Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks is dangerous
After analyzing the Oregon Ducks in every way imaginable before fall camp starts, it's time to take a look at the schedule.
Specifically, which players are the biggest threat to have a big game against the Ducks? Whom do fans worry about even in July?
Despite the potential for a Pac-12 championship appearance against Arizona State or USC, players from those teams were not considered because neither squad is on the schedule. Apologies to Marqise Lee and Will Sutton.
It's also worth noting that this isn't necessarily a list of the 10 best players Oregon will face but rather a list of guys who can hurt Oregon the most—be it on offense or defense.
The main criterion being used is the level of impact each player will have on a game, but you probably won't worry as much about Ka'Deem Carey as you will about Brett Hundley, because UCLA likely has a better chance against the Ducks. So while sheer destruction of a box score is weighed heavily, I've also given the players whose teams have a better chance at winning a slight edge in this one.
And so we begin now with the top-10 players that Ducks fans should be worried about in the upcoming season.
Cal RB Brendan Bigelow
It's going to take a monumental effort from the entire Cal football team for them to walk into Autzen Stadium and leave with a victory.
Nonetheless, running back Brendan Bigelow will make his stamp on the game and is definitely a player to watch in the upcoming season. With Sonny Dykes' new offense in place, it might be wiser to select Jared Goff or Zach Kline—quarterbacks vying for the starting spot—as a player to worry about, but we don't know anything about them yet.
What we know about Bigelow is that he stole the show in Columbus against Ohio State, and despite getting limited carries last season, he showed several flashes of being an elite running back.
If the Bears let him loose, Bigelow will be a cause for concern when Cal visits Oregon in September.
Washington S Shaq Thompson
The 2011 Washington Huskies defense was a mess, but it received major help in 2012 in the form of stud freshman Shaq Thompson, who is now entering his second season.
For a guy whose previous live action was against high school kids, Thompson started to become an impact player by the end of the season.
Whether or not you believe the Huskies can or will beat the Ducks this season is irrelevant, because Thompson will be a major player in the Oct. 12th game in Seattle. He has the type of athleticism to hang with Oregon's wideouts in the open field, and his strength allows him to play up near the line of scrimmage and help out against the run as well.
Call him a safety or a linebacker, but either way, this sophomore now has a year under his belt. He will definitely play a key role in Oregon's matchup with the Dawgs.
Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey
Traveling down to the desert won't be fun for the Ducks in late November, and Ka'Deem Carey could make the trip even worse.
The All-American running back is one of the best in the league, and his speed and strength in breaking tackles make him a worry for every opposing fanbase.
As I mentioned earlier, some of the players here may not necessarily be among the 10 best in the league. That is not the case with Carey, who may be one of the Pac-12's top five players.
He will play a major factor in every game on the Wildcats schedule, including the bout with the Ducks, which is enough to land him the eighth spot on this list.
Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.
He's 6'6", 266 pounds and runs like a deer. His size and agility pose a problem for linebackers.
It just so happens that Oregon is inexperienced at linebacker. After a five-game slate to open the season that shouldn't be too challenging, heading to Seattle to face the freight train that is Seferian-Jenkins won't be too enjoyable.
The Ducks fortunately have speed at linebacker, which should help out with seam routes, but wrapping up this beast is another matter.
Even if you think the Ducks will roll to a 10th straight victory over the Huskies, Seferian-Jenkins is one of the best tight ends in the country and should be No. 1 on the Ducks' list of concerns heading into the game.
UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr
Dion Jordan should still be fresh in Ducks fan's memories; after all, the former Duck went third overall in the NFL draft.
And if you can picture Jordan, you have a good idea of what Anthony Barr can do, only he does it even faster.
Versatile players such as Jordan and Barr are becoming more and more common in today's game, and Barr's unique skill set makes him a worry for every opposing offensive coordinator.
He can speed-rush off the edge, but he also has the athleticism to get to the corner before running backs do. He can turn what could be a decent gain into a tackle for a loss.
