One Freshman to Watch for on Every Pac-12 Football Team in 2014
The Pac-12 conference is filled with more stars than we can ever remember as fall camps officially get underway and the season approaches, but it's the young faces who may end up having the biggest impact on the league title race.
While everyone around the country knows about quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley, wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Ty Montgomery, linebacker Myles Jack and defensive end Leonard Williams, there are a number of recruits from the Class of 2018, as well as redshirt freshmen, poised to burst onto the scene in a major way.
Of course, some positions allow for an easier high school-to-college transition. Running backs don't necessarily need an NFL build to see the field, and corners who can cover and keep up athletically will often get time early in their careers. The big fellas in the trenches, however, often need a year or two to get their bodies ready for the physical toll a season of college football will take.
All that said, no position is out of bounds as we take a look at one freshman to watch for on every Pac-12 team. Remember these names now, because everyone will know them by December.
One freshman to watch in 2014: RB Nick Wilson
Those who follow recruiting will probably be more familiar with linebacker Marquis Ware than running back Nick Wilson, but the Wildcats won't survive in 2014 without a solid rushing attack. No offense to Jared Baker, the team's lone returning back with more than 100 yards last season, but Rich Rodriguez's offense is in desperate need of talent at the position.
In comes Wilson, a 4-star recruit out of Fresno, California, who runs a 4.55 40-yard dash and has good size at 5'11" and nearly 200 pounds.
One thing that should have Wildcats fans excited? Wilson compares himself to the recently departed Ka'Deem Carey, per WildcatSportsReport.com (h/t tucsoncitizen.com): "(Carey) and I are a lot alike. We have the same running style. I like to use my speed in the open field, but I love taking on defenders inside the box and playing a real physical brand of football when I’m carrying the ball."
Arizona State Sun Devils
One freshman to watch in 2014: LB D.J. Calhoun
Though he may not arrive with the fanfare that Vontaze Burfict had several years ago, linebacker D.J. Calhoun is one freshman who will be well known by season's end, perhaps following in Myles Jack's footsteps as a first-year guy on defense who makes more than just a minor impact.
The top defensive recruit in the Sun Devils' 2014 class, Calhoun is the complete package, and at 6'0", 205 pounds, he should have the versatility to play multiple positions and hang close with tight ends and receivers running down the field.
The former 4-star fills a major position of need with Carl Bradford and Chris Young both departing, and that should allow him to compete for early playing time. Look for Calhoun to see the field early and often, perhaps becoming a starter by the end of September.
California Golden Bears
One freshman to watch in 2014: OLB Devante Downs
Cal will need to do everything a little bit better in 2014 to improve upon a one-win campaign last fall, but with a quarterback in place and a decent crop of skill-position talent, the name of the game will be defense—as in improving the one that finished 124th out of 125 teams in total defense in 2013.
That's where linebacker Devante Downs could make an immediate impact, and it's why he's our freshman to watch in 2014. The 6'3", 230-pound Downs was a 4-star recruit and top-200 player overall with offers from Oregon, Washington, Arizona State and several other Pac-12 schools.
That kind of size usually gives a player a leg up in the competition for early playing time, and seeing as how the Bears failed miserably in stopping anyone last fall, there aren't many jobs safe entering camp. Even if Downs can't win a starting spot right away, look for him to have an impact for Cal this season.
One freshman to watch in 2014: WR Bryce Bobo
One thing we'll continue to harp on here is that the most talented player isn't always the freshman to keep an eye on. Sometimes it's the one who plays a position of need and will therefore have a greater impact.
Fortunately for Colorado, wide receiver Bryce Bobo fits both criteria and has a good chance to develop into one of quarterback Sefo Liufau's favorite targets in 2014. Both Nelson Spruce and D.D. Goodson are entrenched as big-time playmakers at the position, but Bobo will likely play his way into a prominent role this fall.
Redshirting in 2013 should mean that Bobo not only has a better grasp of the playbook than when he first arrived, but also that he knows what it takes to contribute. With Paul Richardson gone, head coach Mike MacIntyre will welcome any and all players who can contribute to the offense, so don't be surprised to see Bobo wind up with several hundred yards receiving this fall.
One freshman to watch in 2014: WR Devon Allen
If you're going off future potential or perhaps talent alone, running back Royce Freeman could make a great case here, but based off the areas of need for Oregon in 2014, we're tabbing wide receiver Devon Allen as the player to watch.
If you missed the redshirt freshman's breakout spring, you may have been looking in the wrong place. It's true that Allen was one of the standouts on the gridiron, but where he really made a name for himself was on the track. Allen won the NCAA championship in the 110-meter hurdles and then took home the title at the U.S. championships as well.
With wide receiver Bralon Addison out for an extended period of time, only Keanon Lowe returns as an experienced starter, meaning help has to come from somewhere. Look for Allen, who has speed to burn, to make an early impact and finish as one of the team's top three receivers in total yards.
Oregon State Beavers
One freshman to watch in 2014: WR Hunter Jarmon
With wide receiver Brandin Cooks off to the NFL—although not before one of the best careers in school history—the Beavers will be looking for someone other than the steady Richard Mullaney to step up and become a key target for future NFL quarterback Sean Mannion.
