Pac-12 Football: 5 Freshmen Who Will Steal a Starting Spot in Fall Camp
Spring football in the Pac-12 is a time for buzz to be created and for fans to read about actual football being played, even if it's only on a practice field.
Then the reports start coming out and all of the excitement starts to slowly fade as coaches talk about how they're "improving" and how so-and-so "is really starting to put it together." In other words, it's the same old song and dance until the real games begin.
One thing you can count on, however, is a few new faces to emerge as viable contenders for playing time in the fall. Oftentimes, that involves the freshmen, both first- and second-year players, who are too good to be ignored.
So, which freshmen will have the most impact this year? Can someone duplicate the defensive efforts of Myles Jack, or will another back be as successful as Thomas Tyner was in his first season?
Here are five players who could earn starting spots in fall camp.
All recruiting info via 247Sports.
WR Jalen Brown, Oregon
With senior leader Josh Huff off to the NFL and burgeoning star Bralon Addison likely out for the season with a torn ACL, the Ducks suddenly find themselves in need of assistance at receiver.
Keanon Lowe, a steady veteran returning for his senior season, will likely hold down one spot. But that still leaves two up for grabs, and there's a good chance that true freshman Jalen Brown will snag one of them.
Among those vying for a starting gig are redshirt junior BJ Kelley, sophomore Dwayne Stanford, sophomore Chance Allen, and freshmen Darren Carrington and Devon Allen. But Brown arrived on campus early and has already begun to make an impact, according to wide receivers coach Matt Lubick (via Andrew Greif, The Oregonian):
He’s very smart. It takes a special person to be able to come into school early and handle everything: academics, a whole new environment, competing with a lot higher caliber talents. And then you’ve got to have some stuff inside you. The difference we talk about playing time with freshmen is if you’re ready to compete and you have to have a lot of confidence, and he has a lot of that.
Fending off players who've been in the program for a couple years won't be easy, but a physically mature player like Brown has a great chance, especially with the position in dire need of players to step up and help replace over 1,800 yards receiving lost from Huff and Addison.
OL Damien Mama, USC
Offensive guard Damien Mama is 6'4" and 370 pounds.
The highly touted recruit from Bellflower, CA, brings with him not only a hulking figure but a rather large reputation as well. He was ranked by 247Sports as the second-best guard in the country, and offensive line has been a position with mixed results in recent years at USC.
You have players like Marcus Martin and Khaled Holmes who were incredible, yet another handful of promising talents have failed to yield any real results.
There may not be a ton of basis in selecting Mama as one of the true freshmen who will start, but it's difficult to believe he won't be making a significant contribution right away. If he can arrive at fall camp and turn heads early on, don't be surprised to see head coach Steve Sarkisian give him a shot.
When it comes to early playing time for the Trojans, more popular names will be Adoree' Jackson and John Smith, both highly touted recruits themselves. But Mama has the best chance to start of the trio.
S Budda Baker, Washington
Starting safeties Sean Parker and Will Shamburger are gone from the Washington secondary. Does anyone know who might be able to fill in?
Oh, well how about one of the best recruits in the Pacific Northwest, Budda Baker? The star two-way player originally committed to Oregon before switching gears and staying in his home state.
Baker has the potential to be a dynamic threat on offense, but the Huskies may need his defensive services before anything else.
Listed at just 5'9", 174 pounds, Baker was the consensus top recruit from Washington and the second-best athlete on 247Sports' composite rankings. One difference between him and Shaq Thompson, who played his way into a starting role as a true freshman, is his size.
But if Baker can pack on a few pounds and be ready for the physical nature of college football, he has a terrific shot to crack Chris Petersen's starting defense.
OT Jackson Barton, Utah
A large part of the thought process in picking freshmen who could start right away is looking at what position they play and what kind of need the team has there. Oregon could have signed the top four quarterback recruits in the country, but it doesn't mean they would have had playing time.
At Utah, offensive line is a priority, and tackle Jackson Barton is here to help. At 6'7" and 286 pounds, Barton has both the frame and athleticism to become an elite lineman at the college level.
As mentioned, though, it's the depth at the position that could allow Barton to shine immediately. The Utes lose a pair of starters to graduation and another backup as well. Players who have been in the program have a better chance than Barton to start out, but talent usually wins in the end.
The only issue may be the fact that Utah returns both of its starting tackles. Still, if Barton has the skills, you can bet coach Kyle Whittingham will find a place for him.
After all, while the Utes typically boast a tough defense, it's the offense that needs to get better at every level. Barton could be part of the solution in 2014.
LB Marquis Ware, Arizona
Marquis Ware was one of the more sought-after recruits in the country, and it couldn't have been easy to turn down an offer from the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles.
Yet the Los Angeles native chose to take his talents only a few hundred miles east to Tucson, where he'll have a chance to immediately start for the Arizona Wildcats.
It should tell you something about Ware that he'll likely play linebacker but could realistically be placed anywhere on the field and be effective. Except for maybe nose tackle.
Still, the 6'2", 215-pound athlete has the size that could allow him to transform his body into ideal playing shape for any number of positions. He could help out at wide receiver, though the Wildcats are stacked at the position. He could help out on special teams—and likely will from the start.
But here's a guess that he'll earn a spot at linebacker and begin making plays from the first day. Ware turned down the 'Noles, Sooners, Hurricanes and Bruins to be a Wildcat. Now he'll get the chance to forge his legacy as a member of a defense that is often a step or two behind Rich Rodriguez's offense.