Pac-12 Football: Power Ranking Teams by Best Returning Players

Alex SimsCorrespondent IIIFebruary 19, 2017

Pac-12 Football: Power Ranking Teams by Best Returning Players

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    The Pac-12 Conference was one of college football's best last year, as Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Arizona State and several other contenders beat each other up all season.

    That'll be the case yet again, as several of the conference's best teams will return starting quarterbacks and strong surrounding casts.

    The Bruins will welcome back Brett Hundley, while Marcus Mariota will launch another Heisman Trophy and national title campaign for the Ducks.

    We'll break down the prospects for all Pac-12 teams next year, based on what each team will bring back from last season.

     

    Note: Returning starter figures via PhilSteele.com.

12. California Golden Bears

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    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Record: 1-11

    Returning Starters: 14 (8 offense, 6 defense)

    Key Returner: QB Jared Goff

    Key Loss: DT Deandre Coleman

     

    After a putrid 1-11 finish in the first year under Sonny Dykes, many California players couldn't leave soon enough.

    It looked as though the Bears would have a good group of returners, but a baffling number of players decided to leave the program and declare early for the NFL draft.

    With a significant number of losses, the Bears could have a rough go of it again next year, particularly on defense.

    However, with quarterback Jared Goff and receivers Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper returning, at least the passing game will be good once again.

11. Colorado Buffaloes

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    JACK DEMPSEY/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 4-8

    Returning Starters: 15 (7 offense, 8 defense)

    Key Returner: LB Addison Gillam

    Key Loss: WR Paul Richardson

     

    The best blueprint for a rebuilding program is to return a bulk of players, and Colorado is doing just that.

    The Buffaloes will lose their best player, receiver Paul Richardson, who finished eighth in the nation with 111.9 receiving yards per game last year.

    However, the CU offense will welcome back a young but experienced quarterback, Sefo Liufau, and several running backs, including starter Christian Powell.

    Defensively, Addison Gillam, the No. 4 tackler in the Pac-12 will be back after tallying 119 tackles a year ago.

10. Utah Utes

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 5-7

    Returning Starters: 11 (6 offense, 5 defense)

    Key Returner: WR Dres Anderson

    Key Loss: LB Trevor Reilly

     

    Utah will suffer several losses in the offseason, including several members of the defense that gave it its edge in the Pac-12 and led it to an upset win over Stanford.

    However, even with the loss of leading tackler Trevor Reilly (100 TAK, 16 TFL, 8.5 SACK), the Utes won't be at a total loss.

    Several defenders will be back to take on bigger roles, including linebacker Jason Wittingham, nephew of head coach Kyle Wittingham. 

    Offensively, Utah could lose one of its two experienced quarterbacks, as Trevor Wilson's health status is still uncertain. On the bright side, top receiver Dres Anderson will be back after eclipsing 1,000 receiving yards last year.

9. Arizona Wildcats

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    2013 Record: 8-5

    Returning Starters: 12 (6 offense, 6 defense)

    Key Returner: S Tra'Mayne Bondurant

    Key Loss: RB Ka'Deem Carey

     

    Arizona will have to reload if it expects to stay above water in 2014.

    The Wildcats will lose running back Ka'Deem Carey and quarterback B.J. Denker, the two faces of their team. The duo combined for more than 2,800 of the team's 3,400 rushing yards in 2013.

    With that duo and several top defenders leaving, including leading tacklers Jack Fischer and Marquis Flowers, it very well could be a rebuilding year in Tuscon.

    Rich Rodriguez has a strong recruiting class coming in, and the biggest question might be how quickly those newcomers can fill roles.

8. Washington State Cougars

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Record: 6-7

    Returning Starters: 14 (8 offense, 6 defense)

    Key Returner: QB Connor Halliday

    Key Loss: DB Deone Bucannon

     

    Safety Deone Bucannon ended up as one of the best defenders in the Pac-12 Conference last year, tallying 114 tackles, six interceptions and three forced fumbles. 

    Replacing him will be very difficult for a Washington State defense that will return only six starters. 

    Offensively, Wazzu should be in good shape with quarterback Connor Halliday returning after nearing 4,600 passing yards and 34 touchdowns last year. 

    He'll need to improve his decision making, but he'll have plenty of options with essentially all of the Cougars' offensive skill players coming back.

7. Oregon State Beavers

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    Eugene Tanner/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 7-6

    Returning Starters: 14 (8 offense, 6 defense)

    Key Returner: QB Sean Mannion

    Key Loss: WR Brandin Cooks

     

    Receiver Brandin Cooks was Oregon State's biggest star last year, capturing the nation's eye with more than 1,700 receiving yards. However, the speedster won't be back next year after winning the Biletnikoff Award.

    Quarterback Sean Mannion, who finished second in the nation with 4,662 passing yards in 2013, will be back, though. He'll need to pick a new favorite receiver, but he'll have plenty of help at running back with Storm Woods and Terron Ward both set to return.

    The defense also must replace its best player. Defensive end Scott Crichton elected to go pro after leading OSU with 19 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles last season.