The only way to stop an offense like Oregon's is to put elite athletes on the field and let them make plays. Anthony Barr is a guy who can do just that, and he finds himself at the sixth spot on this list.
Oregon State DE Scott Crichton
The first Oregon State Beaver to make the list is defensive end Scott Crichton, whose nine sacks last season put him in the upper echelon of elite pass-rushers.
The main reason he makes the list, aside from being the Beavers' best defensive player, is that his skill set has caused problems for the Ducks in the past. Anytime Oregon has lost a game over the past few seasons, the offensive line's inability to control the defensive line has been a chief reason.
Crichton is the kind of guy who can make an impact, whether it's by drawing a double-team or forcing his way into the backfield and ruining a zone read at the mesh point.
If he can stay healthy, Crichton is one player whom everybody should be anxious about.
Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks
The second Oregon State Beaver to make the list is wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
Last season, Cooks caught 67 passes for 1,151 yards and six touchdowns, which gives you an idea the kind of playmaker he is.
It's going to take points for Oregon State to keep up with the Ducks, and Cooks has the ability to take over a game on offense. He'll need more help from the quarterback than he had in last year's Civil War, but once the ball is in his hands, anything is possible.
He has the speed to compete with Oregon's secondary and the experience of going up against NFL draft pick Jordan Poyer in practice last season.
There was never any doubt that one of the league's premier receivers would find himself on the list, and Cooks checks in at No. 4.
Stanford QB Kevin Hogan
Stats guys and film nerds can talk at length about holes in Kevin Hogan's game, but he's perfect so far in the one stat that matters most...winning.
Hogan hasn't lost since taking over the starting spot, and that includes a victory in Autzen Stadium as well as a Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin.
Hogan also exemplifies toughness and leadership. If the kind of character he showed last year led to an all-out assault in the film room and workout area this offseason, Hogan will have few peers in 2013.
He has taken control of games suddenly, putting the Cardinal in position to seal the victory. Sometimes that has meant pulling away in the fourth quarter, and other times, he sparked a late drive to tie the game.
Hogan is one of the top players whom fans should be concerned about next season.
Not a good effort here by UCLA QB Brett Hundley
Scouts love to use the word "upside" in talking about a player's potential, and Brett Hundley have plenty of that.
Think about UCLA in 2012 with any other starting quarterback over the past five seasons, and that team probably wouldn't notice eight wins. Instead, it earned nine victories, and Hundley was the key factor in every one of them.
The redshirt sophomore has an NFL arm and great mobility. Despite a receiving corps that appears to be lacking, Hundley will make plays when none are there to be made.
He can take over a game in a variety of ways, and though Autzen will test him, a player with his ability can overcome the crowd noise. He's backed by perhaps the most athletic defense in the league and leads a unique offense that could keep up with the Ducks.
Hundley is on everyone's mind this offseason, and he's the No. 2 player whom fans should stress about.
Shayne Skov just looks like a linebacker
Perhaps the No. 1 pick seems out of left field, but Shayne Skov can dominate a football game, can't he?
The Ducks lost one game last season, and it came against the Cardinal. Everyone remembers De'Anthony Thomas' missed block, Alejandro Maldonado's missed field goals and Zach Ertz's late touchdown grab. But with 10 tackles including one for loss, Skov had the biggest impact on the outcome of the game.
He is one of the best run-stopping linebackers in the country, and his effort against Oregon will be remembered for a long time in Palo Alto. And while he probably isn't the best player Oregon will face, he has to be at the top of the list of players to worry about.
What's to stop this guy from giving a repeat effort in 2013? The Ducks will have a plan, but the Cardinal now have the confidence of having beaten Oregon in its own house.
But before this becomes a way-too-early preview of the game, just picture Skov bursting through the line and stuffing Thomas or Kenjon Barner. That's enough for Skov to be the No. 1 player whom fans should fret about next season.