Pac-12 position battles heating up at skill positions

Ken Cross

August 19, 2013 at 5:35 pm.


UCLA needs Jordon James to step up and be the man who helps replace departed tailback Johnathan Franklin. ( Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports)


Washington: The Huskies have two big-time playmakers in quarterback Keith Price and running back Bishop Sankey as some have considered Washington a sleeper to compete with Stanford and Oregon in the Pac-12 North.  The key to their success coming into camp was a rebuilt offensive line, which Steve Sarkisian has been pleased with during camp so far.  Ben Riva has taken the leadership role for the Huskies at left tackle.

Washington State: Depth across the boards has been a major problem for the Cougars since the Mike Price Era ended in Pullman and he made that ill-advised decision to take the Alabama job.  Mike Leach has started to show his recruiting prowess, especially on offense where it is rumored that as many as 10 Cougars could start at wide receiver.  Dominique Williams and Gabe Marks are key returnees, but behind them, shuffle the deck if you are trying to place wide outs in Leach’s offense in position.

Oregon: Up front on defense is where the Ducks have most of their question marks as they work to replace Kiko Alonso, Michael Clay and the athletic Dion Jordan.  So far, coach Mark Helfrich is not tipping his hand as he sees end Tony Washington developing as a defensive leader plus four or five others competing for the positions. Nationally, everyone knew of Chip Kelly’s offensive depth, but the defensive recruiting was vastly underrated.

Oregon State: One of the Beavers’ biggest concerns was at defensive back after losing All-American Jordan Poyer to the Philadelphia Eagles.  Coach Mike Riley’s team will get a test on the corners in particular with the opener against a high-flying Eastern Washington passing attack.  Corner Rashaad Reynolds and safety Sean Martin are two key returnees, but watch out for JC transfer Steven Nelson, a cornerback.  According to reports, Reynolds has the lead on one side, but Nelson could edge out Martin, who was a key player a year ago.

Stanford: Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo arguably were the best pair of tight ends in college football in quite some time.  Now, coach David Shaw has another mammoth tight end in 6-8, 270-pound Luke Kaumatule.  He is known as more of a blocker, but will be a prime receiver in the offense.  David Dudchock will serve as the 1-2 punch although neither caught a pass a year ago, basically because of Ertz and Toilolo in front of them.

Cal: New coach Sonny Dykes will use his version of the spread offense to try to get the Bears back into the upper portals of the Pac-12.  Speedster running back Brendan Bigelow could be a major threat in this system coming out of the backfield. He rushed for 441 yards on 43 carries, a 9.8-yeard average, a year ago.  Cal has depth at receiver to run this system with Chris Harper, Bryce Treggs and Richard Rodgers, but the offensive success with likely be determined by freshman quarterback Jared Goff.


USC: Lane Kiffin sees a two-man race at quarterback between Cody Kessler and Max Wittek but Kessler seems to have a slight edge.  It’s close though and Kiffin may not feel compelled to name a starter until next week as they go to the Big Isle to face Hawaii Thursday night.

UCLA: The focal point of the Bruins’ offense in fall camp has been replacing the production of tailback Johnathan Franklin, who graduated and moved on to the NFL after rushing for 1,734 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago.  That is a tough fix for coach Jim Mora as he looks for a replacement going into a home game against Nevada next week.  Damien Thigpen and Jordan James look to be the heir apparent, but Mora could go with a committee and add Steven Manfro and Malcolm Jones to the mix.

Arizona: Like at USC, the quarterback position is up in the air for the Wildcats.  Jesse Scroggins, B.J. Denker, Nick Isham, and possibly incoming freshman Anu Solomon are in the mix with Denker slightly ahead. His key may be more the knowledge of the offense than talent alone.  Coach Rich Rodriguez has noted that he doesn’t plan to have a depth chart ready until the first week of the season as Arizona takes on Northern Arizona.

Arizona State: The wide receiver position critical in the spread offense and coach Todd Graham is ready to see new wideouts emerge beside lone returnee Kevin Ozier. The athleticism of De’Marieya Nelson at tight end and freshman Jaelen Strong may fill the bill as quarterback Taylor Kelly will have multiple weapons emerging in the offense. Chris Coyle led ASU in reception a year ago from his tight end position.

Utah: Interestingly, Dennis Erickson comes in as the offensive coordinator so look for Utah’s tempo to speed up drastically.  This should upgrade the performance of quarterback Travis Wilson and a Utes offense that returns leading receivers Dres Anderson and Jake Murphy.

Colorado: The hiring of Mike MacIntyre was a strong move as he totally turned the fortunes of San Jose State football around in two years with a 10-win ledger a year ago.   Coming off of a scrimmage this past weekend, MacIntyre liked the precision  of his offense.  This is a big week for the Buffaloes as MacIntyre intends on naming a starting quarterback out of four competitors – Connor Wood, Jordan Gehrke, Stevie Joe Dorman, and Sefo Liufau.