Pac-12 Football: Top 10 Future Stars

Maxwell OgdenCorrespondent IIINovember 8, 2012

Pac-12 Football: Top 10 Future Stars

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    The Pac-12 is one of the most promising conferences in all of college football. After a half-decade of obscurity beyond the likes of USC and Oregon, the lower seeds are finally beginning to rise.

    Quality recruiting classes, high-profile coaches moving West and an infusion of defensive prowess have led to such a resurrection. The question is, which of the future stars will carry the conference for years to come?

    There are underclassmen that have already established themselves as leaders, such as USC's Marqise Lee and Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas. The following slides, however, will illustrate the young players that have not yet garnered the stardom their talent deserves.

    The only mystery now is which star will step up and lead the Pac-12 from 2013 and beyond.

Honorable Mention: Byron Marshall, Oregon Ducks

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    Position: Running Back

    Class: Freshman

    Height & Weight: 5'10" & 195 pounds

    2012-13 Season Statistics

    71 carries, 374 yards, 3 touchdowns

     

    If Oregon Ducks fans are looking for the next in line of their elite running backs, the search should go no further than Byron Marshall.  With Kenjon Barner a senior, expect to see his name in the headlines as soon as next season.

    That is, if he doesn't steal some attention in the final games of his already impressive 2012 campaign.

    Despite playing behind Heisman Candidates Barner and De'Anthony Thomas, Marshall has compiled 374 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. The main reason he has been given 71 carries is his ability to run between the tackles.

    Although Barner and Thomas are underrated in that sense, there is no way around how much more dynamic this team is with Marshall running the football. With Thomas exploding to the outside and Marshall pounding the interior, how can you stop Oregon's rush attack?

    Considering you already can't, imagine how much fun Chip Kelly will have when Marshall, Thomas and Marcus Mariota are in their collegiate prime and at his dispense?

    Although he will be in competition for carries, Marshall will be the type of back that tallies over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. He's already flashed that form in 2012, as he's presently averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

    Expect big things from Byron Marshall.

10. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State Beavers

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    Position: Wide Receiver

    Class: Sophomore

    Height & Weight: 5'10" & 179 pounds

    2012-13 Season Statistics

    50 receptions, 906 yards, 4 touchdowns, 18.1 yards per reception

     

    Quietly but surely, a young force is taking the state of Oregon by storm. He's explosive in the open field, uncontainable with the ball in his hands and one of the fastest individuals in the nation.

    And no, his name is not De'Anthony Thomas.

    Brandin Cooks of the Oregon State Beavers has been phenomenal this season, averaging 18.1 yards per reception. This comes on 50 catches, for those skeptics, thus leading to 906 yards and four touchdowns.

    It has also come in a season in which Cooks has posted at least five receptions in seven of eight games.

    Cooks has also topped 100 yards receiving in five games, with two others over 80. Although Markus Wheaton has lessened the pressure, Cooks has proven to be legitimate with big-game performances against Wisconsin, UCLA, Arizona, BYU, Washington and Arizona State.

    In fact, in those six games, Cooks has combined for 44 receptions, 816 yards and four touchdowns. In the words of the legendary Dick Vitale, Brandin Cooks is a primetime player!

    He's also one of the top future stars of the Pac-12. 

9. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State Sun Devils

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    Position: Quarterback

    Class: Sophomore

    Height & Weight: 6'1" & 203 pounds

    2012 Season Statistics

    156.8 RAT, 2,161 yards, 65.5% completion rate, 20 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 97 carries, 383 yards

     

    Despite playing just his first year as a starter, Taylor Kelly has already emerged as one of the most poised quarterbacks in the nation. He's also become the most important player on the Arizona State Sun Devils' roster.

    Just check the numbers.

    During games in which Kelly throws an interception, ASU is 0-4. When Kelly goes without an INT, however, the Sun Devils are 5-0.

    Just don't think for a second that Kelly is the type of player who plays conservative with the football and allows his teammates to do the rest. Instead, Kelly is the type of player who goes off for 308 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions against Colorado.

    Or the player who, one week earlier, torched Cal for 292 yards, three touchdowns and no INTs.

    With all of that being established, Kelly's signature performance came against UCLA. Despite losing by a score of 45-43, Kelly threw for 315 yards and four touchdowns while keeping ASU in a game that many believed they'd lose by a larger margin.

    As he continues to gain experience, Kelly will find ways to lead this Arizona State team to victory. In turn, he will emerge as one of the true stars of the Pac-12.

8. Leonard Williams, USC Trojans

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    Position: Defensive Lineman

    Class: Freshman

    Height & Weight: 6'5" & 270 pounds

    2012-13 Season Statistics

    27 tackles, 17 solo, 5.5 sacks, 2 pass deflections

     

    USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams has been phenomenal in his freshman season. He has helped lead one of the best pass rushes in the nation, compiling 5.5 sacks and two pass deflections while working on the opposite side of Morgan Breslin.

