The Pac-12 has been forced to witness the departure of some of its finest stars. The Heisman Trophy hero, Marcus Mariota, is a prime example of a great player leaving the college scene to make his name on the grand stage. However, there are still plenty of great players returning to the conference for 2015 and below we’ll be looking at the top ten.
The top 10 is quite defense-heavy, which may come as a surprise considering we are talking about the Pac 12 here, but there are some exciting offensive players on this list as well. Some big names that just missed out on this list include Nick Wilson, Paul Perkins, D.J. Foster and Nelson Spruce, just to name a few. Needless to say, this is going to be one great Pac 12 season.
Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona
Coming in at number one is Scooby Wright, a player that the majority of Pac-12 fans will be well aware of by now. He was the beating heart of the Arizona squad last year, covering every blade of grass on the field and putting up some incredible numbers. He got 61 run stops, an 83.3 coverage grade, 27 hurries from 255 pass rushes and there are many more impressive statistics to cement Wright’s status as one of the best players in the conference. Linebackers aren’t known for their dominance but Wright has proved that he can ruin opponent gameplans all by himself.
Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
Another top quality linebacker, Jack showed in 2013 that he was one to watch and improved on his form in 2014 with some very impressive displays. A dynamic player in the same mold as Wright, he managed 113 yards on 28 carries while also doing excellent coverage work, earning a rating of 91.5. Despite being such a good defensive player, he really offers something in offensive movements as well, making him a key part of the UCLA squad.
Cody Kessler, QB, USC
He got off to a slow start in 2014 but Kessler finished the season as a star signal caller. He topped the charts with a 99.1 passing grade and was also the most accurate passer in the league with 80.3 of his passes finding their targets. He absolutely dominated certain games last season (Washington State and Notre Dame spring to mind) and will surely continue to prove his talent in 2015.
DeForest Buckner, DE, Orgeon
Arik Armstead was a first-round draft pick, but Buckner outperformed him last season. With an 84.6 pass-rush grade and 87.5 against the run, he was a key part of the Oregon side in 2014. Fans certainly appreciate the huge amounts of effort Buckner puts into every game, helping him to statistics like the 972 snaps he managed last season. Armstead might have gone, but Oregon fans will have plenty of faith in Buckner to keep their team going.
Su’a Cravens, S/LB, USC
A dynamic player, Cravens was originally filling a safety role but has gradually proven himself as an especially effective outside linebacker. He earned himself a top quality coverage grade of 91.2 last season and was efficient against the run as well, with 25 stops and a grade of 91.3. He’s the standout defensive player on the UCLA roster and will hope to lead the team strongly in 2015.
Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA
From one UCLA player to another, Clark is easily one of the finest DTs in college football. He has an incredible level of awareness that allows him to read plays before they happen and adapt accordingly. He proved this last season where he often seemed to be in the right place at the right time. He isn’t particularly effective in terms of the pass-rush game but works very well in the run game. UCLA fans will be glad for his services in the upcoming season.
Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon
Freeman had a fantastic 2014 and really made a name for himself as a player to watch. He had a rushing grade of 82.6 which was the best in the Pac-12 and the 11th best across the country. He also ranked number one in the conference for rushing touchdowns with 18. Mariota has moved on and Freeman will surely be stepping up to play an even bigger role in 2015. There are some great RBs in the Pac-12 but Freeman has the potential to be the best.
Jared Goff, QB, California
Goff has a particularly impressive season when you consider the team around him. California struggled offensively in 2014 but Goff still managed a grade of 87.6 with 35 touchdown passes. After Mariota and Kessler, Goff was perhaps the most effective signal caller in the conference and really proved that he can make the best of a bad situation and play well in high-pressure situations. He had a few bad games but will hope to be more consistent in 2015.
Adoree Jackson, CB/WR, USC
The freshman burst onto the scene and proved himself as a star on the future at USC last season. With an 83.1 coverage grade, Jackson outperformed the rest of his teammates in terms of coverage and worked very well against the run too. He also showed off his offensive qualities by catching 9 of 10 targets for 124 yards and earning himself 3 touchdowns too. With such a dynamic skillset, Jackson will probably have a greater offensive role this season.
Deon Hollins, OLB, UCLA
The third UCLA man to make this list, Hollins rounds off the top ten thanks to his efficient and reliable performances as an outside linebacker last season. He’s not too effective against the run with a grade of 72.3 but does very well in the pass-rush game. He got a grade of 87.4 last season with 9 sacks, 10 hits and 39 hurries on 330 rushes. He’s one of the most overlooked players in the conference but fans should definitely keep an eye on him in 2015.