Pac-12 Football: 8 Upperclassmen Who Will Be Great in 2012
The Pac-12 is coming off a year in which they had two teams make BCS, bowls and could have had three if USC hadn't been under NCAA sanctions.
Although they did lose a few of their stars to the NFL (Andrew Luck, LaMichael James, etc.) the Pac-12 is looking strong heading into the 2012-13 season.
It was hard to limit this list to only eight because it just as easily could have been 16.
If the list had been 16 players long, about half of them would have come from USC or Oregon, but picking from those two rosters is just too easy.
There will be a lot of good upperclassmen in the Pac-12 this year, but these eight will be truly great.
John Boyett, Oregon, Sr, FS
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
John Boyett was the Ducks leading tackler last season and had his best game when it mattered most. Against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl the free safety had a career-high 17 tackles, including 13 solo tackles and 0.5 sacks.
After the season, Boyett won Second-Team All-Pac-12 honors and was an honorable mention All-American, according to Pro Football Weekly.
Currently, he's been named to Phil Steele's preseason all Pac-12 team and Steele's preseason second team All-American watch list.
As good as Oregon's offense is, I think the team will need to rely on their defense to win games a little bit more this season.
Don't get me wrong, Oregon's offense will be still a potent force to be reckoned with. The Ducks are losing their star running back and former Heisman Trophy candidate LaMichael James, but replacing him with Kenjon Barner who finished eighth in the conference last season in rushing yards per game as a back-up.
However, Boyett will be the solid rock that anchors the Ducks' defense and makes big plays when the game is on the line.
Look for him to lay some heavy hits throughout the season.
Keith Price, Washington, Jr, QB
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Last year, as a sophomore, Price threw for over 3,000 yards with 33 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
He might have made first or second team all-conference if the Pac-12 didn't have names like Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley.
In fact, Husky Radio analyst Damon Huard compared Price's play during the offseason to that of former Husky legend Warren Moon.
With such a solid sophomore campaign it seems that Price should be a shoe-in to dominate the conference, but he definitely will have his work cut out for him.
Price will no longer have the luxury of Chris Polk, the Pac-12's second leading rusher last season, lining up behind him at running back. Also, the Huskies' offensive line has struggled with offseason injuries and will have nowhere near the continuity it had last season.
Keith Price is set to be Washington's ace and could end up being one of the top QBs in the nation. Whether or not he fills the big shoes in front of him remains to be seen.
Jordan Poyer, Oregon State, Jr, CB
Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images
Jordan Poyer is THE impact player for Oregon State this season.
He is on the preseason watch list for the Ronnie Lott Award, which goes to the best defensive player in the nation, and was named to Phil Steele's preseason first team all-Pac-12.
Last year Poyer was the Beavers' primary kick and punt-returner, as well as a starting cornerback. He ended up tied for eighth in the nation in passes defended.
Coming off a year in which they went 3-9, Oregon State needs Poyer to continue his high level of play.
He is the do-it-all kind of player that can change the game with one play, as Beaver fans saw against UCLA when he returned a punt 85 yards for touchdown.
Look for Poyer to become a national college football star with his electrifying play this upcoming season.
Stepfan Taylor, Stanford, Sr, RB
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Last season, Stepfan Taylor was merely a complement (a very solid one) to Andrew Luck and Stanford's efficient passing offense.
Still, Taylor finished with 1,330 yards and 10 TDs on the ground, good enough to be third in the Pac-12 and 21st in the nation.
This year, with Luck gone, Taylor will be the cornerstone of the offensive system.
He had his best game of the season in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State, finishing with 177 yards and two TDs.
Taylor will no doubt build on that performance and will end the season as one of the best—if not the best—running backs in the conference.
Star Lotulelei, Utah, Sr, DL
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Star Lotulelei is already a great defensive player.
Last season Lotulelei was First Team All-Pac-12 and the winner of the Morris Trophy for best defensive lineman in the conference.
He might be the most promising player to ever wear a Utah Utes uniform, and will no doubt be one the premiere players in the conference next season.
Robert Woods, USC, Jr, WR
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Robert Woods will be the most exciting offensive player to watch the Pac-12 in 2012.
USC looks poised to make a run at the national title, and Woods, an All-Pac-12 First-Teamer last year as a sophomore, is going to play a major factor in that.
At times last season Woods looked unstoppable. His 15 touchdowns and highlight reel catches brought back memories of former USC wide receiver studs Keyshawn Johnson and Mike Williams.
It doesn't hurt to have a preseason Heisman trophy candidate as your quarterback either.
Marquess Wilson, Washington State, Jr, WR
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Marquess Wilson is poised to be a national breakout-star in 2012.
Relatively unknown outside of the Pac-12, Wilson led the Cougars and the Pac-12 in receiving yards last season. In fact, the only returning player with more receiving yards than him is Nick Harwell of Miami (Ohio).
It doesn't hurt that Washington State's new head coach is pass-happy Mike Leach.
Mark my words: Wilson will make a run at the Biletnikoff Award this season.
Matt Barkley, USC, Sr, QB
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
It doesn't even need explaining why Matt Barkley is at the top of this list.
USC would have gone to a BCS bowl game last season if it weren't for NCAA sanctions, and if Barkley had decided to enter the NFL Draft he undoubtedly would have been a first round pick.
Barkley has to be the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy in 2012. Barring injuries or unforeseen circumstances, Barkley is on track to join the ranks of USC greats Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.
I would tell you to keep an eye on Barkley heading into the 2012 season, but that is unnecessary. He will be on highlight reels and top 10 plays all season long.