Christopher Howland

Summer School

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Five Sleepers to Watch: Pac 12

Friday, September 02, 2011

Sleepers are always hard to pinpoint. There is no exact science in determining who will fly under the radar in any given season, but by looking at previous season's stats and other important characteristics surrounding a player, it's getting easier to estimate who will break out.

The Pac 12 is already shaping up to be a tough conference in 2011 and if most of the athletes on this list live up to their hype, their respective teams may just be in the BCS Bowl hunt. 

Here are the top five sleepers from the Pac 12 conference:     

Keith Price - QB - Washington
While many people have already tabbed the Washington Huskies as an underrated team that will regress after losing QB Jake Locker to the NFL, their immediate future seems to look bright with Sophomore Keith Price stepping up to fill Locker’s shoes.

While Price never found consistent snaps in 2010, an injury to Locker late in the season opened the door for Price to flash his skills against a championship-bound Oregon team. Producing 127 yards and one score on 14 for 28 passing, Price may have bought his ticket to start in 2011 with his excellent effort.

While UW coach Steve Sarkisian continues to mention Nick Montana’s name in the QB competition, Price has been adamant in scrimmages to work on making quicker decisions and cutting down on the mental mistakes; making him the best choice in the Huskies offense and on your fantasy team. 

2011 Projections: 2,800 yards, 17 touchdowns      

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Nick Foles - QB - Arizona
Standing at an imposing 6’4”, 240 pounds, Arizona quarterback Nick Foles will need to use all his newfound muscle and energy to get back on track after a dislocated kneecap and a brutal schedule to begin the season.

After starting the season against Northern Arizona in which the Wildcats are heavily favored, they head to Stillwater, OK to face Oklahoma State and then back to Arizona to take on Stanford and Oregon.

Foles is a veteran quarterback who knows how to handle the pressures of a big game, but with a new starting five on the offensive line, he’ll need to step up big time in 2011 to get the job done.

With a deep crew of talented receivers and his ability to stay healthy throughout the entire season, Foles should be a great pickup deeper in a draft if you’re looking to catch lightning in a bottle.

2011 Projections: 3,000 yards, 22 touchdowns  

Stepfan Taylor - RB - Stanford
Stepfan Taylor became only the second running back in Stanford history to rush for 100 yards in five straight games and it doesn’t look like he’ll be slowing down with the competition eagerly waiting for their chance to step up.

Taylor heads a class of talented backs that included Tyler Gaffney, Jeremy Stewart and Anthony Wilkerson, but Taylor will continue to receive a bulk of the playing time as he chases after the school’s rushing yards record.

Stepfan plays to his strengths of speed and the ability to pound the ball up the middle, which will help balance the offense as Heisman-favorite Andrew Luck continues to tear up opposing defenses.

While Taylor doesn’t immediately jump off the page when looking at the Pac-12, pound-for-pound he is a very well built, determined runner who will have no problem putting the team on his back in tough situations.

2011 Projections:  1,850 yards, 26 touchdowns  

Robert Woods - WR - USC
In his second year as head coach for the Trojans, Lane Kiffin has observed the fact that his team is in need for speed on offense. While Robert Woods is still nursing a sore ankle from an injury he sustained playing basketball, he is USC’s ideal candidate to fill this void at wide receiver.

It was apparent even in a summer scrimmage that with Woods lining up, his presence will set forth a positive chain of events on offense. Matt Barkley looked like a top NFL prospect when connecting to Woods and Marqise Lee will be able to continue his journey to a starting spot.

Woods will be looking to improve upon 2010’s totals of 65 receptions for 792 yards and six scores as well as aiding the Trojans back to supremacy in a tough Pac-12.

2011 Projections: 1,100 yards, 10 touchdowns  

Isi Sofele - RB - California
After two years of spot duty cleaning up behind the 56th overall pick Shane Vereen, Cal junior running back Isi Sofele now firmly holds the starting job going into the 2011 season. 

Rushing for only 81 attempts, 420 yards and one touchdown in a backup role, Sofele will be out to prove to fans they aren’t missing much after Vereen’s early departure and will use his diminutive, but imposing strength and speed to get the best of defenses early on.

Despite standing at 5’8”, 190 pounds Sofele has proven to be ready to become an every-down back and his production will prove worthwhile if taken with a late round flier. 

2011 Projections: 1,000 yards, 11 touchdowns

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