    The Beavers must find a new presence up front, but their secondary will be led by stud corner Steven Nelson, who will be vying for All-America honors next year.

6. Washington Huskies

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 9-4

    Returning Starters: 12 (7 offense, 5 defense)

    Key Returner: LB Shaq Thompson

    Key Loss: RB Bishop Sankey

     

    Washington's two biggest stars, quarterback Keith Price and running back Bishop Sankey, are gone. Add in the departure of head coach Steve Sarkisian and a rebuilding year seems imminent for UW.

    However, that might not be the case.

    The Huskies have an apt replacement under center in Cyler Miles, who looked strong in relief of Price last season. He'll also have two talented playmakers at his disposal, Kasen Williams and Jaydon Mickens.

    On defense, the Huskies will be without a few key pieces, but they'll bring back star linebacker Shaq Thompson and defensive lineman Hau'oli Kikaha.

5. Arizona State Sun Devils

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 10-4

    Returning Starters: 10 (7 offense, 3 defense)

    Key Returner: QB Taylor Kelly

    Key Loss: RB Marion Grice

     

    Arizona State suffered the heaviest losses of any team in the conference, as it will return just 10 players, including only three on defense.

    Those defensive losses include the departures of several outstanding players, including defensive backs Robert Nelson and Alden Darby, linebackers Carl Bradford and Chris Young and defensive tackle Will Sutton.

    The offense will lose its top playmaker, running back Marion Grice, but has a very skilled replacement in D.J. Foster.

    As Foster provides the versatile playmaking, returning quarterback Taylor Kelly will be the key to the Sun Devils saying competitive in the stacked Pac-12.

     

4. USC Trojans

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 10-4

    Returning Starters: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense)

    Key Returner: QB Cody Kessler

    Key Loss: WR Marqise Lee

     

    USC will be one of the teams to watch next year, not just in the Pac-12 but all across the country.

    With new head coach Steve Sarkisian coming, it'll be interesting to see where the USC passing game ends up with Cody Kessler returning and freshman Max Browne behind him.

    USC will be without star receiver Marqise Lee, who had a strong season last year despite being slowed for essentially the whole season with injuries. Even with Lee's departure, the USC receiving corps will be in good shape with Nelson Agholor as the No. 1 option.

    The Trojans will be in even better condition at running back with both Javorious Allen and Tre Madden coming back after combing for nearly 1,500 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns.

    The defense will be in question after the departures of Devon Kennard and Dion Bailey. Look for Hayes Pullard and Su'a Cravens to be among the team's defensive leaders next year.

3. Stanford Cardinal

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 11-3

    Returning Starters: 11 (5 offense, 6 defense)

    Key Returner: QB Kevin Hogan

    Key Loss: LB Trent Murphy

     

    Stanford will experience some painful turnover, which will put the pressure on several newcomers to step in to major roles.

    Running back Tyler Gaffney will depart from the offense after eclipsing 1,700 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns a year ago. The offense could depend on more from quarterback Kevin Hogan and his top target Ty Montgomery as a result.

    Defensively, the Cardinal will have to do without several stars, including linebackers Trent Murphy and Shanye Skov and safety Ed Reynolds. Look for linebacker A.J. Tarpley and safety Jordan Richards to step up in their stead. 

    The biggest losses could end up being along the offensive line, where Stanford will lose All-American David Yankey.

2. UCLA Bruins

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    2013 Record: 10-3

    Returning Starters: 16 (8 offense, 8 defense)

    Key Returner: QB Brett Hundley

    Key Loss: LB Anthony Barr

     

    UCLA will experience some painful turnover, but the Bruins will also bring back some of their best players.

    The big one is quarterback Brett Hundley, who will return as a redshirt junior to lead a UCLA offense that could be one of the best in college football.

    Joining him will be a full host of running backs and four offensive linemen. The running back corps will be led by Jordon James and Paul Perkins. Then there's Myles Jack, who also contributed to the running game late in the season, purely out of necessity.

    Jack, a natural linebacker, seems likely to stick to defense unless UCLA faces another depth crisis in its backfield. The Bruins will have to replace All-American linebacker Anthony Barr, as well as No. 2 tackler Jordan Zumwalt.

    Even with those losses, the Bruins will have a capable defense with Jack, Eric Kendricks, Randall Goforth and Ishmael Adams.

1. Oregon Ducks

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 11-2

    Returning Starters: 15 (9 offense, 6 defense)

    Key Returner: QB Marcus Mariota

    Key Loss: RB De'Anthony Thomas

     

    Marcus Mariota could've been a top-five pick in the upcoming NFL draft, but instead he'll try for a national title and a Heisman Trophy back at Oregon.

    Center Hroniss Grasu will return along with several other offensive linemen. They'll help lead the way for Mariota and a running back corps that will lose stud speedster De'Anthony Thomas but will still be solid with Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner coming back.

    The UO defense that was much improved last year will lose several key players, including safety Avery Patterson.

    However, All-American corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu will come back to anchor the secondary, while leading tackler Derrick Malone will return to lead the linebackers.

    The biggest question will come on the defensive front, particularly when the Ducks take on Stanford.