Creating Ideal All-Pac-12 Team to Beat an All-SEC Team
It's time to put on our dream hats and imagine a scenario where you could put together a game that featured the Pac-12's very best against an all-star SEC team.
It's not a scenario that's going to happen anytime soon, but think of the ratings, not to mention the countless storylines. Would the big bad SEC still stand tall like it has at the end of so many seasons in recent memory? Or would the Pac-12 rise up, answer the challenge and make a statement to the rest of the sport?
For the purposes of this exercise, we're going with both a semi-traditional lineup on offense and defense. That means one running back, three receivers, a tight end tasked with scoring points and a defense in a 4-3 formation.
You could probably take a gander back at the All-Pac-12 teams from 2013 and find a number of players on this list but remember that in some cases, all-around best isn't the same as best for facing the SEC.
Take a look through our ideal All-Pac-12 team for facing an All-SEC squad.
All stats via cfbstats.com.
Quarterback: Marcus Mariota (Oregon)
This one was really a no-brainer. Oregon's dual-threat star is one of the best signal-callers in the country and is the complete package when it comes to physical talent and decision-making.
With the way Oklahoma's Trevor Knight carved up mighty Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, you can't help but want to feature a quarterback with the ability to hurt opponents on the ground. Mariota might be the fastest player at his position.
Last season, the Ducks star player threw for over 3,600 yards, ran for more than 700 and accounted for 40 touchdowns. As for the mistakes, well, you're looking at four interceptions. For the whole season.
Mariota is without a doubt the player you'd want leading your offense against a team of SEC stars.
Running Back: Thomas Tyner (Oregon)
Before you quickly skip past this slide and pretend you never saw such a wild selection, answer just one question: Who else would you have chosen?
If you said USC's Javorius Allen, who finished with 774 yards and 14 touchdowns, you might have a solid case. If you went with Oregon's other back, Byron Marshall, who also happens to be the conference's leading returning rusher, you make a fair point.
However, there is no back in the conference as skilled as Tyner. He's over 6'0" and weighs more than 200 pounds yet has blinding speed that can leave defenders in the dust. Despite playing in an offense that saw Marcus Mariota and De'Anthony Thomas combine for nearly 200 carries (not to mention Marshall getting 168 of his own), Tyner still had 711 yards on the ground and nine scores.
And yes, this was as a true freshman. It's scary to think how good the Oregon sophomore will be in a couple years, but we want him on our All-Pac-12 team right now.
Wide Receivers: Nelson Agholor (USC), Ty Montgomery (Stanford) and Jaelen Strong (Arizona State)
One thing you may notice about our picks is that physicality is a must. Speed is important, but when facing an All-SEC defense, you want players who can take a hit and show up ready to give 100 percent on the very next play.
We have just that in Nelson Agholor, Ty Montgomery and Jaelen Strong. All three are tough, physical receivers who nevertheless bring different skill sets to the table. Agholor had 918 yards and six scores in 2013 and will be the best player on USC's offense in 2014, if that gives you any indication about his talent level.
At 6'2" and 215 pounds, Montgomery is a bit bigger than Agholor but possesses more speed and a greater ability to make defenders miss in the open field. Then finally there's Jaelen Strong who stands at 6'4" and in his first year, he had more receiving yards than the other two guys with over 1,100.
Together, the three players form an incredible trio at receiver and will make life difficult for any secondary, even one filled with the best the SEC has to offer.
Tight End: Caleb Smith (Oregon State)
Like running back, the tight end position was difficult simply because the league's very best from 2013 are now in the NFL, including last year's headliner, Austin Seferian-Jenkins of Washington.
You might initially be inclined to go with a guy like Randall Telfer of USC, but the Trojans tight end only had six catches last year. With flexibility, you could move UCLA's Thomas Duarte over to the position and feel pretty good about it.
But we're rolling along with Oregon State's Caleb Smith, a 6'6", 260-pound junior who had 25 catches for 343 yards and four touchdowns in 2013. His teammate, Connor Hamlett, had more receiving yards but also had 15 more grabs, and we like Smith's average yards per catch in this exercise.
We're sticking with Smith, too, because of his size and his ability to make plays both as a receiver and as a blocker. Nowadays, the tight end position has become a glorified extension of wide receiver, but Smith brings a big build and level of awareness to the position that would be perfect for our all-conference team.
Offensive Tackle: Andrus Peat (Stanford) and Tyler Johnstone (Oregon)
Offensive Guard: Isaac Seumalo (Oregon State) and Jamil Douglas (Arizona State)
Center: Hroniss Grasu (Oregon)
The offensive line could shake out any number of ways, and outside of Grasu and Peat, there are about 15 other players you could include in the group and not look stupid.
