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This should go well, shouldn’t it…?
While we are entrenched in the offseason and waiting for the summer months to pass by and bring football to our doorsteps, the previews for everyone’s respective years have been coming in hot. While we’ve looked at which teams in the Pac-12 have the best quarterbacks or the best running backs, we wanted to take a bigger scope of things now and determine who the overall best players in the conference are.
What could go wrong?
Of course, this is a subjective list based on past stats with a touch of future expectations thrown on as well. These are the 12 players who I think are the best in the Pac-12 heading into the 2022 season, with a few honorable mentions thrown in there for good measure.
Honorable Mention: RB Tavion Thomas (Utah)
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Career Stats: 337 carries | 2,797 yards, 28 TD
A lot of people look at QB Cameron Rising when talking about the Utah Utes offense, and rightfully so. But RB Tavion Thomas has been impressive as of late, with an impressive 21 TD in 2021, tying Myles Gaskin and Tyler Gaffney for the most by a Pac-12 runner in a single season. If he can continue this dominance in 2022, there’s a real case that he sees himself ranked on this list.
Honorable Mention: DE Ron Stone Jr. (Washington State)
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Career Stats: 108 tackles | 16.5 TFL | 9.0 sacks | 2 FF
When looking at the Cougars’ defense, it’s impossible to see past Ron Stone Jr., who is the conference’s leading returning tackler for loss, with 11.5 last season. He had a couple of slow years ahead of 2021 but proved last season that he can be a force on the edge and brings some disruption to Pullman.
Honorable Mention: OT Jaxson Kirkland (Washington)
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Quantifying how good an offensive lineman is does not come easily, because there aren’t any major stats to judge them by. However, Kirkland was projected to go in the first few rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft before pulling out because of an ankle injury and deciding to return to school. In 2021, Kirkland was named the First-Team All-Pac-12, as he was in 2020 as well. There’s a good chance that with another solid season, he sees himself drafted on Day 1 or Day 2 next spring.
Honorable Mention: QB Tanner McKee (Stanford)
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Career Stats: 209-for-322 | 2,389 yards | 15 TD | 7 INT
The stats may not hold up for Tanner McKee to be one of the best players in the conference, but this is where future expectations come into play. Stanford is bound to pick things up in 2022, and McKee has some experience under his belt now where he can step up and lead them to success. Look for him to have an impressive season this fall and start being talked about as one of the better QBs in the Pac-12.
Honorable Mention: DL Tuli Tuipulotu (USC)
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Career Stats: 70 tackles | 10 TFL | 7.0 sacks | 2 FF
With all of the flash that USC brings at the skill positions, it’s easy to look past the offensive and defensive lines when it comes to standout players. However, Tuli Tuipulotu was a First Team All-Pac-12 selection in 2021 with 5.5 sacks, and he will look to have another standout season on what will likely be a successful USC squad.
Honorable Mention: LB Omar Speights (Oregon State)
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Career Stats: 221 Tackles | 17 TFL | 5 Sacks | 3 INT | 3 FR
Omar Speights is a veteran linebacker who certainly flies under the radar in the Pac-12, despite his ability to stuff the stat sheet. The Oregon State Beavers are trending upward, and a lot of that has to do with Speights’ ability to be a solid presence on defense. If they continue to find more success this coming season, look for Speights to get some more recognition throughout the year.
Honorable Mention: RB Xazavian Valladay (Arizona State)
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Career Stats: 626 carries | 3,274 yards | 19 TD
When it comes to putting up sheer numbers, you will not find many players in the Pac-12 who have done it better than Xazavian Valladay. Of course, he did so in the Mountain West, playing four seasons with the Wyoming Cowboys. Still, a trio of 1,000-yard seasons with 21 total touchdowns is nothing to raise your nose at, and Arizona State clearly gained a dynamic piece in the backfield through the transfer portal going into 2022.
Honorable Mention: QB Bo Nix (Oregon)
Career Stats: 628-for-1,057 | 7,251 yards | 39 TD | 16 INT
Bo Nix has all of the skills to be one of the best players in the Pac-12, and potentially one of the better quarterbacks in the nation. We are just waiting to see if he can put it all together. With a new coaching staff at Oregon and a rekindling of the relationship with offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham, there is hope in Eugene that Nix will reach his ceiling with the Ducks this season.
Honorable Mention: WR Jacob Cowing (Arizona)
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Career Stats: 141 catches | 2,595 yards | 13 TD
It’s a little hard to predict what we will see from Jacob Cowing in 2022 since his past production came at the FCS level with UTEP. He led the Miners with 1,367 yards in 2021 and now will look to form a dangerous duo with Arizona’s new QB Jayden de Laura. If things go right, Cowing could absolutely be viewed as one of the best WRs in the conference.
No. 12 — QB Cameron Ward (Washington State)
(Marvin Pfeiffer/The San Antonio Express-News via AP)
Career Stats: 4,648 passing yards | 47 TD | 10 INT
Much like Jacob Cowing, it’s a little difficult to project what type of impact Washington State’s transfer QB Cameron Ward will have on the FBS level, but he certainly has the intangibles to be special. As one of the top players in the transfer portal rankings, Ward comes from Incarnate Word off of an incredible season where he threw for 4,658 yards and 47 touchdowns last year alone. Whether or not he can do the same type of thing in the Pac-12 is yet to be seen, but he certainly has our attention going into the year.
