The Pac-12 is one of the nation's top conferences for offense, so it should be no surprise that six of the top 10 players in Athlon's top 50 for 2012 check in on that side of the ball. USC's Matt Barkley is the frontrunner to win the Heisman, while receivers Robert Woods, Keenan Allen, Marqise Lee and Marquess Wilson are all All-American candidates. While the defense doesn't have as many players in the top 10, Utah's Star Lotulelei and USC's T.J. McDonald rank among the top six players.
Compiling the top 50 players of any conference is never an easy task. However, Athlon established a criteria to help compile the rankings.
Here are five factors that contributed to the criteria for the rankings:
1. Projection on 2012 Performance
2. Importance to team
3. Positional importance
4. NFL Draft stock
5. Career performance
(Published August 14, 2012)
Athlon's Top 50 Pac-12 Players for 2012
1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
After throwing 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions over his final four games in 2011, the consensus was Barkley was gone to the NFL. Instead, he surprised a lot of folks with his decision to return for one more shot at a national title and has USC poised to play for the championship in January. Barkley enters 2012 with 9,054 yards and 80 touchdowns and is Athlon’s first-team All-American quarterback for 2012. The senior ranks third in school history with 9,013 career yards, and his 80 touchdown passes are fifth in Pac-12 history. The only missing pieces on Barkley’s resume? A Pac-12 title, national championship and Heisman. All three are certainly within reach in 2012.
2. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
When the guys who are trying to block you officially vote you as the best defensive lineman in the league, it’s pretty hard to argue. Lotulelei earned such an honor last year when he was given the Morris Trophy, the award given to the best D-Lineman in the Pac-12 as voted on by starting offensive linemen. His 6-foot-4, 320-pound frame has NFL written all over it, as Utah hopes its Star in the middle can lead what was the league’s top scoring defense last year. The senior from South Jordan, Utah is a first-team All-American and looks to build on his 9.0 tackles for a loss and 44 total tackles.
3. Robert Woods, WR, USC
One half of USC’s impressive receiver duo, Woods was one of eight players in the country to catch more than 100 passes -- and he was the only one to do so in 12 games thanks to USC’s bowl ban. Woods will get his chance to play in the postseason after accounting for 176 catches for 2,084 yards and 21 touchdowns (15 last season) in his first two years at USC.
4. Keenan Allen, WR, California
Few players in the nation have as much raw physical talent and skill as Allen possesses. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound stud from Greensboro, N.C., flashed first-round NFL talent as only a sophomore last year by catching 82 passes for 1,343 yards and six touchdowns. He is the half-brother of quarterback Zach Maynard and clearly has an unspoken rapport with Cal signal caller. Look for this to be Allen’s final year in a Golden Bear uniform.
5. De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
Even at Oregon, where speed and explosiveness runs aplenty, Thomas found a way to stand out as a freshman. The 5-foot-9, 173-pound running back from Los Angeles averaged a 16-yard gain every time he touched the ball. That was half a yard more than any other Ducks’ regular and twice as much as either LaMichael James or Kenjon Barner. Thomas scored 18 total touchdowns as a rookie (nine rushing, seven receiving, two on kickoff returns).
6. T.J. McDonald, S, USC
The USC legacy — his father Tim was a two-time All-American at USC from 1983-1986 — is a powerful hitter at the back end of the No. 1 team in the nation. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior has 23 career starts, 163 career tackles and six career interceptions. The Fresno (Calif.) Edison product is an Athlon Sports All-American and Thorpe Award candidate heading into his final season.
7. Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State
Most Pac-12 fans are familiar with Wilson but expect to see him become a household name nationally after 2012. With Mike Leach’s pass-first attack coming to Pullman, the Cougars should be one of the top offenses in the nation. Wilson has recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and caught 18 touchdown passes over the last two years. His best performance came against San Diego State in 2011, grabbing six passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns. With Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and Keenan Allen returning, it will be a battle to get first-team all-conference honors. However, there’s no question Wilson will have the stats to get in the mix for first-team All-Pac-12 and All-American honors.