Monday, June 18, 2012
Proving grounds: Pac-12 South
By Kevin Gemmell
Some players come in with plenty of hype, but never quite seem to match it. Others have a great season, then slip the following year, leaving many to question whether they were one-year wonders. Then there are those who have to bounce back from an injury and show they aren't shells of what they used to be.
Either way, there are plenty of players in the Pac-12 with something to prove in 2012.
Here's a look at six players from the South Division. Tomorrow we'll look at the North.
New Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez will likely lean heavily on veteran QB Matt Scott in 2012.
Matt Scott, QB, Arizona: Public opinion in the first year of the Rich Rodriguez era will be heavily influenced by the success of Scott. He's 4-1 as a starter and Rodriguez has spent plenty of vowels and consonants this spring pumping up his quarterback -- going so far as to thank the previous coaching staff for redshirting Scott last season so he has an opportunity to open his Arizona tenure with a veteran quarterback. At question is whether Scott can put it together for a full season. Rodriguez has gone out of his way to make Scott the face of the new Wildcats. No pressure.
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State: After missing 2010 due to academic issues, Sutton put up decent numbers in 2011 -- 33 tackles, 5.5 for a loss and 2.5 sacks. Not bad, but not as much production as you'd expect from such a hyped player. Also worth noting were his zero forced fumbles last year. Defensive linemen are the first ones to get a shot at the ball, and the elite ones are good at jarring it loose. Sutton could -- nay -- should be one of the elite ones. It will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Paul Randolph uses him in the new, attacking scheme.
Doug Rippy, LB, Colorado: It's never easy to come back from a torn ACL. But just coming back isn't going to be enough for Rippy. The expectation for him is to come back stronger and be more effective than he was prior to his injury midway through last season. Colorado needs nothing less while renovations continue on the offense. Alongside fellow linebacker Jon Major, Rippy will have to help carry one of the youngest teams in the country. His rehab is on track, which is great news. Because he's going to be carrying a lot of Colorado's weight this year.
Datone Jones, DE, UCLA: Now is the time for Jones to be what everyone thinks he can be. He's moved out of the 4-3 and into the 3-4, which should reduce the double-teams and allow him to use his NFL frame to make a mess of opponents' backfields. For quite some time, people have been talking about how good Jones is. He has the tools, and it's time for him to show he's worthy of the praise.
T.J. McDonald, S, USC: Hold up. McDonald? Really? This guy is a probable first-round draft pick and the leader of the USC defense. What does he have to prove? Plenty, if you ask him. The great ones never rest on their achievements. And McDonald is potentially one of the great ones. The last thing you want to do is leash this guy. But at the same time, the Trojans don't need to lose him to suspensions. He has to prove that he can leash himself when it's called for. Plus, a great year could be the difference between being a single- or double-digit draft pick.
Jordan Wynn, QB, Utah: As a true freshman, he looked like the Salt Lake City savior. And he still might be. But he has to prove that he can stay on the field and play a full season. Wynn is the most polarizing player on the Utah roster -- just read message boards and comments on Wynn stories. But then again, quarterbacks usually are. He has his believers and his detractors. It's up to him this year to shut up the latter.