Great quarterbacks without great wide receivers are like Kool-Aid with no sugar, peanut butter with no jelly or ham with no burger.
There was a buzz around the quarterbacks at Warner Bros. Studios, home to last week’s Pac-12 media days, and deservedly so. The conference returns two of the nation’s best in USC’s Cody Kessler and Cal’s Jared Goff.
Arizona’s Anu Solomon should build on a breakout freshman season, Arizona State’s Mike Bercovici and Stanford’s Kevin Hogan are savvy veterans. Even UCLA, perhaps starting a true freshman in Josh Rosen, is generating excitement at quarterback just weeks out from the start of the 2015 season.
A characteristic shared throughout the Pac-12, regardless who is playing quarterback, is the collection of talent at wide receiver. The conference is loaded at the position across a number of squads.
Cal and USC are good places to start, considering the hype for Goff and Kessler. Cal head coach Sonny Dykes’ “Bear Raid” offense requires multiple wide receivers to function at peak level, and there are plenty of those in Berkeley.
“It helps when you have Kenny Lawler, and Maurice Harris, and all the guys that we’ve got playing outside, Trevor Davis,” Dykes said. “Those guys have played a lot of football. So surely I can’t screw that up.”
At No. 11 in the nation, scoring 38.3 points per game, Dykes didn’t screw up the offensive playcallling. Far from it.
With Lawler back to serve as Goff’s No. 1, the Golden Bears could kick it into another gear.
Dykes cultivated his system in part from his time as an assistant to Mike Leach at Texas Tech. Leach brought his air raid to Washington State, where the Cougars have the most productive passing attack in the Pac-12.
River Cracraft and Dom Williams stand out as leaders in the Cougars’ prolific scheme.
USC’s Kessler loses his top weapon, 1,300-yard receiver Nelson Agholor, but the Trojans gain depth with Steven Mitchell returning from injury and JUCO transfer Isaac Whitney.
Mitchell and Whitney are potential breakout stars around decided No. 1 JuJu Smith, and the trio will play a critical part in Kessler’s pursuit of the Heisman Trophy.
With Agholor gone, a new top receiver in the Pac-12 will emerge. Arizona’s Cayleb Jones is a candidate, coming off a 2014 in which he caught for 1,019 yards and nine touchdowns.
Jones is the centerpiece of a very deep Wildcat receiving corps, which returns more than 2,600 yards in production. Trey Griffey, Samajie Grant and Nate Phillips — who is back from a season-ending injury — are all candidates for monster seasons.
But one player to watch is David Richards, who could fill the void as Arizona’s big body that Austin Hill manned in 2012 and 2014. Hill was an All-Pac-12 performer for the Wildcats in 2012, and last season was on the receiving end of Solomon’s Hail Mary heave to beat Cal.
“I try to pattern myself after Juron [Criner, former Arizona All-American] and Austin,” Richards said. “They’ve led the way and shown the example of how to play football and how to play the wide receiver spot.”
Richards goes about 6-foot-5, giving Arizona a big, prototypical style target in an offense built around speed. His place with the Wildcats this season should resemble how UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has used Thomas Duarte, a former tight end, in the Bruins’ scheme.
Duarte emerged as a key threat in UCLA’s passing attack last season, stealing the show in the Bruins’ rout of crosstown rival USC.
With him operating as the big, physical target in mid-range throws, Duarte provides balance to possession target Jordan Payton and periphery threat Devin Fuller.
Interestingly enough, two contenders to be the Pac-12’s top wideouts in 2015 didn’t start their college careers at the position.
Oregon’s Byron Marshall moved to receiver last season after leading the Ducks in rushing in 2013. The arrival of 5-star running back Royce Freeman, coupled with the loss of top returner Bralon Addison, necessitated the move.
It turned out to be a boon for the Ducks, as Marshall became Oregon’s No. 1 receiver in 2014.
Arizona State’s D.J. Foster is seeking a similar transition, as he steps into the slot to make room for Demario Richard in the Sun Devil backfield.
Safety Jordan Simone faces Foster in practices and offered some insight into the former leading rusher’s new role.
“He looks great,” Simone said. “Like any player, he can get better in certain aspects. But he’s really smooth, super athletic. I think he’s going to be an unbelievable wide receiver in the Pac-12.
“He’s like an Amari Cooper,” Simone added. “He can make plays, and he’s got that speed where he can push vertical.”
With so much receiver depth around the Pac-12, it’s small wonder that the quarterbacks are so highly praised.