NEPD Staff Writer: Ken Vetrano
The PAC 12 fields some of the most explosive offenses and physical defenses in college football. Those of us from the east coast don’t get much of a chance to watch these high powered affairs that take place way past our bed times. But there is too much talent in the conference to ignore, so consider this your cheat sheet for who’s worth staying up late watching, and potentially calling in late to work for the next day.
Marcus Mariota, Junior, Oregon (6’4” 215lbs): The 2013 Heisman finalist returns for his junior year after a stellar 2013 season that saw him throw for 31 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions. Mariota has the athleticism and mobility scouts at the next level have begun to covet in recent years.
Brett Hundley, Junior, UCLA (6’3”227lbs): Similarly to Mariota, Hundley possess size and athleticism that allows him to do more than most quarterbacks out of the backfield. With another year under his belt Hundley should be poised for more success this year.
Kevin Hogan, Senior, Stanford (6’4” 228lbs): The Cardinal signal caller will look to progress his game further after a strong 2013 outing. Coach Shaw has a knack for getting the most out of players, and Hogan not only has all the measurables to be great, but comprises a lot of the mental intangibles quarterbacks need at the next level.
Ty Montgomery, Senior, Stanford (6’2” 215lbs): One of my favorite wide receivers in all of college football. Montgomery is a physical presence on the field whose size and speed make him a threat not just at receiver, but in the return game as well. If his rapport with Hogan continues to grow, there’s no reason he won’t be in the discussion as a 1st rounder come 2015.
Austin Hill, Junior, Arizona (6’3” 210lbs): After a break out 2013 season, Hill is on deck to have a monster 2014. He has the size and length that allows him to get position on almost any defender. Hill averaged about 17 yards a catch last year, and there’s no reason to think he can’t top that number this season.
Nelson Agholor, Junior, USC (6’1” 190lbs): Finally out of Marqise Lee’s shadow, Agholor is ready to put his skills on full display. He’s a shifty pass catcher who can run any route, and break a game wide open down field. Agholor is an above average returner who parlays many of his moves on special teams to the offense.
Bryon Marshall, Junior, Oregon (5’10” 201lbs): De’Anthony Thomas’s lackluster season gave way for Marshall to advertise his talents earlier than expected. He took full advantage of the opportunity, and with even more of the load on his shoulders this season, he should be able to make his case as one of the best backs in college football.
D.J. Foster, Junior, Arizona State (5’11” 203lbs): With Marion Grice plying his trade in the pros, Foster will now have a chance to be the Sun Devils’ bell cow. Foster is just as productive in the pass game as the run game, and can turn on the jets in a hurry
Javorius Allen, Junior, USC (6’1” 220LBS): Allen came on late last season for the Trojans and provided a much needed spark. The robust back averaged almost 6 yards a carry, and proved to have value in the passing game as well. Allen will be part of a crowded back filed, but as long as he continues to develop the way he did late last year, there’s no reason not to expect a prosperous 2014 for the Trojan running back.
Connor Hamlett, Senior, Oregon State (6’7” 265lbs): Hamlett has all the measurables coaches dream about at the position, and posses solid hands to snag anything that comes within his vicinity. With Brandin Cooks moving on to the NFL, expect quarterback Sean Mannion to look for Hamlett more often than not this season.
Thomas Duarte, Sophomore, UCLA (6’3” 225lbs): He’s a large, physical presence on the field, and although some may list him as a wide out, his job description reads like that of a tight end. Considering how much of a focal point he should be in UCLA’s offense this year, expect to hear Duarte’s name come award season.
Michael Hartvigson, Senior, Washington (6’6” 255lbs): Hartvigson wasn’t given much of an opportunity to blossom while newly drafted Tampa Bay Buccaneer Austin Seferian-Jenkins was a Husky. But that should all change this year when the massive 6’6” Hartvigson’s role increases for Washington.
CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Senior, Oregon (5’10” 195lbs): One of the best corners in all of college football, Ekpre-Olomu is a tough, physical defensive back who rarely lets receivers get a step on him. He plays an intelligent game, and usually has a mental advantage on those lining up across from him. In an article with OrgeonLive.com, NFL analyst Bucky Brooks compared him to Darrelle Revis.
RB/LB Myles Jack, Sophomore, UCLA (6’1” 230lbs): If we’re talking potential Patriots, then Jack is a name you should write down and remember come 2016. Jack is one of the few college players who not only played on both sides of the ball, but excelled on both sides. He’s a better running back than linebacker in my opinion, and took on the position of linebacker due to team need. Coach Mora needs to find a way to maximize Jack’s impact on offense and defense, because he’s a rare talent that has to be implemented properly.
DE Leonard Williams, Junior, USC (6’5” 300lbs): There are more than a few names to watch for at defensive end this year in the PAC 12, but Leonard Williams is an absolute force on defense that deserves notice. He routinely disrupts backfields, and I expect his sack total to rival almost anyone in college football by the end of 2014.
OLB Hau’oli Kikaha, Senior, Washington (6’3” 250lbs): After posting 13 sacks last season, more attention will be paid to Kikaha by other teams this year. That doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t have just as much success this season as last year, but Kikaha will most likely be used in a multitude of ways by Washington to increase his impact on games.
DE Henry Anderson, Senior, Stanford (6’6” 295lbs): After suffering a knee injury that cost him time in 2013, Anderson returns this season primed for a huge senior year. The almost 6’7” poli-sci major combines the best of both worlds, a power game that’s complimented by a cerebral approach. Anderson will be one of the main muscles behind Stanford’s stalwart defense.
Breakout player of 2014
Barry Sanders Jr., Junior, Stanford (5’10” 192lbs): Anyone who watched Sanders’ highlight tape coming out of high school knows just how special this player is. In many ways he’s an exact clone of his father. Slippery between the tackles, and shifty in open space. He didn’t see much playing time during his first couple years at Stanford, but increased reps are in his future. It was a major bummer when his father retired after only ten seasons, but fortunately for football fans, his son might give us an extended glimpse at that Sanders magic.