Headlining the No. 2 Oregon-No. 3 Florida State matchup in the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual is the quarterback pairing of Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, creating what has the potential to be one of the best showings of quarterbacks that college football has seen in recent memory.
The strengths of these two quarterbacks are evident in the statistics (which we’ll get to in a bit), but the main thread that runs through both is that they know how to win. Criticize Florida State’s play (specifically in the first half) all you want, but one thing is for sure -- late in a game Winston has been a QB worth having and he has proven that time and time again.
The same can be said for Mariota. Though the Ducks haven’t had as many tight games as the Seminoles -- and they do have a loss, which FSU doesn’t -- Mariota has shown the guts needed in crucial situations to make something out of nothing.
And the numbers back that up. Of active FBS quarterbacks (with at least 15 starts under their belts), Mariota and Winston have the highest career winning percentages -- Winston is 26-0; Mariota is 35-4.
But what is it about these two guys that makes them such winners?
We analyze …
MARIOTA’S STRENGTH: He’s clean.
Mariota’s biggest strength is his accuracy. He has attempted 372 passes this season and only two of those have ended up in the hands of opponents. His 0.5 percent interception rate is the lowest among qualified FBS quarterbacks and his TD-interception ratio of 19-1 is more than double that of the nation’s second best (Cody Kessler, 9-1) and 13 times better than Winston (1.41-1).
Mariota is highly accurate when opponents send four or fewer pass-rushers. He has gone more than 300 pass attempts against this kind of pressure without throwing a pick, and guess what … Florida State sends four or fewer pass-rushers on 67 percent of its opponents’ dropbacks.
Additionally, 27 of Mariota’s 38 passing touchdowns this season have come when opponents send four or fewer pass-rushers.
WINSTON’S STRENGTH: He’s clutch.
Yes, his statistics aren’t as impressive as they were last year. But, as Oregon coach Mark Helfrich pointed out on Tuesday, that can’t always be a very accurate portrayal of how effective any given quarterback is during a game.
“We don’t have the luxury of knowing, ‘OK, Clemson played them this way last year and this way the year before and now it’s that much different or leading up to that game how they defended people,'” Helfrich said of Winston.
Winston’s total QBR has dropped from 89.4 last season to 67.1 this season and his touchdown-to-interception total has plummeted (40-10 in 2013, 24-17 so far in 2014), but he is clutch. And not just in late-game scenarios.
Of all quarterbacks who have started at least one year, Winston leads the nation in third-down QBR (91.6) and has converted 51 percent of his third-down pass plays, which is 15 percent higher than the national average.
In a strange way, considering these two teams have never faced off, this sort of feels like a rivalry game in the fact that tendencies and statistics will probably be thrown out the window as we see some really incredible football unfold.
But would anything less be expected when a field plays host to two Heisman winners? After all, this has only happened three times before. And all three times proved to be very exciting games.
Most recently, it was Tim Tebow’s No. 2 Florida Gators facing off against Sam Bradford’s top-ranked Oklahoma Sooners in January 2009. Tebow had won the Heisman the year before, but the Gators took this game 24-14 and went on to win the national title.
Four seasons earlier, it was 2004 Heisman trophy winner Matt Leinart and his top-ranked USC Trojans who took down the 2003 winner -- Oklahoma quarterback Jason White -- in the Orange Bowl with the national title on the line. Leinart led the Trojans with five touchdown passes as they cruised to a season-high 55 points.
And the only other time it happened was during the 1949 championship season when 1949 Heisman winner Leon Hart and Notre Dame took on Doak Walker and SMU (though to be fair, Walker didn’t play that game as he was sidelined due to an injury).
In each of these instances, whichever quarterback won the Heisman versus Heisman matchup also went on to win the national title. That could certainly be the case when Florida State and Oregon face off on Jan. 1.
