Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task.
The Pac-12 is filled with talent on both sides of the ball. But there's always room for another superstar or two from each team to emerge. USC receiver Nelson Agholor is off to a good start this fall and should fill the void left behind by Robert Woods. Three candidates are competing for time at California, but redshirt freshman Zach Kline should emerge as the team's top option.
Defining what is a breakout player is nearly impossible. Everyone has a different perspective on how players are viewed around the conference and nationally. Athlon's list of breakout players for 2013 tries to take into account which names will be known nationally (not just within the conference) by the end of season. So while some of these players on this list are known to fans of a particular team, the rest of the conference or nation might not be as familiar.
Pac-12 Breakout Players for 2013
Bralon Addison, WR, Oregon
With running back Kenjon Barner out of eligibility, and quarterback Marcus Mariota returning for his sophomore season, the Ducks may look to pass more in 2013. Oregon has no shortage of options at receiver, including senior Josh Huff and tight end Colt Lyerla. But the player to watch is Addison, especially after he caught 22 passes for 243 yards and three scores as a true freshman last year. Addison will also factor into the mix on returns, giving Oregon another dynamic playmaker on special teams. With the Ducks taking to the air, Addison, Huff and Lyerla are all in for big seasons.
Nelson Agholor, WR, USC
There’s no question that USC will miss Robert Woods, but the Trojans still have one of the nation’s top receiving corps. Marqise Lee is an Athlon Sports first-team All-American for 2013, and Agholor is poised to push for all-conference honors this year as well. As a true freshman last season, Agholor caught 19 passes for 340 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 17.9 yards per catch. The Tampa native had his best performance against Oregon, recording six catches for 162 yards and one score. With defenses aiming to stop Lee, look for Agholor to see more passes in his direction this year.
Brendan Bigelow, RB, California
Injuries have hindered Bigelow throughout his career, but if can stay healthy, the junior is a threat to rush for 1,000 yards in coach Sonny Dykes’ wide-open offense. On 44 attempts last year, Bigelow recorded 431 yards and three scores. He also averaged 23 yards per kickoff return and caught seven passes for 92 yards and one touchdown. Bigelow is a dynamic playmaker when he has the ball in his hands, so expect Dykes and coordinator Tony Franklin to get him at least 20 touches a game – provided he can avoid the pesky injury bug.
Alex Carter, CB, Stanford
In an offensive-minded league like the Pac-12, it’s not easy for any true freshman to step onto the field at cornerback. However, Carter did just that last year, earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in the process. In 14 games (with eight starts), the Virginia native recorded 46 tackles and three forced fumbles. With another offseason under his belt, Carter should continue to develop into one of the Pac-12’s top cornerbacks this season.
Tyson Coleman, LB, Oregon
The linebacking corps is Oregon’s biggest concern on defense, as Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso will be missed. But the cupboard is far from bare for coordinator Nick Aliotti. Coleman recorded 34 tackles in 13 contests last season and is poised to develop into the Ducks’ top linebacker in 2013. The sophomore suffered a foot injury in spring practice but is expected to be at full strength once the season begins. Coleman isn’t the only Oregon defender that could breakout, as sophomore lineman Arik Armstead is another player to watch this fall.
Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State
Arizona State had three running backs record over 100 carries last season, but with Cameron Marshall expiring his eligibility, Grice is due for an increase in touches. In his first year after transferring in from a junior college, Grice rushed for 679 yards and 11 scores and caught 41 passes for 425 yards and eight touchdowns. The Texas native came on strong at the end of the year, gashing Arizona for 156 yards and three scores and Navy for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Although DJ Foster will see plenty of work, Grice should be Arizona State’s leading rusher and could push for All-Pac-12 recognition in 2013.
Jaxon Hood, DT, Arizona State
Will Sutton is one of college football’s premier defensive players, but the Sun Devils had another player turn some heads on the interior last season. Hood played in all 13 of Arizona State’s games as a true freshman, recording 26 tackles and three sacks. At 6-foot and 287 pounds, the Arizona native isn’t the biggest defensive tackle in the conference. However, his quickness off the ball is tough for opposing offensive linemen to match, and the sophomore will benefit from all of the attention Sutton will get from offenses.
Zach Kline, QB, California
It’s a new era in Berkeley in 2013. Jeff Tedford was fired after 11 seasons at California, and he was replaced by another offensive guru – Sonny Dykes. The Golden Bears struggled to get consistent quarterback play in recent years, but that should change under Dykes and coordinator Tony Franklin. Under their watch, Louisiana Tech led the nation with an average of 51.5 points a game last season. Can California replicate that total in 2013? Probably not. However, the Golden Bears should see improvement on offense, especially at the quarterback spot. Kline holds a slight edge over Jared Goff and Austin Hinder for the starting spot, and the winner of this battle will have a chance to post big numbers in this scheme. Kline ranked as the Pac-12’s No. 9 recruit by Athlon Sports in the 2012 signing class, and while the California native may have a few ups and downs, expect the redshirt freshman to emerge as a strength by the end of 2013.
Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State
No, Mannion certainly isn’t a mystery or unknown product to most around the Pac-12. However, after throwing for 3,328 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2011, Mannion took a step back in the production department last year. Mannion threw for 2,446 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2012 and struggled to hold off Cody Vaz for the top spot on the depth chart. Mannion has all of the talent necessary to keep Oregon State’s offense averaging over 300 yards through the air each week. But can he cut down on the interceptions and hold off Vaz this fall?
