We've barely hit the quarter pole of the 2013 season, but with true and redshirt freshmen making impacts all over the country, attention turns this week to those recruits in the 2014 class who could generate the same kind of press early in their careers and affect the conference.
Current 2014 QB prospect who could start immediately
Arizona and Washington are the only Pac-12 programs scheduled to lose their starting quarterbacks after this season, but with seven quarterbacks already slated to compete for the job next year, it's going to be extremely difficult for Brandon Dawkins (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) to truly put himself in the mix. The same is true at Washington -- though the Huskies have yet to receive a commitment from a quarterback in the 2014 class -- as redshirt freshmen, who will then be redshirt sophomores, Jeff Lindquist and Cyler Miles will likely battle for the spot. So at this point -- leaving aside speculation on whether quarterbacks such as UCLA's Brett Hundley or Oregon's Marcus Marriota could make themselves available for the NFL draft -- this question becomes about the possibility of a true freshman supplanting a returning starter, and while it would be tough to bet on anybody actually getting it done, the easy answer is Keller Chryst (Palo Alto, Calif./Palo Alto) at Stanford. The No. 19 overall recruit is a polished pocket passer and seems to fit perfectly into the Stanford offense. If it clicks early for him, he could give Kevin Hogan a serious run next fall.
Program-changing 2014 recruiting class: USC
This could be a make-or-break recruiting class for the Trojans. When USC begins practices next spring, just 26 players on the roster will come from the 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes, combined. That means tons of opportunity for what could be 19 signees in a class still limited by NCAA sanctions. Right now, recruits want a clear picture of what will happen going forward at USC. If the Trojans make a decisive move at the top -- either with Lane Kiffin finishing the season in a strong manner and earning the full trust of the fans and his bosses, or with athletics director Pat Haden moving swiftly to replace Kiffin with an impressive hire -- USC could close with a monster class, as a number of high-profile prospects are intrigued by the idea of playing for USC and understand the playing time situation. If things break well for the Trojans, it's not impossible to think this class could be the best group in the Pac-12 and eventually form some of the nucleus that takes USC back to the top of the conference.
Current 2014 prospect with Heisman potential
Since the Heisman Trophy has become about quarterbacks and running backs, that narrows this category a bit. Again, Chryst is the easy answer because he'll likely put up good numbers for a national power. But a bit farther down the West region prospects list sits tailback Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif./Freedom), who possesses just about everything you look for in a potential Heisman contender. He'll likely be suiting up for a national power -- Florida, Oklahoma and Oregon are three of his finalists -- a running back's dream -- Wisconsin is another finalists -- or a program in Cal where he'd have the ability to put up silly numbers both rushing and receiving. Mixon has also said UCLA is still in the running, which would put him in a major media market. His ability to catch out of the backfield and perhaps even return kicks will help his statistics, and the fact that he brings some personality to the table -- nearly 6,500 twitter followers at last count -- helps his cause as well.
Current 2014 prospect who may sit initially but become a star
Oregon hasn’t missed on many running backs in recent memory, which is why a clear pecking order has developed on that roster at that position. Among tailbacks, the carries this year have gone, in order, to junior De'Anthony Thomas, sophomore Byron Marshall and freshman Thomas Tyner. In 2014, those three will all bump up one run -- provided Thomas doesn't head to the NFL -- and true freshman Royce Freeman (Imperial, Calif./Imperial) will take his turn at the bottom. There's a chance he could earn more playing time with a strong fall camp, but more than likely, he'll wait behind the older backs and eventually make his mark by putting up big numbers a little farther down the road.
Current committed recruit who is in a good position for development
Since the current Tight End U (Stanford) doesn't have a tight end in this class and we've already mentioned the tailback going to the current Running Back U (Oregon), the call here is ESPN 300 wide receiver Austin Roberts (Carmel, Ind./Carmel), who is headed to UCLA. In the first year under head coach Jim Mora, the Bruins did a phenomenal job with tight end Joseph Fauria, who caught 46 passes and 12 touchdowns as a senior. It's likely Roberts could slide inside to that same tight end spot, although Thomas Duarte -- a freshman already earning playing time -- could keep him from the field. If the Bruins continue to do well at that position, Roberts could see his productivity increase as he grows in the system.
2014 position group with chance for instant impact
Stanford stands to lose quite a bit at linebacker following this season, as starters Trent Murphy and Shane Skov as well as top reserve Jarek Lancaster, will exhaust their eligibility. Additionally, linebackers A.J. Tarpley, Joe Hemschoot, and James Vaughters will be entering their final seasons in 2014, which means the incoming freshmen should receive plenty of opportunities to prove themselves early. Fortunately for the Cardinal, there is a terrific group on the way, as Jordan Perez (Carlsbad, Calif./Carlsbad), Joey Alfieri (Portland, Ore./Jesuit), Bobby Okereke (Tustin, Calif./Foothill) and Lane Veach (Chandler, Ariz./Perry) are already committed.
Most versatile 2014 recruit who could play either side of ball
The most versatile recruit is also the top-ranked recruit in the West: five-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra). Jackson does a bit of everything for his high school team, and that includes playing wide receiver, tailback, cornerback, kick returner, punt returner and punter. He's being recruited as a wide receiver by USC and as a cornerback by just about everybody else, but he could have a successful career at either position.
The next Marcus Mariota
Quarterback Morgan Mahalak (Kentfield, Calif./Marin Catholic) will follow Mariota to Oregon, but with seven offers before he even started a game at quarterback, it's tough to call him underrated. That changes the pick to Robert Webber (Corona, Calif./Centennial), a spread-style quarterback who threw for 3,968 yards and 41 touchdowns -- against just five interceptions -- as a junior, for a national power program. He also ran for 781 yards and seven scores. At this point, it appears that his size is the only thing keeping him from scholarship offers, as he checks in just below the magical 6-foot mark for quarterbacks. But Webber is a tremendous talent and would undoubtedly find success in a run-based spread attack at the next level.