If past be present, both of these quarterbacks are going to bring their best play and the qualities that won each of them the Heisman are going to be on full display. For everyone watching in Pasadena, California, or at home, that means this is going to be a really, really fun matchup. Not only between Florida State and Oregon, but also between Winston and Mariota.
A few more All-America teams were announced Tuesday, and the usual Pac-12 suspects continue to rake in the honors. Here's the latest breakdown.
First up is the Associated Press All-America team.
- First-team offense: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon, Shaq Thompson, AP, Washington.
- First-team defense: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington, Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona, Hau’oli Kikaha, LB, Washington, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon, Tom Hackett, P, Utah.
- Second-team offense: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford, Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon
- Second-team defense: Nate Orchard, DE, Utah, Leonard Williams, DT, USC, Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA
- Third-team offense: Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon, Nelson Agholor, WR, USC.
- Third-team defense: Su’a Cravens, S, USC.
Next up is the Sports Illustrated All-America team.
- First-team offense: Mariota, Grasu, Peat.
- First-team defense: Orchard, Wright III, Thompson, Kendricks, Ekpre-Olomu.
- Second team offense: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State.
- Second team defense: Williams, Kikaha
- Second team special teams: Hackett
Here's the Fox Sports All-America team.
- First-team offense: Mariota
- First-team defense: Williams, Wright III, Kikaha, Ekpre-Olomu,
- First-team special teams: Hackett, Kaelin Clay, KR, Utah
- Second-team offense: Agholor
- Second-team defense: Orchard, Shelton, Thompson, Kendricks
Also, USA Today put together its Freshman All-America team. Included on that list from the Pac-12 are:
- Offense: Toa Lobendahn, OL, USC, Jacob Alsadek, OL, Arizona
- Defense: Lowell Lotulelei, DL, Utah, Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC, Budda Baker, S, Washington.
Finally, Bruce Feldman of Fox breaks down the most impressive freshmen. Jackson and Baker are on his list.
- The '89 Fiesta Bowl is not a fun topic for Arizona assistants.
- ASU's playmakers need time with their NFL decision.
- Some more Cal recruiting updates.
- The Buffs picked up a JC defensive back commitment.
- Oregon is easing into Florida State prep.
- Gary Andersen hit the airwaves yesterday.
- Austin Hooper trying to re-establish the tight end at Stanford.
- Some video highlights of a UCLA TE commit.
- USC officially turns its attention to Nebraska.
- Utah's role is reversed now that it's a P0wer 5 program.
- The Huskies landed their fourth commit in the past three days.
- Tis the season for prep highlight clips. Here's a WSU commit.
In case you missed it (and it would have been pretty hard to miss it if you follow Pac-12 football), here's the full presentation of Marcus Mariota reading the Top 10 on the "Late Show with David Letterman."
Aguayo is the first kicker to be a two-time All-American since Ohio State's Mike Nugent, though Nugent did not make the first team in consecutive seasons like the Seminoles' star.
The second-seeded Ducks will play third-seeded Florida State on Jan. 1 at the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual.
The Marcus Mariota vs. Jameis Winston storyline is a delicious headline/ratings grabber, isn't it? A couple of Heisman winners -- both quarterbacks -- meeting in the Granddaddy, which also happens to be the first-ever national semifinal.
Without question, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner from Florida State and the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner from Oregon will take center stage on New Year's Day in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual. The winner advances to the national championship game to face the winner of Alabama-Ohio State.
And who can't wait for those plays when Mariota will come bursting off the edge on a backside blitz, looking to bury his facemask into Winston's jersey? Or seeing Winston roaming at safety, waiting to pluck a wayward Mariota pass out of the air. Spoiler alert: These things won't happen.
The QB vs. QB storyline, as fun as it is to entertain, simply doesn't play out on the field. Unless, however, you're talking about one quarterback capitalizing off of the other's mistakes. Then, we've got a story.
