Pac-12 Football: 5 Players Who Will Surprise in 2014
All sorts of Pac-12 predictions are on the way in the next few months, and we'll kick things off by looking at players who will surprise us in 2014.
One way to look at the subject is to compare it to a "most improved" list, but there are a number of players we expect to be better in 2014. For example, Brett Hundley has yet to truly put it all together, and if he does, he'll be one of the most improved players in the conference. However, that wouldn't really surprise anyone.
Sometimes surprises can be a bad thing, like when a hyped-up player underperforms (i.e. Matt Barkley in 2012). But it's hard to actually predict a player regressing without being inside the program, and besides, we like to keep things positive.
So without any further rambling, here are five players who will surprise us all in 2014.
DL Arik Armstead, Oregon
It's officially time to put up or shut up for Oregon defensive lineman Arik Armstead. The former 5-star recruit quit basketball to focus solely on football, and while his potential—like his frame—is enormous, he has yet to put it together.
We don't mean he's shown plenty of flashes and has on-again, off-again performances. He just flat-out hasn't contributed a whole lot in his first two years as a Duck. That's going to change in 2014.
At 6'8" and upwards of 280 pounds, Armstead is as physically intimidating as they come. He has the athleticism from his days on the hardwood and the length to wreak havoc in the passing game even when he's unable to get to the quarterback.
He also purchased a $5 million insurance policy, according to Rand Getlin of Yahoo! Sports. That all but confirms his goals of playing in the NFL sooner rather than later, and because of his potential, he's likely to get drafted no matter what happens in 2014.
But with the Ducks losing several players off the defensive line to graduation, look for Armstead's expanded role to lead to a breakout campaign as he becomes one of the best defensive players in the conference.
RB Terron Ward, Oregon State
In 2013, Oregon State threw balanced offense out the window, as the running game was nonexistent for a large part of the year, and quarterback Sean Mannion's arm was given its very own training table due to exhaustion.
All of this will make Terron Ward's solid season in 2014 that much more of a surprise to Pac-12 fans.
This prediction stems from the Beavers' final few games of last fall when the offense began to run the ball more efficiently and with greater success. Ward failed to eclipse the 30-yard mark until the team's fifth game of the season against Colorado. He then bounced from average performances to poor ones before rushing for 145 yards in the Civil War.
He added on 54 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries in the Beavers' bowl game. Though he splits time with junior-to-be Storm Woods, Ward was more consistent in 2013 and also has an edge in experience.
We know Mannion can make every throw and will continue to put up monster numbers. But the Beavers won't be successful if the passing attack accounts for more than 80 percent of the offense each week.
Look for the 5'7" Ward to break out in his senior season and not only lead the team in rushing, but also give Oregon State a more balanced attack to take pressure off of Mannion.
WR Kasen Williams, Washington
Call it a bounce-back season, call it a breakout year or just call it a pivotal next seven months in the life of Washington wide receiver Kasen Williams. Whatever description works best for you is fine, but Williams will surprise everyone in 2014 by returning to his sophomore year form, which saw him tally over 800 yards receiving.
His 421 as a junior was a far cry from that mark, and despite missing the team's final five games, Williams clearly wasn't the same player. In the seven games that he saw the field, he never surpassed more than five catches. Compare that to the nine times he had more than five grabs in 2012, and you can see that the Huskies' top pass-catcher just wasn't right.
At 6'2", 216 pounds, Williams is a physical receiver with surprising speed. He can catch passes and shake off defenders better than most, and he has the strength to win almost any one-on-one matchup. That rarely occurred last fall, but Williams has to be entering his final season as a Husky with a renewed focus.
He is a future NFL receiver, but unless he bounces back and plays to his abilities, he won't ever see the field on Sundays. Look for Williams to surprise us all and provide a major boost to Chris Petersen's offense in the head coach's first season at the helm.
DL Owamagbe Odighizuwa
You may not even remember the next player on our list, let alone want to attempt to pronounce his name correctly. Regardless, Owamagbe Odighizuwa—or perhaps just "Owa"— will surprise everyone in the fall and become yet another terror on UCLA's defense.
As a junior in 2012, Odighizuwa began to realize some of his potential that slotted him as one of the elite recruits coming out of high school. In fact, his commitment was one of the best things Rick Neuheisel did for the program, aside from convincing Brett Hundley to head to Westwood, of course.
He piled up 44 tackles as a junior, which included six for loss and an additional 3.5 sacks. Odighizuwa unfortunately suffered an injury following the 2012 season that forced him to use a redshirt in 2013. Now, as he enters his last year as a Bruin, he returns to a loaded defense to play alongside guys like Eddie Vanderdoes and Ellis McCarthy.
Those two may receive more attention, but it will ultimately be Odighizuwa who has the best year on the interior of Jim Mora's defense.
Whether that helps lead the Bruins to a Pac-12 South title remains to be seen, but "Owa" is primed for a heck of a senior campaign.
WR Fred Gammage, Arizona State
Quarterback Taylor Kelly, all-purpose back D.J. Foster and wide receiver Jaelen Strong: This trio is the unquestioned centerpiece of the Arizona State offense, and odds are slim that anyone else will make a case for inclusion among the group before the end of 2014.
However, if the Sun Devils want to avoid predictability and defenses zeroing in on one or two players, they'll have to find more weapons. Wide receivers Ellis Jefferson, Cameron Smith and Frederick Gammage are a good place to start looking, and of the three it will be, Gammage who surprises the most.
The 5'10", 170-pound sophomore is by no means a physical presence on the gridiron, but his speed and ability to open up the defense is invaluable for an offense that will have to take pressure off of Foster and Strong.
Gammage made an impression on coach Todd Graham this spring, according to Craig Grialou of Arizona Sports. Graham said, "...and a guy that I'm really kind of pleased with, probably almost as much as anybody at receiver is Fred Gammage. He's continued to show up and do some good things."
Look for Gammage to break out and become another home run threat in Graham's dangerous offense. If he can do that, it should take pressure off of an inexperienced defense and allow the team to stay in the hunt for a second straight Pac-12 South title.
All stats via cfbstats.com.