Freshman year of college is big adjustment. For some talented Pac-12 freshman football players, it’ll be an even bigger adjustment, as they begin their college careers as starters for some of the top programs in the country.
With less than a week before the 2012 season kicks off, here’s a look at the Pac-12 freshmen most likely to make an impact this year:
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
You can’t have an “Impact Freshman” list without including the freshman in charge of one of the top five teams in the nation.
After a quarterback competition that lasted the duration of fall camp, redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota was handed the keys to the Ducks’ high-speed offense. Word on the web is that Mariota must be insanely good to have won the role over veteran backup Bryan Bennett. Maybe he is, but Mariota knows he doesn’t always have to be, as long as he gets the ball to the team’s dynamic playmakers, Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas.
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
In football, losing records hurt your job security whether you’re a coach or a player. Hundley, a redshirt freshman, beat out ineffective veteran starters Kevin Prince and Robert Brehaut to become the next Bruins’ quarterback. New head coach Jim Mora hopes he won’t need to find another one anytime soon, and with reports from camp gushing over Hundley’s speed and his ability to throw the ball at a run, Hundley might be an impact player for the Bruins far beyond his freshman season.
Jake Brendel, C, UCLA
The Bruins may have found their quarterback, but they don’t have a very concrete idea of who’ll be protecting him on the offensive line. One of the few spots that’s been set is center, where redshirt freshman Brendel will set the tempo and make pass protection calls in a new no-huddle offense. Brendel and Hundley will be key to UCLA’s success on offense this season – and the next few, if they’re any good at it.
Max Tuerk, OL, USC
Tuerk isn’t penciled in as a starter for the Trojans yet, but he was impressive playing with the first team offense when projected starting left tackle Aundrey Walker was out with a shoulder injury. A true freshman protecting a Heisman candidate’s blind side sounds like a dicey proposition, but Walker, a sophomore, doesn’t have any starting experience either, and Tuerk has continued to challenge for the role since Walker’s return.
Storm Woods, RB, Oregon State
The Beavers’ didn’t have a rushing offense to speak of last season. This year, they have Woods. He redshirted last year while struggling to learn the offense and by the end of the year he was the scout team’s Co-MVP. In 2012, he’s the first-team running back after winning the job over 2011 starter Malcolm Agnew, who struggled with a hamstring injury.
D.J. Foster, RB, Arizona State
Unlike Woods, Foster doesn’t have to carry the Sun Devils’ ground game. He’ll split time with senior tailback Cameron Marshall, one of the conference’s most talented backs, while he gets his legs under him, but Foster could have an opportunity to be a big player for the offense. Marshall dealt with hamstring, knee and ankle injuries throughout 2011 and had ankle surgery in the offseason. He also missed two weeks of fall camp because of the hamstring, and when he was out, Foster was in, looking right at home and ready for action.
Bralon Addison, WR, Oregon
Addison isn’t one of the Ducks’ starting receivers, but that doesn’t mean he won’t make an impact. (Sophomore star De’Anthony Thomas isn’t a starter either, but he’ll be on the field plenty.) Addison played receiver his first two years of high school and quarterback the final two, and now he’s back to receiver. The true freshman is versatile, and much like Thomas, coach Chip Kelly plans to use his athleticism in a variety of roles on offense and special teams.
Bryce Treggs, WR, Cal
Last season at USC, true freshman Marqise Lee almost stole the show from star wideout Robert Woods. This year, Treggs has the chance to do the same thing at Cal. The Bears return first-team All Pac-12 receiver Keenan Allen, but opposing defenses should double-team Allen and ignore Treggs at their own risk. Treggs gives QB Zach Maynard another dangerous target, and if he performs as well in games as he did in preseason, the Bears could have one of the most potent offenses in the Pac-12.
Gabe Marks, WR, Washington State
See “Bryce Treggs,” above. Marks is also playing opposite an all-conference receiver in Marquess Wilson. Both wideouts will benefit from head coach Mike Leach‘s penchant for passing. Marks is in prime position to be the Pac-12′s next top receiver, and Wilson won’t be covered quite as closely with the true freshman waiting to make a move on the other side.
Josh Tupou, DL, Colorado
Colorado’s coaches and veteran players are raving about Tupou, who’s listed as co-starter at nose tackle in the season opener. The true freshman is still learning the ins and outs of the game at the college level, but once he gets a little more experience under his belt, expect him to own the starting role outright.
Kenny Crawley, CB/PR, Colorado
Last year’s weak pass defense opened the door for Crawley to start at left cornerback as a true freshman in 2012. He’ll have an even greater chance to make a name for himself on special teams, where he’ll start the season as the primary punt returner.
(Note: Not all teams have released depth charts, and the depth charts that are public are always subject to change. This list is based on available information about which freshmen will play, and which ones are set up for success.)