Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Proving grounds: Pac-12 North
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 wonder if they were one-year wonders. Still others, 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.
Zach Maynard led the Golden Bears to a 7-6 record last season.
Zach Maynard, QB, Cal: Is there any quarterback in the conference more maligned than the guy in Berkeley? No doubt, he hit a low point midway through last season with a three-game stretch against USC, Utah and UCLA where he had one touchdown to seven interceptions. His completion percentage was one of the lowest in the conference last year (57 percent). But all accounts are that he had a solid spring and gained a stronger control of the offense. He has pieces in place this year -- an A-list receiver, a solid running game, a very good defense behind him -- so if he's going to silence his critics, this will be his best chance.
Josh Huff, WR, Oregon: On the surface, the obvious pick here is Kenjon Barner with the oh-so-obligatory "can he be the featured back" question. Let's go ahead and address that right now. Yes, he can. There, that was easy. Huff, however, has yet to really show what he's capable of. Last year he was partly hampered by injury (31 catches, 430 yards, two touchdowns) and Lavasier Tuinei was the preferred target. No doubt, the potential is there (see how he made Stanford defenders look silly on his 59-yard touchdown catch). Huff's status remains up in the air pending next month's trial for a DUI citation, so we'll have to see how that plays out. The Ducks have so much offensive potency that they don't need him to be great. But wouldn't it be a whole lot better if he was?
Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State: The beauty of football is that it's not a stat-driven, individual game. A wide receiver can be a great blocker or decoy and never get the statistical credit, but his teammates and coaches know his contributions. With that said, if Wheaton wants to be counted among the elite wide receivers in the conference -- and he absolutely should be -- he'll need to have more than just one receiving touchdown, which was the case in 2011. The fact that Oregon State's running game should be better helps, and Sean Mannion's continued growth is also a plus. He's an underappreciated talent around the conference who's out to prove he belongs in the conversation with the league's elite receivers.
Wayne Lyons, DB, Stanford: When your coach says you'll be up for the nation's top defensive back award by the time your career is through -- before you've put together a complete season -- that's his way of not-so-discreetly applying pressure. David Shaw expects big things out of Lyons -- and the highly touted defensive back will have to deliver. He's fully recovered from a foot injury he suffered last fall that nagged him for two games before shutting it down for the year. Stanford's secondary was dreadfully exposed against Oregon and Oklahoma State. The pressure is on Lyons to produce immediately (say, Week 3 against USC?).
Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington: And Baylor just scored again ... Haha. Didn't we all have a nice little chuckle at that one on Dec. 30. Well, the joke was stale by New Year's Eve. However, the lasting image of what Baylor's offense did to Washington is still very much fresh. The Huskies defense got an overhaul in the offseason -- and it's up to a veteran like Trufant to give the unit more punch and less punch line. Not easy, considering the Huskies allowed a whopping 35.9 points per game last year. But Trufant isn't alone in his efforts. He has good support in the secondary with safeties Justin Glenn and Sean Parker (the three combined for 207 tackles last season) and Trufant added a pair of picks. He's a very good defender who is going to have to become a great defender in 2012 to not only prove he can play at the next level, but to show it's time to stop cracking wise about Washington's D.
Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State: Outside of new head coach Mike Leach, no name coming out of Pullman, Wash., this spring has been uttered more than Jeff Tuel. A prototypical NFL quarterback with the arm and the arsenal to boot, all of the pieces are in place for Tuel to have a big season. But injuries have prevented him from reaching his true potential. This offense, which puts the quarterback center stage like no other, should go a long way in helping him reach it. He's picked it up quickly, which should come as no surprise. But there are still Connor Halliday advocates ready to take their shots at Tuel. He's got to prove he deserves to be the guy. Provo, Utah, seems like a good place to start.