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Pac-12 Football Q&A: Impact Freshmen; Will Washington or USC Have a Better 2014?

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Pac-12 Football Q&A: Impact Freshmen; Will Washington or USC Have a Better 2014?
Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Just 223 days remain until kickoff of the 2014 college football season—start counting it down. 

With seven months until Pac-12 football resumes, there's plenty of time for enjoying nature, reading a book, checking out a new film...or, submitting your Pac-12 football-related inquires for the Q&A. 

Tweet your questions @kensing45 or email pac12mailbag@gmail.com with the subject line "Pac-12 Q&A." Together, we can get through this arduous offseason. 

On to this week's questions. 

 

Zach from San Diego asks via email: Washington or USC—who finishes with the better record? 

Well, new USC head coach Steve Sarkisian certainly hopes it's USC. Few things could garner the first-year Trojans leader more criticism than his former program finishing with a better record than the proud, traditional powerhouse he was tabbed to return to national prestige. 

Realistically though, he left Washington well-stocked for immediate success, whereas at USC, Sarkisian is perhaps entering into the season most profoundly impacted by the scholarship limitations mandated by the NCAA. 

This upcoming campaign may very well be Washington's long-awaited breakout. The Huskies' roster is rife with talent on both sides of the ball, and they get many of their toughest games at home. Washington also plays an easier nonconference slate than USC, as the Trojans see rival Notre Dame, and the Fighting Irish could be a Top 10 team in 2014. Washington also plays four nonconference games, the result of facing Hawaii Week 1. 

Make no mistake though, USC has the pieces for a great season. It also misses two of the better teams from the NorthOregon and Washington.  

However, Washington is just a tad more experienced and undeniably deeper. While the Huskies have to break the stranglehold Oregon and Stanford have on the division, this next season's team is the closest Washington has been to being back in more than a decade.

Washington gets one win more, though finishes even with USC in the loss column.  

For any one player to have a measurable impact on a team's final record—especially a player without prior collegiate experience—takes transcendent talent. Not simply talent or an ability to contribute in a prominent role, mind you, but a freshman has to offer something truly transcendent. 

Myles Jack is a great example. Jack was an integral part of UCLA's defense at linebacker, and he's likely to be an All-American at the position. However, had he not been able to step in at running back as injuries piled up, the Bruins likely would not have won 10 games for the first time since 2005. 

Jack slammed the door on Arizona Nov. 9 with a long touchdown rush, then the next week scored four touchdowns against Washington. Without Jack, either game could have gone the other way. 

Likewise, De'Anthony Thomas' versatility allowed Oregon's then-head coach Chip Kelly to slot him in a variety of roles. Thomas scored both offensive and special teams touchdowns in the 2012 Rose Bowl, a game the Ducks won by one score. 

Arizona State verbal commit Kalen Ballage could be that kind of player. Departing senior Marion Grice filled that role for the Sun Devils and, prior to suffering a late-season injury, led the nation in total touchdowns. Ballage is a similarly skilled athlete, though keeping him committed is going to be a challenge for head coach Todd Graham and his staff, according to 247Sports.com

There are no shortages of incoming freshmen who could fill immediate needs for Pac-12 teams, and they too can have a measurable impact on the season. 

Arizona running back recruit Nick Wilson is one of the possible replacements for All-American Ka'Deem Carey. Stanford needs its next great tight end to step up, and newly added commit Dalton Schultz could fit the bill. Speaking of tight ends, USC pledge Bryce Dixon is one of the top prospects at the position. 

Freshmen wide receivers also have a recent track record for making instant impacts at USC, from Robert Woods to Marqise Lee to Nelson Agholor.  Rahshead Johnson could step in as a complementary piece to Agholor

The one facet of UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley's game that must improve in order for him to win the Heisman Trophy is largely the same reason for his return. Hundley sometimes lacked confidence in the pocket, particularly under pressure. 

Hundley was stellar in the last two games of the regular season, both of which pitted the Bruins against top-20 defenses, USC and Virginia Tech. However, in each contest, Hundley made his bones rushing from out of the Pistol. Against the Hokies, it opened the field to attack via the pass in the second half. 

Hundley needs to exhibit the same kind of confidence dropping back to pass as he exhibited carrying the ball late in the season. If he does that, he'll truly be a dual-threat and a Heisman front-runner. 

 

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