Since we've already mentioned Grasu and Peat, we'll start there. The two are the league's best offensive linemen, and Peat could quickly become one of the best tackles in the country in Stanford's offense.
Johnstone is a redshirt junior at Oregon who is recovering from an injury suffered against Texas in the Alamo Bowl. He earned an honorable mention All-Pac-12 award as the Ducks starting left tackle last season.
Finally you have Seumalo, a center who we're just going to slide over to guard, and Douglas, a versatile player who could physically match up with the SEC's beasts up front. Together, the two weigh 600 pounds and are perfect interior anchors on the line.
Defensive Tackle: Danny Shelton (Washington) and Leonard Williams (USC)
Defensive End: Hau'oli Kikaha (Washington) and Tony Washington (Oregon)
The big name of this defensive line group is USC's Leonard Williams, and while the Trojans emerging star can sometimes line up on the end, his 6'5", 290-pound frame will do fine in a 4-3. Next to him we'd like some more beef, however, and that's where Washington's Danny Shelton joins the party.
Shelton may not have the monster numbers of a dominant defensive lineman, but his size at 6'1" and 330 pounds allows him to clog up the middle and take pressure off the linebackers behind him.
On the outside, Hau'oli Kikaha makes an appearance, and if you're unfamiliar with the Huskies sack artist, you won't be for long. Kikaha piled up 13 sacks in 2013 to go along with 15.5 tackles for loss.
Opposite him you have Oregon's Tony Washington, a lengthy end/linebacker hybrid very much in the mold of former Duck standout Dion Jordan. His versatility on the edge gives the defense some much-needed speed without giving up much toughness up front.
Linebackers: Myles Jack (UCLA), Eric Kendricks (UCLA) and A.J. Tarpley (Stanford)
Talk about the murderers' row of linebackers here, and how good do you feel if you're a UCLA fan?
Let's start with the pair of Bruins—Myles Jack and Eric Kendricks—both of whom have helped resurrect a defense you might have called "poor" even a couple years ago. Jack's talent is obvious, and the hype-train for him is at capacity entering the 2014 campaign.
But lost in the shuffle on the Bruins defense is Eric Kendricks, who you might be surprised to learn actually led the team in tackles this past fall with 105. He's 6'0", 230 pounds and one of the more complete players in the conference.
Lastly, we arrive at a man who knows a thing or two about good linebacker play. That's because Stanford's A.J. Tarpley has spent several years watching Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy dominate. Now he'll try to continue the legacy, and after a 93-tackle season, we expect him to manage the task just fine.
Cornerbacks: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (Oregon) and Steven Nelson (Oregon State)
Safeties: Marcus Peters (Washington) and Shaq Thompson (Washington)
Our entire secondary hails from the Northwest where a pair of Huskies, a Duck and a Beaver are tasked with defending the SEC's passing attack.
At corner you'll find Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Steven Nelson of Oregon and Oregon State, respectively. Ekpre-Olomu has a strong case for being the top cornerback in the land, and there's a chance he would have been a first-round pick had he declared for the 2014 NFL draft. Nelson, meanwhile, led the conference with six picks this past fall.
At safety we're taking Shaq Thompson from his linebacker position and moving him back to where he began his career. Though he may not have the top-level speed it takes to roam the secondary, picture him as the strong safety who helps out the run game even more than usual for someone at the same position.
In Marcus Peters, you're looking at a ball hawk with five interceptions in 2013 to go along with 55 tackles. You'll probably see USC's Su'a Cravens here in a year's time, but for now the honor belongs to Peters.
Punter: Tom Hackett (Utah)
Kicker: Andy Phillips (Utah)
Kick Returner: Ty Montgomery (Stanford)
Punt Returner: Nelson Agholor (USC)
When it comes to special teams, you don't go for guys with certain playing styles like you might with a dual-threat quarterback or versatile tight end; you go for the best—plain and simple.
Fortunately, that's easy to measure when it comes to punting and kicking, where Tom Hackett and Andy Phillips of Utah form the conference's best tandem. Hackett led the Pac-12 in punting average at over 43 yards a pop, and Phillips is the only returning kicker to have converted on 85 percent of his field goals. He didn't miss a single extra point in 41 tries.
Selecting the returners wasn't much tougher than picking kickers. Nelson Agholor had the best punt-return average at more than 19 yards per return, which was five yards more than Oregon's Bralon Addison. Each player had two special teams touchdowns, so Agholor gets the nod.
Stanford's Ty Montgomery averaged over 30 yards per kick return, which was nearly six yards ahead of the conference's second-leading man, the Ducks' De'Anthony Thomas.