Pac-12 players poised to break out in the fall
PHOENIX (AP) — A look at football players in the Pac-12 this spring who are poised to have standout seasons beginning this fall:
RB Tre Watson, senior. The versatile running back was productive while splitting time with Khalfani Muhammad last season and is poised to see a big uptick as the Bears' featured back this season under new coach Justin Wilcox. Watson ran for 845 yards and two touchdowns and caught 21 passes for 241 yards and four more scores last season. The Bears don't know who their quarterback will be this fall, but expect Watson to get the ball plenty no matter who it is.
RB Royce Freeman, senior. The Ducks' second all-time rusher will be back for his senior season after being hampered by injuries in 2016. Freeman managed to rush for 945 yards in 11 games despite the injuries last season and the Ducks will be relying on him to help them bounce back from a dismal 4-8 season that led to the firing of coach Mark Helfrich. Freeman has 4,146 career rushing yards, second only to LaMichael James' 5,082 in program history.
WR Jordan Villamin, senior. The athletic 6-foot-5 receiver had a strong sophomore season, leading the Beavers with 660 yards receiving and five touchdowns on 43 receptions. Villamin suffered a drop-off last season, catching 21 passes for 253 yards — 124 of that in one game. Though limited in the spring by a knee injury, Villamin is expected to play a big role on a team that will be looking to improve what was one of the nation's worst passing offenses a year ago.
QB Keller Chryst, senior. Chryst was Stanford's starting quarterback all last season, but will have competition this fall as he recovers from a torn ACL suffered in the Sun Bowl. If Chryst is healthy headed into the season, he will likely open as the starter. If he needs more recovery time, Ryan Burns could get the nod.
S Ezekiel Turner, senior. Washington's biggest hitter has a chance to be its breakout star after playing behind all-everything safety Budda Baker last season. He's part of a duo the Huskies are calling the "Bash Brothers" with Jojo McIntosh and accidentally flattened running back Myles Gaskin in Washington's first spring practice in helmets and shoulder pads.
QB Luke Falk, senior. Falk has put up big numbers in Pullman and figures to keep piling 'em up. He was fourth nationally with 4,468 yards passing last season and had 38 touchdowns. With Mike Leach calling the shots, he could have even more in his final collegiate season.
WR Shun Brown, junior. The Wildcats need to improve on their passing game and Brown will likely be the centerpiece. He led Arizona in receiving yards with 521 last season and will be targeted more now that Nate Phillips, Samajie Grant and Trey Griffey are gone.
QB Blake Barnett, sophomore. Barnett added intrigue to the Sun Devils' quarterback situation when he transferred from Alabama and was ruled eligible for the start of the season by the NCAA. Manny Wilkins is the returning starter, but Barnett has the better arm and could push him during fall camp.
QB Steven Montez, sophomore. The Buffaloes lost their all-time leading passer, but figure to still be in good hands with Montez under center. He beat the two Oregon schools with Sefo Liufao out injured and can sling the ball around the field. Montez threw for 1,078 yards and nine TDs in limited action last season and Colorado has a multitude of offensive players back for 2017.
QB Josh Rosen, sophomore. Rosen arrived at UCLA with loads of hype and showed flashes of living up to it before his freshman season was derailed by a shoulder injury. He has great vision, an ability to squeeze passes into seemingly impossible spaces and should be better as a sophomore if he stays healthy.
QB Sam Darnold, sophomore. Darnold did not win the starting job to start the 2016 season, but won the hearts of Trojans fans by leading them to a nine-game winning streak to close the season, including a last-second Rose Bowl win that he helped orchestrate. Count him among the preseason Heisman Trophy candidates.
S Chase Hansen, junior. Hansen is the kind of player who seems to be everywhere at once and led the Utes with 90 tackles a year ago. He's primed to have another big season and was hitting so hard during a spring scrimmage that coach Kyle Whittingham took him out so he wouldn't injure anyone.