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2016 Pac-12 preseason top 25 players: Nos. 25-21

Arizona running back Nick Wilson hopes he can stay healthy and rush for well over 1,000 yards this season. Carlos Herrera/Icon Sportswire

And so begins the countdown. With the season quickly approaching, it’s time for our annual preseason countdown of the top 25 players in the Pac-12. The joy of this list is that we can project a little bit. Sometimes those projections pan out. Sometimes they don’t. Last year’s preseason top 25 looked nothing like the postseason one because of some injuries. Also, a player like Vernon Adams Jr. wasn’t on the preseason list because he was largely an unknown. He ended up on the postseason list, though. You get the idea.

Here’s a link to our final top five players from 2015, if you’d like to reminisce. That also has links to the complete postseason list of Nos. 1-25 and our 2015 preseason rankings.

We’ll be unveiling five players a day each day this week. Here are Nos. 25-21:

25. Darren Carrington, WR, Oregon

Despite missing half of last season, Carrington still finished as a second-team all-conference performer, with 32 receptions for 609 yards and six touchdowns. His 87 yards per game would have ranked him third in the Pac-12 and 24th nationally had he met the minimum requirements. He’s one of several explosive players the Ducks have at their disposal on offense. In a league already loaded with wide receivers, he should be counted among the top-end guys.

24. Azeem Victor, LB, Washington

The top tackler on the top defense in the Pac-12 last season, Victor was a huge reason why the Huskies yielded just 18.8 points per game. He tallied 95 stops, including nine for a loss, with 1.5 sacks. He also made big contributions in pass defense, with six passes broken up and an interception that he returned for a touchdown. Expect him to be in the conversation at the end of the year for the league’s Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year.

23. Cameron Smith, LB, USC

We’re projecting a little bit with Smith, but we feel good about it. The Pac-12’s defensive freshman of the year and a 2015 Freshman All-American, Smith was on pace to become the first true freshman to lead the Trojans in tackles since 1954. But a late-season knee injury sidelined him. He still finished second on the team with 78 tackles, and Utah fans no doubt remember his three-interception game against the Utes. If he’s back to full speed, he’ll be a force.

22. Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona

Another player who was slowed by injuries last season, Wilson still tallied 725 yards and eight rushing touchdowns. Those were not quite the same stats that he put up in his freshman campaign, when he totaled 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground, but if he’s healthy, there is no question he will be one of the top backs in the conference playing in an offense that accentuates his talents.

21. Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado

While Awuzie might be underappreciated nationally, coaches in the Pac-12 know what he’s all about, which is why they named him to the second-team all-conference squad for 2015. How important is he to the Buffaloes? Between corner and nickel, he was on the field for 897 snaps and posted 90 tackles (78 solo). The Colorado coaches are also creative with the way they use him. He led the team with 13 tackles for a loss and also posted four sacks to go with a pair of interceptions.