Photo courtesy of California athletics
In the inaugural edition of the ‘FQ Pac-12 Panel,’ the question of the week is a simple one: what is one breakout candidate for each team?
Here is what — or rather who — to look for from each team:
Colorado: K.D. Nixon, WR
Nixon, also known as ‘Superstarnixon’ on Twitter, has the chance to be the true No. 1 receiver on the depth chart for the first time during his tenure in Boulder. Nixon has shown tremendous flashes of talent over the past two seasons, showcasing his quickness and burst on several plays. The problem with Nixon is consistency; while his yards per catch increased from 12.9 to 13.6 from 2018 to 2019, he had almost 400 fewer yards and three fewer scores.
A variety of factors could explain his 2019 drop in production. Steven Montez saw a plateau in production and grad transfer Tony Brown took away targets. Still, Nixon now remains the lone senior in a young – albeit talented – receiver room. While the Buffaloes have several highly-touted incoming freshman, Nixon will have the nod as the No. 1 target going into the season. Where he lacks size, he has more agility and personality to make him a key player to watch.
Oregon: Mykael Wright, DB
ESPN has Mykael Wright as the fifth best cornerback in college football, yet he had limited playing time last year. Wright is a very physical corner who can cause issues for guys at the line of scrimmage. On top of that, he has the speed to avoid getting burnt when trying to jam wideouts. If Wright intercepts your pass, you better have your running cleats on.
Wright is electric with the ball; he played receiver in college and returns kicks now for Oregon. He has a combination of speed and elusiveness Oregon hasn’t seen since De’Anthony Thomas or Devon Allen played for the Ducks. This time, he’s on the opposite side of the ball and can turn an interception into a touchdown if you give him a chance. Wright, by his junior year, should be one of the best cornerbacks in college football.
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Oregon State: David Morris, DB
David Morris, now a redshirt junior, has had a career distracted by injuries at Oregon State. As a true freshman, he played in 11 games (seven starts) and was a standout defensive player on the team. His efforts were good enough to earn All Pac-12 honorable mention. Expectations rose, but those expectations were slashed by injuries. Morris only played in two games as a sophomore and utilized his medical redshirt. As a redshirt sophomore and with a new coaching staff, Morris was still battling injuries in the offseason but appeared ready to begin the season. Head coach Jonathan Smith and the staff decided to bring Morris along slowly, capping his playing time early.
As Morris started to see the field more, Beaver fans and coaches began to see again what made him so special as a freshman. He made numerous big special teams plays to earn his starting role back and quickly became a captain on the defense. As he enters his junior year, the sky’s the limit for Morris. His NFL-caliber talent and intangibles will be key for the rapidly-improving Beavers’ defense. Morris is ready for a breakout season and to show fans just what made him such an impactful player as a freshman. Question is, will injuries continue to be a problem? Oregon State coaches and fans alike are hopeful for the best.
California: Chase Garbers, QB
JJ Wilcox has been a welcome addition at head coach for the Bears, but in his tenure, a theme is beginning to form: solid defenses and limited offenses. To alleviate this problem, Bill Musgrave, former NFL coordinator, will look to revamp the offense. Before Garbers’ untimely injury last year, Cal was well on its way to a successful season. However, after the year, the Bears ranked just 117th nationally in total offense.
With the addition of Musgrave and another year of familiarity, Garbers could be set to pick up where he left off last year. Musgrave has a reputation for being a quarterback-friendly addition to any staff. That should have Garbers excited.
USC: Kyle Ford, WR
Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns are the wide receivers who will garner most of the attention heading into the fall. However, redshirt freshman Kyle Ford may be the player who takes the biggest step this season for the USC Trojans. After recovering from a torn ACL in 2019, Ford joined the team to make just one catch — a 20-yard touchdown — against Oregon. Still, the nation’s former No. 38 ranked player and No. 6 ranked receiver has enough skill to climb the depth chart and make an immediate impact for Clay Helton’s team. Michael Pittman’s departure to the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts leaves big cleats to fill at the top receiver spot.
At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Ford has the physical attributes to be a dependable red-zone target for quarterback Kedon Slovis. It will be a crowded receiver room in LA, but Ford has shown the ability to bully cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage and create separation down the field. While St. Brown and Vaughns return with high expectations, there are still 101 catches from last season that are now in the NFL. Ford could, and should, be the benefactor of many of those passes.
The ‘FQ Pac-12 Panel’ is a roundtable discussion of the Fifth Quarter writers covering Pac-12 teams to discuss a variety of topics. These writers can be found on social media for their corresponding teams: Colorado – @FQBuffaloes, Oregon – @FQ_Oregon, Oregon State – @FQOregonSt, Cal – @FQCalifornia, USC – @FQTrojans