By Brian Cox @bacox87 on June 15, 2014
The Pac-12 conference has fortified itself as the second best conference in the country behind the powerhouse SEC. Last season, they went 6-3 against BCS conference teams, which was the best in the country. They also went 31-6 in non-conference games. This year they hope to improve upon that and close ground on the SEC. Here are 10 players who will likely emerge in 2014.
Last season, USC sophomore running back Javorius Allen entered the season as the sixth string running back. He finished as the top back on the team with 835 rushing yards. This season, he will look to be one of the top backs in the whole country and he has the talent to do so. With Steve Sarkisian coaching the Trojans this season, look for Allen to be this year’s Bishop Sankey.
Last season, Oregon State tight end Connor Hamlett was was the team’s fourth leading receiver with 364 receiving yards. With the departure of star wide receiver Brandin Cooks and the third leading receiver being a running back, Hamlett looks to be Oregon State’s second best receiving option going into this season. Look for him to get more yards in an offense that will struggle to find open wide outs.
The Stanford Cardinal lost a first Team All-American linebacker in Trent Murphy and a second Team All-American linebacker in Shayne Skov. Senior linebacker AJ Tarpley will look to pick up the slack this season and make the jump from third Team All-Pac-12 to first or second Team All-American. He certainly has the tools to do so.
The Oregon State Beavers have one of the better secondaries in the Pac-12 year after year. This year should be no different with red-shirt freshman Dashon Hunt starting at cornerback. The Beavers tend to leave their cornerbacks on an island very often, and they have confidence they can do this with Hunt right away. Look for him to make some rookie mistakes, but by the end of the year he will more than be holding his own in the Beavers’ secondary.
The Oregon Ducks only have one returning starter in their secondary, and that is second Team All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. The other starting cornerback will be senior Dior Mathis. Mathis is one of the fastest players on the Ducks’ roster, and it shows when he’s on the field. He’s a consistent player who has been in the system for four years already. When he gets his interceptions this season, look for him to be taking them to the house.
In 2013, Washington State wide receiver Gabe Marks finished as the top receiver on the team with 807 yards as a sophomore. With head coach Mike Leach and his historically prolific offenses, I expect those numbers to go up a lot more this year. Marks has one more year’s experience playing football, but more importantly, it’s one more year in Leach’s offense. Look for Marks to have a big year.
Last season, linebacker Gionni Paul was a scout team superstar for Utah (transferred from the University of Miami). He did so well on the scout team that he was named a defensive captain already. However, Paul broke his foot back in April and will miss part of the season. When he is able to come back though, look for him to have a big year and turn a lot of heads. Paul has the potential to be the real deal.
The Washington Huskies go into the 2014 season losing their starting quarterback and top rusher from last season. Sophomore quarterback and new starter Cyler Miles looks to step in and make Huskie fans forget all about Keith Price. Miles is a running quarterback much closer to former Huskie Jake Locker’s style, but is more elusive than Locker was. With most of last year’s receiving threats having left, Miles will be asked to do a lot.
USC sophomore free safety Leon McQuay III will be replacing former starter Dion Bailey in the secondary. Those are some big shoes to fill, but McQuay certainly has the talent to fill them. He’s quick to release on the ball and has great instincts, especially considering his limited experience on the field. Bailey was an NFL level talent, but I don’t think they take a very big step back with McQuay if they even take a step back at all.
Barry Sanders Jr. only had five carries last season for the Stanford Cardinal. He will be their starter at the beginning of this season, and he won’t look back. Sanders is extremely elusive (not quite as elusive as his all-time great father) and shows a great deal of power at the same time. It is now Sanders Jr.’s time to show the world how good he really is. I fully expect Sanders Jr. to finish 2014 with more than 1,000 yards.
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