College Football Week Five: Players to Watch in the Pac-12
Pac-12 Players to Watch this Weekend
The Pac-12 has four teams currently in the Top 25 (Oregon, Stanford, USC, and Oregon State) and two (UCLA and Arizona) just outside the rankings, thanks to stellar play from a lot of talented players.
Top players such as Sports Illustrated cover boys Matt Barkley and De'Anthony Thomas receive most of the media attention, but they're certainly not the only ones making plays and putting their teams in position to win. (In fact, Barkley and Thomas aren't even leading the conference at their positions.)
Some of the players on this lists are playing very well under-the-radar, some are emerging stars, and others get a fair amount of press but are just fun to watch every week.
Pac-12 teams are all playing conference games this week: Arizona State plays at Cal, UCLA travels to face Colorado in Boulder, Oregon State plays at Arizona, and Oregon will take on Washington State in Pullman.
This list only includes players who’ll take the field this Saturday so it’s certainly not inclusive of all the top (or up-and-coming) athletes in the conference.
USC and Utah are both on a bye week, but Trojans DE Morgan Breslin and Utah LB Trevor Reilly are among the Pac-12's best defenders. They'll have big roles when the two teams face off on Thursday night.
Washington and Stanford already played this week, with the Huskies upsetting the Cardinal in another Thursday night thriller. UW's sophomore running back Bishop Sankey broke off on a 61-yard touchdown run on 4th-and-one to give the Huskies the lead and guarantee that opposing defenses will be paying attention to him from here on out.
From Tucson to Berkeley to Pullman, these are the players to keep an eye on this Saturday.
Taylor Kelly - QB, ASU
Kelly was the winner in a three-way competition for the starting quarterback role, and through four games, it seems like he was definitely the right choice. Without a clear starter heading into fall camp, quarterback could easily have been a weak spot for the Sun Devils, but Kelly has the ninth-best quarterback rating in the entire country. He's thrown for exactly 1,000 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions, and he's leading all Pac-12 quarterbacks in completion percentage (72.5%) and yards per pass attempt (11).
Brendan Bigelow - RB, California
With veterans like QB Zach Maynard, WR Keenan Allen, and RB Isi Sofele, the Cal offense should be solid this season, but that hasn't been the case yet. The Bears desperately need a spark, and they have one in Bigelow. The sophomore turned heads with his explosive performance against Ohio State, when he had touchdown runs of 81 and 59 yards and finished with 234 all-purpose yards on just seven touches. Bigelow is averaging more than 20 yards per carry, and he's third in the conference in return yards, behind De'Anthony Thomas and WSU's Teondray Campbell.
Brett Hundley - QB, UCLA
Hundley isn't a revelation; he's been a star for UCLA all season. He was expected to be really good since he won the starting role over veterans Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, but it would've been hard to predict that he'd be this good. He's completing 66.2% of his passes despite being sacked 10 times already, and he's thrown for 1,199 yards, nine touchdowns, and there interceptions. A budding star in the Pac-12, Hundley has also added 151 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Anthony Barr - LB, UCLA
The junior switched from offense to defense before the season, and it's paying off for the Bruins. The former running back/tight end is now an outside linebacker, and he's leading the team in sacks (5) and forced fumbles (2). He has 19 tackles this season, and his upside, as he continues to learn his new position, is tremendous.
Nelson Spruce - WR, Colorado
The Buffaloes lost leading receiver Paul Richardson for the year due to offseason knee surgery, but redshirt freshman Nelson Spruce has started to step up to claim the role. Spruce had a breakout game in Colorado's win over Washington State, with 103 receiving yards and a touchdown. He has 21 catches for 234 yards and two touchdowns this season, and his workload should continue to increase, especially if quarterback Jordan Webb can keep playing like he did late in the game against the Cougars.
Christian Powell - TB/FB, Colorado
Powell was signed as a fullback, but he has emerged as the team's leading tailback this season. He's a big, bruising runner and the Buffaloes hope he'll be tough for opposing defenses to stop. Against Sacramento State, his 64-yard run surprised everyone, including the public address announcer, who thought it was starter Tony Jones. Powell is well on his way to becoming an integral part of the offense, averaging 4.27 yards per carry, with 62 carries for 265 yards and three touchdowns.
Markus Wheaton - WR, Oregon State
Wheaton is one of the best receivers in the Pac-12, but because he plays for the Beavers, he hasn't gotten as much attention as some of the conference's other pass catchers. The senior, who also runs on the Oregon State track team, started all of the Beavers' games last season, earning Pac-12 Honorable Mention. He's currently 11th in the Pac-12 with 17 receptions for 237 yards and a TD, but Oregon State has also played in one fewer game than the rest of the conference, after the opener against Nicholls State was postponed.
Jared Tevis - S, Arizona
The sophomore from Tucson was a special teams standout in 2011, but now he's a core member of the Wildcats' defense. He's one of several young Arizona defenders who are making big plays for the team in its first year under coach Rich Rodriguez. Tevis leads the team with 39 tackles, five pass breakups, three forced fumbles and two interceptions.
Kenjon Barner - RB, Oregon
Barner, a senior, isn't a new face on the Oregon offense, but he's been overshadowed during his entire career, first by LaMichael James and now by sophomore De'Anthony Thomas.
Barner, not Thomas, is the Ducks' starting running back, and Barner, not Thomas, leads the Pac-12 with six rushing touchdowns. Thomas is a playmaker, but he doesn't stay on the field for as many plays as Barner, UO's workhorse, who has 76 carries for 410 yards.
Michael Clay - LB, Oregon
Clay was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week after last week's game against Arizona. He had 13 tackles, including 10 solo tackles, as the Ducks' got their first ever shutout over a Pac-12 opponent. The senior has 25 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery so far this season.
Gabe Marks - WR, WSU
Junior receiver Marquess Wilson was second-team All Pac-12 after last season, but true freshman Gabe Marks is giving him a run for his money this year. Marks is leading the Cougars with 19 receptions for 326 yards, with a slight edge over Wilson, who has 18 for 317. Wilson and Isiah Myers each have four touchdowns to Marks' two, but Marks is undoubtedly one of the most talented up-and-coming receivers in the conference, and it'll be exciting to watch him develop in Mike Leach's 'Air Raid' offense.
Travis Long - LB, Washington State
A second-team All Pac-12 selection as a defensive end last season, Long, a senior, switched to linebacker and is playing just as well, if not better, than at his old position. He plays a hybrid linebacker role in WSU's defense, and he's currently leading the Pac-12 with 6.5 sacks for a loss of 55 total yards. Just four games in, he's already topped his team-best sack total from last season (4) and has 27 tackles.
Be sure to check out the Rant Sports 100 in 100 Series, a preview of the top 100 College Football Teams for the 2013 Season!