20 star playmakers who could own the Pac-12 this season
From Marcus Mariota to Brett Hundley, the Pac-12 is loaded with big-name stars. Who are some others primed to have big seasons in 2014? Here are 20 playmakers who could rule the league this season.
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Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State
Playing in Corvallis, Oregon, Mannion doesn’t get as much attention as he deserves given he’s one of college football’s most prolific passers. He ranked second in 2013 with 4,662 yards and will have a shot to top that as a senior in 2014 if the Beavers can find a couple players to fill the void on production Brandin Cooks leaves behind.
Getty ImagesRalph Freso
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Hundley turned down the NFL to return to Westwood, and now expectations at UCLA are as high as they’ve been since Jim Mora took over. Along with Oregon, the Bruins are tabbed as a favorite to win the Pac-12 and one of the handful of teams that seem especially well suited to crack the playoff field. Hundley will be a stud this season and then (most likely) become a top-10 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State
If you’re looking for a prolific passer to follow in 2014, Halliday is a great choice. He threw for 4,597 yards and 34 touchdowns last season – completing 62.9 percent of his throws – and will gun for better numbers this season with Mike Leach again calling the plays. If Halliday can cut down his interceptions (22 in 2013), he’ll help the Cougars take another step forward.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsMark J. Rebilas
A.J. Tarpley, LB, Stanford
Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov have received more attention, but Tarpley chipped in 93 tackles last season (second on team) and now will be the main attraction in Stanford’s LB crops with Murphy and Skov gone. An All-Pac-12 honorable mention in 2013, Tarpley has a great chance to be a first-team selection this year.
Getty ImagesTony Medina
Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA
Jack has said repeatedly that he’s a linebacker first, and UCLA coach Jim Mora has backed that message. But when you’re the Pac-12’s Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2013, it’s hard to separate the LB from the RB who scored seven TD’s. Expect Jack to play on both sides of the ball again this fall and be an all-around star for the Bruins as they push for a playoff spot.
Leonard Williams, DE, USC
At 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds, Williams is a physical beast. Combine that size with how well he moves it, and he becomes a specimen. Williams figures to be one of the best defensive lineman in the country this season and the potential anchor to a strong USC defense. If it all comes together, Williams will be a top 10 pick next May.
Dres Anderson, WR, Utah
Anderson was overlooked last season, but he shouldn’t be in 2014. He averaged 18.9 yards per catch in 2013 and leads all returning receivers in yards per game (83.5). If Utah QB Travis Wilson’s health checks out, he and Anderson could form one of the league’s best duos.
Getty ImagesGene Sweeney Jr.
Jared Goff, QB, Cal
Goff had his rough moments as a freshman last season – 35 sacks, surgery on his throwing shoulder – but there were plenty of positives. He threw for a school-record 3,508 yards – including a single-game record 504 against Washington State – and contributed 18 TDs. The Bears have a lot of work to do to be competitive in the Pac-12 North, but Goff is a quality centerpiece.
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Nelson Agholor, WR, USC
Marqise Lee is gone to the NFL and someone needs to become the No. 1 target for QB Cody Kessler. That someone is Agholor, who’s among the most explosive offensive weapons in the country and is ready for a breakout season in Los Angeles.
Getty ImagesStephen Dunn
Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford
Hogan didn’t explode quite like some were expecting him to last season, but that could happen now with workhorse running back Tyler Gaffney gone. Stanford will always be a run-heavy team, but it should be no surprise if Hogan cracks 3,000 yards passing in 2014 and the Cardinal win a few more game based on his arm.
Getty ImagesJeff Gross
D.J. Foster, RB, Arizona State
Marion Grice is gone, which opens up more opportunities for Foster, who emerged late last season. Foster is a powerful runner and adept receiver out of the backfield, catching 63 balls for 653 yards and four TDs last season. Should Arizona State make a run in 2014, you’ll be hearing a lot about Foster.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY SportsMatt Kartozian
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Mariota might have been the first QB taken in the draft had he turned pro, but he’s back in Eugene as a redshirt junior and his return alone makes Oregon one of the nation’s elite teams entering 2014 (as you can see in this list, he has some help around him). Mariota needs to stay healthy – a knee injury hampered him some last season, including in Oregon’s loss at Stanford – and if he does, it’s hard to imagine the Ducks not being among the top offenses and teams once again.
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Fabian Moreau, CB, UCLA
Myles Jack is the defensive star you already know, and Fabian Moreau is the one you’ll know soon. He had 52 tackles, four passes defended and one forced fumble, which earned him an All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection. As a junior in 2014, he should get recognized as among the best corners in the country.
Getty ImagesHarry How
Su'a Cravens, S, USC
Cravens created buzz through fall camp last season as a true freshman and we saw why. Cravens was a study at safety, recording 53 tackles, four interceptions and two forced fumbles. He’s a physically imposing specimen and should become the Trojans’ next great defensive back by the team he heads to the NFL in two years.
Getty ImagesJonathan Daniel
Thomas Tyner, RB, Oregon
Tyner was a stud last season, although Oregon’s backfield included De’Anthony Thomas and another guy on this list. He had 711 yards rushing at 6.18 per clip and finished second on the team with nine TDs. Tyner should easily clear his raw total with more opportunities this season, and the Ducks could have the best RB duo in the league.
Getty ImagesSteve Dykes
Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
Strong was one of the Pac-12’s brightest stars last season, catching 75 passes for 1,122 yards, and is ready to become known as a national star in 2014. At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, he has the kind of size that will overmatch most college QBs and a dear friend of QB Taylor Kelly. If ASU is to challenge the Pac-12 South title this season, Strong will be a huge part of it.
Getty ImagesRonald Martinez
Byron Marshall, RB, Oregon
The second Duck running back on the list, Marshall could find himself on some Heisman lists this season if all goes well. He led Oregon in TDs last season with 14 while racking up 1,038 yards on 168 carries. Combine Marshall with Tyner and Mariota, and the Ducks will blow a lot of people out.
Getty ImagesSteve Dykes
Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford
Montgomery is back for his senior season on The Farm, and he’ll try to beat his 958 yards and the 10 TDs from last season. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Montgomery is a physical challenge for most defensive backs and should wreak havoc in the league this season. When he faces off against UCLA’s Moreau on Nov. 28, it will be must-watch.
Getty ImagesEzra Shaw
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
Turning down the chance to be a high first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft was Oregon’s good fortune, as Ekpre-Olomu gives the Ducks an elite shutdown corner for another year. As Ekpre-Olomu is the fourth Duck on this list, Oregon is obviously a favorite in the Pac-12 and a strong contender to make the inaugural playoff.
Getty ImagesJoe Robbins
Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
The Pac-12 is flush with great QBs, and Kelly is among them. He ranked fourth in the league in yards (3,625) and touchdowns (28) last season, while contributing 608 yards on the ground. With Strong and Foster also on this list, the Sun Devils clearly have plenty of firepower to make a run at a Pac-12 title in 2014.