Pac-12 football players poised to break out in the fall
Some of the Pac-12 Conference players who could have breakout seasons and be impact players in 2018:
QB Khalil Tate, junior. Tate already had a breakout season in 2017, accounting for nearly 1,600 yards passing, 1,400 more rushing and 26 TDs despite starting the season as a backup. He has a new coach in Mike Sumlin and a new position coach in Noel Mazzone, who has a reputation for turning good quarterbacks into great ones.
WR N’Keal Harry, junior. Harry had a superb freshman season and followed it up with an even better sophomore year, leading the Sun Devils with 82 receptions, 1,142 yards and eight TDs. An athletic 6-foot-4, Harry could have an even bigger third season in the desert before a potential leap to the NFL. He already has a connection with quarterback Manny Wilkins and could have a bigger role under new coach Herm Edwards.
RB Patrick Laird, senior. A former walk-on, Laird had a breakthrough season as a junior in 2017, running for 1,127 yards and eight TDs while averaging nearly six yards per carry. Not bad for a player who had 65 combined yards his first two seasons. No reason to think his upward trend won’t continue.
QB Steve Montez, junior. Montez had a solid first year as a starter, throwing for nearly 3,000 yards and 18 touchdowns, though he did struggle at times in crucial situations. A year of experience as a starter and in coach Mike McIntyre’s system should help him elevate his game in 2018.
LB Kaulana Apelu, junior. Another former walk-on, he became the starter a year ago due to an injury to A.J. Hotchkins, only to break his ankle in late September. Healthy again, he’s ready to emerge as a leader on the Ducks’ defense and has big-play capabilities, evidenced by his 100-yard pick-six in Oregon’s spring game.
RB Artavis Pierce, junior. Last season, Pierce played behind Ryan Nall, who left Corvallis early for the NFL. Pierce did well with limited touches, rushing for 323 yards and a TD, with 15 catches for 128 yards. An expanded role should mean expanded production.
RB Bryce Love, junior. The Cardinal got an unexpected surprise when Love opted to return to Stanford after finishing as runner-up to Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield for the 2017 Heisman Trophy. Love will be one of the favorites to win it this season.
LB Josh Woods, senior. Woods was limited in spring practice after missing the last six games of last season with a shoulder injury. Once fall rolls around, the Bruins will rely on him heavily in a thin linebacking unit.
CB Iman Marshall, senior. Marshall was disappointing during his junior season, failing to intercept a pass and missing three games with a knee injury after a solid sophomore season opposite Adoree’ Jackson. Marshall challenged himself during the offseason and had a superb spring.
WR Aaron Fuller, junior. The Huskies need someone to replace Dante Pettis, their top pass-catcher from a year ago. Fuller showed flashes during his first two seasons, including six catches in the Fiesta Bowl, and emerged as one of QB Jake Browning’s top targets during the spring.
WR Tay Martin, sophomore. Martin had 31 catches for 366 yards and six TDs as a freshman and could be the primary pass-catcher with James Williams and Tavares Martin Jr. gone.
AP Sports Writers Greg Beacham in Los Angeles, Tim Booth in Seattle and Josh Dubow in San Francisco contributed to this story.
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