Pac-12 Football Players Primed for a Breakout in 2014

Kyle Kensing@kensing45Contributor IJanuary 16, 2014

Pac-12 Football Players Primed for a Breakout in 2014

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    Graduation and departure to the NFL this offseason means a new cast of stars will emerge in the Pac-12 in 2014. 

    Breakout stars can come from just about anywhere. They might be reserves who played second fiddle, redshirts or incoming recruits. Stanford rumbled its way to a second straight conference championship in 2013 with a breakout star who spent the prior year playing baseball. 

    The emergence of such new playmakers is part of what makes college football so exciting. And, like so many other qualities of the game, it can be unpredictable. 

    Nevertheless, a few Pac-12 players have the attributes that suggest star quality and the potential for truly breakout performances next season. 

RB Barry Sanders Jr, Stanford

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    Barry Sanders Jr. has some big shoes to fill—not simply because he shares a name with the greatest college running back of all time, who also happens to be his father, but also because of the impressive line of players in his position that preceded him at Stanford.   

    Stanford's offense in the Jim Harbaugh-David Shaw era has fostered some impressive running backs. Toby Gerhart was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2009, Stepfan Taylor flourished in his three seasons as the feature back, and Tyler Gaffney rolled off more than 1,700 yards and scored 21 touchdowns in the role this season. 

    The Cardinal have always had an answer when one of their elite backs leaves the program, and Sanders could emerge as the next one.  

WR Trey Griffey, Arizona

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    Another addition to the Pac-12 in the 2012 prep signing class from Hall of Fame stock is Arizona's Trey Griffey. Griffey didn't catch a pass in his redshirt freshman season until Nov. 16, but the son of legendary baseball star Ken Griffey Jr. started to click down the stretch. 

    He caught at least three passes in each of the Wildcats' final four games, establishing himself as a long target to complement smaller, speedy receivers Samajie Grant and Nate Phillips. 

    Arizona's rout of Boston College in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl was Griffey's coming out party. He hauled in his first two collegiate touchdowns, both on spectacular plays in the end zone. 

DB Damarious Randall, Arizona State

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    Damarious Randall may have already broken out in his debut season at Arizona State, recording 71 tackles and intercepting three passes. But with All-Conference selections Alden Darby, Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson all exhausting their eligibility, Randall becomes the unquestioned star of the Sun Devils' secondary. 

    He came on strong at the end of the season, grabbing two of his interceptions in late-November Pac-12 games against Oregon State and rival Arizona. He was also instrumental in the Sun Devils' defeat of UCLA, which sealed their Pac-12 South crown. 

    Among Randall's strengths is his nose for the ball. Losing the combined 13 interceptions for which Darby, Irabor and Nelson accounted, Arizona State is going to need Randall to continue to exploit quarterbacks' mistakes in 2014. 

RB Paul Perkins, UCLA

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    Running back was an interesting position for UCLA during the 2013 season. In trying to replace 2012 All-American Johnathan Franklin, the emerging star of the group was in fact a linebacker, freshman Myles Jack. 

    The contributions of redshirt freshman Paul Perkins may have flown under the radar, but they point to a potentially big 2014. Perkins was used primarily as a complementary change of pace to Jordon James when healthy, and Malcolm Jones this past season.

    He began to shine in this role late in the season, scoring touchdowns in each of the Bruins' last three games for half of his production for the entire season. He proved himself to be a viable receiving weapon in UCLA's defeat of crosstown rival USC, catching three passes for 79 yards. 

    UCLA will have no shortage of rushing options in 2014, and Perkins is unlikely to take over as the feature back. However, if he can continue to be a two-way option both as a ball-carrier and receiver, he could find an invaluable role in UCLA's offense akin to De'Anthony Thomas' within the Oregon offense.  

TE Johnny Mundt, Oregon

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    On an offense celebrated for its dizzying speed, a potential X-factor for the Ducks in 2014 is the size of tight end Johnny Mundt.

    An element missing from Oregon's offense in 2013 was the consistent pass-catching tight end, a role Colt Lyerla capably filled before his dismissal from the team. With the seasoning of a college campaign and another offseason to develop, Mundt can effectively take over that position. 

    At 6'4", 232 pounds and likely still adding weight, Mundt is the perfect complementary weapon on up-the-middle pass plays and jump balls to go with the speedy playmakers Oregon has on the perimeter like Bralon Addison. 


LB Quinton Powell, USC

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    The top-20 ranked USC scoring defense loses a few key contributors this offseason, including linebacker Devon Kennard. New defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is tasked with finding another pass-rusher capable of the production Kennard provided, with team highs in tackles for loss (13.5), quarterback hurries (10) and sacks (nine).

    Capable of stepping into that vacancy at outside linebacker position is Quinton Powell. In his true freshman season, Powell transitioned from defensive end—his position in high school—to outside linebacker and saw few opportunities to make plays, including two tackles for loss and a sack.

    A 4-star prospect last year, Powell was rated highly for his athleticism and reactive quickness. 

    Wilcox will obviously make some tweaks from the 52 formation predecessor Clancy Pendergast employed last season at USC, but an active, blitzing linebacker will remain central to the scheme, a la Cory Littleton for Washington in 2013. 

RB Dwayne Washington, Washington

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    New Washington running backs coach Keith Bhonapa told The Seattle Times when it comes to his position currently, "there is no depth chart."

    Finding a replacement to slot into the top position Bishop Sankey so expertly commanded is no easy task, but first-year Washington head coach Chris Petersen has options. No. 1 could be Dwayne Washington. 

    At 6'1", 220 pounds, Washington has the kind of size to take on the 327-carry workload Sankey shouldered in 2013. But Washington combines a breakaway speed not necessarily associated with a back of his build. 

    He got an opportunity to display some of that breakaway ability in the Huskies' November romp over Oregon State with a pair of touchdowns and 141 yards on just 11 carries.