Turns out that when it comes to making teams pay for their mistakes, Oregon is pretty darn efficient. The Ducks led the Pac-12 in turnover margin, grabbing 14 fumbles and 11 interceptions. Having turned the ball over just eight times (six fumbles, two interceptions) they have a robust plus-17 margin. That's third best in the country behind only Michigan State (plus-20) and TCU (plus-18).
And what do they do with those turnovers? The answer is 120 points. Nearly 20 percent of Oregon's 602 points this season have come after a turnover. When teams turned it over against the Ducks, Oregon taxed them on the scoreboard 72 percent of the time (18 of 25).
This is noteworthy since Florida State has a penchant for turnovers. The Seminoles have given it up 27 times. Oregon, conversely, leads the country with just eight turnovers. Winston has thrown 17 interceptions. Mariota has tossed just two.
Oregon's 120 points off of turnovers ranks sixth nationally, and their points margin of 107 (120 points scored, 13 allowed after a turnover) is second best in the country behind TCU. Again, in this category, Florida State isn't so good. The Seminoles are actually in the negative in points margin at minus-10. They've scored 83 points off of turnovers, but allowed 93. That ranks in the bottom 20 of all Power 5 schools.
This is how we can make the Mariota vs. Winston storyline work. If Winston turns the ball over, there is a good chance Oregon is going to make him pay for that mistake. If Mariota turns the ball over, more than likely, the Oregon defense can course-correct.
Oregon has forced at least one turnover in 12 of 13 games this year (bonus points if you guessed Colorado was the one team that didn't turn the ball over against the Ducks). And in 10 of those 12 games, the Ducks have produced at least seven points off of turnovers. They have multiple scores after turnovers in seven games.
Not surprisingly, in the their lone loss of the season, the Ducks failed to score following a pair of Arizona turnovers back in October. In the rematch, they were 2-for-2 with 10 points off of turnovers. Michigan State, UCLA, Stanford etc. were all victims of Oregon's opportunistic defense and efficient offense.
Granted, Florida State still has the ultimate “scoreboard” argument. The Seminoles haven't lost a game since Gangnam Style was still a thing. They've flirted with defeat plenty of times, but each time they have endured.
No, we won't get to see Mariota and Winston line up on opposite sides of the ball. But how one plays on New Year's Day could dramatically impact what happens to the other. The turnover battle -- and what the other quarterback does with those turnovers -- could end up being the real Mariota vs. Winston storyline.
It was a busy weekend in the Pac-12, with commitments, offers, visits and awards touching nearly every team in the conference, including Stanford, USC and Washington reeling in big commitments and UCLA hosting impact prospects. Here is a look at some of the more impactful events of the past few days, as well as a glimpse of what this week could hold in the Pac-12.
A 53-touchdown, two-interception season sure has the ability to draw out the paparazzi and make a college quarterback quite busy in its immediate aftermath.
Mariota read the Late Show's 'Top-10' list to a national television audience. Writers thematically prepared the segment with his busy week in mind, framing the list as the "top-10 thoughts that went through Marcus Mariota's mind when he won the Heisman Trophy."
Marcus Mariota has arrived at the Letterman Show. https://t.co/irZKHm6JKs— Andrew Greif (@AndrewGreif) Dec.15, 2014
"Don't spike the trophy" made made Mariota's list, as did "I'd like to play in the NFL -- does New York have any professional teams?"
That second thought drew some uneasy laughter from the New York-based crowd, but it was all in good fun. Letterman, the longest-tenured late night talk show host in television history (31 years), wished Mariota luck in the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl against Florida State before sending him on his way.
Mariota now returns to Eugene having successfully navigated a media firestorm following his win of the Heisman on Saturday, which only further beefed up an already overflowing trophy case. The Oregon quarterback had racked up the Maxwell, Davey O'Brien, Walter Camp, and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm awards before that. At this point, some may be wondering if all that hardware was able to fit in the small private jet that whisked Mariota back to Eugene.
No worries on that front: Oregon seems well-equipped to transport all the goods in the event of an overflow.
