- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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The recent selections of Will Sutton, Shayne Skov, Anthony Barr and Devon Kennard in our "Most Important Player" series has given rise to a very interesting question posed to me in the mailbag. As always, mailbags come out Friday afternoons, but Jerry in San Jose offered this: Kevin, we know Stanford has the best front seven in the league. Which team has the next best?
I won't be answering this question in tomorrow's mailbag for a very simple reason. I don't know. Nor do I immediately agree with his initial premise that Stanford has the best front seven. It might. But so might ASU, or UCLA and I think USC has to be in this conversation, especially if the transition to the 3-4 works the way many think it will.
Stopping the run is the primary role of the front seven, and Stanford certainly was the best in the league at that last year. So is making plays in the backfield, sacks, TFLs etc. Three of the top four and four of the top eight teams nationally in sacks last year hailed from the Pac-12. While it's true this is the conference of quarterbacks, it's also quickly turning into the conference of planting quarterbacks on their keisters.
Instead of hitting this in the mailbag and opining for 700 words only to come with "I don't know" as the answer, it seemed like a dandy of a poll question.
Which Pac-12 team has the best front seven heading into the 2013 season?
Arizona State: The Sun Devils were the best team in the country last year at getting tackles for a loss and they were No. 2 nationally in sacks. But they came up short stopping the run, allowing 182.8 yards per game on the ground. Still, with headliners Will Sutton and Carl Bradford flanked by an outstanding supporting cast, they should again be at the top of the rankings in backfield-havoc created.
Stanford: With three All-American candidates in Skov, Trent Murphy and Ben Gardner, it's awfully easy to make an argument here for the Cardinal. They were No. 1 in the nation in sacks, second in tackles for a loss and fifth nationally against the run. Impressive, considering some of the offenses and running backs they faced. It's a deep and experienced group that has scary potential.
UCLA: They return the league's leading tackler in linebacker Eric Kendricks and the dangerous Anthony Barr, who is projected as a top-10 pick in next year's NFL draft. I'm also of the belief that Cassius Marsh is going to have a monster season this year. But the loss of Owamagbe Odighizuwa for the year hurts.
USC: Any scheme that is going to make Morgan Breslin a better pass-rusher is frightening. Add on a healthy Devon Kennard and the league's freshman defensive player of the year in Leonard Williams, and you have a front seven that matches the talent of any in the league.
Other: Cal has a solid front led by standout defensive end in Deandre Coleman. Nick Forbes is a tested linebacker and a lot of folks are excited to see what a healthy Khairi Fortt can do. Oregon State has to rebuild its tackles, but the ends duo of Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn rival any in the conference and they are strong at LB with Michael Doctor and D.J. Alexander.
1dChantel Jennings and Kevin Gemmell