Byron Marshall, RB, Oregon
Replacing Kenjon Barner is likely to be a three-man task in Oregon’s backfield. Junior De’Anthony Thomas is a dynamic all-around threat but won’t handle 25-30 carries a week. True freshman Thomas Tyner will see plenty of time, but the Ducks’ workhorse could be Marshall. As a true freshman last season, he recorded 447 yards and four touchdowns. Marshall had one 100-yard effort in 2012, gashing Tennessee Tech for 125 yards on 13 attempts. Expect the California native to factor prominently into Oregon’s ground attack this year.
Ellis McCarthy, DT, UCLA
With the departure of Datone Jones and Owamagbe Odighizuwa sidelined by a hip injury for 2013, UCLA’s front seven will require some remodeling this offseason. Senior Cassius Marsh is a good place to start the rebuilding effort, but the Bruins would like to see a standout year from McCarthy. The California native ranked as the No. 17 overall recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and recorded 10 tackles and one sack in nine appearances last year. McCarthy will help anchor the interior of the line, and his continued development is crucial to UCLA’s defensive success.
Terrence Miller/Garic Wharton, WR, Arizona
The Arizona offense suffered a huge setback when Austin Hill was lost for the season with a torn ACL in the spring. With the Wildcats missing one of their key offensive weapons from last season, there’s pressure on Miller and Wharton to fill the void as the go-to target. Miller has played in 34 games in his career but was granted an extra season after participating in just four contests in 2012. Miller has 55 receptions in his career and his 6-foot-4 frame will be valuable for the new quarterback, while Wharton’s speed off the edge will help Arizona stretch the field.
Darryl Monroe, LB, Washington State
Yes, that’s correct. A defensive player gets the nod for Washington State’s breakout candidate even though the Cougars have one of the league’s top offensive-minded coaches. Monroe suffered an Achilles injury in 2011 but rebounded with 80 tackles and three sacks last year. With an offseason to continue building strength in the weight room, Monroe figures to be even more prepared for the rigors of defending Pac-12 offenses. If the sophomore builds on a successful freshman campaign, he should be in the mix for all-conference honors.
Ryan Murphy, S, Oregon State
Jordan Poyer expired his eligibility at the end of last season, but Oregon State’s secondary is still in good shape. Senior Rashaad Reynolds is the headliner, and junior college transfer Steven Nelson will team with Sean Martin to form a solid duo at cornerback. And the safety position should be solid for coordinator Mark Banker, as Tyrequek Zimmerman and Murphy are back. Murphy finished third on the team last season with 67 stops and two picks. The Pac-12 has a solid group of safeties returning, but the junior from California should work his way into all-conference contention.
Jordan Payton, WR, UCLA
Quarterback Brett Hundley is poised to become one of the nation’s best signal callers in 2013, and the sophomore has no shortage of weapons to utilize in the passing attack. Senior Shaquelle Evans is one of the Pac-12’s top receivers, while coordinator Noel Mazzone is hoping for a big season from Payton and fellow sophomore Devin Fuller. Payton ranked as the No. 19 receiver in the 2012 signing class by Athlon Sports and caught 18 passes for 202 yards and one score. With tight end Joseph Fauria and running back Johnathan Franklin moving on, Payton is expected to see a larger role in the UCLA offense.
Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
With four starters returning, Stanford’s offensive line is expected to be one of the best in college football in 2013. But what’s even scarier for the opposition: This unit still has room to improve, especially at left tackle. There’s where Peat comes into play. As a freshman in 2012, the Arizona native didn’t make a start but played in 13 games. With David Yankey sliding back to guard, Peat is poised to step into the lineup and solidify Stanford’s left tackle position.
Jeremiah Poutasi, OT, Utah
The Utes have a tradition of developing players on both the offensive and defensive lines in recent years, and Poutasi could be Utah’s next standout in the trenches. The Las Vegas native had a standout freshman season, starting the final 10 games at right tackle. Poutasi earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors and is expected to be even better in 2013 with a chance to work in the weight room for a full season. Poutasi will slide from the right side to anchor the left tackle spot this year.
Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
Richardson was well on his way to becoming one of the Pac-12’s top receivers prior to a knee injury suffered in spring practice last year. After sitting out last season, Richardson is due for a bounce-back campaign under new coach Mike MacIntyre. In 2011, Richardson caught 39 passes for 555 yards and five scores, including 11 receptions for 284 yards and two touchdowns against California. The Buffaloes need better quarterback play for Richardson’s numbers to significantly increase, but MacIntyre and coordinator Brian Lindgren should bright some improvement to the offense for 2013.
Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
After a freshman year that saw him garner honorable mention All-Pac-12 accolades, it’s time for the rest of the nation to take notice of No. 7 in Seattle. Thompson recorded 74 tackles, two sacks and three picks last season and ranked second on the team with 8.5 tackles for a loss. The 6-foot-2 linebacker’s speed and athleticism is crucial for Washington’s defense, especially when it comes to defending the spread offenses in the Pac-12. The Pac-12 already knows all about Thompson, but look for the sophomore to push for All-American honors this season.
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