The 2013 college football season brings plenty of questions for the Pac-12, many of which will impact Fantasy owners who have looked out west for elite-level producers that last few years. Some queries, such as who will take the reins at USC, not only affect the high-value quarterback position but also the potential of teammates at wide receiver and running back. Then there are matters of health (USC's Silas Redd, etc.), off-field issues (Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins' DUI arrest, etc.) and new coaches (Colorado's Mike McIntyre, etc.). Let's bring some order to the chaos and identify which Pac-12 players will bring success to Fantasy owners this season.
Top five Fantasy stars
1. Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona: What can Carey do for an encore? Carey had a breakout season in 2012, leading the nation with 1,929 rushing yards and tying for fourth with 23 rushing touchdowns. He also added 36 receptions for 303 yards and a score. Even if Carey declines a bit from last year's nation-leading 148.4 rushing yards per game, he's still a safe Fantasy pick. He has no competition for touches in the Arizona backfield, making it likely that he repeats last year's feat of 100 scrimmage yards or a touchdown in every game.
2. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon: Few players are as explosive as Thomas in the open field. Thomas averaged 7.6 yards per carry last season, third in the nation, and added 445 receiving yards on 45 catches. After 92 rushes last season, he should see more carries this season as Oregon must replace Kenjon Barner and his 278 carries that produced 1,767 yards and 21 touchdowns last year for the Ducks. Byron Marshall will steal a healthy number of those carries but is almost a non-factor in the passing game (12 receptions last year). The loss of Chip Kelly means little for Thomas as new head coach Mark Helfrich plans to continue to the spread attack that makes Oregon's offense so dangerous.
3. Marqise Lee, WR, USC: The only knock on Lee this season is his new quarterback, Max Wittek. After eight 100-yard performances in 10 games with Matt Barkley under center last year, Lee totaled 11 receptions for 116 yards in two games with Wittek at quarteback. Wittek should improve this year, however, and Lee is still the same dangerous threat that posted 118 receptions for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. He might not reach that incredible level again, but his numbers likely won't disappoint Fantasy owners.
4. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: Mariota had one of the most prolific redshirt freshman campaigns in recent memory in the Pac-12 last season, throwing for 2,677 yards and 32 touchdowns (only six interceptions) and rushing for 752 yards and an additional five scores. Offensive guru Chip Kelly is gone to the NFL, but new head coach Mark Helfrich is expected to continue the spread offense attack that ranked second in the nation in scoring (49.6 points per game) and fifth in total yards (537.4 yards per game) last year. Mariota's experience and what looks to be a talented and seasoned group of receivers has him primed for another strong Fantasy year.
5. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA: Hundley grabbed Fantasy owners' attention last year with a 72-yard touchdown scamper in the season opener. By year's end, the redshirt freshman had totaled five 300-yard passing games, 29 passing touchdowns and nine rushing scores. With a year's experience Hundley should improve as a pocket passer after being quick to pull the ball down last year in hopes of making a play with his feet. Improvement in the pocket will also help him reduce his sacks (52 last season), which will help his rushing numbers (355 yards). And Hundley likely will continue to be relied on heavily in the running game with running back Johnathan Franklin now in the NFL.
6. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State: This list is supposed to be limited to the conference's top-5 players, but how can Cooks be excluded? Cooks, who despite the presence of teammate Markus Wheaton last season totaled 67 receptions for 1,151 yards and five touchdowns, is the second-leading returning receiver in the Pac-12 (Marqise Lee). Averaging a conference-high 17.2 yards per receptions, Cooks posted five 100-yard games in Oregon State's first eight contests, showcasing his abilities as a playmaker. While his numbers per-game numbers dropped late in the year, he doesn't have Wheaton around this season to steal targets. In fact, no other Oregon State receiver had even 20 receptions last season. And despite an unsettled quarterback position, it won't matter to Cooks whether Sean Mannion or Cody Vaz is under center.
Brendan Bigelow, RB, California: Bigelow, who averaged 9.8 yards per carry last season, is expected to be at full strength when camp opens after undergoing offseason left knee surgery. If healthy, he'll find himself with a big opportunity in new head coach Sonny Dykes' offense. At Louisiana Tech last season, Dykes engineered an offense that totaled 39 rushing touchdowns. He now brings his spread offense to Berkeley, hoping to get the ball to Bigelow in space and to capitalize on Bigelow's explosiveness. The risk from his injury history likely will hurt Bigelow's draft stock, making a him a great value as he is poised to be among the top ballcarriers in the Pac-12 this season.
Byron Marshall, RB, Oregon: Marshall will share touches with all-purpose standout De'Anthony Thomas, but he should still be plenty productive. Kenjon Barner's 21.5 carries per game must be replaced, and Marshall, who totaled 447 yards on 87 carries (5.1 YPC) last season, stands to benefit. Freshman tailback Thomas Tyner also will be a factor, but Marshall, figures to carry a heavy load. And in Oregon's offense, that means huge Fantasy numbers -- and a relative bargain on Draft Day.
