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College Football Analysis: Potential Pac-12 Breakout Stars in 2012
Since we've started our pre-season previews we've taken a couple of weeks off from our off-season roundtable discussions. Don't worry! We haven't forgotten about the Pac-12 and the SEC.
This week we are talking Pac-12 football and we have our usual Zealots in Pete and Ross. We are joined by our good friend Dale Newton from the great Oregon blog The Duck Stops Here. We are also proud to have Tim Tolman of the new site The Saturday Edge joining us. As if that wasn't enough, we also have our buddy Kyle Kensing from Saturday Blitz and Arizona Desert Swarm. Enough chit-chat let's move on to the first question posed to the roundtable.
QUESTION: Who do you see as the breakout stars of the Pac-12 this season?
Dale: Already a tremendous college football player, Kenjon Barner enters his senior year as the feature back in the Oregon spread offense, and he rushed for 939 yards and 11 tds as a complement to LaMichael James last season. When he's had opportunities to carry the load in past seasons, he's responded big time, including a 160-yard, five touchdown effort against New Mexico two years ago, and a 123-yard game against USC coming off the bench. Barner has a good burst and vision. His slashing up-field running style is perfect for the Oregon zone blocking scheme, which requires him to make one cut and go. With De'Anthony Thomas spreading defenses with his speed, Barner could challenge the 1800-yard barrier and make a big run for the Stiff Arm Trophy in a potent offense that might remain in the Top Five all season.
Kyle: Jeff Tuel was originally to be Washington State's starter, but was injured most of last year. He'll flourish in Mike Leach's offense. Similarly, I think Matt Scott is capable of big things running Rich Rodriguez's spread option at Arizona.
Kenjon Barner got starts when LaMichael James was injured, and looked like a stud. I think Barner puts up the kind of numbers that generate Heisman buzz as the clear-cut No. 1 RB in Oregon's system.
Tim: Washington State QB Jeff Tuel could have a monster season in Mike Leach’s offense. Tuel was actually WSU’s starting QB at the start of last season, but he broke his clavicle in game # 1, so a lot of people have forgotten about him. He’s 6-3, 220 pounds and is on some NFL watch lists. He also has some excellent weapons to work with; most notably All-Conference WR Marquess Wilson who caught 82 passes last year.
The other can’t miss breakout star will be the Oregon QB. Either Bryan Bennett, who started a few games last season, or spring game star Marcus Mariota. Both bring skills to the Duck run-first scheme that Darron Thomas did not possess, and with weapons like De’Anthony Thomas and Kenyon Barner drawing most of the defensive attention, either QB should thrive.
Pete: The first names that come to mind are Oregon running backs De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner. With the departure of LaMichael James, the position is wide open. Thomas played last year and was electrifying as a return specialist. I’ll be curious to see whether he can be successful down after down on the offense.
I’m curious to see whether Barry Sanders Jr. can crack the line-up at Stanford. Stepfan Taylor (senior) rushed for 1,300 yards last season, but the Cardinal offense will look a little different this year without Andrew Luck under center.
Ross: This is cheating a little, but I think De'Anthony Thomas is going to have a spectacular season as the lead running back in the Oregon offense. He flashed moments of stunning ability last year as a complement to LaMichael James, but with James heading to the pros, Thomas is going to be the main cog in the lightning-fast Oregon attack. He should put up some monster numbers this year.
Kevin: I'm looking at Arizona red-shirt senior quarterback Matt Scott. In his first three years at Arizona, Scott saw action and showed flashes. As a junior he went 66 for 93 (71% completion rate) for 776 yards and 4 TD versus 2 INTs. Last year, he red-shirted so he could play full-time this season. Little did he know that Rich Rodriguez would be his head coach when he finally got his chance to be the number one option. Scott has the athletic ability to fit into RichRod's scheme as he's been a good runner in his career at Arizona (accumulated over 300 yards as a sophomore on the ground). Arizona had an offensive explosion in their spring game. It was probably a little of a good offense and a little of a bad defense but Scott put up some impressive numbers as he went 22 of 35 for 315 and 4 touchdowns. Even without those nice spring stats, Scott would be my choice here. He's a talented kid who has been sitting back waiting his time and learning. He's ready to breakout this season.
Come back tomorrow as we continue our Pac-12 roundtable as we look at the most interesting teams in the Pac-12.
Get more great college football analysis over at College Football Zealots.