Every season there are a handful of players to keep an eye on in the Pac-12 and this year is no different. The following list is of players that I believe will have a great impact on how their particular team does during the 2016 season. The difference between teams winning and losing will be directly related to how these particular players perform during the season, so let’s take a look.
The Rolls Royce for the Oregon Ducks has certainly made his impression upon the Pac-12 Conference in his short career, but can he handle the load of the offense until Dakota Prukop feels like he has control of things with the fast-break Oregon offense?
Freeman is a freight train out of the backfield at 5’11”, 230lbs and is one of those running backs that loves contact. He does not run out of bounds, he lowers his shoulder to get those extra tough yards. During the past two seasons he has run for 3,201 yards on 535 carries and it begs the question what he can do to improve upon those gaudy stats?
“I don’t know, rush for 2,000 yards, score 30 touchdowns. He’s more seasoned. We expect big things from him.” Said Oregon running backs coach Gary Campbell.
Freeman is trying to keep himself out of the limelight, but that will be virtually impossible to do based on his past success. Freeman is one of those players that I would certainly pay to see live because of the way he plays the game. He’s a team player and more worried about getting the win than getting personal statistics.
In a game with Arizona State last season, he only had 15 carries and finished with 112 yards rushing, but it was attitude after the triple overtime win that tells you all you need to know about him.
“I was just more focused on pass protection and things like that. It’s cool. We have other people that can go out and make plays.” Said Freeman after the Sun Devil game.
Keep your eye on this player, he deserves some of the Heisman talk that he is getting and his approach to the game says more about him as a player than his actual stats do.
The Oregon State Beavers are looking to pick themselves up off the mat after a dismal two-win season in 2015. Last season the Beavers had a young, athletic, inexperienced quarterback at the helm.
They have Daryl Garretson, a junior transfer student from Utah State who takes over the Oregon State offense. The offense will look pretty familiar to him since he played for Beaver offensive coordinator, Kevin McGiven, at Utah State.
What does Garretson bring to the table?
He will bring a starter’s mentality to the huddle for the Beavers. By this I mean, he knows the offense, can check out of a play and get to a better one, he has confidence because he has started in college before, and he brings a certain amount of swag to the team that was lacking last season.
Now, this doesn’t mean the Beavers are winning the Pac-12 North or anything, but this does mean that they should be in more games in 2016 than they ever were in 2015. Watch for Garretson to bring a more competitive vibe to the Beavers and hopefully that translates to more wins for Oregon State.
Nick Wilson is a player that people forget about in the Pac-12 because of recent injuries, but he can change the fortunes of the Arizona Wildcats.
Wilson has rushed 2,100 yards on 369 carries so far in his short career at Arizona. In his freshman year he took the Pac-12 by storm, rushing for 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns. Last season he was slowed down by the injury bug and only managed 725 yards.
Unfortunately for Nick Wilson he has gained the reputation of a player that is not all that durable. Whether that is a fair label or not is up for discussion with many people. It’s something that will dog Wilson until he shows he can stay healthy for entire season or more.
How will the coaching staff use Wilson this year? That is the million dollar question.
If you take a look at his first two years you will see the coaching staff did over-use Wilson in terms of how much of the offense he was responsible for from the running back position.
During his freshman year, he was carrying the ball approximately 64% of the time which is not too crazy considering he is the number one running back for the Wildcats. However, when you look a little deeper you will see that in the final six games, Wilson’s usage as a running back jumped up to 84%. That is over-using a good running back and that is putting too much mileage on young legs.
If he was an Alabama running back, this would be about normal for how Coach Saban abuses his running backs, but to keep a running back healthy and viable in the Pac-12 you can’t do that.
If Wilson stays healthy, and the coaching staff figures out how to use him so they maximize his talent, then the Wildcats can have a more successful season in 2016.
Jake who? That is what many of you are thinking I am sure, but keep this name in your head. Jake Browning is a talented young quarterback who has Washington Husky fans thinking big things in 2016.
The fans may be thinking big, but it’s what head coach Chris Peterson saw during the spring practices that has him thinking positive thoughts about Browning.
“I think Jake has done a nice job of taking the next step. I think he has improved, it’s all subtle stuff. It’s his pocket presence, it’s his stride-point accuracy, the ball coming out a little quicker.” Peterson said in an interview with a Seattle radio station.
As a true freshman in 2015 Browning came on the scene and ended up with 2,995 yards passing, 16 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and led the Huskies to a victory in the Heart of Dallas Bowl against Southern Mississippi.
Browning brings a tough attitude to the huddle, mobility, and an arm that threatens the secondary of just about any team. That tough, perfectionist attitude of his has certainly been seen by his teammates.
“The guy hates losing. The only thing on his mind is winning.” Said Coleman Shelton, an offensive lineman for Washington.
Jake Browning is a player who wants to improve every year and when he doesn’t live up to his expectations he takes it very personally. In a game against Arizona State last season, the Huskies totally collapsed and gave the Sun Devils a win. More importantly, it was Browning who gave the win away to Arizona State with three fourth-quarter interceptions. Browning gave a simple response to all the questions being asked of him in the post-game press conference.
“I gotta improve.” Browning said after the Sun Devil game.
When the 2016 season gets rolling for the Huskies look for Browning to put the team on his back and put the improvements he has made during the spring together to help the Huskies make a run at the Pac-12 North title. Watch out Oregon, the Huskies may have just turned the corner and they are setting their eyes on you.
E-mail Mike at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion.
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