Biggest Shoes to Fill in the PAC-12 in 2021
Tyler Shough transfers to Texas Tech just one year after winning the Ducks' competition to replace Justin Herbert. In seven games, Shough threw for over 1500 yards and 13 touchdowns but also threw six interceptions. This spot is on the list because Oregon loses a developmental guy with a high ceiling and never really found the consistency it needed to replace Herbert. The Ducks are almost getting a do-over here and will benefit from the extra year of eligibility granted to players because of COVID. Boston College transfer Anthony Brown will be the new starter. Brown started for two years at Boston College before playing sparingly during his first year at Oregon. This will be his final college season, and he has the dual-threat ability that so many Oregon signal-callers have become known for over the years. Unfortunately, like many of the others, Brown has much to work on in terms of the passing game.
The Ducks also lose many players in the secondary. Thomas Graham, Brady Breeze, Jevon Holland, Deommodore Lenoir, and Nick Pickett have all moved on to the next phase of their careers. The good news is Mykael Wright, Verone McKinley III, DJ James, and Jordan Happle all played significant roles on the 2020 team and will help pick up the slack, although the depth behind them is still very much untested.
Colorado Wide Receiver
There was not a ton of production from the Buffaloes' receiving corps during the shortened 2020 season, but KD Nixon is a huge loss for this team. Nixon was the speedy, reliable veteran with 1,128 yards and seven touchdowns in 19 starts. His 89 career receptions are good enough for 24th all-time for the program and the 1,128 receiving yards ranks 25th . To make it worse, he transferred in conference to USC. Dimitri Stanley and La'Vontae Shenault have had the most success as college players thus far, and veterans like Daniel Arias and Maurice Bell will have a shot at larger roles.
Oregon State Running back
Jermar Jefferson was one of most underrated running backs in the country. You can bet that was because of the Beavers' lack of success in recent years. Jefferson leaves Corvallis as the program's 5th all-time leading rusher despite having the 2020 season basically cut in half. Jefferson averaged over 100 rushing yards per game for his three-year career, including an impressive 143 yards per game in 2020. Junior Deshaun Fenwick and South Carolina transfer BJ Baylor will battle for the starting job and should make a solid 1-2 punch. They just have the unfortunate task of following a spectacular player.
Oregon State Secondary
Nahshon Wright and Isaiah Dunn are the notable departures here. Wright was a long corner who had a nose for defending passes and coming up with interceptions. Dunn started 26 of the 33 games he played in and was the better tackler of the two. Their spots are mostly up for grabs with Kansas transfer Elijah Jones competing with several freshmen. Jaydon Grant, Alton Julian, and Akili Arnold will return and have to become impact players.
Stanford is generally the west coast school you think of when you think hard-nosed offensive linemen. The Cardinal have developed some great players up front over the years and sent three to the NFL from last year's team. The guards are the only starters returning, so you could make a case that the whole unit has big shoes to fill. However, Myles Hinton and Walter Rous have played meaningful snaps at tackle in the past, and the center competition sticks out to me because those players have almost no collegiate experience. Junior Drake Nugent has only played in three games but is the most experienced center on the roster. Nugent will be competing with Drake Metcalf to replace Drew Dalman, who started for three years and earned All-Pac 12 honors for his performance.
USC Defensive Line
DT Jay Tufele opted out of 2020 to pursue the NFL, and his absence led his teammate, Marlon Tuipulotu, to follow him into the league. DL Brandon Pili will also miss the season due to injury. Tufele and Tuipoltou both garnered multiple All-PAC 12 selections during their respective careers, while Pili was a key rotational player. Alabama transfer Ishmael Sopsher figures to enter the starting lineup although he has only played in one game. That means Nick Figueroa and Tuli Tuipulotu will have to build on impressive 2020 performances.
Camryn Bynum had an impressive college career that led to him being selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the 2021 NFL Draft. Bynum started 42 games for the Golden Bears and amassed nearly 200 tackles with the 4th most pass breakups in team history. Josh Drayden returns to hold down the fort on the other side and Chigozie Anusiem is the only other corner on the team to have started a game.
After performing well as a freshman in 2019, Grant Gunnell didn't progress much in 2020 and has transferred to Memphis. I guess this isn't really a big shoe to fill as much as a gaping hole on the roster. The revamped position for the Wildcats includes WIll Plummer, who took over for Gunnell last season, Washington State transfer Gunner Cruz, and former South Florida starter Jordan McCloud. While the team is rebuilding, McCloud would make it the most competitive this season. He has almost 3000 passing yards in two seasons and is a playmaker as a runner as well.
Arizona State Wide Receiver
Like many others, Frank Darby didn't perform as well as he had hoped during the shortened season. Yet, Darby emerged as a big-play threat over the course of the 2018 and 2019 seasons with over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns combined. Overall, Darby finished with a respectable 1317 yards and 13 touchdown catches in his career and leaves behind an extremely young group. No returning receivers caught more than six passes last season. Many inexperienced players like Ricky Pearsall, Andre Johnson, and LV Bunkley Shelton will be competing to join Utah grad transfer Bryan Thompson in the starting lineup. The passing game has potential, but, with so many unknowns, the Sun Devils will have to hope some players emerge quickly.