Miss you in the saddest fashion.
Bye bye Li'l Sebastian;
You’re 5,000 candles in the wind.
Where they heck have you all been on the weekends? We've been at games. What's your excuse?
According to a report by Jon Solomon of CBS Sports, attendance has been down in college football across the country. And the Pac-12 is no exception, experiencing a 2-percent drop across the board. Solomon breaks it down by conference. Here's what he had to say about the Pac-12.
Crowds dropped 2 percent to 52,758 and they are down 10 percent since peaking in 2007. Pac-12 attendance leader UCLA ranked 19th nationally. Only four of 12 conference schools had an increase: UCLA, Arizona, Utah and Washington State. A couple of schools' decreases were very minor.
Solomon has attendance numbers for all FBS schools on a chart. It's worth a look to see who is trending up and down.
Future looks bright
At ESPN, we love lists. And we know you love them too. That makes the end of the year like, well, like Christmas. Here's another list for you -- the ESPN.com True Freshman All-America team.
A trio of frosh from the Pac-12 are on the team -- including Oregon running back Royce Freeman:
Freeman started the season by beating out both junior Byron Marshall and sophomore Thomas Tyner for the starting running back spot at Oregon. He finished the regular season by leading the Pac-12 in rushing touchdowns (16) and racking up 1,299 rushing yards, becoming the first Oregon freshman to have a 1,000-yard-rushing season.
Also on the list were USC offensive lineman Toa Lobendahn and USC's Adoree' Jackson.
- Taking a year off worked out pretty well for Rich Rodriguez.
- Former Sun Devil Marion Grice closing in on his degree. In case you've forgotten his backstory, here's a story from 2013.
- Daniel Lasco is your team MVP, along with some other California team awards.
- The costs are rising for Colorado's facility upgrade.
- Marcus Mariota's teammates are sharing in the Heisman joy.
- Gary Andersen will retain Oregon State receivers coach Brent Brennan.
- An early look at Stanford-Maryland.
- Some more on Eric Kendricks and the Lott Award.
- Some USC practice and injury notes.
- Las Vegas is familiar territory for some Utes.
- Some Washington news and notes.
- What grade would you give the Mike Leach era?
Good one, Kyle.
#Pac12refs have been entrusted with Alabama vs. Ohio State. What could go wrong?— Kyle Bonagura (@BonaguraESPN) December 15, 2014
We continue with the matchup between the Florida State offense and Oregon's defense.
1. Can Oregon be the first team to stop freshman running back Dalvin Cook?
Jennings: As long as the Oregon defense continues its upward trajectory, then yes. In the Pac-12 championship game, the Ducks held Arizona to 111 rushing yards, more than 75 yards fewer than the Wildcats’ season average at that point. Arizona running back Nick Wilson, who had averaged 6.2 yards per rush coming in to that game, averaged 2 yards per rush against the Ducks. Now, the Oregon run defense hasn’t been stout all season, but it has looked good lately. I think Don Pellum is going to be able to keep the Ducks going strong there.
2. Can Oregon's pass rush expose the Florida State offensive line?
Jennings: This will be another interesting matchup because both Oregon’s pass rush and Florida State’s O-line have been spotty at times this season. However, in the last four games of the season, the Ducks held opposing quarterbacks to an average adjusted QBR of 34.9 and held quarterbacks to just a 35.3 percent completion rate on third-down passing attempts. Though the Ducks have only sacked opposing quarterbacks on 6.1 percent of passing plays (No. 61 nationally), they have allowed just 5.5 yards per pass attempt (17th nationally).
Shanker: The Seminoles’ offensive line was exposed often through the early portion of the season, but the unit jelled late in the season with the insertion of freshman Roderick Johnson at left tackle. Four of the five starters have posted season-high grades along the offensive line since Johnson took over for Cam Erving, who was moved to center. In August and September, the unit ranked 95th in sacks per game; in November it ranked 16th. However, Oregon could make Jameis Winston uncomfortable by coming off the edges. As good as Johnson has been, he is still a true freshman, and right tackle Bobby Hart has struggled at times. A couple of exotic blitzes off the edge could confuse the FSU offensive line and leave Winston vulnerable.
