The Pac-12 will have its fair share of new coaches this fall - Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, Todd Graham at Arizona State, Jim Mora Jr. at UCLA and Mike Leach at Washington State - but when it comes to identifying conference players who stand out as fantasy options, a list including many of the usual suspects immediately comes to mind. USC quarterback Matt Barkley, for instance, appears poised to shine in a spotlight now absent of Stanford standout Andrew Luck, while Oregon's Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas represent one of the nation's most dangerous tailback tandems. At wide receiver, WSU's Marquess Wilson is set up to become the nation's top pass catcher. Youthful talent sprouting in Corvalis, Eugene and Tucson only serves to enhance the talent available for fantasy owners in drafts and on waiver wires throughout the season. Ultimately, though, this ought to be a season ruled by Lane Kiffin's Trojans, who dominate our draft boards. With spread offenses suddenly popping up throughout the conference, the Pac-12 provides some of the nation's best fantasy weapons and should draw the attention of owners in a wide variety of formats this season.
TOP-5 FANTASY STARS
1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
With Andrew Luck finally departing to the NFL, Barkley now becomes the biggest quarterback gun in the Pac-12. He enters the season third in USC history in completions (755) and total offense (9,013 yards) behind Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart in both categories. He's thrown at least one touchdown pass in 32 of his 36 career games and has hit 200 yards passing 24 times (300 yards 10 times). Barkley is a fantasy machine - his 39 touchdown passes from last year are the most of any returning quarterback - making him an obvious choice for fantasy owners seeking a marquee quarterback.
2. DeAnthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
Few running backs boast the supreme athleticism and skill that Thomas brings to Oregon. Although undersized at 5-foot-9, 173, Thomas nevertheless burned opposing defenses last year, earning Pac-12 freshman of the year honors after averaging 147.8 all-purpose yards (11th in the nation) and becoming the only player in the nation with 400-plus yards rushing, receiving and kick returning. Scary thing about those accomplishments? While Thomas played in all 14 of Oregon's games last year, he only started six. And on a team that featured the likes of LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, Thomas still totaled 609 rushing yards, 595 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns combined. Even though he's still splitting carries with Barner, Thomas should see more playing time this season, significantly increasing last season's 55 rushes and 46 receptions. And he'll be active in the return game again (two TD last season).
3. Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State
In two years in the Palouse, the Cougars' standout wide receiver totaled an impressive 137 receptions, 2,394 yards and 18 touchdowns. All this on a team that won just six games in those two years. Last season, the 6-4 Wilson set WSU single-season records with 82 receptions and 1,388 yards, leading the Pac-12 in receiving yards per game with 115.7. In 2012, those numbers should only get better, as Mike Leach takes over the helm in Pullman, bringing with him his signature Air Raid offense - a scheme that routinely found Leach's quarterbacks at Texas Tech throwing more than 50 times a game. With an experienced Jeff Tuel returning under center, there is little reason to believe Wilson won't eclipse last year's campaign in which he finished sixth in the nation in receiving.
4. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Robert Woods is the biggest name among USC's receivers, but ongoing complications from ankle surgery have clouded his immediate future. Enter Lee, a sophomore wide receiver who some argue is a more valuable asset in the Trojans passing game than Woods anyway. It isn't a difficult argument to make, given that as a freshman Lee averaged nine receptions and 140 yards per game over his last five contests while catching seven touchdown passes. Of course, part of makes Lee so good is Woods' presence on the field; defenders are drawn down field by Woods, leaving Lee as incredibly dangerous secondary option in single coverage. Still, Lee's 1,143 yards and 11 total touchdowns are hard first-year numbers to ignore. Entering the season, he looks like the safer of the two USC receivers, and when Woods returns Lee will comprise half of the most dangerous receiving tandem in the nation.
5. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
If you're looking for the ideal tight end, search no further than Seferian-Jenkins, who at 6-6, 258, is about the perfect mix of size and athleticism for the position. As a freshman last season, Seferian-Jenkins led all conference tight ends with 41 receptions and finishing second behind only Stanford's Coby Fleener for touchdown catches (six). His 538 receiving yards last season rank third all-time among UW tight ends. He'll again be a key part of the Washington offense as one of quarterback Keith Price's favorite targets. Few tight ends are on his level on the field, fewer still in the fantasy realm.
Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Carey put up impressive numbers as a freshman last season, carrying 91 times for 425 yards and six touchdowns despite a pass-heavy offense. A year later, Rich Rodriguez has taken over the reins in Tucson, bringing with him a productive spread offense that should keep opposing defenses constantly guessing. And the inexperience that plagued the Wildcats offensive line in 2011 finds all five starters from last year returning. Both factors should play heavily in favor of Carey having a breakout sophomore season and displaying the outstanding talent that made him the highlight of Arizona's 2011 recruiting class. An excellent receiver as well (15-203-2 last season), it will come as little surprise if Carey competes for the Pac-12 rushing title.
Byron Marshall, RB, Oregon
LaMichael James' departure leaves Kenjon Barner next line for carries. But Barner's injury history raises concern about his ability to survive the punishment that comes with being a featured back for the Ducks. DeAnthony Thomas will certainly help spell Barner, but Thomas is expected to be an even bigger part of the passing attack. That leaves an opportunity for the freshman Marshall. A 5-10, 195, speedster considered one of the West Coast's best running back recruits, Marshall could make the Ducks backfield the three-headed monster that last year's was with James, Barner and Thomas. And if Barner or Thomas goes down with injury, Marshall offers coach Chip Kelly a fantastic running-back option.
Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford
Stanford's top three receivers from last year are gone, leaving a big opportunity for Montgomery. His freshman number - 24 receptions, 350 yards and two touchdowns - might not seem particularly impressive, but Montgomery proved at points in 2011 he could make significant contributions as a playmaker in Stanford's passing game. Increased playing time toward year's end found Montgomery netting 22 receptions for 329 yards in the second half of the Cardinal schedule, with an impressive showing - seven receptions, 120 yards and a touchdown - coming against Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. Little doubt Stanford will have its hands full trying to replace Andrew Luck, but whoever nets the job - sophomore Brett Nottingham or junior Josh Nunes - ought to find a real weapon in Montgomery. Watch for the sophomore to also play a major role on special teams as well, where last year he averaged 25.2 yards in 27 kickoff returns.
Storm Woods, RB, Oregon State
A redshirt freshman, Woods is in a battle with Malcolm Agnew for the starting running back job. At 5-10, 202, Woods has both the size and speed to be an every down back for the Beavers. What he lacks in experience he makes up for in versatility as he's an excellent receiver who likely will see action in the passing game. Agnew impressed last season but only played six games because of injuries. Durability issues persist for Agnew, which could give Woods a great opportunity even if he doesn't win the starting job.
Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon
A highly regarded recruit last season, the 6-5, 238, Lyerla put up nominal receiving numbers in his first year playing for the Ducks - seven catches for 147 yards - but was a solid target in the red zone, where he totaled five touchdowns. Given the departure of David Paulson, Lyerla is expected to see a productive sophomore campaign, especially with the ultra-talented Christian French moving from tight end to the defensive side of the ball. Watch for Lyerla to provide an outstanding target for the young talent emerging under center - Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota - and especially so considering the overall inexperience of Oregon's wide receiver corps.
Kevin Prince, Richard Brehaut, Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
The only consistency UCLA has seen in the last three years is the inconsistency of its quarterbacks. Prince, last year's starter, has a good arm and great mobility - forget already that he rushed 19 times for 163 yards last season in a surprising win over California? - but can't seem to remain healthy long enough to put those assets to good use. Brehaut, who struggled in 2010, saw a promising start to last season end with a broken fibula in October. Hundley remains an enigma, having never played a down of college football, though those who watched him in spring camp this year raved about his overall athleticism and ability to make plays with his legs. Still, neither Hundley, Prince nor Brehaut distinguished himself enough to be named starter by new Bruins coach Jim Mora Jr. as spring drew to a close. Mora says he has an Aug. 16 deadline to set the quarterback depth chart. Whoever winds up atop the list, though, likely won't make much of an impact this season from a fantasy perspective, especially after UCLA's receivers led the Pac-12 in dropped passes last season.
