Oregon star De'Anthony Thomas will be one of the favorites for player of the year honors in the Pac-12.
The Pac-12 takes a backseat to no conference when it comes to producing explosive offensive talents.
This season, the league features no shortage of NFL-caliber weapons who are sure to light up scoreboards along the West Coast.
However, there are a few intriguing defenders, such as defensive linemen Morgan Breslin of USC and Will Sutton of Arizona State, and UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, who are poised to give offenses more than a few headaches in 2013.
But can they be dominant enough to steal some thunder on the postseason awards circuit from offensive stars such as Oregon duo De'Anthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota, Arizona running back Ka'deem Carey, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley and USC receiver Marquis Lee?
Breslin, Sutton and Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy are all players worthy of consideration for this list. However, Barr is a player who is already buzzing as a potential first-round pick in next year’s draft, according to Rob Rang of CBS Sports.
The 6’4”, 238-pound rising senior had a stellar season a year ago, racking up 82 tackles (21 for loss), 13 sacks (tied for the second-best total in the country per cfbstats.com) and four forced fumbles.
What makes his 2012 body of work more remarkable is that it was his first season playing defense after making the transition from being a running back in high school and in his first two seasons in Westwood.
With a year of experience on defense, Barr has the potential to be one of the nation’s most dominant defenders in 2013.
It took one play for the Bruins' offense to come to life with Hundley at the controls. The first snap of his collegiate career resulted in a 72-yard touchdown scamper and he never looked back.
The rising third-year sophomore threw for 3,740 yards and accounted for 38 total touchdowns en route to helping UCLA capture the Pac-12 South title.
The dynamic dual-threat passer is driven to lead the Bruins even higher this season, and he will need to elevate his game to another level with the graduation of star tailback Jonathan Franklin (h/t, Matt Hayes, Sporting News).
It’s been a tumultuous offseason for Carey, who as a sophomore last season led the nation in rushing with 1,929 yards and scored a school-record 23 touchdowns (h/t Kyle Ringo, Yahoo! Sports).
Assuming Carey is not sidelined by his legal woes, he can continue his role as the spark plug of the Wildcats' offense.
With Rich Rodriguez having to replace quarterback Matt Scott, Carey will likely be the focal point of the offense. Even if he can’t duplicate last season’s output, he should get enough touches to pile up numbers worthy of postseason recognition.
Not many teams can match Oregon when it comes to producing electricity on offense, and despite the loss of head coach Chip Kelly to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Ducks are still loaded with several weapons.
However, the most explosive talent in new coach Mark Helfrich’s arsenal is diminutive 5’9”, 176-pound firecracker De’Anthony Thomas.
However, while Thomas is sure to be among the most dangerous weapons in the country, the emergence of rising sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota could hamper the chances for either he or Thomas to separate themselves for an award like Player of the Year.
However, with Kenjon Barner off to the NFL, Thomas will ascend to the multi-purpose role that helped Barner and predecessor LaMichael James light up defenses in recent years.
Even though USC’s 2012 season unraveled into a nightmare, Trojans wideout Marqise Lee delivered that same feeling to corners across the Pac-12 who tried their hand at slowing him down.
Lee’s 118 receptions led the country, and he finished second nationally with 1,721 yards receiving. His two-year totals (191 receptions, 2,864 yards and 25 receiving touchdowns) are simply jaw-dropping.
The Trojans are breaking in a new quarterback and must replace wing-man Robert Woods at receiver. But Lee has been the one constant source of production for Lane Kiffin’s offense since he arrived on campus, and he’s a force that must be accounted for on every snap.
While a handful of the nation’s elite players will line up in the Pac-12, Lee remains the best bet to be the most dominant player in the conference in 2013.