Our preseason countdown of the top 25 players in the Pac-12 comes to an end. There are some pretty obvious names in the top five. It's notable, however, that the conference known for its offense has three defensive players in the top five.
1. Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona
Pretty obvious choice here. Wright returns as the most decorated defensive player in the country after bringing the Vince Lombardi/Rotary, Chuck Bednarik and Bronko Nagurski awards to Tucson, along with pretty much every first-team All-America honor, first-team NFL All-Pro and Pop Warner MVP Trophy available. You get the point. He made a whopping 163 tackles last year for a league-leading average of 11.6 per game. He also contributed 14 sacks, led the league with 29 tackles for loss and also led the conference with six forced fumbles. In other words, the guy is a one-man wrecking crew.
2. Cody Kessler, QB, USC
Could we see Kessler No. 1 on our postseason list with a Heisman Trophy next to him? Some people think so. After posting impressive numbers last season -- specifically his 39 touchdowns to five interceptions (not to mention completing nearly 70 percent of his throws) -- Kessler has folks believing USC is officially back. The Trojans were picked to win the conference and a second season in Steve Sarkisian’s offense should benefit him. He'll be playing behind an outstanding offensive line and has a stable of skill players that would make most quarterbacks jealous. There are big expectations for Kessler and the Trojans.
3. Jared Goff, QB, California
Goff was one of the more hotly debated players on the board because there was a lot of give and take about whether he should be the No. 2 player. He was certainly worthy of consideration with 35 touchdowns to just seven interceptions last season while throwing for 3,973 yards. He’s on every offensive and quarterback watch list there is, and NFL scouts have been fawning over him. After taking his lumps in Year 1 and showing tremendous improvement in Year 2, the stage is set for him -- and the Bears -- to have a breakout season in Year 3.
4. DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
Speaking of scouts fawning: Buckner has been projected by many as a top-10 NFL draft pick and is poised to be one of the most dominant defensive players in the country. When you look at the Pac-12’s list of leading tacklers last season, you see a lot of linebackers and a few safeties, but not a lot of defensive linemen. With 81 stops last year, Buckner was one of the most active front men in the league. He should improve on his four sacks from last season and 13 tackles for loss.
5. Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA
Speaking of scouts fawning (again): Clark is the prototypical nose tackle in a 3-4 defense and is the second half of UCLA’s dominant defensive line tandem along with Eddie Vanderdoes. With 58 tackles last year and 5.5 for a loss, he’s not necessarily going to post dominant numbers. It’s the unmeasurables that make him so dominant. He clogs the middle and eats up blockers, allowing UCLA’s linebackers to be some of the most productive in the country (back-to-back Lott Trophy winners can’t be wrong). He’s just one cog in what should be an outstanding veteran defense for the Bruins. But he might be the most important.