Who are the Pac-10's big-play guys?

August, 19, 2010
8/19/10
7:00
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Sure, speed kills, but this list of the Pac-10's big-play standouts isn't only about 40 times. It's about who you are often going to see hoisting the ball in the end zone while the crowd goes, "Wow!"

Some of these are proven veterans. And some are new guys we just have a feeling about.

Arizona: WR Juron Criner

Criner led the Wildcats receivers with 12.9 yards per catch and nine TDs, which tied for first in the conference. He's got good size -- 6-foot-4 -- so he can go and get a jump ball and he's athletic enough that he ran a handful of fly sweeps in 2009.

Arizona State: RB Deantre Lewis

Lewis is a true freshman, but you keep reading things like this about him in news reports: "Deantre Lewis continues to make defenders miss in a way that not many of his teammates can." The Sun Devils seem to have a better-than-you'd-think collection of skill players, but Lewis sounds like a guy that can make things happen on his own.

[+] EnlargeJames Rodgers
AP Photo/Ben MargotOregon State's James Rodgers led the Pac-10 in all-purpose yardage last year with 171.1 ypg.
California: RB Shane Vereen

He's accumulated 19 TDs over the previous two seasons as a backup. He can run with speed (see an 81-yard TD vs. Michigan State in 2008 and 61-yard TD vs. Arizona in 2009) or power (see 42 carries for 193 yards in the win over Stanford last year). Vereen is as good an all-around player -- running, receiving, return game -- as you'll find outside of Corvallis.

Oregon: RBs LaMichael James & Kenjon Barner

These two might form the nation's fastest backfield tandem. James led the nation last year with 21 carries over 20 yards, including four over 50. Barner had 420 all-purpose yards over his final two games and set a single-season school record with 1,020 yards in kickoff returns.

Oregon State: WR James Rodgers

Rodgers ranked seventh in the nation and No. 1 in the Pac-10 in all-purpose yards with 179.1 yards per game. He led the Pac-10 with 1,034 yards receiving and 91 receptions with nine touchdowns. He also rushed for 346 yards and ranked third in the conference with an average of 11.6 yards per punt return.

Stanford: WR Chris Owusu

The speedy Owusu ranked fifth in the nation with a 31.5-yard average on kickoff returns, including three taken to the house for TDs. He led the Stanford with 18.4 yards per catch, the highest average among Pac-10 receivers with 10 or more receptions.

UCLA: WR Josh Smith

If Smith can stay healthy -- a big "if" so far since he transferred from Colorado -- he is going to be a playmaker on special teams returning punts and as a receiver. He returned a punt for a 60-yard TD Wednesday, inspiring a fan to shout "don't get hurt," according to the Orange County Register.

USC: WR Ronald Johnson

Johnson's 2009 season was mostly ruined after he broke his collarbone, but his 12 career touchdown receptions average 26.3 yards. He's probably the most dangerous deep-threat receiver in the Pac-10

Washington: WR Jermaine Kearse

Among the Pac-10's top-10 receivers in 2009, Kearse's 17.3 yards per reception ranked No. 1. His eight TDs tied for second. He figures to be Jake Locker's No. 1 target this fall.

Washington State: Marquess Wilson

Wilson is a true freshman who has made numerous plays in preseason camp. He's not a burner -- Jeffrey Solomon is probably the Cougs fastest receiver -- but his 6-foot-3 frame allows him to go up and get the ball over smaller defensive backs.

Ted Miller | email

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