Jordan Wynn, QB, Utah
Wynn certainly should be regarded as an improvement from Jon Hays, who took over last year after Wynn went down with a hurt shoulder. But there are doubts surrounding Wynn entering this season - not only regarding his overall durability and ability to throw following surgery on his shoulder, but also his ability to hold off Travis Wilson, a redshirt freshman who drew rave reviews from coach Ty Willingham in spring. Wynn might begin the season as the starter, but it would not surprise to see Wilson or early enrollee Chase Hansen overtake him sooner than later.
Rickey Galvin, RB, Washington State
Galvin showed he had the makings of a decent running back last year, averaging 5.2 yards per carry in a redshirt freshman season that saw him lead Washington State with 602 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. With Mike Leach now head coach, Galvin's role in the backfield could turn into more of a pass blocker or a check-down option for WSU's quarterback. Given his speed and quickness, Galvin ought to prove productive enough when converted to a receiver - 17 of his 28 receptions came in the Cougars final five games of 2011. Yet, Leach said coming out of spring that neither Galvin nor fellow running backs Leon Brooks and Carl Winston set themselves apart enough to earn the starting nod. That seems to signal that, unless things change dramatically in fall camp, Leach plans on utilizing a backfield-by-committee approach in his first season in Pullman.
Dan Buckner, WR, Arizona
Buckner made quite a splash in Tucson last year when, after playing at Texas in 2009 and 2010, the 6-4, 214, receiver transferred to Arizona. But Buckner never quite lived up to expectations, catching 42 passes for 606 yards and two touchdowns. Expectations for Buckner this season are once again high, especially given Juron Criner (11 TD) has now moved on to the NFL. Buckner should emerge as Arizona's top receiver, but his inconsistency last season should give fantasy owners pause. Furthermore, redshirt freshman David Richards is already nipping at Buckner's heels and could overtake him with a strong performance in fall camp.
Curtis McNeal, RB, USC
McNeal's fantasy value took a hit when Silas Redd transferred from Penn State in July. McNeal rushed for 1,005 yards last season and six touchdowns in the season's final eight weeks, but he already caused concern with his lack of receiving skills (three receptions in 2011) and size (5-7, 180). Now he'll have to at least share with Redd, who rushed for 1,241 yards last season for Penn State and is a good bet this year for double-digit touchdowns. McNeal is worth owning in Pac-12 leagues, as long as he's drafted late. But Redd is the better running back and should garner the majority of backfield work.
TEAM-BY-TEAM FANTASY STARS
QB Matt Scott (15), RB Ka'Deem Carey (33)
RB Cameron Marshall (48), WR Jamal Miles (24)
RB Isi Sofele (45), WR Keenan Allen (10)
QB Bryan Bennett (45), RB Kenjon Barner (3), DeAnthony Thomas (9), TE Colt Lyerla (6), Defense (28)
WR Markus Wheaton (31)
RB Stepfan Taylor (18), WR Ty Montgomery (43), TE Levine Toilolo (13), TE Zach Ertz (21), K Jordan Williamson (15)
RB Johnathan Franklin (39), TE Joseph Fauria (9)
QB Matt Barkley (5), RB Silas Redd, WR Marqise Lee (2), WR Robert Woods (7), TE Randall Tefler (17), K Andre Heidari (8)
RB John White (20) TE Dallin Rogers (19), Defense (13)
QB Keith Price (27), WR Kasen Williams (35), WR James Johnson (57), TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (2)
QB Jeff Tuel (7), WR Marquess Wilson (1), WR Dominique Williams (60), WR Bobby Ratliff (66), K Andrew Furney (11)