- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Pac-12 is welcoming back a strong crew of quarterbacks, but life might not be terribly fun in the pocket for even the best of them. Perhaps the strongest returning group in the conference in 2013 will be defenders who specialize in knocking quarterbacks on their rear ends.
Nine of the top-10 sack men in 2012 will be back this fall. And 14 of the top-20. And just two teams -- Utah and Washington State -- don't welcome back at least one of their top pass rushers.
Five of six pass rushers who recorded at least 10 sacks will be back.
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State: 13 sacks/1.08 per game
Morgan Breslin, DE/OLB, USC: 13/1.0
Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA: 13.5/0.96
Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona State: 11.5/0.88
Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford: 10/0.7
So who might join the double-digit sack club this fall? Here are some thoughts.
Arizona: Linebacker Marquis Flowers led the Wildcats with 5.5 sacks in 2012, but rushing the passer was one of the biggest issues with last year's overmatched defense, which was 108th in the nation with just 16 sacks. Maybe a young player, such as redshirt freshman Kyle Kelley, will rise in the fall?
California: The Bears spread out their 28 sacks last year, with OLB Chris McCain and DT Kendrick Payne leading the way with 3.5 apiece. McCain is back, Payne is not, and the Bears are converting from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Guys who should be first to the QB include McCain, Todd Barr and Brennan Scarlett.
Colorado: End Chidera Uzo-Diribe led Colorado with seven sacks last year -- no other Buff had more than three -- and it's a good bet he will again this fall. He has 12.5 sacks over the past two seasons.
Oregon: Underrated end Taylor Hart recorded eight sacks last year to lead the Ducks, but Oregon wasn't as good rushing the passer last year as it has been in the past. That might have been by design though, seeing the Ducks were 15th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Hart is back, but it will be interesting to see if one of the young D-linemen, such as Arik Armstead or DeForest Buckner, steps up as a pass rusher this fall.
Oregon State: First-team All-Pac-12 end Scott Crichton, who led the Beavers and tied for eighth in the conference with nine sacks, fell just short of the list at the top. It seems almost certain he will lead the Beavers in sacks for a third consecutive season.
Utah: Joe Kruger led the Utes with six sacks last year and Star Lotulelei was second with five. A good bet to lead the pass rush this fall is hybrid LB/DE Trevor Reilly, who had 4.5 sacks last year.
Washington: Both the Huskies top two sack men are back: Josh Shirley and Andrew Hudson, who both had 6.5 sacks in 2012. Shirley, who seemed to have a lot of near-misses, is talented enough to get to double-digits this fall.
Washington State: Travis Long had been the Cougars best defensive player for four consecutive years, so he leaves behind a significant void. How will the Cougs replace his 9.5 sacks? No other defender had more than three sacks last fall. Logan Mayes, likely to replace Long at "Buck" LB, is the most obvious candidate.