3. How will Jameis Winston fare if the Ducks take away wide receiver Rashad Greene?
Shanker: It’s no secret Winston has an affinity for throwing the ball to Greene, one of the country’s best receivers. It’s also no secret the rest of the young group of receivers has been largely inconsistent. The Ducks might let Ifo Ekpre-Olomu cover Greene one-on-one, which puts pressure on Jesus Wilson and Travis Rudolph. While both have played well at points, they’ve also disappeared at times. At times, opponents have been able to effectively take away tight end and Mackey Award winner Nick O’Leary, who was held without a catch in two games this season. What shouldn’t be forgotten is teams have tried to take away Greene all season and the senior still finished seventh nationally in yards and eighth in receptions.
Jennings: One of the areas in which the Oregon defense has been the most inconsistent is in giving up big plays, specifically big pass plays. Oregon has given up 56 plays of 20 or more yards, and 40 of those were pass plays. Chances are with how good the chemistry is between Winston and Greene, they’ll be able to pull of one or two big plays, but the Seminoles will need to make sure they cash in on those. During the past month the Ducks have improved greatly there as well, only giving up nine pass plays of 20 or more yards.
Today, we start with three questions on how the Oregon offense and Florida State defense match up.
Jennings: Probably not. He's a freak and he's playing his best football right now. FSU isn't just going to start pass rushing like crazy. If they did, they probably wouldn't be able to do it consistently and Mariota is at his best in broken plays. How the Seminoles can best "get to" Mariota would be by making him do too much. If they can take away his weapons -- which, it's fair to say, no one really has this season -- then they can limit him a bit. If running back Royce Freeman can't rush the ball and it's all on Mariota, he might not be able to do as much. Or, if the secondary can take away his options down field, that obviously limits him as a playmaker. Again, these are all big "ifs" and "maybes" and I'd bet donuts to dollars that we're going to see the best version of Mariota we've seen so far this season when he hits the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.
Shanker: Over Mariota's three-year career as starter, few teams have successfully contained him, and it rarely happened in 2014 en route to winning the Heisman Trophy. He's as dynamic running as he is throwing, and he made a handful of NFL throws in the Pac-12 title game. That's the bind he puts every team in -- do you challenge him throwing or rushing? Mariota won't completely overwhelm Florida State's defense, though. Defensive backs Ronald Darby, Jalen Ramsey and P.J. Williams are all first-day NFL talents in the traditional sense, and up front Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman are among the country's most athletic 300-pound linemen. The linebacking corps is suspect, but there are more than enough pieces to contain Mariota. That doesn't mean Florida State will, and smart money is on Mariota to make a fair number of plays.
2. Will the Freeman show continue?
Shanker: Much like Dalvin Cook, Freeman is playing his best football, too, with three straight 100-yard games and an eight-game streak of at least 98 yards rushing. Considering how poor the FSU defense tends to play in the first half, Freeman could have 100 yards by halftime. The question will be whether the success continues in the second half. Seminoles defensive coordinator Charles Kelly has been terrific at making second-half adjustments. Freeman should run wild on Florida State early -- most teams do -- but without a strong second half it might not matter.
Jennings: I'm with Jared here. FSU hasn't exactly put a full four quarters together defensively. But, a big part of the Freeman show isn't just Freeman. Opponents can take him away but then they still have to deal with sophomore Thomas Tyner and junior Byron Marshall who's much more of a dual threat WR-RB for the Ducks. Can FSU stop Freeman? Then Tyner? Then Marshall? (And remember, Mariota is averaging 51 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown per game.)
