It seems like we’ve waited an eternity, but it’s finally here! The Pac-12 will begin its six-week season this week. There are plenty of things to watch right out of the gate. Here are a couple of intriguing prospect matchups to keep a close eye on this week.
Arizona State at USC
Both of these teams have NFL prospects on both sides of the ball. Arizona State always presents an intriguing matchup for USC, as many of the Sun Devils’ players are from southern California. Not only does ASU have one of the best young quarterbacks in the nation in sophomore Jayden Daniels, but they also boast some NFL-ready prospects as well. Arizona State linebacker Merlin Robertson may very well be a top-five linebacker in the 2021 NFL Draft should he choose to declare. Robinson is athletic and instinctive and has flashed moments of brilliance as a downhill linebacker.
Staying on that side of the ball, ASU also has cornerbacks Chase Lucas and Jack Jones. Lucas has good size and plays the position with good instincts. He has started a lot of meaningful games in his career and is one of the most experienced returning cornerbacks in the Pac-12. Jones doesn’t have great size, but has excellent short-area agility. He was very productive last season and showed tremendous ball skills. He looks to prove that he can play outside at the next level.
USC has its own young quarterback phenom in Kedon Slovis. Also just a sophomore, his outstanding freshman year put the conference and evaluators on notice. Protecting him up front is NFL prospect Alijah Vera-Tucker. He’s the best interior line prospect in the Pac-12. He's physical, athletic, and could very well hear his name called early in the draft.
On the outside, they have NFL prospect Amon-Ra St. Brown, who is vying to solidify himself as a potential top-50 pick. Brown is a dynamic and explosive wide receiver who attacks the ball with tenacity. He plays the game with a level of toughness evaluators will love at the next level. Tyler Vaughn is another wide receiver who looks to hear his name called on draft day. Vaughn is a smooth and fluid athlete who has been productive during his time at USC.
Defensively, they lost Jay Tufele, as he declared for the NFL draft, however they still have intriguing prospects in safety Talanoa Hufanga, linebacker Palaie Gaoteote, and cornerback Olaijah Griffin. Hufanga is a tough and physical player who is always seems to be around the football. He projects as a valuable commodity on defense and special teams. Gaoteote is an active and physical linebacker who plays the game with reckless abandon. Griffin has good length and the ball skills necessary to ascend at the position. Playing with consistency and good technique will be key for him to maximize his good natural ability.
Washington at California
The California Golden Bears are projected to contend for the Pac-12 North title, led by quarterback Chase Garber. Garber is one of the better quarterbacks in the Pac-12 when healthy—however, remaining healthy has been an issue. He also needs to improve his poise and accuracy, particularly when under duress, but figures to compete to have an opportunity to play on Sundays.
For the Washington Huskies, they have several prospects on their defense. Cornerback Elijah Molden is one of the best secondary prospects on defense. He has tremendous instincts and is certain to have his name called on draft day. Keep an eye on Tuli Letuligasenoa, as well. He still may be a year away, but this player has explosive in-line power and defends the run very well.
Stanford at Oregon
This matchup is always an exciting one in Pac-12 play. Both teams have rising seniors and younger players who are certain to play on Sundays. Obviously the biggest name is left tackle Penei Sewell. The 2020 Outland Winner and All-American who opted out of the football season, will likely be a top-three pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. However, Oregon’s other prominent players Jevon Holland, Thomas Graham and safety Brady Breeze opted out as well. Deommodore Lenoir initially opted out, but had a change of heart and has returned to school. He has a lot of big-game experience, having started 27 consecutive games. His positional flexibility and competitive nature will make him an intriguing prospect in the eyes of NFL scouts.
Stanford also had a potential Day 1 player opt out in left tackle Walker Little and cornerback Paulson Adebo, both projected as first-round draft picks by some. However, they return some players that will also receive consideration. Keep an eye on center Drew Dalman and EDGE defenders Gabe Reid and Thomas Booker. Dalman is a little undersized but plays the game with good natural leverage and instincts. Reid and Booker are both EDGE defenders with some positional flex who look to raise their productivity and ultimately their stock in the eyes of NFL scouts