Every Pac-12 Team's Strongest, Weakest Position Groups Heading into 2014 Season

Jeff Bell@@JrayBellCorrespondent IMay 27, 2014

Every Pac-12 Team's Strongest, Weakest Position Groups Heading into 2014 Season

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    Washington State WR Vince Mayle
    Washington State WR Vince MayleMatt York/Associated Press

    The Pac-12 conference may be stronger as a whole than it's been in years thanks in large part to a variety of impressive quarterbacks, sturdy defensive lines and a host of other deep position groups.

    But no team is without weakness or at least a few question marks entering the 2014 season. Some have more than others, sure, but every fan can name at least one position group that they're most nervous about for next season.

    Flip the coin over, however, and there's a growing excitement over certain position groups that could be among the very best in the nation.

    We're taking a look at both the strongest and weakest units of every Pac-12 team.


    All stats via cfbstats.com. Remember, this is a snapshot of where things stand entering the season, not a prediction for the 2014 campaign as a whole. Naturally, some groups will exceed expectations, some will falter and some will become much stronger simply because of an increase in game experience.

Arizona Wildcats

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    WR Austin Hill
    WR Austin HillUSA TODAY Sports

    Strongest position group: Wide Receiver

    Without question, the strongest position group at Arizona is wide receiver. The Wildcats return six receivers who had over 100 yards receiving, including three freshmen and a pair of sophomores.

    The best part? Receiver Austin Hill returns after an injury sidelined him in 2013. In 2012, he had over 1,300 yards receiving.


    Weakest position group: Running Back

    In order for Rich Rodriguez's high-octane offense to be running smoothly, it needs to have a stable of running backs capable of making plays throughout the game. Right now, that doesn't exist.

    Sophomore Jared Baker is the leading returning rusher with 27 carries for 127 yards last season. Redshirt freshman Pierre Cormier could become a difference-maker eventually, but the group is lacking right now in the experience category. Quarterback may have been a more obvious choice without an experienced starter, but given what B.J. Denker was able to do in just one year, we're guessing those vying for the spot are capable of similar things.

Arizona State Sun Devils

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    QB Taylor Kelly
    QB Taylor KellyChristian Petersen/Getty Images

    Strongest position group: Quarterback

    Let's start with the obvious: Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly is one of the best signal-callers in the league and has turned into the perfect leader in Todd Graham's offense. He had over 4,000 yards of offense and 37 touchdowns in 2013.

    But having a great starter doesn't make a position group strong on its own. Kelly's backup, Michael Bercovici, is an athletic quarterback capable of making plays and leading the offense as well.


    Weakest position group: Defensive Line

    The obvious name gone from the defensive line is Will Sutton. The mammoth tackle was a two-time Pac-12 defensive player of the year, and his absence leaves a large hole in the middle.

    Also gone, however, are Gannon Conway and Davon Coleman. The trio combined for 35.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks. Look for Marcus Hardison and Jaxon Hood to play major roles up front in 2014, but it could take some time for them to form a solid interior.

California Golden Bears

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    WR Bryce Treggs
    WR Bryce TreggsThearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Strongest position group: Wide Receiver

    Quarterback Jared Goff had a great freshman season, but the guys he throws to make up the team's strongest position unit by far. Leading the wide receivers was Chris Harper, who had 840 yards and five scores.

    But there's also Bryce Treggs, Kenny Lawler and Darius Powe, a trio which combined for over 1,300 yards as well. In total, there are 10 receivers returning in 2014 who had at least one catch last fall. Combined with the talent at the top of the depth chart, and it's easy to see why Cal's receiving corps is among the best in the Pac-12.


    Weakest position group: Secondary

    The entire Cal defense was atrocious in 2013. The Bears gave up a mind-blowing 45.9 points per game. But while the rushing defense ranked 78th out of 125 teams, the passing defense was dead last.

    Yes, that means it was the very worst team in the entire FBS at giving up yards through the air. In fact, the 341 passing yards allowed per contest was 25 yards worse than the next team on the list, the mighty Idaho Vandals. The Bears have a lot of issues to fix, but the secondary is at the top of the list.

Colorado Buffaloes

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    RB Christian Powell
    RB Christian PowellDoug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Strongest position group: Running Back

    There weren't a lot of strong positions on Colorado in 2013, especially on defense. You might be inclined to pick the wide receivers, although the departure of Paul Richardson makes the pass-catchers difficult to select.

