Athlon Awards: Ranking the Pac-12's Best Units

Unpublished

Get the Athlon Sports Newsletter

Stanford's Andrew Luck ranks as the top quarterback in the Pac-12.

<p> The Athlon Awards for 2011 continue with a look at the best units in the Pac-12.</p>

Kickoff for the 2011 season is just a few weeks away. To help pass the time before the opening weekend, Athlon will be taking a look at the best units by conference. 

A "1" signifies the best unit in conference, while a "12" indicates the worst.

Athlon's 2011 Pac-12 Unit Rankings

Best Quarterbacks – Stanford
Andrew Luck is back for his junior season, and his return gives the Cardinal a chance to contend for the Pac-12 title. Luck completed 70.7 percent of his passes for 3,338 yards and 32 touchdowns last season. The 6-foot-4, 235-pounder also has underrated mobility, rushing for 453 yards and three scores last year. The Cardinal must replace three offensive line starters and the top two wide receivers from last year, but having Luck under center should be more than enough for Stanford to push Oregon in the Pac-12 North. Sophomore Josh Nunes and freshman Brett Nottingham will compete for the backup job.

(Note: Although depth was considered, much of the emphasis for the rankings at this position was based upon the starter.)

2. USC
3. Oregon
4. Arizona
5. Oregon State
6. Washington State
7. Utah
8. Arizona State
9. Washington
10. UCLA
11. Colorado
12. California

Best Running Backs – Oregon 
Despite missing the opener due to a suspension, LaMichael James was the top running back in college football last season. James rushed for an Oregon single-season record 1,731 yards and added 21 rushing scores. James posted three games of over 200 rushing yards, including 239 in a win against USC. The junior should be a Heisman contender and a threat to finish as the nation's leading rusher once again. Joining James in the backfield will be Kenjon Barner, who rushed for 551 yards last year, and redshirt freshman Lache Seastrunk. Even with a rebuilt offensive line, the Ducks shouldn't miss a beat with their rushing attack.

(Note: Although depth was considered, much of the emphasis for the rankings at this position was based upon the starter.)

2. Washington
3. Stanford
4. USC
5. Colorado
6. UCLA
7. Arizona State
8. Arizona
9. California
10. Oregon State
11. Utah
12. Washington State

Best Wide Receivers/Tight Ends – Arizona
If five new starters on the offensive line can give quarterback Nick Foles time to throw, the Wildcats could own the Pac-12’s best passing attack. The top four receivers are back from last year, including Juron Criner, who led the team with 82 receptions for 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns and is an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-Pac-12 selection. The receiving corps also gets a boost with Texas transfer Dan Buckner eligible after sitting out last year. Buckner caught 45 passes for 442 yards and four scores with the Longhorns in 2009. Seniors David Roberts and David Douglas will play a prominent role in the receiving corps, after combining for 96 catches and seven touchdowns last year.

2. Washington
3. USC
4. Washington State
5. Oregon State
6. California
7. Oregon
8. Arizona State
9. Stanford
10. UCLA
11. Colorado
12. Utah

Best Offensive Line – Stanford
Even with three starters departing, the Cardinal should boast the top line in the Pac-12. Left tackle Jonathan Martin is among the best in the nation at his position, earning first-team All-Pac-10 honors last year. Joining him as a returning starter will be David DeCastro, also a first-team All-Pac-10 pick. Sam Schwartzstein is expected to replace Chase Beeler at center, while Kevin Danser and Tyler Mabry will round out the final two spots.

2. Oregon
3. USC
4. California
5. Utah
6. Washington
7. Arizona State
8. Colorado
9. UCLA
10. Oregon State
11. Arizona
12. Washington State

Best Defensive Line – USC
The Trojans struggled on defense last year, but improvement is expected following another offseason under Monte Kiffin and Ed Orgeron. Four players with significant experience are back up front, and this unit will get a boost with the return of tackle Christian Tupou from injury. Tackle Armond Armstead's health was a question mark in the spring, but all signs point to him returning to the field in time for the 2011 opener. The Trojans need a big year from Nick Perry, who figures to improve upon his numbers from last year. Junior Wes Horton and senior DaJohn Harris will also play a significant role. Depth was a concern last fall, but five true freshmen will join the rotation, along with redshirt freshman George Uko.

2. Washington
3. Oregon
4. Arizona State
5. California
6. Colorado
7. Arizona
8. UCLA
9. Stanford
10. Utah
11. Oregon State
12. Washington State

Best Linebackers – Arizona State
If Vontaze Burfict eliminates the mental errors and penalties that have plagued him in recent years, the junior should turn in an All-America season. Burfict registered 90 stops last year and earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors. Brandon Magee picked up honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors last year after making 73 tackles. Shelly Lyons rounds out the starting trio and should be 100 percent after missing the final five games due to injury. All three starters played at Centennial High School in California.

2. Stanford
3. California
4. Utah
5. USC
6. Oregon
7. UCLA
8. Arizona
9. Washington
10. Oregon State
11. Colorado
12. Washington State

Best Defensive Backs – Oregon
Three starters are back, including Athlon Sports preseason All-America cornerback Cliff Harris, who was one of the nation’s top defensive playmakers last year — returning one of his six interceptions for a touchdown and making an impact on special teams. Harris also broke up 17 passes last year and defended 23. Off-the-field issues will keep Harris from playing in the season opener against LSU, but he should return to the field early in the year. Talmadge Jackson departs at corner, but senior Anthony Gildon is experienced, so the dropoff should be minimal. The safety duo of John Boyett and Eddie Pleasant should be the best in the Pac-12 this year.

2. Washington
3. Stanford
4. Oregon State
5. Arizona
6. California
7. USC
8. UCLA
9. Arizona State
10. Utah
11. Colorado
12. Washington State

After ranking all of the individual units in the conference, here's a look at what the combined totals look like - 

  QB RB WR/TE OL DL LB DB Totals
Oregon 3 1 7 2 3 6 1 23
USC 2 4 3 3 1 5 7 25
Stanford 1 3 9 1 9 2 3 28
Washington 9 2 2 6 2 9 2 32
Arizona 4 8 1 11 7 8 5 44
Arizona State 8 7 8 7 4 1 9 44
California 12 9 6 4 5 3 6 45
Oregon State 5 10 5 10 11 10 4 55
UCLA 10 6 10 9 8 7 8 58
Utah 7 11 12 5 10 4 10 59
Colorado 11 5 11 8 6 11 11 63
Washington State 6 12 4 12 12 12 12 70

Other Pac-12 Content

Predicting the Pac-12's Breakout Players for 2011
Athlon's 2011 Pac-12 Predictions

Athlon's 2011 All-Pac-12 Team

Is Washington the Surprise Pac-12 Team?

CFB Conferences: 
Miscellaneous: 

Home Page Infinite Scroll Left