No. 11 — TE Brant Kuithe (Utah)
Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports
Career Stats: 129 catches | 1,676 yards | 13 TD
You could argue that either TE from Utah — Brant Kuithe or Dalton Kincaid — could be on this list as they are the two top returning TE’s in the conference. However, Kuithe plays a bigger role in the passing game and flexes all over the field for the Utes. With top WR Britain Covey now out of the offense, look for Kuithe to take on a bigger role and break out even more this season.
No. 10 — OT Andrew Vorhees (USC)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Again, hard to put tangible stats with an offensive lineman, but USC’s Andrew Vorhees is among the most solid OTs in the conference, and will be a huge piece for the Trojans if they are going to find the success that they’re planning for in 2022. Per PFF, the 6-foot-6 veteran earned a 92.4 overall grade at tackle. He was also the only qualified lineman in the country to earn a 90-plus grade as both a run-blocker and a pass-blocker.
No. 9 — DL Brandon Dorlus (Oregon)
(Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Career Stats: 44 tackles | 11 TFL | 4.5 sacks
When looking at Oregon’s defense, all eyes are either on Noah Sewell or talking about what the Ducks are missing with Kayvon Thibodeaux off to the NFL ranks. However, DL Brandon Dorlus is still looking to keep that defensive line as dominant as ever. Dorlus was a First Team All-Pac-12 selection last year and is looking to grow inside Dan Lanning’s defense in Eugene. We will see how dominant he can be with a new scheme and more room to work.
No. 8 — RB Travis Dye (USC)
(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Career Stats: 521 carries | 3,111 yards | 21 TD
Trying to picture what Travis Dye can do in a Lincoln Riley-led offense is a lot like picturing what Noah Sewell can do in a Dan Lanning-led defense. The pieces are all there for an extraordinary season, we just have to see if it all comes together. Dye had a historic career at Oregon, where he ranks No. 5 on the all-time career rushing list, and now he will have the feature back role in an offense that projects to be explosive.
No. 7 — WR Jordan Addison (USC)
(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
Career Stats: 160 catches | 2,259 yards | 21 TD
We’ve talked a lot about USC players, who are featured prominently on this list. Jordan Addison is certainly deserving of this ranking, as a former Biletnikoff Award winner as the best WR in the country in 2021. Pairing him up with Caleb Williams is enticing, especially when you add Brenden Rice and Mario Williams around him, making it so defenses can’t focus all of their attention on one player. The Trojans stacked the deck when it comes to skill players this year, and it will be entertaining to watch, at the very least.
No. 6 — CB Clark Phillips (Utah)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Career Stats: 86 tackles | 15 PBU | 3 INT | 2 TD | 1 FF
Clark Phillips is the best returning cornerback in the Pac-12, and after watching him go head-to-head with Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the Rose Bowl, he should be in the conversation as one of the best cornerbacks in the nation. Over the last 6 games of 2021, Phillips was the highest-graded outside CB per PFF, and he projects to have another outstanding year with the Utes.
No. 5 — RB Zach Charbonnet (UCLA)
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Career Stats: 371 carries | 1,987 yards | 25 TD
It’s tough to rank another RB ahead of Travis Dye, but we aren’t quite sure of the fit we will get with Dye and Lincoln Riley. We pretty much know what we’re going to get with Zach Charbonnet and Chip Kelly at UCLA, and it should be impressive once again. Charbonnet was one of only 9 RBs with over 200 rushing attempts and 0 fumbles last season, and now has more experience with Kelly and QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
No. 4 — QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson (UCLA)
(Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)
Career Stats: 594-for-977 | 7,542 yards | 61 TD | 26 INT
Speaking of Dorian Thompson-Robinson, this could be the year that he really puts it all together. While a lot of the focus in the Pac-12 is on players like Caleb Williams, Cameron Rising, or Cameron Ward, DTR is flying under the radar a bit when it comes to top passers. However, after an impressive career, DTR is coming back for more in Los Angeles and could potentially put together a Heisman-worthy season should things break the right way for the Bruins.
No. 3 — LB Noah Sewell (Oregon)
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Career Stats: 162 tackles | 15 TFL | 6.0 sacks | 1 INT | 3 FF
Noah Sewell, meet Dan Lanning. Dan Lanning, Noah Sewell. After seeing what the former Georgia Bulldogs defensive coordinator was able to do, scheming up one of the best LB groups in the nation, it’s tantalizing to imagine what he can do with Sewell, who projects to be among the best linebackers in the nation, not only in the Pac-12.
No. 2 — QB Caleb Williams (USC)
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Career Stats: 136-for-211 | 1,912 yards | 21 TD | 4 INT
Caleb Williams not No. 1 on this list? Maybe surprising, be I want to see one more season of what he can do, this time with all of the weapons that he could ever ask for, surrounding him. Williams is in the preseason Heisman conversation for a reason, and after what he did with the Oklahoma Sooners as a freshman last season, it goes without saying that watching him on the big stage in Los Angeles should be entertaining this season.
No. 1 — QB Cameron Rising (Utah)
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Career Stats: 207-for-236 | 2,538 yards | 20 TD | 6 INT
You make a run through the Pac-12, Pac-12 championship, and nearly win a shoot-out against one of the best offenses in the nation during the 2021 Rose Bowl, and you deserve some consideration at the top of this list. Cameron Rising was incredibly impressive last season, and he was one of the most efficient QBs in the nation. He may not have the flash of a Caleb Williams or CJ Stroud, but all indications are that he’s as good as anyone in the nation, and can likely lead the Utes into the College Football Playoff mix this season.