    Thus, we're turning to the running backs, where Christian Powell, Tony Jones and Michael Adkins II combined for 1,346 yards and 10 scores last fall. Each has his own strength, but being able to rely on more than one player to carry the rock and gain tough yardage is huge.


    Weakest position group: Defensive Line

    The Colorado Buffaloes ranked 102nd in the nation in 2013 in rushing yards allowed, so the defensive line naturally comes to the top of the list of the team's worst position groups.

    When you factor in the loss of Chidera Uzo-Diribe, this selection becomes even more clear. Samson Kafovalu and Josh Tupou are back, but the Buffaloes will need to find answers in order to have a chance at hanging with the strong spread attacks of Oregon or Arizona.

Oregon Ducks

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    RB Byron Marshall
    RB Byron MarshallRonald Martinez/Getty Images

    Strongest position group: Running Back

    Quarterback Marcus Mariota is one of the best players in the nation, but Oregon's depth at the position leaves a lot to be desired. The same cannot be said for running back, where the Ducks' stable is the envy of the Pac-12.

    At the top of the depth chart is Byron Marshall, a 1,000-yard player who may have padded the stats more were it not for a late-season injury. His backup, Thomas Tyner, looks primed for a monster year. Then there's the highly touted Royce Freeman coming in the fall along with speedster Tony James. In a word: yikes.


    Weakest position group: Defensive Line

    Without a doubt Oregon's weakest position is the defensive line, where the losses of Taylor Hart, Wade Keliikipi and Ricky Havili-Heimuli left a depleted unit.

    The projected starting trio of Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Alex Balducci isn't bad, but the three combined for just 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks last season. The loss of Bralon Addison made wide receiver an option here, but the rest of the offense is so dynamic that the unit should be able to grow without hurting the team very much.

Oregon State Beavers

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    QB Sean Mannion
    QB Sean MannionJonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Strongest position group: Quarterback

    By now you're familiar with what Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion is capable of doing. The strong-armed signal-caller threw for over 4,500 yards last season.

    But as we've mentioned already, having one good player at a position isn't enough on this list. Fortunately, the Beavers have Alabama transfer Luke Del Rio, who will be immediately eligible to play this season. That makes the race for backup all the more exciting and gives Mike Riley some options should something happen to Mannion.


    Weakest position group: Defensive Line

    There must be something about beef along the defensive front in the state of Oregon. In this case, it's the Beavers with a lot of work to do in that area, especially after losing standout defensive end Scott Crichton to the NFL.

    The lone returning playmaker is Dylan Wynn, who notched five tackles for loss in 2013. Otherwise, it's a host of unknowns hoping for a breakout season. This group could be much stronger a year from now, but at present it's a major question mark.

Stanford Cardinal

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    DB Alex Carter
    DB Alex CarterHarry How/Getty Images

    Strongest position group: Secondary

    "Offensive Line" was already typed out before some quick research caused it to be quickly erased. Sure, the big uglies will be strong and pave the way for Stanford's offense yet again, but the secondary is the best all-around group entering 2014.

    Leading the way are Alex Carter, Jordan Richards and Wayne Lyons. The trio form perhaps the most fearsome group of ball hawks in the Pac-12. Not only are they solid all-around players, but they also bring a level of physicality to the secondary that you should expect from a David Shaw-coached team.


    Weakest position group: Tight End

    It's odd to see what is normally one of Stanford's strongest positions in this section, but what happened in 2013 cannot be ignored. Cardinal tight ends combined for just 10 catches and 69 yards without a score.

    Luke Kaumatule is the top returning tight end with a whopping three grabs for 16 yards. He has talent, and he could make this piece look silly by the time the season is over. But even though there's a major question mark at running back, the tight ends have the most to prove in Palo Alto.

UCLA Bruins

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    LB Myles Jack
    LB Myles JackHarry How/Getty Images

    Strongest position group: Linebacker

    This one came down to linebacker and defensive line, but because of the youth up front it was the linebackers who won out. The name you all know is Myles Jack, who is coming off a sensational freshman campaign in which he made 76 tackles.

    But there's also the grossly underrated Eric Kendricks, who led the team with 105 tackles. Also expected to contribute in an increased role will be Isaac Savaiinaea, who had 25 tackles as a freshman. More talent is on the way too, which means the Bruins' growing tradition of having great linebackers won't be going away anytime soon.


