IRVING, Texas -- In the 15 seasons of the Big 12, the talent pool has been deep enough to produce perennial contenders for the national championship, the Heisman Trophy and all other measures of success.
But who was the best of the best?
Former Texas quarterback Vince Young, former Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops rose to the top in voting for The Associated Press' all-time, all-Big 12 team, released Wednesday.
With the conference as we've known it going into its final weeks, the AP asked voters for this year's all-conference squad to pick a team based on the league's entire run. Voters were asked to take into account how a guy played over his entire tenure in the Big 12 and not to factor in whether the player became a star or a bust as a pro.
Suh and Young were chosen the top players on each side of the ball. Suh and Stoops were runaway winners in the voting by 20 writers from newspapers across the seven states.
Suh and Stoops had the same reaction when told of the news Wednesday: "Wow."
"I feel honored, for sure, and humbled because I've got great respect for the other strong, successful programs in the league and the other great coaches," Stoops said.
"That's huge!" said Suh, who at 6-foot-4, 307 pounds is rather large himself. "That's a great honor."
Young was a narrow choice over another Longhorns star, running back Ricky Williams. Of the 26 position players chosen, Suh and Williams were the only unanimous picks.
"They were exceptional players," Stoops said. "Young led their team to a national championship and was a catalyst, he made plays at important times. Suh was just a dominating defensive presence. When you had him in the middle of the offense, the middle of the defense, it was impossible to run away from him. He was just a constant presence of disruption and really just made a huge difference in their defense."
Considering that Oklahoma has won seven of the 14 Big 12 South titles already settled, and could grab another this season, it's no surprise Sooners dominate the list. Oklahoma led the way with seven honorees, five on defense.
"We've had a lot of great, loyal, hard-working young men -- those seven and a whole bunch of others that didn't make the list but contributed to the success we've had over the years and the championships we've been able to win," Stoops said.
Actually, 14 more Sooners received votes, just not enough to be first-stringers on this team.
Texas had six players honored, three on each side of the ball. Nebraska had four, two on each side.
Oklahoma State and Kansas State each had two players chosen.
There was one each from A&M, Baylor, Texas Tech, Missouri and Colorado. Kansas and Iowa State didn't have any selections.
The Big 12 began in 1996, created by a merger of the Big Eight and the Southwest Conference. A conference team has played in seven BCS national championship games and four players have brought home the Heisman.
But after this year, Nebraska and Colorado are leaving for other conferences and the remaining 10 schools have decided to scrap their two-division, championship-game format and play each other every year. So this seemed like the perfect time for a nostalgic comparison of the top players -- and to appreciate how tough some of the choices were, consider the players who did NOT make it.
Nebraska's Eric Crouch won a Heisman Trophy and Oklahoma's Jason White won a Heisman Trophy and a national championship, yet neither got a single vote. Neither did any of Texas Tech's record-setting quarterbacks or Kansas State's electrifying Michael Bishop. There was hardly any support for Sam Bradford, another Heisman winner who played for a national championship, or Colt McCoy, who won more games than any quarterback in major-college history and led the Longhorns to the national championship game last season.
Fans might claim a bias for or against teams in the North or South, but there were 10 voters from each division. As for the notion voters of votes being slanted toward older or newer eras, just look at the two unanimous picks -- Williams played from 1995-98 and Suh from 2006-09. Williams was the first AP Big 12 offensive player of the year, Suh the most recent defensive player of the year.
Rounding out the offensive honorees were: Oklahoma State receiver Rashaun Woods, Missouri tight end Chase Coffman and all-purpose standout Darren Sproles of Kansas State, plus a bevy of linemen: Nebraska center Dominic Raiola, Justin Blalock of Texas, Jammal Brown of Oklahoma, Russell Okung of Oklahoma State and Aaron Taylor of Nebraska.
On defense, the rest of the selections were: linemen Tommie Harris of Oklahoma, Brian Orakpo of Texas and Grant Wistrom of Nebraska; linebackers Rocky Calmus and Teddy Lehman of Oklahoma; and defensive backs Michael Huff of Texas, Terence Newman of Kansas State and Derrick Strait of Oklahoma.