With the season quickly approaching, CBSSports.com's Eye on College Football Blog unveils its All-Conference teams. Today we take a look at the Pac-12.
Matt Barkley, USC -- Is there any other choice? Barkley spurned the NFL to return to complete his journey and lead the Trojans back into the national title picture after receiving harsh NCAA sanctions. Last season he made the leap from good to great and challenged No. 1 NFL Draft pick Andrew Luck as the top signal-caller in the conference after throwing for 3,528 yards and an impressive 39-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Barkley brings back an experienced offensive line and plenty of weapons in 2012 to make him the front runner for the Heisman Trophy this season and a First Team CBSSports.com All-American.
Also considered: The conference of champions is also the conference of quarterbacks. Washington's Keith Price actually outplayed Heisman winner Robert Griffin in the Alamo Bowl last year and could take off with another year in Steve Sarkisian's system. Similarly, Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel has had the injury bug but put up great numbers before Mike Leach's Air Raid offense came to the Palouse. Oregon State sophomore Sean Mannion, Matt Scott at Arizona and whoever takes control of the quarterback spot at Oregon also have a chance to put up some big total offense numbers.
|Don't expect much, if any, drop off in the Oregon offense with Kenjon Barner carrying the ball for the ducks this year.|
Stepfan Taylor, Stanford -- Although he doesn't have the workhorse label that a few previous Cardinal backs have, Taylor is every bit of one and likely holds the keys as to whether the team drops off significantly while breaking in a new quarterback post-Luck. Taylor was 21st in the country in rushing after posting a 1,330 yard and 10 touchdown season last year behind a big line and run-first offense. He may not get the hype he deserves but there's no question he's primed for a big season.
Kenjon Barner, Oregon -- Despite splitting carries with LaMichael James last season, Barner still finished eighth in the conference in rushing and racked up the all-purpose yardage as a threat to catch and run with the ball out of the backfield. Now that he''s waited his turn and is finally stepping into the spotlight, Barner himself is expecting big things and it's easy to buy in considering the success that previous Ducks running backs have had and factoring in a new, young quarterback in the backfield with him.
Also considered: Utah's John White IV is right there with Taylor and Barner after breaking a nearly three decade's long school record for rushing with over 1,500 yards on the ground for the Utes. Cameron Marshall at Arizona State will be leaned on heavily by new coach Todd Graham and it's clear the new staff in general is excited about what he brings to the table. Curtis McNeal at USC and California's Isi Sofele are two smaller backs who put up big numbers last year as surprises and will be looking to force defensive coordinators to respect the run even more this season.
Robert Woods, USC -- An All-American and Biletnikoff Award finalist last season, Woods has been heaped with praise since he was a freshman and it's easy to see why after turning in an impressive 2011 season despite being hampered by an ankle injury. He's apparently 100% healthy heading into the year and is on pace to break several Trojans' school records with his quarterback returning and fellow All-Conference member Marquise Lee freeing him up to attack defenses down field. Coach Lane Kiffin has labeled the First Team CBSSports.com All-American as potentially the best receiver in school history after setting the conference record for catches with 111 as a sophomore.
Marquess Wilson, Washington State -- Despite the Cougars, um, issues in the win department over the past few years, Wilson has been a big bright spot on the Palouse with his stellar play. He had a touchdown reception in eight games last year as a sophomore and in three of them he caught more than one. With back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons receiving under his belt, expect a third with a healthy quarterback and explosive offense. He's also a CBSSports.com First Team All-American.
Marqise Lee, USC -- It's a spoil of riches for the Trojans' offense as the team as not one but two first team All-Pac-12 receivers in 2012. Lee took advantage of defenses overloading for Woods and turned in a terrific stretch run to end the season as a true freshman, averaging nine catches and 140 yards per game in his final five while scoring seven times.
Also considered: Cal's Keenan Allen just missed the cut but is no doubt one of the best wideouts on the West Coast after earning first team All-Pac-12 honors last season. Oregon State's Markus Wheaton didn't get much press last year but was a big reason why quarterback Sean Mannion was able to throw for a ton of yards as a true freshman. Utah's DeVonte Christopher should lead the Utes in receiving for a third straight year while Washington's Kasen Williams could play a big role in the offense this season.
|Expect Stanford to target 6-foot-8 tight end Levine Toilolo a lot near the goal line.|
Levine Toilolo, Stanford -- No offense features the tight end as a key contributor quite like the Cardinal's does and having the 6-foot-8, 265-pound Toilolo run and catch like he does makes him a mismatch against any defense. He caught six touchdowns last year, good enough for second on the team, and should combine with Zach Ertz to form a dangerous tight end combo for whoever takes over under center.
