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Top Pac-12 Players For The 2014 College Football Season: Offense

Max Meyer |
August 6, 2014 | 2:08 p.m. PDT

Senior Sports Editor

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota against USC. (Neon Tommy)
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota against USC. (Neon Tommy)
The college football season is about to kick off at the end of August, and the Pac-12 is once again absolutely loaded with elite players. There is a lot of talent across the board in the conference, and here is who to watch on the offensive side of the ball for this upcoming year. 


1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon

Oregon's do-it-all quarterback will certainly be in the mix for this year's Heisman trophy and the #1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. He's thrown at least one touchdown pass in all 26 of his starts, and thrown an interception in just seven of those games. Living up to his dual-threat hype, he's averaged 7.3 yards per carry on 202 attempts. That number really should be higher too, since sacks in college football hinder the quarterback's rushing yardage total. It's surprising that the two-time All-Pac-12 first-team quarterback has never won the Pac-12 championship, but with the high-flying offense he has at his disposal, Mariota's Ducks will be the heavy favorite to win the conference.

2. Brett Hundley, UCLA

Hundley, like Mariota, passed up the opportunity of being selected in the first round in this past NFL Draft to spend another year honing his skills at UCLA and to try to win his first Pac-12 championship. Hundley is blessed with incredible physical gifts, including one of the strongest right arms in college football. His pocket awareness needs to improve this season though, and UCLA has a lot of question marks among its group of skill position players. The Bruins are a trendy dark-horse pick to win the national championship this year, and Hundley's breakout potential is one of the biggest reasons why. 

3. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State

Mariota and Hundley get a lot of love nationally, yet Kelly could be one of the most underrated quarterbacks in college football. The athletic Arizona State quarterback is an exceptional runner, and currently holds the highest career completion percentage for any Sun Devil quarterback at 64.6 percent. The knock on Kelly is his average arm strength leads him to rely too much on underneath and intermediate throws, so opponents don't have to worry as much on defending the deep ball. He has some major weapons in the passing game though, and will get Heisman buzz if he leads ASU to a few upsets during the season. 

4. Sean Mannion, Oregon State

Sean Mannion’s second half of the 2013-14 season was so bad that many people forgot that he was a Heisman candidate after his first seven games. After accumulating 2,992 yards, 29 touchdowns and only three interceptions to generate significant buzz around the country, he posted totals of 1,670 yards, eight touchdowns and 12 picks in the final six games. Mannion can’t afford a lackluster stretch like that this season, as games against Stanford, Washington and Oregon loom near the end of Oregon State’s schedule. 


1. Byron Marshall, Oregon

The Pac-12 was loaded at running back last year, as Ka’Deem Carey, Bishop Sankey and Tyler Gaffney all finished in the top-8 for most rushing yards in college football. Marshall, however, is the only 1,000-yard rusher from the Pac-12 that is back. Marshall won’t blow you away with his speed like other former Oregon running backs, but he averaged 6.2 yards per carry last season. It’s clear that he is an important part of Oregon’s offense, as Marshall only rushed for 159 yards in his last four games played, and two of them resulted in Oregon losses.

2. Buck Allen, USC

Whereas Marshall faltered late last season, Allen was the guy that USC leaned on during that period. Allen rushed for at least 120 yards in four of the final six games, and also scored at least one touchdown in all six of them. Allen is part of a three-headed monster at running back for the Trojans along with Tre Madden and Justin Davis, arguably the biggest position strength for this team. He also provides a nice security blanket for Cody Kessler, proving himself as a receiving threat out of the backfield consistently down the stretch.

3. Thomas Tyner, Oregon

Even though he’s not the starting running back for Oregon, Tyner is the guy with the most potential in their backfield. The former five-star prospect may be the fastest guy in the Pac-12, and has great size (5’11”, 215 lbs.) for a man that possesses Olympic speed. Tyner’s lightning to Marshall’s thunder will provide an epic running back duo that will be tough to stop. With all of Tyner’s talent, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him as the starter by the end of the season. 

