The Pac-12 might have the coolest awards in college football. The Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year might be the best-named trophy in sports. The Morris Trophy is given to the best offensive and defensive lineman in the league — as voted on BY THE PLAYERS (OL and DL).
But the Freshman of the Year award is the new guy on the Pac-12 awards block. The Defensive Rookie of the Year has only been given out since 2009 as Vontaze Burfict, Junior Onyeali, Dion Bailey and Leonard Williams are the only winners. The Freshman of the Year Award (1999-2009) became the Offensive Player of the Year honor that year when the split happened. LaMichael James, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, De’Anthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota are the offensive winners since the separation.
The 2013 season will be no different as a host of big-time playmakers enter the fray with sky-high expectations. And many of these youngsters will play pivotal rolls on championship-caliber teams.
Thomas Tyner, RB, Oregon
The record-settting tailback has all of the tools to earn the starting job at Oregon as just a true freshman. Try a state-record 643 yards and 10 scores in one game on his 18th birthday last fall. He has power, speed and plenty of wiggle to fit into the Ducks' high-powered rushing attack. Expect plenty of mop-up duty early on before potentially earning workhorse status as the year goes along.
Zach Kline, QB, Cal
With a few weeks to go before games kickoff, new coach Sonny Dykes hasn’t named a starting quarterback yet. Kline is battling with Jared Goff but is the more talented option and should earn the job at some point in the new future. He has big-time ability and plenty of talented playmakers around him to make an impact as a redshirt freshman.
Ishmael Adams, Priest Willis, Tahaan Goodman, DB, UCLA
The UCLA secondary is very, very talented but very, very young. Adams was an elite recruit in 2012 and should be the best of the group as a redshirt freshman. Willis and Goodman were both top-100 prospects nationally in this class as well. All three could be starting by the season’s end — which is both good and bad news for the Bruins' pass defense.
Su’a Cravens, S, USC
The No. 1 safety prospect in the nation is looking to crack the starting lineup right out of the gate. Worst case scenario, Cravens is the top nickel back and gets plenty of chances on passing downs. He has great size and speed and, fromwhat we learned talking with him last year, is prepared for success on the next level.
Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona
B.J. Denker and Jesse Scroggins are in the Wildcats’ quarterback scrum as well but Solomon might be the most talented and best suited to run Rich Rodriguez’ system. He needs to gain experience and likely won’t start the season as the starter, but has electric upside. The talented dual-threat is arguably the top prospect in the history of Nevada high school football after leading famed Bishop Gorman to four straight state championships.
Eddie Vanderdoes, DL, UCLA
After a back and forth with Notre Dame, Vanderdoes has landed at UCLA and can play right away. And play he should as one of the most talented defensive linemen in this year's freshman class. Coming in as the No. 2-rated D-lineman in the nation, Vanderdoes should help replace the loss of Datone Jones.
Damore’ea Stringfellow, WR, Washington
The Huskies signed a deep and talented receiving class. John Ross and Darrell Daniels should both play plenty but Stringfellow is the most gifted at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds. He will likely begin in a reserve role but should work his way into the starting lineup in short order.
Robert Lewis, WR, Washington State
Mike Leach has been very open about his appreciation of Lewis’ ability. He is lightning quick and making progress every day in his quest to lock down a starting spot. He will get plenty of run in an offense known for producing big-time numbers.
Carlos Mendoza, LB, Arizona State
His 2012 season lasted just two games before a shoulder injury forced a redshirt season. He has been moved from weakside to Spur linebacker and has the athleticism to fly around and make plays at the hybrid LB/DB “spur” position.
Devon and Chance Allen, WR, Oregon
A talented true and redshirt freshman (no relation) both could fight for starting time early on.
Caleb Benenoch, OL, UCLA
Is getting reps as first-team right guard. Should see plenty of snaps somewhere along the line.
Kenny Bigelow, DT, USC
Massive interior star along the defensive line will provide much needed depth up front.
Matt Cochran, OL, Cal
Could start at guard or center and appears to be first guy off the bench if he doesn’t start.
Chans Cox, LB, Arizona State
Early enrollee was one of the most highly-touted signees this year. Will play plenty.
Justin Davis and Ty Isaac, RB, USC
Someone needs to spell Silas Redd and both first-year guys could see plenty of time.
Addison Gillam, LB, Colorado
A spring surprise, Gillam should compete for playing time outside with Brady Daigh.
Trey Griffey, WR, Arizona
Injuries and defections have opened up playing time for Ken Griffey Jr.’s son.
Leon McQuay III, S, USC
Is pressing to get into the lineup and could end up a co-starter with Demetrius Wright.
Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA
Will battle with a large group to replace Johnathan Franklin.
Torrodney Prevot, LB, Oregon
Should be the most talented backup on a team known for playing its reserves.
Barry Sanders, RB, Stanford
Behind an elite offensive line, fans are eager to see what Barry Sanders Jr. can do.
Justin Thomas, CB, Utah
He will battle with fellow frosh Reggie Porter to start at cornerback right away.
Max Browne, QB, USC
Tyler Bruggman, QB, Washington State
Pierre Cormier, RB, Arizona
Reggie Daniels, S, Oregon
Jimmie Gilbert, DE, Colorado
Cam Hunt, OL, Oregon
Kendall Hill, S, Oregon State
Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
Alex Jackson, CB, Washington State
Peter Kalambayi, LB, Stanford
Kenny Lawler, WR, Cal
Sefo Liufau, QB, Colorado
Cyler Miles, QB, Washington
Cyril Noland-Lewis, S, Oregon State
Francis Owusu, WR, Stanford
Aaron Porter, LB, UCLA
Elijah Qualls, DT, Washington
Jabari Ruffin, LB, USC
Caleb Saulo, LB, Oregon State
Psalm Wooching, FB, Washington
Sean Covington, P, UCLA
Matt Haack, P, Arizona State
Jamie Sutcliffe, K, Utah
Cameron Van Winkle, K, Washington
Matt Wogan, K, Oregon