Also considered: Austin Seferian-Jenkins left an impression as a freshman and should do even better with an offseason full of work with Keith Price. UCLA's Joseph Fauria and three big tight ends at USC make it clear the position is deep in the Pac-12 this year.
Khaled Holmes, USC -- A second team CBSSports.com All-American, Holmes heads into his senior season ranked as the top center on the CBSSports.com draft board and is one of the favorites for the Remington Award. He's played just about every position along the line for the Trojans but is the point man once again for a group that was second in the nation in fewest sacks allowed.
Carson York, Oregon -- He started all 14 games at left guard last year and figures to be one of the key pieces on offense for the Ducks as they challenge for the national title once again. Big, strong and mobile, York was named to the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy watch lists for 2012.
Sam Brenner, Utah -- One of the most experienced lineman in the conference after playing in 38 of 39, including 14 starts last year in the Utes' first season in the Pac-12. He Brenner allowed just one sack last season and was one of the most consistent interior linemen throughout the course of the year.
David Bakhtiari, Colorado -- After moving over from right tackle Bakhtiari showed he was a legitimate NFL prospect by filling in very well for the departed first round draft pick Nate Solder. He has only allowed three sacks over the past two seasons and was named to the Lombardi Award watch list this year.
Matt Summers-Gavin, Cal -- He has 25 starts at either tackle spot to give the Golden Bears a veteran protecting the quarterback's blindside. He was a Pac-12 honorable mention last year and was named to several award watch lists this season.
Also considered: The Pac-12 lost several good offensive linemen from last year but still have plenty of good ones angling for a breakout year. Cal's Brian Schwenke moves from guard to center while Stanford has a trio of guys that are worth of all-conference team honors in Cameron Fleming, Sam Schwartzstein and David Yankey. USC's Aundrey Walker has dropped a lot of weight from his freshman year and could be next in line at left tackle for the Trojans.
|A possible top 10 pick in the NFL Draft, Star Lotulelei is an interior lineman's worst nightmare.|
Star Lotulelei, Utah -- There might not be a better interior lineman in the country than the aptly-named Star. The winner of the Morris Trophy, given to the Pac-12's best defensive lineman as voted on by the offensive linemen in the conference, Lotulelei racked up 12 tackles for loss on the year and commanded double teams on nearly every snap.
Aaron Tipoti, Cal -- Made famous for faking an injury in a game against Oregon, Tipoti hopes his actual play will be all he needs for recognition this season. He earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors as a junior after racking up four TFL's and 1.5 sacks. Expected by many inside the program to make another jump in his level of play after his play last year, Tipoti should be an integral part of the Bears' defense this season.
Also considered: USC's George Uko is a guy defensive line coach Ed Orgeron has raved about for a long time and he'll take over as one of the big interior guys for the Trojans this year with high expectations. Justin Washington at Arizona has been inconsistent but shown flashes of being a top player for a while and Utah's Dave Kruger gives the Utes a pair of excellent defensive tackles. Don't sleep on Arizona State's Will Sutton either.
Dion Jordan, Oregon -- The 6-foot-7 speed rusher has bulked a bit for his senior campaign, which figures to be his best yet. Although the Ducks rotate defensive linemen more than anybody, Jordan has been one of the most feared of the group by opposing offensive linemen, racking up a team-high 7.5 sacks in 2011 on top of 13 TFL's.
Scott Crichton, Oregon State -- He collected a host of conference and national recognition after bursting onto the scene last year as a redshirt freshman with plenty more expected in 2012. He had 74 tackles and six tacks to go along with a very impressive 15 tackles for loss last season to boost the Beavers defense.
Also considered: A pair of players came close to making the cut in Washington State's Travis Long and stud Washington end Josh Shirly. Ben Gardner at Stanford, Wes Horton at USC and Datone Jones at UCLA all have the potential for a breakout year after showing a lot of promise last season.
|Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas is a tackling machine that doesn't let much by.|
Chase Thomas, Stanford -- A mainstay on the Cardinal defense for several years, Thomas is one of the top players at his position in the country (how many times have you said that about a Stanford player?). He earned All-Pac-12 first team status after leading the conference in tackles for loss and finishing with a total of 52 tackles. He also sacked the quarterback 8.5 times last season and should be part of a fearsome front seven.