That situation means that fans will likely get a look at receiver Hunter Jarmon, a 5'11", 200-pound freshman who redshirted in 2013. Jarmon played baseball for Oregon State in the winter before switching back to the gridiron when spring ball arrived.
Victor Bolden is another young player to watch, but he saw time last year. Out of all the freshmen on the team with the potential to have a major impact on the season, Jarmon stands out and is definitely a player to keep an eye on.
One freshman to watch in 2014: DE Solomon Thomas
There's nothing quite like picking an under-the-radar player to become a breakout star and then seeing that actually happen, but sometimes you just have to go with the obvious choice. For Stanford, the one freshman to watch is defensive end Solomon Thomas.
A trio of seniors in Henry Anderson, Blake Lueders and David Parry will start up front for the Cardinal, but Thomas should get every chance in the world to see the field as a true freshman. The former 5-star recruit was listed as the 25th-best overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings and had offers from teams like Alabama, Ohio State and Texas.
Everybody wanted him, but it was David Shaw who landed him, and the 6'3", 260-pound end should fit in nicely with the physical Cardinal defense that now has a reputation for not only allowing very few points, but for shutting many opponents down entirely.
One freshman to watch in 2014: WR Eldridge Massington
Offense steals the show once again as we reach the UCLA Bruins, and this time it's wide receiver Eldridge Massington who looks to make an impact early in his career.
Though redshirt players don't often drum up the same level of excitement as instant-impact true freshmen, Massington could be the kind of player UCLA regrets not playing sooner. He's 6'3" 210 pounds and was a 4-star recruit out of high school.
With Shaq Evans now looking to make a name for himself in the NFL, the title of "go-to-receiver" on UCLA is up for grabs. Of course, Hundley will have the luxury of being able to spread it around to guys like Jordan Payton and Devin Fuller, but Massington could be the kind of dominant wideout the team has been missing in recent years. If that's the case, UCLA has the potential to run away with the South Division.
One freshman to watch in 2014: CB Adoree' Jackson
It may be tough for USC cornerback Adoree' Jackson to win a starting spot on the Trojans defense in 2014, but it'll be even tougher for new head coach Steve Sarkisian to keep him off the field.
Jackson, a 5-star recruit and consensus top-25 player overall in the 2014 class, has sub-4.45 speed and is built similarly to former Oregon standout De'Anthony Thomas. What he lacks in height, at a shade under 5'10", he makes up in athleticism.
Jackson should compete right away for a spot on special teams, perhaps as a kick returner. He might even be utilized on offense. But where he'll ultimately make his biggest impact is on defense, even with the talented Chris Hawkins already waiting in the wings behind Josh Shaw and Kevin Seymour at corner.
One freshman to watch in 2014: WR Raelon Singleton
Utah signed four receivers in the incoming class of 2014, no doubt an attempt to provide offensive weapons for Travis Wilson not named Dres Anderson. The only returning wideout in 2014 with more than 100 career yards to his name is Geoffrey Norwood, and even if Wilson can stay healthy and expand upon his strong start last fall, he'll need help.
Raelon Singleton looks very much like a guy who will make a difference sooner rather than later, and not just due to his size at 6'4", 180 pounds. He also has decent speed with a 4.6 40-time and could become one of those underrated players from the state of Texas who somehow got lost in the shuffle of all the other 5-stars and hyped prospects.
Don't let Singleton's three stars fool you; he brings talent to a position where the Utes sorely need it. If head coach Kyle Whittingham wants to turn this thing around and start fielding a conference contender, the offense will need to become more consistent in all aspects. Singleton should help that cause in the fall.
One freshman to watch in 2014: S Budda Baker
One of the top safety recruits in the incoming class of 2014, Budda Baker is the one freshman on Washington you can't miss in 2014. And really, if you turn on any of the Huskies' games, even for a few minutes, you probably won't because Baker is that likely to make an impact right away.
A 4-star recruit and top-55 recruit overall, Baker is another one of those newcomers who could make his presence felt in a variety of ways, including as a return man. His speed should allow him to roam the secondary and not miss a beat even against the best the Pac-12 has to offer.
A one-time Oregon commit, Baker ended up staying close to home and should compete for a starting spot during fall camp. Even if he's unable to etch his name into the top spot on the depth chart at safety, Baker will inevitably see a wealth of playing time. If the Huskies make any noise in the North, you can bet that Baker will have played a role.
Washington State Cougars
One freshman to watch in 2014: RB Calvin Green
No one will be surprised when quarterback Connor Halliday throws for 4,500 yards and 40 touchdowns and his receiving corps puts up insane numbers. The air-raid offense tends to make that happen, and the passing attack alone will probably lead to several wins. However, winning the tougher games will depend on Halliday's ability to limit mistakes.
That's where the running backs come in, because if they can take some of the pressure off the aerial assault and show the ability to get big yards on first and second down, the offense should be a lot more effective. Running back Calvin Green arrived in Pullman without much fanfare, yet he was rated as the ninth-best all-purpose back by 247Sports.com.
Both Marcus Mason and Teondray Caldwell are ahead of him at the depth chart, but the Cougars haven't had the do-it-all back in recent years who can line up as a second running back or motion out wide and be effective in the passing game. The Cougars offense is full of weapons, but the more the merrier. Look for Green to earn some early playing time and play an important role for Mike Leach's squad.