Every college football team has players most would consider underrated. However, defining underrated players is no easy assignment, as that term varies in meaning between fans and experts. With the 2016 season approaching, Athlon Sports wanted to take a look at some players deserving of more preseason accolades or discussion. In an effort to get to 12 names, we tried to stick to players that had yet to earn all-conference honors in their career. However, a few exceptions were made.
Related: Pac-12 Predictions for 2016
Arizona running back Nick Wilson, Colorado safety Chidobe Awuzie and Stanford receiver Michael Rector are just a few of Athlon's picks for the most underrated players in the Pac-12 this fall.
The Pac-12's Most Underrated Players for 2016
Isaac Asiata, OL, Utah
The unquestioned strength of Utah’s offense is its line. All five starters are back for coach Kyle Whittingham, and there’s good depth in place with the addition of junior college recruit Garett Bolles. Tackle J.J. Dielman is generating plenty of attention as an All-America candidate for 2016, but Asiata also shouldn’t be overlooked up front. The Utah native played in six games (and four starts) as a freshman in 2013 and has accumulated 26 starts over the last two years. After earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in 2015, Asiata is poised to earn a spot as one of the league’s top linemen.
Chidobe Awuzie, S, Colorado
Awuzie was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection last season, but the San Jose native deserves more attention for a standout career with the Buffaloes. In 13 games last year, Awuzie was all over the field for coordinator Jim Leavitt. He accumulated 90 stops (second on the team), four sacks, one forced fumble and 10 pass breakups. During his first two years on campus (2013-14), Awuzie recorded 123 tackles and 12 pass breakups. If Awuzie continues to build off his first three seasons in Boulder, he could develop into an All-American at safety this fall.
Victor Bolden, WR, Oregon State
Despite inconsistent quarterback play, Bolden still delivered an effective 2015 season. In 12 games, Bolden caught 46 passes for 461 yards and three touchdowns and scored twice on special teams returns. Bolden’s numbers were much better as a sophomore in 2014, as he grabbed 72 receptions for 798 yards and two touchdowns. Assuming Utah State transfer Darell Garretson provides stability under center, Bolden should easily exceed last year’s totals and rebound back into the conversation for all-conference honors.
Chris Borrayo, OL, California
With four returning starters, California’s offensive line could quietly rank among the best in the Pac-12 for 2016. Borrayo is the leader in the trenches for the Golden Bears, as the California native enters this fall with 28 career starts and earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in 2015. Borrayo should be one of the Pac-12’s top linemen in 2016.
Jayon Brown, LB, UCLA
Myles Jack’s season-ending knee injury was a huge setback for UCLA’s defense last year, but Brown emerged as a key cog for coach Jim Mora. Most of Brown’s impact in his first two seasons on campus came on special teams, as he accumulated only eight tackles in that span. However, Brown easily exceeded that production last fall, recording a team-high 93 stops and six pass breakups. Brown’s emergence was a key development last year and should continue with another offseason to work as a starter.
Darren Carrington, WR, Oregon
Carrington gets the nod here as Oregon’s most underrated player, but a strong case could be made running back Royce Freeman still doesn’t get enough credit for his 2015 season. Despite not playing in the Ducks’ first six games, Carrington ranked second on the team with 32 catches for 609 yards and six scores. Additionally, had he qualified in the conference statistics, Carrington would have ranked second among receivers by averaging 19.03 yards per reception. With Bralon Addison off to the NFL, Carrington should see even more passes in his direction this fall.
Darrell Daniels, TE, Washington
Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning is expected to take a step forward in his development this fall, but the rising star also needs more help from his receiving corps. With the return of John Ross from injury, along with Daniels’ development as a full-time starter, the Huskies have two promising weapons ready to provide a spark in the receiving corps. Daniels shared the spotlight with Joshua Perkins at tight end last season and finished the year with 19 catches for 250 yards and one score. The 6-foot-4 target is also on the radar for NFL scouts for next year’s draft and should easily exceed his 2015 totals.
Justin Davis, RB, USC
All signs point to a breakout year from sophomore running back Ronald Jones, but USC’s backfield isn’t just a one-man show. Davis has ranked second on the team in rushing yards in each of the last two seasons and recorded 902 yards and seven scores on 169 attempts in 2015. While Jones is the team’s most-talented runner, Davis shouldn’t be overlooked in a backfield that could possess the Pac-12’s best one-two punch this fall.
Michael Rector, WR, Stanford
With a new quarterback – likely Keller Chryst – taking over Stanford’s offense, the passing game could take a few weeks to get on track in 2016. While Rector isn’t going to see a ton of opportunities in his direction, the senior has the potential to be one of the Pac-12’s top big-play threats on the outside. In 14 games last year, Rector grabbed 34 passes for 559 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging a healthy 16.4 yards per catch. Christian McCaffrey is one of the nation’s top skill players, but Rector is also developing into a reliable threat for coach David Shaw.
Demario Richard, RB, Arizona State
Richard was one of six Pac-12 running backs to hit the 1,000-yard mark in 2015. In 12 appearances, Richard rushed for 1,104 yards and seven scores. Additionally, he was also a valuable pass-catcher out of the backfield, nabbing 31 receptions for 303 yards and three touchdowns. After rushing for over 1,000 yards in his first full season as Arizona State’s go-to running back, the arrow on Richard’s career in Tempe is clearly pointing up for 2016 and beyond.
Riley Sorenson, OL, Washington State
There’s big shoes to fill in Pullman, as Joe Dahl and Gunnar Eklund depart the left side of Washington State’s offensive line. But the cupboard is far from bare for coach Mike Leach. Three starters are back for 2016, including center Riley Sorenson and promising right tackle Cole Madison. Sorenson has quietly anchored the interior for Leach over the last two seasons, starting 11 games in 2015 and 10 in 2014. The senior should be the Pac-12’s top center in 2016.
Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona
Wilson may not be underrated as much is this is a “don’t forget about him” type of pick. A year after injuries derailed his 2015 season, Wilson is hoping to get back on track and rebound back into the discussion as one of the Pac-12’s top running backs. In 13 games for the Wildcats in 2014, Wilson gashed opponents for 1,375 yards and 16 scores. Wilson was off to a fast start in 2015, recording 683 yards through the first six contests. However, injuries limited Wilson to only 18 carries and he managed just 42 yards the rest of the year. Assuming Wilson is back at full strength, he should rank among the top of the leaderboard in rushing yards in the Pac-12.