The Pac-12 will be loaded with outstanding passers in 2011, but those guys are less effective when they don't have any time to throw.
Four of the top-five sackmen are returning in 2011, and three of them were sophomores or younger last fall. So there should be some pretty good pressure this fall.
Here's the list:
1. Mychal Kendricks, Sr., LB, California (8.5 sacks): Kendricks ranked second in the conference in sacks last fall, but he may get fewer in 2011 because he's moving from outside to inside linebacker in the Bears' 3-4 scheme.
2. Shayne Skov, Jr., LB, Stanford (7.5): Of course, maybe playing inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme doesn't kill sack numbers -- see Skov, who piled up this total in just 11 games. Skov and Kendricks are in the mix for first-team All-Pac-12 as well as All-American honors.
3. Chase Thomas, Jr., OLB, Stanford (7.5): Thomas is an underrated player who figures to get more attention this year. He and Skov are big reasons the Cardinal led the conference with 36 sacks in 2010.
4. Josh Hartigan, Sr., DE, Colorado (7.0): As a former inside linebacker, he's undersized -- 6-foot-1, 215 pounds -- but he's an agile pass-rush specialist. Of his 24 tackles in 2010, seven were sacks. Note: Colorado would have had a second player on this list -- junior Forrest West, who had 5.5 sacks last year -- but he left the team.
5. Junior Onyeali, So, DE, Arizona State (6.5): At 5-11, 233, he's not the most intimidating presence on the edge, but if the QB ends up on his rear end, it doesn't matter how tall you are. The conference's defensive freshman of the year looks to build on a huge debut season.
6. Justin Washington, So., DT, Arizona (6.0): Likely the player who finished second to Onyeali in the defensive freshman of the year voting. Washington started fast and then got banged-up. When healthy, he looked like a budding star inside.
7. Travis Long, Jr., DE, Washington State (5.0): The Cougars finished tied for last in the conference in sacks with just 23 (tied with, surprisingly, Arizona State). Long's numbers will go up if the other members of the Cougs' front four garner more respect in 2011.
Onyeali, Washington and Long each sat out spring with injuries but are expected to be good-to-go this fall.
Whom to watch for in 2011: Arizona DE C.J. Parish, ASU DE James Brooks, Cal DE Trevor Guyton, Oregon DE Dion Jordan, Oregon State DE Taylor Henry, UCLA DE Datone Jones, USC DE Nick Perry, Utah DE Joe Kruger, Washington DE/OLB Josh Shirley and Washington State DE Ian Knight.