Pac-12 Football: 8 New Starters Who Will Dominate in 2014
With every Pac-12 team's fall camp in full swing, fans are eager to see which players will step up and become household names by the end of the season.
The list of stars in the conference goes on and on, and no one will be surprised to see players like Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota do well. But which guys, previously in the shadow as either a backup or still in high school, will step forward into the spotlight and make an impact?
The players who replace the departed stars often have the biggest say in a team's overall success. If glaring holes along the offensive line are filled with guys who just aren't ready, performance will suffer. If those holes are patched up by first-year starters who immediately make a case for all-league honors, success will follow.
The same can be true for any position, which is why we're taking a look at eight new starters in the Pac-12 who will dominate in 2014.
DE Arik Armstead, Oregon
By now, most Duck fans are probably able to admit that defensive lineman Arik Armstead has not lived up to their lofty expectations. A former 5-star recruit, Armstead has managed just five tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in two seasons. And though he hasn't been a regular starter, he's still appeared in 26 games.
But the 6'8", 300-pound Armstead must realize that the time has come for him to lay it all on the line if he hopes to have an NFL future. With Taylor Hart, Wade Keliikipi and Ricky Havili-Heimuli having graduated, it's up to players like Armstead to rebuild the brick wall along the line.
Thus far in fall camp, it sounds like he has, at least according to this stock report, via Will Rubin of 247Sports.com. Talent has never been a question for Armstead, and his size is unmatched almost anywhere at the college levelor even in the pros.
But now his contributions are no longer icing on the cake; they truly mean something and will in some cases become the difference between a win and a loss. With everything at stake, look for the massive junior to have a breakout season and leave 2014 as one of the Pac-12's best defensive linemen.
QB Cyler Miles, Washington
Washington quarterback Cyler Miles will not start or even play in the Huskies' season opener against Hawaii due to an incident following the Super Bowl in February. It's also unclear whether he will be the starter following that contest, although given what he showed last season—and the fact that no one else on the team has attempted a pass yet—you've gotta believe Miles is the guy this year.
What he did last year wasn't sensational, but he did manage to complete 37-of-61 passes for 418 yards and four scores in eight appearances. He also had 200 yards rushing, and his mobility isn't something Chris Petersen has had in his starting quarterbacks over the years.
Former starter Keith Price was a heart-and-soul guy who brought a lot of intangibles to the table, but Miles looks more talented at this stage. Without a proven running back, the offense could rely heavily on him and receivers like as Kasen Williams and John Ross.
Miles won't assert his name into the Mariota-Hundley-Taylor Kelly-Sean Mannion quartet at the top of the Pac-12, but he should have a great first year and arrive at the 2015 season as one of the big names to watch in the conference.
WR Victor Bolden, Oregon State
You're well-aware by now that standout wide receiver Brandin Cooks is no longer playing for Oregon State and is instead catching passes from Drew Brees in New Orleans. That leaves a gaping hole that measures 1,730 yards and 18 total scores in football size.
Look for established wideout Richard Mullaney to gobble up some of the space and expand upon his 788 yards and three scores from last year, but the player who will make the biggest leap up from 2013 is Victor Bolden.
Despite catching just six passes for 62 yards last fall, Bolden is a threat as both a receiver and a running back—at least on fly sweeps. He's also deadly in the return game, having averaged more than 20 yards per touch in that department.
Without a reliable playmaker at the position outside of Mullaney, Bolden will be counted on as one of the players who must step up and ensure that Mannion's considerable talents aren't going to waste.
Whoever Starts at QB for Arizona
How can an unknown player make the cut on a list of specific guys we expect to dominate as first-year starters? Well, it wouldn't be possible without Rich Rodriguez and his uptempo offensive formula which has seen terrific play from the signal-callers in recent years.
What really leads us to believe that the eventual starter will dominate right away is that little-known B.J. Denker did the very same thing in 2013. Dominate might be too strong a word, but he still tallied nearly 3,500 yards of offense and 29 touchdowns. His 178 yards passing and 102 yards rushing against Oregon made for a legendary performance.