Shaquelle Evans, WR, UCLA: Evans led the Bruins last season with 60 receptions for 877 yards, but he took a backseat in the red zone to tight end Joseph Fauria, who totaled 12 touchdowns to Evans' three. With Fauria and star tailback Johnathan Franklin now in the NFL, though, expect Evans to become a regular go-to guy for quarterback Brett Hundley near the goal line. At 6-1, 211, Evans has enough size to be a threat in the red zone and has little competition for targets. Evans, who averaged 14.6 yards per catch last season, is already a deep threat. If he gets more touchdown opportunities, he could be in for an explosive season.
Nelson Agholor, WR, USC: Meet the new Robert Woods. The Nigerian-born Agholor, who last year racked up 19 receptions for 340 yards and two touchdowns, figures to take over for Woods opposite standout receiver Marqise Lee. Last season, Woods totaled 76 catches, 846 yards and 11 touchdowns, taking advantage of secondaries intent on stopping Lee. Agholor should play that role this season as Lee again draws double coverage and extra help from safeties. Agholor, who has both steady hands and breakaway speed, could have a breakout year.
Zach Kline, QB, California: Kline, a 6-2, 200, redshirt junior, is in line to captain the spread offense new head coach Sonny Dykes has brought to Memorial Stadium. Kline split snaps with junior Austin Hinder and freshman Jared Goff in spring, but if he wins the job he'll have the opportunity for at least volume production. Colby Cameron attempted 522 passes last season (fifth in the nation) in Dykes' Louisiana Tech offense. Even if Kline isn't as accurate as Cameron -- he didn't throw an interception until the 11th game of the season -- Kline should benefit from the aggressive hurry-up offense. What's more, running back Brendan Bigelow gives the Bears a balanced attack, forcing defensives to play honestly.
Terrence Miller, WR, Arizona: Arizona's wide receiver corps had anything but a smooth offseason: star Austin Hill (81-1,364-11) tore an ACL in spring practice, sophomore David Richards (29-298-3) is still recovering from foot surgery, Tyler Slavin left the team, Richard Morrison moved to defensive back and highly touted Notre Dame transfer Davonte' Neal is uncertain if he'll be awarded immediate eligibility to play for Arizona this season. That leaves Miller, a senior who last year played sparingly at tight end and in the slot, but heading into this fall, is expected to play full time at wide receiver on the outside. But Arizona is unsettled at quarterback, and Richards is expected to be ready early in the season. What's more, freshman Slot receiver Nate Phillips could be a factor as well. Miller's playing situation might look promising now, but until Arizona's passing game develops, there are safer options in the Pac-12.
Connor Wood, QB, Colorado: Wood heads into camp the favorite to quarterback the Buffaloes, but it's almost by default. Shane Dillon and Nick Hirschman transfered in the offseason, and last year's primary starter, Jordan Webb, torn an ACL during spring practice. A former Longhorn, Wood made one unimpressive start for the Buffaloes last season but emerged from spring practice atop the depth charts at quarterback. Wood faces competition in camp, though, from Jordan Gehrke and Sefo Liufau each will have a strong shot at unseating him. There's too much uncertainty to trust Wood, including a new coach in Mike McIntyre.
Silas Redd, RB, USC: Redd may have led USC with 905 yards and nine touchdowns on 167 carries last year -- good enough to earn an honorable mention All-Pac-12 nod -- but the Penn State transfer seemed to fade during the second half of the season, averaging just 47.8 yards a game in the last seven contests. Gone is Curtis McNeal, who, totaled 701 yards and two touchdowns on 116 carries last year, but Redd missed much of spring practice with a torn meniscus and will face stiff competition from five-star recruit Justin Davis and a healthy Tre Madden. Redd is far from a lock to be the lead back for USC this season, and even if he is, will almost certainly will share carries.
Jordon James, RB, UCLA: The Bruins face the difficult task of replacing UCLA's career rushing leader in Johnathan Franklin, who totaled 1,734 yards and 13 touchdowns on 282 carries last season. James, a redshirt junior, topped the depth chart coming out of spring camp only because senior Damien Thigpen is out until October with a knee injury. James managed only 193 yards and two touchdowns on 57 carries in 2012 (3.3 yards per rush) -- far from impressive. Expect the Bruins to use a running back-by-committee format for the with James leading a rotation that will include the likes of Paul Perkins and Craig Lee, and, if not moved to wide receiver, sophomore Steven Manfro. Don't expect James to pick up where Franklin left off.
Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State: Kelly put up impressive season totals last year -- 3,040 passing yards, 520 rushing yards, 30 total touchdowns -- but as a weekly Fantasy play he was hit-and-miss as he struggled against good defenses. Five times last season he was held to less than 200 yards passing. And in those five games he threw four touchdowns to eight interceptions. Another factor working against Kelly this season is sophomore Michael Eubank, with whom Kelly could share snaps. As a matchup-specific option, Kelly has value. It's hard to count on anything more.
Team-by-team Fantasy stars
(Overall RotoWire position ranking in parenthesis.)
Arizona Wildcats: RB Ka'Deem Carey (1)
California Golden Bears: RB Brendan Bigelow (27)
Colorado Buffaloes: WR Paul Richardson (44)
Utah Utes: TE Jake Murphy (35)
Washington State Cougars: None