Scooby Wright, Devontae Booker, Su’a Cravens, Hau’oli Kikaha, Royce Freeman, Ishmael Adams and Nelson Spruce are just a few of the Pac-12 players who put together a breakthrough performance in 2014.
As we now turn our attention to the 2015 season, it’s time to begin forecasting which players are primed to have their own breakout campaigns this fall.
Here’s a look at five players who seem bound for stardom in 2015.
Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford
Since taking over the starting quarterback job midway through the 2012 season, there have been plenty of instances when Kevin Hogan has shown flashes of greatness. Unfortunately, he hasn’t yet been able to put it all together for a full season and develop into the elite quarterback he has the potential to be.
Entering his senior year, Hogan now has one final shot to make the most of his ability and take his game to the highest level.
The 6’4’’, 225-pound pro-style pocket-passer is a perfect fit for David Shaw’s offense, but Shaw’s system is one that can be characterized as rather conservative. Last season, the Cardinal attempted just 381 pass attempts, which was the second fewest in the Pac-12.
Though his opportunities were limited in 2014, Hogan still showed a sound passing prowess. He completed 66 percent of his throws, averaged nearly eight yards per pass attempt and accumulated a 145.8 total passer rating.
It’s now time for Shaw to loosen the leash on his strong-armed signal-caller, and let Hogan prove that he’s got the type of arm that can lead the team back to glory.
The senior has lost his top receiver: Ty Montgomery, as well as his trusty blindside protector: left tackle Andrus Peat. Still, Hogan will have enough pieces around him to lead the Cardinal into contention for a Pac-12 championship in 2015.
Budda Baker, S, Washington
During his stint as head coach at Boise State, Chris Petersen managed to turn plenty of unheralded recruits such as Kyle Wilson, George Iloka and Jamar Taylor into standout defensive backs that NFL scouts coveted.
Now that he’s at Washington, Petersen will have the opportunity to work with more heralded recruits such as former 4-star Army All-American Budda Baker.
During his debut campaign in 2014, Baker showed that he has all the skills to become Petersen’s next great DB prodigy. The 5’10’’, 173-pound safety started every game and racked up 80 tackles, including 58 solo stops.
Since players such as DT Danny Shelton, LB Hau’oli Kikaha and LB Shaq Thompson have all departed, Baker will now be asked to step up and become the true leader of the Washington defense in 2015.
It’s a role that he should thrive in.
JuJu Smith, WR, USC
It can be difficult to distinguish yourself when you’re the complementary secondary option to a receiver that catches over 100 passes in a season. Luckily, that wasn’t the case for JuJu Smith in 2014.
Although he was overshadowed by fellow Trojan receiver Nelson Agholor, who totaled 104 receptions this past season, Smith still played a key role in the Trojans’ potent passing offense—an attack which ranked 15th overall in the nation.
The former blue-chip 5-star recruit from Long Beach Poly High School (CA) quickly proved that his high school hype was legitimate. Smith caught 54 passes for 724 yards and scored five touchdowns. His big-play ability was evident, as he totaled 13 catches of 20 yards or more, which tied for the fourth most in the conference.
With Agholor gone, the 6’2’’, 210-pound sophomore will now be asked to become QB Cody Kessler’s new go-to receiving option in 2015. Smith should have no trouble handling the role, since he has all the traits you look for in a No. 1 receiver.
Christian French, LB, Oregon
Oregon’s high-powered offense has always been the facet of the team that’s gained most of the recognition and attention. However, the Ducks defense has also played a key role in the team’s overall success as well.
This offseason, the team will have to replace a number of key defensive pieces, including Ekpre-Olomu, Armstead and leading tackler Erick Dargan.
Luckily, there’s plenty of up-and-coming talent to build around. LB Christian French is a player who has the chance to be a standout defender in 2015.
Since he totaled just 26 tackles in a reserve role, French didn’t receive anywhere near the amount of attention as his other star teammates. What he did do was show flashes of potentially being a dominant force.
The extremely athletic former 4-star recruit showed that he was learning the game, honing his instincts and becoming an all-around solid football player.
The 6’5’’, 245-pound senior has the size and speed to develop into an explosive edge-rushing enforcer in 2015. All he needs to do is consistently show tenacity, effort and attitude it takes to be an elite edge-rusher.
When he was being interviewed at the Rose Bowl Media Day back in January, French summed up his potential perfectly, when he said, “I know I can be a monster. I just have to go out there and let it loose.”
Eddie Vanderdoes, DT, UCLA
Back when Eddie Vanderdoes was a senior at Placer High School (CA), the former 5-star prospect was considered one of the top overall prospects in the entire 2013 recruiting class.
Vanderdoes arrived in Westwood with some pretty lofty expectations to live up to. After putting together two solid seasons to start his collegiate career, it now appears that the highly touted 6’3’’, 305-pound lineman is ready to develop into the dominant difference-making defender he was originally projected to be.
It can be tough for a 3-4 defensive end to stand out, since the role is to basically eat up blockers and clog running lanes. But Vanderdoes obviously has the talent it takes to be an impact game-changer, regardless of what his role is on the defensive line.
The former All-American recruit will be one of the linchpin, foundation players of a loaded UCLA defense that should be one of the best units in college football in 2015.