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Ralph D. Russo | The Associated Press | July 20, 2016

College football: Six pivotal players to watch in the Pac-12

The Pac-12 has one Heisman Trophy favorite in Stanford's Christian McCaffrey, another legitimate contender in Oregon's Royce Freeman and maybe the most talented quarterback in the country west of Deshaun Watson in UCLA's Josh Rosen.

There is star power out West worth staying up late to watch.

Looking past the obvious studs, here are six players who could have a major impact on the conference title race and the Pac-12's chances to reach the College Football Playoff after missing out last season.

Ishmael Adams, WR, UCLA

Rosen lived up to the hype in year one, but three of the Bruins' top four receivers are gone and little game experience returns. So Adams is moving from cornerback to receiver to bolster that side of the ball and take advantage of his elusiveness and good hands. At 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, Adams is probably a slot receiver who can be used as a playmaker in space.

Max Browne, QB, USC

It seems like forever since Browne (2013) signed with the Trojans as one of the most highly touted quarterback prospects in the country. His time appears to have finally arrived and aside from an opening game against Alabama, a first-time starting quarterback could not ask for a much better situation. USC returns 10 offensive starters and ample depth. The job is not officially Browne's yet. Redshirt freshman Sam Darnold is still in the running, according to coach Clay Helton. Unless Darnold is a phenom, the Trojans best bet is the experienced Browne blossoming.

Evan Goodman, OT, Arizona State

The Sun Devils are rebuilding their offensive line with senior Goodman as the lone starter with extensive experience. Goodman came to Tempe as maybe the most highly touted offensive lineman ever signed by the Sun Devils, but it's been a slow build up. He finally cracked the starting lineup last year.

If he can finish his career by reaching that four-star ceiling, it would help stabilize an offense also breaking in a new quarterback.

Canton Kaumatule, DT, Oregon

The Ducks' defense was bad last season (98th in the nation in yards per play allowed at 6.03) with one of the best defensive players in the country: defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. DeFo is gone. Oregon is hoping some scheme tweaks (from 3-4 to 4-3) by new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke provide at least a partial fix. A near-total rebuild in the front seven would go a lot smoother if the 6-7, 295-pound Kaumatule, a four-star recruit who didn't contribute much as a freshman last year, can lock down a defensive tackle spot.

RELATED: Cal's game in Australia could open future Pac-12 games down under

John Ross III, WR, Washington

Ross missed last season with a right knee injury, taking one of the fastest players in the Pac-12 away from a team that showed plenty of reasons for optimism in 2015. What sophomore quarterback Jake Browning and the Huskies could really use in 2016 to take another step forward is a game-breaker on the outside — which is exactly what Ross could be.

Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford

The Cardinal line was inexperienced and starkly thin last season, relying heavily three players. Two of those players are gone. The other is Thomas, who flashed star potential as a freshman. Stanford is hoping for relatively inexperienced players to develop around Thomas, but an All-America-type season from the sophomore would help alleviate some of the issues.

Extra point:

Six more pivotal players: Cody Ippolito, LB, Arizona; Gabe Marks, WR, Washington State; Hunter Dimick, DE, Utah; Seth Collins, WR, Oregon State; Khalfani Muhammad, RB, California; Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado.

This article was written by Ralph D. Russo from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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