In a league loaded with depth, sometimes really good players get overlooked when postseason awards are handed down. Today your Pac-12 bloggers are looking at which players we believe were the most underrated in the Pac-12.
Ted Miller: While I'm already on record as saying Oregon cornerback Terrance Mitchell is the Pac-12's most underrated player, I'm going to go in another direction here. Why? Well, I want to list statistics, and Mitchell's value most reveals itself in his not having many numbers because opposing offenses don't throw his way very often.
My pick for most underrated is UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks, who was a tackling machine this year.
Tackling machine? Well, he led the Pac-12 with 137 tackles. He averaged 10.5 tackles per game, which is a full tackle ahead of Arizona State's Brandon Magee in the No. 2 spot, ranked 12th in the nation. Moreover, he did a lot of things well for a defense that was significantly better than it was in 2011, giving up 5.5 fewer points and 36 fewer yards rushing per game.
The 6-foot, 230-pound sophomore finished the regular season with six tackles for a loss, two sacks, an interception, five pass breakups, three fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick.
He also came up big in big games. How many of his 17 total tackles -- seven more than any teammate -- made the difference in the nailbiting win over Arizona State? Or what about his effort in the Win of the Season, a 38-28 triumph over USC? He recorded 10 tackles, a tackle for a loss, an interception, a forced fumble and blocked punt against the Trojans.
The forced fumble in the first quarter set up a Bruins touchdown. His punt block, which came after USC had closed to 24-20 in the third quarter, led to another UCLA touchdown, extending its lead to 31-20. The interception was a key play in the fourth to seal the red-letter victory.
That performance earned him Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week.
There were a lot of good linebackers in the Pac-12 this year. But four of the six on the coaches' All-Pac-12 teams were seniors. We expect Kendricks to get a first-team preseason nod in 2013.
Kevin Gemmell: It's so easy for us to take our running backs for granted in the Pac-12, isn't it? That's why I'm tapping Washington's Bishop Sankey as the most underrated player in the conference this year.
Playing in a league with Ka'Deem Carey, Kenjon Barner, Johnathan Franklin and Stepfan Taylor, it's easy to see why Sankey was left off of the first and second team. And no, I wouldn't replace any of those guys with Sankey. The running backs in the league this year were so ridiculously deep that a 1,200-yard rusher on a 7-5 team is an afterthought. That's not to say Sankey isn't a really good player -- because he is. It just speaks to the depth of the conference.
If Sankey played in pretty much any other conference, he'd be either first- or second-team all league. But he doesn't. He plays in the Pac-12, where three of the four All-American running backs come from.
Sankey rushed for 1,234 yards and 15 touchdowns. Looking at the other five BCS conferences, those numbers would have led the league in rushing in the ACC and Big East. They would put Sankey second in the SEC and Big 12 and fourth among running backs in the Big 10 (fifth overall if you count Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller). Those are first- or second-team credentials. In the Pac-12, it's just a mention ... even if it is honorable.
Originally thought to be a by-committee guy, Sankey's role changed dramatically when Jesse Callier went down with a season-ending knee injury in the first game of the year against San Diego State. As he grew more comfortable in the role, Sankey's numbers and confidence skyrocketed. He ended the year with six 100-yard games and three games of at least 140 yards.
And since we're talking about showing up in big games, one of this best games of the year came against Stanford -- yes, top-five rushing defense Stanford -- behind a patchwork offensive line. He rushed for 144 yards and a season-high 7.2 yards per carry, including a 61-yard touchdown that sparked the Huskies come-from-behind victory. He went for 100-plus against Oregon and Utah -- considered two of the stingier fronts in the league. He had two touchdowns against Oregon State -- another elite defense.
At 5-10, 200 pounds, the sophomore has perfect size. He's the 11th Husky to rush for 1,000 yards; his total is the eighth-highest in school history and his 15 touchdowns are tied for second-most ever. With similar production next year -- coupled with the departure of Taylor, Barner and Franklin -- I wouldn't be shocked to see Sankey rise from the honorable mention ranks to the first- or second-team.