Some players come in with plenty of hype, but never quite seem to match it. Others have a great season, then slip the following one, leaving many to wonder if they were one-year wonders. Still others have to bounce back from injury and show they aren't shells of what they used to be.
Either way, there are plenty of players in the Pac-12 with something to prove in 2015. Here are six from the Pac-12 North.
Anyone remember the name Devante Wilson from USC’s 2012 roster? He suffered an injury in his first spring in Troy and subsequently transferred to Riverside Community College. After a pair of ACL injuries, he was a mid-year enrollee and started at Cal in January. He has worked his way up to starting defensive end (if you buy the depth chart). After posting solid numbers at the JC level, this is just as much about him proving he can play at the next level as it is proving to the coaches he can be a menace on the defensive line.
A lot of people were shocked to see wide receiver Bralon Addison relegated to second-team status when Oregon released its depth chart for Week 1. Addison missed all of last season but was coming off a 2013 where he caught 61 balls for 890 yards and seven touchdowns. Right now the current trio of receivers is Dwayne Stanford, Charles Nelson and Byron Marshall. That’s a tough nut to crack. Addison must prove he can play beyond his 2013 form.
Tight end Caleb Smith was a very highly-touted member of the 2012 class with huge measurables and upside. He has 16 starts under his belt, but a lot of that has been in conjunction with another tight end. Last year he caught 20 balls for 202 yards and a touchdown. A young quarterback’s best friend is his tight end. So Smith has an opportunity to be the standout guy at the position while also being a security blanket for the Beavers' young signal-callers.
For the first time in the David Shaw era, there are questions about Stanford’s front seven – specifically the defensive line. Graduation and attrition may have finally caught up with the Cardinal – hence the importance of Aziz Shittu. A former five-star recruit, Shittu posted 13 tackles, one for a loss and a sack in five games before a season-ending injury claimed the rest of his 2014. With all three starters from last year’s front departed, Shittu is the lone veteran with a pair of youngsters beside him. Stanford needs him healthy and productive to match the defensive success they’ve had the last half decade.
There are simply too many ways to go on offense. Quarterback is the obvious choice here. But since we don’t know who that’s going to be yet, we’ll go with a defensive player. There are plenty of big shoes to fill on that side of the ball – and none bigger (uniform included) than first-round draft pick Danny Shelton. That honor falls to Elijah Qualls. He appeared in all 14 games last season and posted 13 tackles, including two for a loss. Now he’s the centerpiece of the defensive line – with all the responsibility that comes with it.
At 6-4, 298 pounds, Destiny Vaeao has always been the model of potential. Now it’s time for him to live up to it. He’s the only returning starter on the defensive line after Xavier Cooper and Toni Pole departed. He’s bounced a little bit in his career, going from the line to standup rush end and then back to the line last year. Now he’s at the same position for the second straight season and will look to capitalize on last year’s numbers, which included 14 tackles, 3.5 for a loss and a pair of sacks.