    Weakest position group: Running Back

    To be honest, UCLA doesn't have any major weaknesses. In choosing running backs, this came down to the fact that the Bruins don't really have any one player who scares you, although Paul Perkins and Jordon James combined for over 1,000 yards in 2013.

    Wide receiver was also considered, but the young talent is just too promising. If UCLA wants to be a contender for the first college football playoff, it'll need Perkins to develop into one of the best backs in the conference, something you shouldn't put past him.

USC Trojans

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    RB Javorius Allen
    RB Javorius AllenEthan Miller/Getty Images

    Strongest position group: Running Back

    There's more talent in the secondary than at any other position on USC, although given the youth there we had to look toward the running back stable as the best unit on the team.

    It's led by Javorius Allen and Tre Madden, and the two combined for nearly 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns rushing in 2013. There's also promising freshman Justin Davis to consider. If quarterback Cody Kessler can take another step forward, this will be one of the most complete offenses you'll see in college football.


    Weakest position group: Offensive Line

    This one was relatively easy to select, as it was the only unit on USC that failed to impress in 2013. Though other position groups had their respective struggles, the offensive line never really wowed and its one great piece, center Marcus Martin, is now in the NFL.

    Look for Max Tuerk to establish himself as one of the better offensive linemen in the Pac-12, but coach Steve Sarkisian better hope his young guys are much improved from this past fall.

Utah Utes

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    WR Dres Anderson
    WR Dres AndersonWilliam Mancebo/Getty Images

    Strongest position group: Wide Receiver

    Much like Colorado, there aren't a whole lot of position groups at Utah that leave you impressed. But at wide receiver, the Utes are starting to gather some serious talent, and it starts with Dres Anderson.

    The senior-to-be had over 1,000 yards receiving and seven touchdowns in 2013 and is one of the best home-run threats in the league. He's joined at the position by promising youngsters Geoffrey Norwood and Dominique Hatfield, who combined for 257 yards last fall.


    Weakest position group: Defensive Line

    If the Utah defense is going to get back to playing football like coach Kyle Whittingham wants it to, it'll have to start up front. Unfortunately, that's where the majority of questions are coming from entering the 2014 season.

    Defensive end Nate Orchard, who had 8.5 tackles for loss in 2013, is the only player of note returning. After him, it'll be up to sophomore Viliseni Fauonuku and freshman Hunter Dimick to help shoulder the load.

Washington Huskies

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    DL Danny Shelton
    DL Danny SheltonOtto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Strongest position group: Defensive Line

    Rather quietly, the Washington Huskies have put together one of the best defensive lines in the Pac-12. The name you might be most familiar with is Danny Shelton, the 330-pound tackle best known for clogging up the middle.

    But the real star of the group is Hau'oli Kikaha, a defensive end who notched 15.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks in 2013. He should be a household name by the middle of October.


    Weakest position group: Quarterback

    If only because of inexperience, Washington's weakest position group is quarterback. The expected starter is Cyler Miles, and he performed well in limited action in 2013.

    But he still hasn't entered a season with the weight of high expectations. Going in for an injured Keith Price meant "let it all hang out and don't worry too much about the result." Now, the offense goes as Miles goes and his backups, Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams, have zero experience. Quarterback may be a strength at the end of the season, but it's an unknown at the moment.

Washington State Cougars

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    WR River Cracraft
    WR River CracraftSteve Dykes/Getty Images

    Strongest position group: Wide Receiver

    Unless you're Alabama or maybe Florida State, Washington State's wide receivers are better than yours. Its top eight pass-catchers from last season are back, and each one had more than 300 yards receiving. All but two had more than two touchdowns as well.

    Why stop there? The top four returning receivers each had more than 500 yards and combined for 2,607 yards and 24 touchdowns. Vince Mayle is the most physically imposing of the bunch, but River Cracraft, Dom Williams, Gabe Marks and Kristoff Williams will all play major roles.


    Weakest position group: Secondary

    Deone Bucannon was a monster at safety for the Cougars in 2013, but would it surprise you to learn that even with his efforts, Washington State ranked 114th in passing yards allowed per game?

    With Bucannon gone, the fairly large question mark becomes massive. The only returning defensive back with a pick last season is Daquawn Brown, who had two. Sophomore safety Taylor Taliulu has some experience, but the Cougars are going to need others to step up if they hope to improve upon a woeful 2013 in the secondary.