    But how does he do it?

    At 6'5" and 270 pounds, Williams is one of the most dynamic defensive linemen in the Pac-12. He entered the season as a career defensive end, but has thrived when placed on the interior.

    His ability to overpower or finesse his way past every form of offensive lineman has played a key role in the Trojans' ability to sack the quarterback. Although the team's rush defense has been suspect, at best, Williams has not been at fault.

    His ability to plug holes and find his way into the backfield makes him one of the top defensive tackles in the nation. Williams' versatility to move outside and play as an end simply displays how grand of a weapon he will be for years to come.

    The only question is, which position is he best fit for?

7. D.J. Foster, Arizona State Sun Devils

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    Position: Running Back

    Class: Freshman

    Height & Weight: 6'0" & 190 pounds

    2012-13 Season Statistics

    72 carries, 393 yards, 2 touchdowns, 31 receptions, 463 yards, 4 touchdowns

     

    D.J. Foster is probably the least-known name on this list. He plays for the 5-4 Arizona State Sun Devils and ranks third on the team in terms of rush attempts.

    Despite the fact that Cameron Marshall's 96 carries and Taylor Kelly's 97 trump his 72, it's Foster who leads the team in rush yards. Oh, and he's also second in receiving yards.

    Foster can basically be described as a stronger version of Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas. He's explosive in the open field and a terror when he bounces outside off of the run.

    Foster has also hauled in 31 receptions for 463 yards and four touchdowns, which shows you how solid his hands are.

    What separates Foster from some of the other promising running backs is that he is comfortable running between the tackles. He has extraordinary lower body strength and a great level of gravity when facing linebackers.

    In turn, Foster has torched Pac-12 defenses.

    As a freshman, Foster presently has a combined 103 touches for 856 yards and six touchdowns. This includes his signature performance against UCLA, when the 6'0" running back ran the ball 13 times for 61 yards and caught seven passes for 107 yards and a touchdown.

    A combined 20 touches for 168 yards, for those keeping track. For those who aren't, start paying attention to a future Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate.

6. Scott Crichton, Oregon State Beavers

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    Position: Defensive End

    Class: Sophomore

    Height & Weight: 6'3" & 263 pounds

    2012-13 Season Statistics

    33 tackles, 17 solo, 9 sacks, 3 pass deflections

     

    Scott Crichton has already emerged as one of the nation's elite pass-rushers. Through eight games, the sophomore defensive end has 17 solo tackles, nine sacks and three pass deflections.

    Although rarely acknowledged, Crichton has also created a series of interceptions for teammate Jordan Poyer.

    What is most impressive about Crichton is his ability to read an offensive signal-caller. His eyes are constantly on the quarterback, thus enabling him to deflect so many passes at the line of scrimmage.

    When rushing the passer, Crichton is equally as proficient at displaying patience. Unlike a majority of young ends who look to overpower their opponent every time, Crichton is outstanding at finding the holes in the offensive line.

    As a result, he has not only become an elite pass-rusher, but one of the top run stoppers at his position. Although he's no Jadeveon Clowney, Crichton has at least two sacks in three separate games this season.

    Crichton is a legitimate NFL prospect with a bright future in the Pac-12. Thanks to coach Mike Riley, Oregon State is bringing defense back to the offensive-minded conference! 

5. Ed Reynolds, Stanford Cardinal

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    Position: Free Safety

    Class: Sophomore

    Height & Weight: 6'2" & 207 pounds

    2012-13 Season Statistics

    26 tackles, 18 solo, 5 interceptions, 221 interception yards, 3 defensive touchdowns, 2 pass deflections

     

    Not only is Ed Reynolds one of the future stars of the Pac-12, but he's already one of the best statistical performers in the nation. Thus far, Reynolds has 18 solo tackles, five interceptions, three defensive touchdowns and two pass deflections.

    Although he's prone to underclassmen mistakes, Reynolds is a statistical wonder that currently leads the nation with 221 interception yards.

    Reynolds has not yet reached the level of stardom expected of him. As defensive players such as Manti Te'o of Notre Dame and Jordan Poyer of Oregon State receive national attention, Reynolds has flown under the radar.

    As of next season, however, the safety will emerge as a Heisman candidate. His big-play ability, mixed with the high-profile nature of the Stanford Cardinal, will make him a popular name around the country.

    Whether or not he'll be able to continue these ball-hawking ways is yet to be seen. But who could really predict that the redshirt sophomore will see a drop-off at all with years of maturity?

4. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona Wildcats

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    Position: Running Back

    Class: Sophomore

    Height & Weight: 5'10" & 203 pounds

    2012-13 Season Statistics

    199 carries, 1,015 yards, 13 touchdowns, 28 receptions, 247 yards, 1 touchdown

     

    Ka'Deem Carey is sophomore running back in a Rich Rodriguez system. He has blazing speed in the open field and an outstanding burst when emerging from the tackles, thus making him an elite statistical producer.

    Oh, and did we mention that he's playing in a Rich Rodriguez system? Expect those numbers to continue to impress.

    During the 2012 season, Carey presently ranks third in the Pac-12 with 1,015 rushing yards and second with 13 touchdowns. He's also added 28 receptions for 247 yards and a touchdown.

    Including his lone kickoff return, that makes for 228 touches for 1,278 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns.

    These are the type of numbers we can expect to see Carey post over the next two seasons as coach Rodriguez continues to run the ball more than the average. Carey will likely see his receptions number increase to about 40, while his rush attempts, yards and touchdowns remain consistent with what he presently posts.

    In turn, Carey will become one of the true stars of the Pac-12. As the wins pile up, that will lead to national admiration.

3. Brett Hundley, UCLA Bruins

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    Position: Quarterback

    Class: Freshman

    Height & Weight: 6'3" & 223 pounds

    2012-13 Season Statistics

    152.7 RAT, 2,478 yards, 67.9% completion rate, 21 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 102 rushes, 283 yards, 6 touchdowns

     

    Brett Hundley might not be the most popular name in the nation, but he's lighting up scoreboards as well as any quarterback in the nation. For proof on the matter, look no further than Hundley's 152.7 quarterback rating.

    A number that places him fourth amongst all quarterbacks in the Pac-12.

    The redshirt freshman has tallied 2,478 yards while completing 67.9 percent of his passes. He's thrown 21 touchdowns to just eight interceptions and added an additional 283 yards and six scores on the ground.

    With his dynamic style, Hundley is set to become the next big quarterback in terms of scoring the football. He'll likely flirt with 10 rushing touchdowns throughout his career, while head coach Jim Mora Jr. will supply him with screens and check-downs to keep his completion percentage high.

    As his deep ball becomes more consistent, Hundley will move up this list accordingly.

    With all of this being established, you can expect to hear Hundley's name quite often over the next few weeks. UCLA currently leads the Pac-12 South, thus setting Hundley up for a showdown with a name you'll see further down this list in the Pac-12 championship.

2. Nelson Agholor, USC Trojans

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    Position: Wide Receiver

    Class: Freshman

    Height & Weight: 6'1" & 185 pounds

    2012-13 Season Statistics

    14 receptions, 269 yards, 1 touchdown

     

    Nelson Agholor is a relevant name to USC fans after bursting onto the scene with a monster performance against the Oregon Ducks. Agholor hauled in six receptions for 162 yards and a 76-yard touchdown, officially marking his emergence as a future star in the Pac-12.

    For those recruiting buffs, however, Agholor's potential is already well-known.

    In terms of skill set, consider the freshman wideout to be a mix of teammates Marqise Lee and Robert Woods and your traditional Oregon running back. Physically, Agholor is slim but muscular and has jaw-dropping quickness both in the slot and lining up outside the numbers.

    Skill-wise, Agholor has excellent hands and is more than capable of following his blockers in the ways a running back is expected to.

    What will make Agholor a star, however, is his ability to play as a return man. Both on punts and kicks, Agholor is more than capable of turning what appears to be a short-yard situation into a play in which he takes it to the house.

    With his unparalleled versatility, Agholor will be one of the Pac-12 leaders in terms of All-Purpose yards for years to come.

1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon Ducks

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    Position: Quarterback

    Class: Freshman

    Height & Weight: 6'4" & 196 pounds

    2012-13 Season Statistics

    168.5 RAT, 153-217, 1,878 yards, 22 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 72 carries, 474 yards, 3 touchdowns

     

    Is there any player in the nation with more promise than Marcus Mariota? If there is, you'd be hard-pressed to find them.

    As a freshman, Mariota has posted the highest quarterback rating of any player in the Pac-12. His rating of 168.5 ranks seventh in the nation, which proves how close Mariota is to stardom just nine games in.

    Mariota presently has 1,878 yards, 22 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Mariota has also run for 474 yards and three scores, as well as a receiving touchdown.

    Versatility breeds results and there is no future star who can do what Mariota does.

    Mariota has thrown a touchdown in every single game this season, tossing at least three in four of those games. He's also completed at least 71.4 passes in each of his past three outings, including a Heisman-worthy performance against USC.

    Mariota completed 20 of 23 passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran the ball 15 times for 96 yards.

    Superstardom is on the horizon for Marcus Mariota.