And here's the truly exciting part, Wildcats fans: Every quarterback on the roster is more talented than Denker. That's not to belittle the former quarterback, who made the most of his opportunity and had several qualities that perhaps the current group will lack, but if Rodriguez can turn the unheralded Denker into an above-average player, the same should occur with the next in line.
Whether it's Anu Solomon, Connor Brewer, Jerrard Randall or Jesse Scroggins matters not. The player who wins the job will have an excellent 2014 campaign.
LB D.J. Calhoun, Arizona State
Linebackers Chris Young and Carl Bradford are gone from the 2013 Arizona State squad that featured a bevy of playmakers on defense, and whoever gets tasked with filling their shoes has quite the mountain to climb.
Of course, any player as athletic as D.J. Calhoun will likely see that mountain and declare a race to the top, which is why we have the freshman pegged to win a starting spot, and probably the Defensive Freshman of the Year in the Pac-12 as well.
Linebackers coach Keith Patterson saw something special in Calhoun back in spring ball, when the 6'0", 215-pound kid from El Cerrito, California first began to make his mark, via Josh Nacion, The State Press:
The beautiful thing about him is he just cuts loose every play. He doesn’t worry about making mistakes and when he does, he just plays the next play. That’s what I’ve been challenging him to do.
We're not promising the next Myles Jack, but Calhoun could have a similar impact in his first season in Tempe.
RT Kyle Murphy, Stanford
You probably won't hear much about Stanford tackle Kyle Murphy, and if that's indeed the case in 2014, it means the junior will probably be doing something right.
After losing Cameron Fleming following the 2013 season, it became clear that the time was now for the Cardinal's young offensive line talent to step up. Fortunately for them, the experience is there, as Murphy has seen plenty of action over the past couple seasons.
You're never surprised to see head coaches gush about their players, but Stanford's David Shaw was downright effusive in his praise when discussing Murphy's potential, via John Reid of the San Jose Mercury News:
The sky is the limit for Kyle. He gets lost in the shuffle because Andrus (Peat) is a freak and a phenom. Kyle is also going to be in that conversation when his time comes. Down the road, we'll be talking bout one of the top tackles in the nation. If they are both back next year, I don't imagine you'll see two better guys on a team.
All that's left to say is: Defensive lines beware.
S Leon McQuay III, USC
USC safety Su'a Cravens, if not for linebacker Myles Jack across town, may have been the talk of the nation as far as young defensive stars in 2013. While Trojans fans are amped for what he might do as a sophomore, it could be his secondary mate, Leon McQuay III, who garners even more attention given his role as a mere backup in 2013.
McQuay, a highly-touted high school prospect in his own right, did start one game at Oregon State, but otherwise saw limited action despite playing in all 14 games. He managed 19 tackles and an interception, and now with Dion Bailey out of the picture, he should have a stranglehold on the starting spot.
Between he and Cravens, USC might boast the best safety tandem in the Pac-12, if not the country. But you know about Cravens, and him blossoming into a star in 2014 won't surprise anyone. McQuay, however, hasn't been a regular starter and hasn't had a chance to really showcase his potential.
It may not be welcome news around the conference, but USC is once again talented and starting to fill the cracks in the depth chart. McQuay, the likely starter at safety, should have a fantastic 2014 campaign as he steps into the limelight.
Whoever Wins the ILB Spot at UCLA Beside Eric Kendricks
So we cheated again here, but after looking at the candidates battling to replace the departed Jordan Zumwalt, can you blame us?
UCLA has riches beyond most teams' wildest dreams at linebacker, and whoever earns the honor of starting alongside Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack is going to have a heck of a season.
It looks as though freshmen Kenny Young and Zach Whitley have made some real noise, according to this camp update from the Orange County Register's Ryan Kartje, and it would be remarkable to see a young player step up in a large way for the second year in a row.
But then there's Jayon Brown and Isaako Savaiinaea, both with some experience and the latter having tallied 25 tackles last fall. Will that push either player over the edge or will one of the newcomers win out based on talent and potential? Regardless of whose name gets inked atop the depth chart, you can expect a ferocious linebacker corps from the Bruins yet again.
All stats via cfbstats.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. Some players on the list are simply projected to start but might not have the spot won already.