The One Surprise Star from Every Pac-12 Team in 2013
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
The Pac-12 Conference is chocked full of star college football players in 2013, with many of them well known...at least on the West Coast, that is.
But for every Marcus Mariota or De'Anthony Thomas at Oregon, every Shaq Thompson at Washington or Ka'Deem Carey at Arizona, there are also plenty of stars that have come out of nowhere this season to shine.
We've picked one player from each Pac-12 school who has been among the best surprises for that team. They might not be the best guy on the field, or even the most talented, but to this point in 2013 they've provided far more excitement than anyone could have predicted.
Nate Phillips, WR/KR, Arizona
What the stats say: Nate Phillips is Arizona's leading receiver with 199 yards. Throw in kick- and punt-return production and he's second on the team in all-purpose yards with 334.
What the stats don't say: The freshman has jumped into multiple roles, despite coming to Arizona without much fanfare. At 5'7" and 177 pounds, Phillips has found a way to make a big impact in a small package.
Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
What the stats say: Jaelen Strong is Arizona State's leading receiver, with 45 receptions for 685 yards and four touchdowns. He's sixth in the Pac-12 Conference in receptions per game and fourth in receiving yards per game (97.9).
What the stats don't say: The junior college transfer came to the desert with plenty of accolades, but no one in Tempe expected him to step up so quickly. ASU's media guide said he chose the Sun Devils over more than a dozen other schools, and their coaches are thanking their lucky stars every day for that decision.
Chris Harper, WR, California
What the stats say: Chris Harper leads the Golden Bears in receptions (52), yards (698) and touchdowns (four).
What the stats don't say: The sophomore is a key part of one of the nation's most prolific passing offenses, having already surpassed his freshman-year numbers. With Keenan Allen now starring in the NFL, Harper is filling that void quite nicely.
Addison Gillam, LB, Colorado
What the stats say: Addison Gillam is the Pac-12 leader in tackles with 59, including 41 solo takedowns. His average of 6.8 solo tackles per game is tied for fourth nationally.
What the stats don't say: The true freshman has made an immediate impact in first-year coach Mike MacIntyre's offense as the mike linebacker. He came to Boulder early, enrolling last spring to get the kind of head start that's put him at the top of the Buffaloes' depth chart.
Byron Marshall, RB, Oregon
What the stats say: Byron Marshall is third in the Pac-12 in rushing yards per game (106.6), averaging a robust 6.7 yards per carry with nine touchdowns.
What the stats don't say: The sophomore is making the midseason loss of De'Anthony Thomas almost a nonissue. Since Thomas slipped on wet Autzen Stadium turf, Marshall has rushed for 550 yards and seven TDs in four games, including a career-high 192 yards in last week's win over Washington State.
Steven Nelson, DB, Oregon State
What the stats say: Steven Nelson is the Pac-12's leader and a national co-leader in interceptions per game, having picked off five passes in seven games for the Beavers.
What the stats don't say: The junior college transfer is making it so OSU doesn't have to just be a score-as-much-as-possible team. He might have made the biggest play of the season for the Beavers when, moments after they pulled within two points on the road at San Diego State in September, he picked off a pass and returned it 16 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
Ty Montgomery, WR/KR, Stanford
What the stats say: Ty Montgomery is the best kickoff returner in the nation, with two touchdowns and a whopping 35.2 average on his 18 returns. Additionally, he's Stanford's leading receiver and has caught five TD passes.
What the stats don't say: The junior had a good season last year, but a midseason injury slowed things down. You could hardly tell, though, because he's been electric on nearly every touch he's had in Stanford's offense.
Keenan Graham, DE, UCLA
What the stats say: Keenan Graham is among the Pac-12's leaders in sacks and tackles for loss, with five apiece.
What the stats don't say: The fifth-year senior has been in UCLA's defensive line rotation since his redshirt freshman season in 2010, but he's having a breakout year this fall. Despite playing in the shadow of Bruins linebacker Anthony Barr, Graham is just as involved in UCLA's pass rush as anyone else.
Su'a Cravens, DB, USC
What the stats say: Su'a Cravens is among the Pac-12's leading tacklers among defensive backs, making 5.1 tackles per game.
What the stats don't say: Anytime a true freshman gets playing time at USC, it's a big deal. Sure, most Trojans recruits come with high expectations, but for a first-year player to step right in and make an impact ahead of so many other talented upperclassmen is noteworthy.
Andy Phillips, K, Utah
What the stats say: Andy Phillips is among the national leaders in field-goal kicking, making 12 of 14 three-pointers.
What the stats don't say: The redshirt freshman had never played football before joining the Utes before the 2012 season. At 24, he had spent several years as a professional skier, yet you'd never know it by his accuracy. He was perfect on the season until missing two of three tries in Utah's 35-24 loss to Arizona last week.
Princeton Fuimaono, LB, Washington
What the stats say: Princeton Fuimaono is Washington's leading tackler, averaging eight per game.
What the stats don't say: The senior is in many ways outperforming his much more heralded linebacker teammates, Shaq Thompson and John Timu—quite an accomplishment, seeing as those backers are considered NFL prospects.
Vince Mayle, WR, Washington State
What the stats say: Vince Mayle is one of Washington State's top deep threats in its prolific passing offense, averaging more than 15 yards per reception with five touchdowns.
What the stats don't say: The junior college transfer is a converted basketball player who, at 6'3" and 240 pounds, has been able to use his size and physicality to outmuscle defenders for balls that otherwise would get intercepted or fall incomplete.