Shayne Skov, Stanford -- Although he's been somewhat injury-prone, Skov has still made a lasting impact when he's been on the field. He led the team in tackles as a sophomore and didn't let much by him as he was instrumental in the Stanford defense's turn around the past few years. He suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the season against Arizona last year but is fully healthy and primed to return to form in 2012.
Dion Bailey, USC -- Originally a safety for the Trojans, Bailey has bulked up a bit but kept his speed to become one of the top rising outside linebackers in the country. Named the Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year last season, the Southern California native came in as a highly touted prep but was an afterthought on the depth chart until flourishing following a redshirt year and a move to linebacker during the spring. If USC is in national title contention at the end of the year, Bailey might be one reason why.
Also considered: UCLA's Patrick Larimore is a bright spot on the Bruins defense and was recently cleared after sitting out part of spring with a concussion. Arizona State's Brandon Magee is the leader of a unit that has been through the highs and the lows while Michael Clay could help Oregon have another productive year on defense. USC's Hayes Pullard could wind up taking Bailey's place depending on how he plays this season.
Jordan Poyer, Oregon State -- The senior is ranked as one of the top players at his position by NFL scouts and it's easy to see why after a productive career that should see him have his best season yet in 2012. A second team All-Pac-12 selection last year, he picked off a career-high four passes and had 12 breakups on top of an impressive 57 tackles at the corner spot. Also a dangerous return man, Poyer is somebody quarterbacks will avoid as one of the top players on the Beavers' defense.
Nickell Robey, USC -- The Thorpe Award candidate is one of the fastest players in the conference and a lock-down corner for the Trojans. He was superb in locking down several elite receivers last year and finished the season with 63 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions. Also threat to return kicks and punts, Robey has plenty of experience, savvy and speed to take away part of the field for USC.
Also considered: Utah's Ryan Lacy and Oregon's Terrance Mitchell aren't flashy but put in the work each defense needs to be successful.
|T.J. McDonald is known for his big hits while patrolling the secondary for USC.|
T.J. McDonald, USC -- The likely first round draft pick has followed in his father Tim's footsteps quite well over the past few seasons, becoming the first father-son All-American tandem in school history last year. The 'other No. 7' on the team that returned for his senior year, McDonald is known for his punishing hits while being the cover guy the program has lacked at the safety spot in numerous situations. He wound up leading the team in interceptions last year and finished third in tackles despite missing time but is primed for a big season on a title contender.
John Boyett, Oregon -- You may not notice Boyett walking past him in the hall but make no mistake, he's one of the Ducks most instinctual defenders and is a flat out playmaker. He led the team in tackles a year ago and was extremely impressive during the Rose Bowl where he recorded 17 tackles and a half sack. On the watch list for several awards, Boyett is somebody that quarterbacks, running backs and wideouts simply don't see coming until it's too late.
Also considered: Utah's Brian Blechen is a integral part of the defense but was recently suspended for a violation of team rules. UCLA's Tevin McDonald (T.J.'s younger brother), Arizona's Marquis Flowers and Washington's Desmond Trufant also are primed to take a big step in their play.
Andre Heidari, USC -- A reliable option for the Trojans offense if they can't punch it in the end zone, Heidari grabbed the starting job as a freshman and hasn't looked back. A candidate for the Groza Award as the nation's top placekicker, he went 15-of-17 last year while making all 50 of his extra point tries. Percentage-wise he finished third in the country after hitting 88.2% of his attempts.
Jackson Rice, Oregon -- Every year it seems like the Pac-12 has a candidate for the Ray Guy Award for the country's top punter and Rice was a finalist last year for the award and has a decent shot of winning it in 2012. He doesn't get on the field much because of the Ducks high-flying offense but he does make his limited playing time count by booming the ball and pinning opponents back.
One of the most electric players in the country, the sophomore known as the "Black Mamba" is a threat to score every time he touches the football. Named Pac-12 Co-offensive Freshman of the Year, Thomas was 11th in all-purpose yardage last year and lined up at running back and wide receiver on top of retuning kicks. With LaMichael James gone, an offseason in Eugene under his belt and a new quarterback behind center, expect the speedster to have an even bigger role in the Oregon offense in 2012.