We're starting a new series: Under the radar.
The idea is to pick out a player who is not a big name but who may be underrated. Or, at least, a guy who will need to step up and play a critical role in 2012.
We're going in reverse alphabetical order on this one.
Washington State: CB Damante Horton
2011 production: Horton, a true junior, led the Cougars -- and was tied for the Pac-12 lead -- with four interceptions and tied for the team lead with seven pass defenses. He also forced two fumbles and recorded 31 tackles.
Making the case for Horton: The Pac-12 blog is aware that some Coug fans are not huge fans of Horton. Some, in fact, have created a name -- a "Damante Horton" -- to describe an easy interception. Well, I know of no coach who makes the distinction between a "hard" or "easy" interception. Shoot, if QBs want to make things easy on Horton for some mystical reason, well, then that's even better. Lucky and mystically beguiling are good things to have going for a defender. Oh, and I'm sure that the two fumbles that Horton forced were luck, too. That Horton was involved in six of the Cougars 17 total takeaways in 2011 clearly is a case of right-place, right-time and has nothing to do with Horton's instincts or efforts. That fumble Horton forced in the final series of the win over Colorado? Right place, right time. First career interception against UCLA, which earned team "Big Play" honors? Right place, right time. That interception against Stanford? If only the Cardinal had a good quarterback! A 76-yard interception return for a TD against Oregon? Yeah, well, can the guy do anything against good teams? Are we extending our sarcasm a bit long? Yes. Was Horton perfect last year? Not by a long shot. But a guy who seems to find himself in the right place at the right time so many times might just also be the right player in the right place. The Cougars welcome back all four starters and all four backups from their 2011 secondary; that's the good news. It's one that ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense; that's the bad news. (A better pass rush certainly might have helped, by the way). Opinions may vary on where Horton ranks among them, even if he was the only one to receive honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. But what is indisputable is the Cougs would benefit greatly if he duplicated his 2011 playmaking, while perhaps cleaning up a few mistakes we'll chalk up to youthfulness.