Pac-12 Football Players Under Most Pressure for 2014 Season
Each passing day brings us one step closer to the start of Pac-12 football, and we're taking a look now at the players under the most pressure in 2014.
Pressure can take many different forms comes. For example, some players are feeling the pressure to finally realize their potential and become an NFL target. Others are replacing key names from the 2013 season and will feel some pressure to replicate their production.
Finally, there are some guys whose play will make or break the entire season. In order to become a championship-level squad, you need an entire locker room giving 100 percent, but some players are more important than others.
For example, the Ducks can probably survive if one of their three tight ends has a bad game. If Marcus Mariota plays poorly, however, the team is in trouble. The guys who carry the most weight will definitely be feeling the pressure this year.
Take a look at the five players under the most pressure to come up big in 2014.
All stats via cfbstats.com.
WR Kasen Williams, Washington
We begin in the Northwest, where the Washington Huskies are entering their first season with head coach Chris Petersen at the helm. Expectations are high, and the hope in Seattle is that he'll not only be able to step in and replace what Steve Sarkisian brought to the table, but also be able to take the program a step further.
Whether he's able to accomplish that in his first season will depend largely on the role played by wide receiver Kasen Williams. With Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Bishop Sankey both in the NFL, Williams looks like the team's best offensive player. Add in the fact that projected starter Cyler Miles has relatively little experience, and you can see why the pressure is on for Williams.
But not only is Williams feeling it because of how important he is to the team's success, he must come up with a big year because of how talented he is and the way the 2013 season ended.
As a freshman, the 6'2", 212-pound Williams had over 400 yards receiving to go along with six touchdowns. He backed up the strong start with an 878-yard, six-score effort as a sophomore. Then, in eight games, Williams dropped back to just over 400 yards and a lone touchdown as a junior.
Granted, being hampered by injuries won't help anyone's numbers, and the offense had a lot of options. But Williams has the build to be one of college football's elite players. He could easily be a 1,000-yard guy in 2014.
The pressure is on to do just that and make sure the Huskies don't miss a beat in Petersen's first year.
DL Nate Orchard, Utah
As we mentioned in the opening slide, players can make this list for a variety of reasons. For Utah defensive end Nate Orchard, the pressure comes from needing to become "the man" after the stellar career of Trevor Reilly.
In 2013, Reilly had an interception, a forced fumble, 100 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. Those are monster numbers, especially for a guy who never seemed to make a blip on the national radar.
In order for the Utes defense to continue making progress, Orchard has to play a role similar to the one Reilly had. Will he equal those numbers? Probably not. But he must be enough of a presence that opposing offenses will take time each week to game-plan for what he brings to the table.
But let's not sell Orchard short, lest you forget he had a pretty solid year himself. As a junior, Orchard made 49 tackles, which included 8.5 for loss, and three sacks. Those numbers are pretty comparable to what Reilly did in his junior year.
We're not going to pretend that the Utes don't have issues elsewhere, because the offense has major questions, and the pressure is also on guys such as quarterback Travis Wilson and wide receiver Dres Anderson.
But Orchard should be the backbone of the defense, and if he's not, the program could be staring straight at another four-win season. And that's what we like to call pressure.
QB Connor Halliday, Washington State
We arrive at the first of three quarterbacks on this list, and it's a name that all Pac-12 fans are familiar with by now: Connor Halliday.
The strong-armed Halliday is a Mike Leach guy to the core, as he's capable of passing the ball 80 times per game and has no issue with spreading the rock around to multiple receivers. Speaking of the pass-catchers, his top six targets from 2013 will all be back, including Dom Williams, River Cracraft and Vince Mayle.
All of that, of course, adds to the pressure that Halliday will be facing. The offense should put up plenty of points, but the defense could be an issue with the departure of safety Deone Bucannon. That means scoring 30- or 40-plus on a regular basis may be necessary to once again reach bowl eligibility.
The real issue for Halliday, however, is the turnovers. Despite throwing 34 touchdown passes, Halliday had 22 interceptions, which is twice as many as you might reasonably expect from such a pass-happy attack.
The pressure will be on in 2014 for the Cougars quarterback to lead scoring drives early and often, cut back on turnovers and become a team leader. He's in a perfect system given his talents, and the potential is there for this version of Wazzu to be the best we've seen in over a decade.
But if Halliday cannot deliver, we might see a step back to the four- or five-win Cougars we became familiar with throughout the 2000s.
QB Kevin Hogan, Stanford
You wouldn't think a player with Kevin Hogan's resume would pop up on a list as being "under pressure."
The starting signal-caller for the Cardinal has already made it to a pair of Rose Bowls, winning one. He has a calmness about him that reminds you of a perennial Pro Bowler, and he seems to always come up with the right play in crunch time.
But with Stanford losing Tyler Gaffney and a host of offensive linemen from the 2013 squad, Hogan must quickly transition from doing what he's asked to making things happen, sometimes on his own.
Stanford has specific offensive goals, and new personnel isn't going to change that. But the Cardinal may struggle to score points out of the gate, and Hogan may need to have more than 200 yards passing per game in order to lead his team to victory.
We've all seen Hogan make the NFL throws, too. Despite Andrew Luck playing in the same offense that doesn't highlight the quarterback position, he made enough happen to wow the scouts and become the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.
That's probably not going to happen for Hogan, but he still has the tools to be a more dynamic quarterback. The talent and system surrounding him haven't forced him to carry any extra weight in the past two seasons, but that will change in a couple of months.
Can Hogan shed his reputation as a "safe" quarterback and become a real playmaker at the position in a year when the Cardinal might desperately need it?
QB Brett Hundley, UCLA
What more can you say about UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley that hasn't already been said? The Bruins' junior signal-caller will soon find himself at or near the top of many Heisman watch lists, and nobody would have been surprised to see him chosen among the top 10 in the 2014 NFL draft had he declared for it.
Yet, if you dig a little deeper, much of the hype is based on potential. Hundley has turned in his fair share of solid games, but his numbers aren't where the average fan might expect them to be.
The talented quarterback had just one game in 2013 in which he passed for more than 300 yards, and that came against Cal, statistically the worst passing defense in the country. Against Oregon, Hundley threw for just 64 yards and had a pair of interceptions.
He also has a knack for starting out slow and taking a while to get into a groove. Every quarterback has his faults, and we're not picking on Hundley just for fun. There are times when Hundley looks completely unstoppable.
But in order for UCLA to continue the momentum it's built in recent years, Hundley has to be the guy who winds up in Heisman contention and makes the spectacular occur on a weekly basis. He hasn't done that yet in his career.
We know he's capable, but the pressure is on to make it happen. If Hundley is unable to deliver on the hype and the Bruins take a step back, it will be an overwhelming disappointment for a team on the rise.