _ and often the nation _ in passing.

New Red Raiders coach Tommy Tuberville plans to be a bit more balanced but will still throw plenty. Potts earned the starting nod over Steven Sheffield in the preseason.

At Colorado, junior Tyler Hansen will again start over coach’s son Cody Hawkins; senior Carson Coffman (four starts in 2009) will start for Kansas State; and sophomore Kale Pick replaces Reesing as Kansas’ No. 1 quarterback.

Oklahoma State’s new starter is junior Brandon Weeden after only limited snaps behind Robinson.

Blaine Gabbert followed Daniel at Missouri, and threw for 3,593 yards with 24 TDs and nine interceptions last season even while bothered by a gimpy ankle. Gabbert is healthy and can build on that valuable season of experience.

“Seeing the things I did right and some of the things I did wrong have helped me out a lot,” Gabbert said. “I’m a whole new player.”

Sounds like so many of the Big 12 quarterbacks.

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AP Sports Writers Jeff Latzke in Norman, Okla., Luke Meredith in Ames, Iowa, and Associated Press writers Betsy Blaney in Lubbock Texas, and Alan Scher Zagier in Columbia, Mo., contributed to this report.