Last year, as it goes with any football season either college or pro, viewers were treated to the breakouts of a number of players in the Pac-12. Most memorably from 2015 was Christian McCaffrey, Stanford’s Mr. Everything who shattered Barry Sanders’ record for all-purpose yards in a single season.
There was also Josh Rosen, UCLA’s freshman phenomenon under center, as well as USC’s Adoree’ Jackson, Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams and a host of others who kept us tuned in to #Pac12AfterDark well after our recommended bedtimes.
This year will be no exception in terms of new talent. Here are five Pac-12 players to keep an eye on for a breakout season.
Myles Gaskin, Washington running back
Gaskin technically already had a breakout, though it was only for one game, a four touchdown pointsplosion against Southern Mississippi to close the season with the attention of the nation firmly in hand.
It’s difficult to fathom now, with his record breaking freshman season in 20-20 hindsight, but Gaskin actually began the year as a reserve, and he would end it as the Huskies’ most potent offensive weapon. Despite relatively limited carries – he took just 227 hand offs on the year – Gaskin ran for 1,302 yards (a Washington freshman record) and 14 touchdowns (also a Washington record).
With Gaskin firmly cemented as the full-time running back from game one, expect huge numbers from the true sophomore.
Ronald Jones, USC running back
While on the topic of newly minted starting running backs, it’s important to mention another who broke records as a freshman and who will likely be his team’s No. 1 option on offense: Ronald Jones.
USC had to be the most disappointing championship-playing team in the country in 2015. Mercurial and, as always, constantly in the news for not so positive reasons, Jones was a consistent bright spot. Jones averaged 6.5 yards per carry, nearly eclipsing 1,000 yards despite taking almost 100 fewer carries than Gaskin.
And Jones, like Gaskin, is now his team’s No. 1 man. Chances are, more records will be broken by both of them.
Demario Richard, Arizona State running back
Richard’s name is a fairly well-known one in Pac-12 circles, despite not having what most would call a breakout season just yet. His freshman year was productive, running for 478 yards and finding the end zone four times.
Last year, his sophomore season, saw a noticeable increase, as Richard eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on the ground — upping his rushing touchdown total to seven on the year. Now, with quarterback Mike Bercovici gone, Richard will be the most reliable piece of the Arizona State offense. He saw his carries more than double from his freshman season (84) to his sophomore (209), even with Bercovici under center. Anything less than 230 carries for Richard would be a surprise. And if he maintains his strong 5.3 yards per carry average of 2015, Richard will be one of the more formidable running backs on the west coast.
Jake Browning, Washington quarterback
It might seem odd to have two Washington players on this list, given that the Huskies barely scratched out a .500 record in the regular season in 2015, but there’s a reason that ESPN is calling the Pac-12, “Stanford, Washington, and everybody else.”
Browning is one of those reasons.
Just a true freshman in 2015, he was handing off to a true freshman in Gaskin and being protected by a line replete with underclassmen. Despite his youth, and the youth of those around him, Browning quickly showed that he has the ability and potential to become one of the best Washington quarterbacks ever.
His 2,955 yards were the fifth most in Washington history, and he also checked in with the sixth highest completion percentage (633) and sixth most attempts. He finished the year with six consecutive 200-plus yard games, showing poise befitting a senior. And yet…he was the first true freshman to ever start at quarterback for Washington.
It will be entertaining to see how much one year of experience will add to his skill set.
Anu Solomon, Arizona quarterback
Solomon had a breakout year of sorts as a freshman, when he, like Browning, became the first freshman to start at his school. By year’s end he led all FBS freshmen in passing yards and threw 28 touchdowns, leading Arizona to its best season since 1998, setting him and the Wildcats up for what was supposed to be a massive sophomore year.
Only it wasn’t.
Arizona fell to a disappointing 7-6 record, and Solomon didn’t make the steps expected of him. In fact, with injuries and sloppy play, it’s fair to argue that he regressed. Now, his starting job is up for jeopardy, though if any of his unbelievable talent from his freshman year has progressed, we could be in for a big year from Solomon.