3. Is the Mario Edwards versus Jake Fisher one of the best matchups within the matchup to watch?
Jennings: It'll be one of them. However, with how many injuries and shifts the offensive line has gone through it'll be a minor miracle if Fisher is actually still playing left tackle a month from now (only slightly joking). Edwards has registered three sacks and two quarterback hurries this season, but that doesn't fully explain how much of a force he has been on the O-line for the Seminoles. This matchup will be fun to watch and a huge test for both players.
Shanker: All one has to do is put on the tape of last year's national championship to see the impact Edwards can make. He has battled inconsistency in his career, but the former No. 1 recruit is athletically gifted. He wreaked havoc in Auburn's backfield last January. Edwards will be tasked with more than just getting to the quarterback, too. With Oregon spreading the field, his role includes setting the edge, freeing up linebackers and making tackles in space when called upon. Fisher will have his hands full.
4. How much of an impact will FSU's all-everything Jalen Ramsey play in the game?
Shanker: If Florida State wins, Ramsey will probably have a major impact. Ramsey was one of the best freshmen in 2013, but he moved to nickelback -- or the "star" position in FSU's scheme -- before 2014. It took Ramsey a few games to adjust, but the sophomore is filling up the stat sheet now. Mariota needs to account for and find Ramsey before every snap, because he impacts the game in so many ways. He has possibly emerged as FSU's best defensive player, but Mark Helfrich and Scott Frost are skilled offensive coaches. The playcalling could limit Ramsey's effect on the game, but the 6-foot-1, 204-pound sophomore's athleticism could still have him in the right spot at the right time anyway.
Jennings: This might be a game in which he won't show up in the stats sheet as much but he'll still play a huge role based on whom he takes away as an option down field for Mariota. The Ducks have several wide receivers who've really made some major strides late in the season -- Darren Carrington, Charles Nelson, Dwayne Stanford -- but if Ramsey takes Devon Allen or Keanon Lowe, then Mariota will be relying more on these younger players, which could be good or bad for the Ducks.
There are many moments that define a season, but this is the first year plays defined a playoff.
It wasn't just Baylor's nonconference schedule that doomed the Bears' playoff hopes; it was the loss at West Virginia that knocked them out of the top four. It wasn't only the performance by Ohio State third-string quarterback Cardale Jones in the Big Ten title game that punched the ticket for the Buckeyes; it was the win against Michigan State that put them in position to get there.
Here's a look at how the top four spots were won -- or lost -- in a historic season for the sport.
The opponents: Arkansas and Mississippi State.
The moments: The first came in the fourth quarter at unranked Arkansas, when Landon Collins intercepted Brandon Allen on third-and-10 to seal the 14-13 win. The second moment wasn't a single play -- it was a 15-play drive in the fourth quarter against then-No. 1 Mississippi State. Alabama was clinging to a 19-13 lead when that 76-yard touchdown drive ate 6:07 off the clock and added a 25-13 cushion with T.J. Yeldon's 7-yard touchdown run. Blake Sims converted all three third downs himself (one pass, two rushes). It was Alabama's first win over a No. 1-ranked team in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The outcome: The win at Arkansas was critical not only for the SEC West standings, but from an emotional standpoint, as well. The Tide had to rebound from the previous week's loss at Ole Miss. The upset of Mississippi State put Alabama in the selection committee's rankings for the first time -- a spot the Tide would never relinquish.
Though he still has a year of college eligibility remaining, Mariota will almost certainly declare for the 2015 NFL draft, so the Pac-12 will have to look elsewhere to repeat the Heisman feat. Here are some early 2015 candidates. Key word here is "early," as we have yet to finish 2014 and some of the players below are still deciding if they will be back next year. Keep that in mind as we quickly imagine the potential future.
Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona
Aside from Mariota, the only Pac-12 player to finish in the top 10 of Heisman balloting was this dominant desert stud. Wright earned four second-place votes and 13 third-place votes, and it would be tough to argue with either of those evaluations based on his absurd 2014 production. Wright's numbers in tackles, sacks, tackles for loss and forced fumbles were all either at or near the top of the nation; he was the only player who averaged over two TFL per game, and that race wasn't remotely close. It's clear that Arizona has an absolute machine working the middle of its defense. Yes, the Heisman Trophy has a clear bias toward the offensive side of the football, but Wright was awesome enough to earn 17 votes at linebacker -- as a sophomore.
Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon
This 230-pound bruiser did his best to give new meaning to the term "true freshman" in 2014. Aside from displaying remarkable vision, Freeman physically pounded opposing defenses like a battle-hardened senior. He supplied Oregon's rushing attack with an irreplaceable dose of physicality. The first-year statistical returns are as eye-popping as they were pad-popping: 1,299 yards, 5.6 yards per carry, 16 touchdowns. With Mariota almost certainly moving on, the Ducks' offense may center more on this young tank in 2015, and that focus could thrust Freeman into Heisman contention.
Cody Kessler, QB, USC
Kessler was the only quarterback in the nation to attempt over 400 passes and throw fewer than five interceptions in 2014. In the not-so-distant past, those kinds of numbers would automatically thrust a USC quarterback into the midst of the Heisman Trophy discussion. Kessler, however, flew under the radar throughout the entire campaign. If he decides to return to USC for his senior season, expect him to generate a big amount of preseason hype. Related note: Running back Javorius Allen and wide receiver Nelson Agholor also have eligibility remaining. If those two are back in Troy next year, include them as possible big-time award candidates too.
Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA
Statistically, 2014 was an excellent campaign for this Bruin, who is a redshirt sophomore. He led the Pac-12 in rushing, racking up 1,378 yards on a league-best 6.0 yards per carry. Perkins will have to score more touchdowns to generate more Heisman hype. He found pay dirt only nine times this season, but 2015 will likely present an opportunity to enter the end zone more often, as touchdown machine Brett Hundley has indicated that he will likely be moving on to the NFL. That means that Perkins may become the centerpiece of UCLA's offense. More touches, more glory.
Jared Goff, QB, California
Goff's statistical output was impressive in 2014 (3,973 yards, 35 touchdowns, 7 interceptions), but any hype surrounding him was quickly extinguished by memories of the Bears' nightmarish 2013 campaign (1-11). Cal improved to 5-7 this season, but it still failed to earn a postseason berth. Given the upward trajectory of Sonny Dykes' program, that likely won't be the case in 2015. There's a strong chance that Goff will be the quarterback of a winning team. If he continues to post gaudy numbers under that scenario (also likely), this talented gunslinger will arrive on the radar for major postseason awards. Don't sleep on him.
D.J. Foster, RB/WR, Arizona State
If wide receiver Jaelen Strong returns to ASU for his final year of eligibility, keep an eye out for him. But that seems unlikely, so the top Sun Devil to watch will probably be the versatile Foster, who was the only Pac-12 player to finish with more than 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in 2014. Foster's 59 catches were second to only Strong in Tempe, and his explosiveness makes him a prime sizzle candidate if he decides to stay in school for one more season. Side note: Don't forget freshman running back Demario Richard, who averaged 5.7 yards per carry as a 17-year-old this season.
Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona
If you enjoy watching impressive freshman running backs, Wilson is a good player to follow. He delivered an awfully dynamic inaugural campaign in Rich Rodriguez's system, delivering 5.9 yards per carry and more than 100 ground yards per game. Wilson's 15 rushing touchdowns were second among Pac-12 running backs, so second-year improvement would absolutely make him a contender for some major hardware in 2014.
Players Provide Playoff Picks
11:00 AM ET Nevada Louisiana-Lafayette 2:20 PM ET Utah State UTEP 3:30 PM ET 22 Utah Colorado State 5:45 PM ET Western Michigan Air Force 9:15 PM ET South Alabama Bowling Green
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State