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Rising Stars – Five Players to Watch in the PAC 12 this Season

It is the time of year when the revolving door of college football cranks into gear, with the the latest batch of seniors, transfers, and those few uber-talented juniors preparing to move on. In a week or so, the next batch of talent will be signing up to try and carve out their own niche in college football lore.

There’s a sizable talent drain in the PAC 12 this season, but while some teams will be hoping some of their new guys are ready to step in straight away and produce, many teams have their future stars already on campus and showing flashes of what they can do. Here are five of the best:

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QB Jared Goff, California

The Golden Bears were terrible at times last season, suffering some bad losses along the way. There was a bright spot – Goff – who carried the load on his freshman shoulders all season, despite a weak line allowing him to take a pounding, and little running attack to deflect opponents attention elsewhere.

Despite all this, Goff still managed to rack up 3488 yards at a 60.1% completion rate, and had a respectable 18 TDs compared to 10 interceptions. He had some inopportune fumbles, and threw a lot of short passes (the nature of the attack), but Cal fans are more than satisfied with their new star quarterback. He has a couple of nice young receivers in Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper to build a further rapport with too.

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RB Tre Madden, Southern California

Now looks like a good time to be a running back at USC with the arrival of new head coach Steve Sarkisian. Sark certainly showed he knew a thing or two about offense while at Washington, but one of the the most noteworthy was the focus on a feature back, first in Chris Polk and then Bishop Sankey. The Huskies sported a 1000-yard rusher every season under Sark’s watch.

Madden moved from linebacker to tailback in 2012, but a knee injury forced him to redshirt. Last season, he won the starting job and rushed for 583 yards and 3 TDs over the first 5 games, but was banged up over the second half of the year, missing 3 games and gaining just 120 yards. He should be poised for a big year, assuming he can stay healthy. If not, you could easily slot Javorius Allen (134-774-14) in his place.

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WR Nate Phillips, Arizona

Some may argue that the freshman is already there, but after a season where Phillips went from strength to strength, his best football is likely ahead of him. Despite playing with a quarterback who had a slow start to the season, and in an offense that revolved around running back Ka’Deem Carey, Phillips caught 51 passes for 696 yards and a 7 TDs. He rounded out the season with his best game, against Boston College in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl (try saying that 5 or 6 times), racking up 193 yards on 9 catches. Of his 51 receptions, 32 went for first downs.

Denker won’t be around next season, although there are some good options ready to step in, and the offense may have to take the air more with Carey plying his trade in the NFL, so Phillips should still have increased opportunities to make plays. With a bunch of good young receivers on hand to keep opponents from focusing on Phillips, the freshman all-American could be ready to take off.

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LB Addison Gillam, Colorado

Who? One of the drawbacks of playing defense on a bad team is anonymity, but Gillaw certainly caught the eye of the FWAA, who voted him onto the freshman all-American team. Of course, being overlooked is nothing new to Gillam, who didn’t receive a lot of offers out of high school, and had committed to San Jose State before following coach Mike MacIntyre to Boulder.

Once Gillam set foot on campus though, he hit the ground running, winning the starting job at middle linebacker, and making big plays throughout the season on a defense that otherwise had few. For the season he had 107 tackles, 9.5 for loss, with 3 sacks, an interception, and he broke up 5 passes. He had 5 games of 10+ tackles. The future looks very bright for Gillam, who got better throughout the season, and as he gets stronger and more acclimated to PAC 12 offenses, not to the mention the Buffaloes improving, he could be an all-conference player – at the very least.

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CB Marcus Peters, Washington

Anyone who knows Peter may find it strange that he’s on this list, as he’s already one of the best corners in the country, but the problem is, he seems to suffer from the east-west bias. Playing for a school that has seen some good corners grace its campus, Peters may already be the best – he’s a great cover corner who’s not afraid to stick his nose in against the run when needed. Last season he blew up a Stanford running play in the backfield on a key 3rd-and-1 situation.

What’s he got to do to make himself known to the college football world? The best advice is to keep his head down and keep doing what he does best, shutting down receivers and making timely plays, the rest will take care of itself. Last season he made 55 tackles, 3.5 for loss, picked of 5 passes, broke up 9 and recovered 2 fumbles (1 TD). If he continues to grow, try keeping him off the all-America teams at the end of the season.


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