Pac-12 Football 2011: The 10 Names to Watch In The New Pac-12
The Pac-12 football conference will be a new experience for every member of the former Pac-10 and the new teams coming in.
Colorado and Utah enter a conference that has built themselves up considerably over the past decade with the dominance of USC and more recently, Oregon's national title game berth.
The following list highlights 10 players that every Pac-12 fan should look out for next season, and who are the biggest playmakers in the conference.
No. 10: Ryan Katz, QB, Oregon State
Ryan Katz struggled with injury during the 2010 season, but should be ready to bounce back healthy in 2011 for the Oregon State Beavers.
Katz' had a great season, playing at a high level despite only being a sophomore.
The Beavers scored 18 passing touchdowns under his direction and averaged 24.4 points per game.
Katz passed for 2,383 yards and only threw 11 interceptions while adjusting to the college speed and also playing against strong opponents.
He will be an interesting prospect to see during 2011, but I feel he will make the most impact during his senior season in 2012.
No. 9: Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
Johnathan Franklin led the barrage of Bruins rushers in 2010 with 214 attempts and 1,127 yards from scrimmage as he and his UCLA teammates stumbled to a 4-8 record.
Frankin has now led UCLA in rushing over the past two seasons, but has not shown that he can take his talent to the next level as he has only punched in 10 scores in two years.
Franklin seemed to struggle with opposing defenses as they were able to control the run more easily due to the inconsistent quarterback play of the Bruins.
Franklin had a good season in 2010, but 2011 will be key in determining whether he will just be another college running back or if we will be hearing his name on Sundays in coming years.
No. 8: Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State
Washington State simply did not have a good year in 2010, but sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel gives fans a reason to be optimistic for the future of the program.
Tuel game into the 2010 season as a raw talent, but got experience early and managed to throw for 18 touchdowns and 2,780 yards.
Washington State was outscored by their opponents by nearly 16 points per game which gave Tuel many opportunities to throw the football, even though he was almost always playing from behind.
That play from behind hurt Tuel statistically as he attempted to force some throws and had 12 passes picked off.
Washington State needs to improve in all areas of the offense, but Jeff Tuel should be a cornerstone to build off of for the next two years.
No. 7: Juron Criner, WR, Arizona
Juron Criner may very well have been the best receiver in the Pac-10 last season and will return to an Arizona offense that will finally have some stability at key positions.
Criner roped in 83 passes in 2010 and was simply outstanding at times as he collected over 1,200 yards and 11 scores.
Criner and Wildcat quarterback Nick Foles were two of the main reasons why Arizona managed to average nearly six yards per play over the course of the season.
No. 6: Nick Foles, QB, Arizona
Nick Foles is the second of back-to-back Arizona Wildcats on this list, but is quite deserving of the slightly higher ranking.
Foles was one of the most intriguing players in the Pac-10 last season as he completed a very high percentage of his throws and put the Wildcats in position to average nearly 30 points per game.
Foles ended 2010 with a quarterback rating slightly over 140 points. He also threw 20 touchdowns in 2010 opposed to 10 interceptions and 3,191 yards.
No. 5: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
Stepfan Taylor was simply a touchdown machine in 2010 as he rumbled through opposing defenses for 15 scores and over 1,000 yards.
Taylor has quick lateral motion and a great ability to make defenders miss in open field.
He also has great hands out of the backfield, snagging 28 passes for 286 yards and one touchdown.
This player to watch offers a prediction along with his analysis. In my opinion, Taylor can easily be the breakout star of the Pac-12 next season and even surpass Andrew Luck in draft hype if given enough opportunities.
No. 4: Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon
Darron Thomas led the Oregon Ducks to the national title game last season, but was unable to close the deal as Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers ran away with the victory.
The 6'3" Thomas boasted a 150.3 quarterback rating and threw for 30 touchdowns while he became one of the most talked about Oregon quarterbacks in the last two decades.
Thomas only threw nine interceptions on the year and also ran for 480 yards and five touchdowns.
The Oregon offense was simply carried by Thomas through most of the season as he accounted for almost 3,500 total yards offensively and helped pave the way for a 1,700-yard season from LaMichael James.
No. 3: Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon
Cliff Harris was the Pac-10 leader in interceptions in 2010 with six passes picked off. Harris also served as a punt return specialist, as he collected an 18-yard average per return and ran back four kicks for touchdowns.
Harris was also a factor returning kickoffs, as he collected 143 yards on seven attempts.
Harris is easily the most anticipated returning member in the Pac-10 secondary, and even caused some early-speculation draft hype during the middle of 2010.
If Harris can continue his success in 2011, expect him to be a top pick in 2012.
No. 2: Shayne Skov, DE/LB. Stanford
Shayne Skov was simply a nightmare for opposing offensive linemen and quarterbacks for the Stanford Cardinal in 2010.
Skov recorded 10 tackles for loss and seven sacks en route to his best season at any level and seems to be thriving in Standford's fast-paced defense.
Tackles were also abundant for Skov in 2010 as he recorded 83 total tackles with 50 of those on his own.
Skov will only be a junior next season and be on the map for many NFL scouts late in the season.
No. 1: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Even though Andrew Luck was one of the top prospects in this years' draft, Luck decided to return to Stanford where he is still the most interesting prospect in the entire Pac-12 heading into this season.
In 2010, Luck threw for over 3,000 yards and 32 touchdowns while limiting his mistakes.
The Stanford Cardinal faithful could not be happier that Luck is returning after he led the team to a 12-1 overall record and an 8-1 performance in the Pac-10.
Luck may very well hurt his draft status by returning to Stanford, but it is obvious that he feels he has something left to accomplish at the college level.
All eyes should be on Luck from Week 1 until bowl season in 2011.
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