The true sophomore unanimous All-American became the nation's most decorated defensive player, winning the Lombardi, Nagurski and Bednarik awards.
That is the focus of this series. We'll run through each Pac-12 team and highlight a player who was low on star rating when he arrived on campus but became a critical guy.
Up next: USC
Two-Star Scoob: OT Chad Wheeler
Recruiting ratings: ESPN.com: Three stars; Rivals.com: Three stars; Scout.com: Three stars.
Recruiting analysis: USC isn't easy to do on this because it doesn't sign many recruits who get fewer than four stars. In fact, some might argue that a commitment to USC automatically increases a recruit's star rating "just because." Wheeler qualifies here because he was one of the lowest rated members of the Trojans' 2012 recruiting class. Part of his low rating is he was mostly viewed as a defensive player in high school, though ESPN.com rated him the nation's No. 141 offensive tackle. Kudos to this scouting report, though: "We feel there is a good possibility that someone could take Wheeler and work to develop him into an offensive tackle where he does display more upside than if he stayed on defense. ...Wheeler is a kid with some tools which we feel if groomed will be better utilized on offense and we also feel he is a kid who will need/benefit from a redshirt, but flashes some upside." Scout.com ranked Wheeler the No. 17 OT on the West Coast, while Rivals.com didn't rate him despite giving him three stars.
On campus? Wheeler became the Trojans' starting left tackle as a redshirt freshman -- beating out veteran starter Aundrey Walker -- and earned numerous Freshman All-American awards. He also was named USC's "Co-Lifter of the Year," after he transformed himself from a 260-pound prep defensive end into a 280-pound OT. He started the first eight games of 2014 before blowing out his knee against Utah. Before he got hurt, Wheeler might have been the Trojans' most consistent lineman. In advance of the 2014 season, new coach Steve Sarkisian said Wheeler was his offensive line's only certainty: "I feel great about our left tackle. I think he's a tremendous player. He is still somewhat new, he only has one year under his belt at the position, but he's a very talented guy. He is competitive, he has an unbelievable work ethic." When he gets healthy, the expectation is Wheeler will return to his starting spot and be on his way to becoming a four-year starter, if he doesn't bolt for the NFL before that.