4. D.J. Foster, Arizona State

Foster is the perfect running back to complement Taylor Kelly. While he did average 5.4 yards per carry last season, his 63 catches were his most impressive statistic. In fact, it was the most by any running back in college football. Kelly loves throwing underneath, so it makes sense that Foster was one of his favorite targets, despite backing up Marion Grice (who had 50 catches of his own) last season. With Foster now as the feature back, expect him to not only lead all running backs in receptions, but to widen the margin between him and everyone else significantly. 

USC wide receiver Nelson Agholor. (Neon Tommy)
USC wide receiver Nelson Agholor. (Neon Tommy)

1. Nelson Agholor, USC

Agholor will finally get to be the top receiving option on USC this season after spending his first two years behind the likes of Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. Yet, you could easily argue that he was the guy last year. Agholor showed great chemistry with Cody Kessler, and led the Trojans with 918 receiving yards in 2013. He is extremely explosive after the catch, and is one the best route runners in college football. Throw in his special teams prowess (averaged 19.1 yards per punt return, second-best in CFB), and it’s easy to see why he’s one of the premier wide receivers in the nation.

2. Jaelen Strong, Arizona State

Strong exploded onto the scene in his first year in the desert, racking up 75 catches and 1,122 receiving yards. The juco transfer’s combination of size (6’4”) and speed made him quite a weapon on the outside for Taylor Kelly. Not only is he a huge target, he excels at gaining yards after the catch. Strong is a major reason why Arizona State is widely considered to have the best passing attack in the Pac-12.

3. Ty Montgomery, Stanford

Stanford may be known for their bruising run game, but Montgomery’s ability to spread the defense is the key to get the Cardinal offense going. Montgomery is the complete package at wide receiver thanks to his size (6’2”, 220 lbs.), speed, explosiveness and returning ability (averaged 30.3 yards per kickoff return, second-best in CFB). The one concern about him is his ability to stay healthy, but when he’s on the field, he can change the outcome of a game on any play. 

4. Austin Hill, Arizona

Hill missed the entire 2013 campaign due to injury, but it wouldn’t be unrealistic to envision him as the Pac-12’s top receiver this year. Honestly, the gap between the #1 and #4 wide receiver on this list is easily the smallest out of all of the positions on the offensive side of the ball. Hill has great hands, and is the most dangerous option in a very talented group of Arizona wideouts. 


1. Andrus Peat, Stanford

The hype surrounding Peat is already remarkably high. Stanford coach David Shaw said that Peat has the potential to be the second-best offensive tackle he’s been around, other than 11-time Pro Bowler Jonathan Ogden. The 6’7”, 316-pound monster is also very athletic and could wind up being a top-10 pick in the next NFL Draft. He protected quarterback Kevin Hogan very well last season, and will face tough tests this season, including USC’s Leonard Williams and Washington’s Hau’oli Kikaha. 

2. Hroniss Grasu, Oregon

Grasu could have been one of the first centers taken in last year’s NFL Draft, but opted to stay another year at Oregon instead. The two-time first-team All-Pac 12 center is the anchor of an offensive line that could be considered the best in the country. Grasu led a unit that allowed its running backs to run for five or more yards 48.7 percent of the time, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Grasu has not won the Rimington Award yet for nation’s best center, but if he continues to excel and keep Marcus Mariota upright, he will win it this season. 

3. Isaac Seumalo, Oregon State

Although he played primarily at center last year, Seumalo has the athleticism to play at any position on Oregon State’s offensive line. He is still recovering from a foot injury that he suffered in this past Hawaii Bowl, but expect him to be one of the Pac-12’s best offensive linemen again this season. He’s Sean Mannion’s most reliable protector, as the junior has started 25 games already. 

4. Max Tuerk, USC

Here’s another guy who can play multiple positions along the offensive line. Tuerk will be the starting center for USC, and is a very good run-blocking offensive lineman. While he initially struggled snapping the ball after making the switch from left guard in 2013, he’s improved drastically in that area through fall camp. Tuerk has been the staple of an oft-injured Trojan line the past two seasons, and will undoubtedly be the leader of the group this year. 

Reach Senior Sports Editor Max Meyer by email.

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