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Pac-12 Wild Card Players in 2017

Steven Montez

Steven Montez

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A Pac-12 championship can be won from the most unlikely of contributors. A breakout wild card star can emerge through a simple position change, like when Christian McCaffrey switched from receiver to running back between 2014 and '15. A first-year player can be a championship-leading wild card. Such was the case for Taylor Rapp, whose two interceptions helped power Washington to a 2016 Pac-12 Championship Game win.

Oftentimes, identifying the wild cards means identifying the single most pivotal factor in a team's success.

Pac-12 North

Cal Golden Bears

Offense: Vic Enwere, Running Back

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Former Cal head coach Sonny Dykes introduced a pass-heavy scheme in 2013, and new offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin isn't exactly going to be moving the Golden Bears over to a Wishbone. That said, the Cal offense needs a credible threat from the running game — especially while Baldwin narrows the field of potential starting quarterbacks down to one.

Tre Watson topped the depth chart at spring's conclusion, but Enwere could play a key role upon his return from an injury that sidelined him for half the 2016 season. By season's end, his 5.51 yards per carry were tops among Cal players with significant rushing attempts, and he was dynamite in the Golden Bears' win over Texas (110 yards on 18 carries with two touchdowns).

Defense: Derron Brown, Safety

New Cal head coach Justin Wilcox has had a knack for moving players into new positions to maximize their potential. Both Shaq Thompson (Washington) and Su'a Cravens (USC) flourished after moving from the secondary into the linebackers corps. At Cal, Brown could have a similar impact with the role reversed.

Brown is transitioning to safety from linebacker, and per the Daily Californian, competing with Evan Rambo for the starting job. Rambo missed most of 2016 due to injury.

Oregon Ducks

Offense: Jacob Breeland, Tight End

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The new Oregon coaching staff inherits an impressive offense, with returning starters throughout the wide receiving corps; at running back; at quarterback; and across the offensive line. The wild card in this offense perhaps taking a step back toward being the kind of high-powered machine expected of Oregon is tight end. Enter Breeland.

As a freshman in 2016, Breeland averaged nearly 21 yards per reception, though he made just six catches. Expect a heavier workload — in part, because Breeland's heavier. He came into Oregon at just 205 pounds, but his listed now at 221. At 6-foot-5, he could be a dangerous red zone threat for quarterback Justin Herbert.

Defense: Billy Gibson, Safety

It's no mystery the new-look Oregon defense, under first-year coordinator Jim Leavitt, needs a few wild cards to emerge in 2017. One candidate is Gibson, a freshman who made his presence known with an interception in the spring game.

The Oregon secondary features a variety of veterans, like Arrion Springs and Tyree Robinson. The addition of some new talent could help bolster that unit dramatically.

Oregon State Beavers

Offense: Marcus McMaryion, Quarterback

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It's difficult to be much more of a wild card than a quarterback who may not be the starter. Quarterback's been a contentious spot in the Oregon State lineup throughout Gary Andersen's first two years as Beavers head coach, with five different signal-callers getting starts in that time. McMaryion has been the best, however. He finished last season captaining the Beavers to two wins to close things out, and threw five touchdowns in the penultimate contest against Arizona.

McMaryion took first-string reps in the spring, but the job isn't assuredly his entering fall camp. Junior college transfer Jake Luton could challenge for the starting gig.

Defense:Andrzej Hughes-Murray, Linebacker

Hughes-Murray came on in the second half of his freshman campaign, and made an immediate impact for Oregon State's defense. The first-year Beaver rolled off a tackle for a loss in three straight games, accrued eight total tackles at UCLA, and blocked a kick against Washington State.

With Bright Ugwoegbu and Titus Failauga back on the outside linebacker spots, Hughes-Murray's late-season emergence gives Oregon State one of the more game-tested linebacking corps in the Pac-12.

Stanford Cardinal

Offense: Keller Chryst, Quarterback

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