Today we complete our two-part series on the Pac-12's top breakout players to watch in 2012. Below is a list of under-the-radar players in the South division who figure to become household names this fall:
USC – Lamar Dawson – LB
Dawson arrived at USC in 2011 as a highly-touted recruit from Boyle County High School in Junction City, Kentucky. He was widely regarded as one of the top 5 linebackers in the entire 2011 recruiting class.
It didn’t take long for Dawson to display his incredible potential last fall, as the true freshman appeared in 8 games, including four starts in the final four games. In that span he recorded 25 tackles – 2 for loss – and 1 sack.
Dawson’s incredible athleticism and intelligence make him the perfect candidate to become the leader of the Trojans defense from his middle linebacker position. Dawson figures to be another star linebacker at USC sporting the famed number 55, and much like those before him – Junior Seau, Chris Claiborne, Keith Rivers – his name will be known to all who follow the Pac-12 by season's end.
UCLA – Steven Manfro – RB
Although Manfro was an unheralded recruit out of Valencia High School in 2011, he made Bruin fans take notice of his skills during spring ball when he put in a sterling performance in the spring game.
Manfro has the ability to return kicks and punts, and could play a prominent role out of the backfield as well. He had the most exciting play of the spring game, returning a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. Manfro has great hands for a running back, as evidenced by his 7 receptions during the scrimmage for 105 yards.
His teammates are excited about his development. After the spring game, defensive end Brandon Willis remarked that he was “happy to see Steven perform well on the field as he was doing the same things throughout practice last fall.”
Fellow running back Malcolm Jones noted that Manfro “really fits well in the slot and is difficult to catch once he gets going.”
If his spring ball performance is any indication, the Pac-12 will soon become quite familiar with the “White Mamba.”
Utah – Eric Rowe – S
Rowe came in as a true freshman in 2011 from Klein High School in Spring, Texas, and performed at a high level. He started all 13 games for the Utes, recording 69 tackles (4th on the team) and 1 interception.
Rowe’s speed (4.48 second 40 time) enables him to cover up mistakes made by the front seven because he can quickly close on ball-carriers. In addition to his physical talents, Rowe’s high football IQ enabled him to pick up the team's defensive schemes very quickly, resulting in him starting from Day One.
Rowe’s quality performance last year landed him on several freshman All-American lists. After a strong spring, we expect his name to be reverberate well beyond the Salt Lake City limits in 2012.
Arizona State – Carl Bradford – LB
Under new head coach Todd Graham, Bradford enters 2012 as the team’s hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end, known at ASU as the “Devilbacker.” Bradford already has spent time at middle linebacker and defensive end, and thus, his versatility makes him the perfect candidate for this hybrid role.
After redshirting in 2010, Bradshaw saw action in all 13 games last year for the Sun Devils, recording 12 tackles, including 3.5 for loss, along with a sack. He was recruited as a fullback out of high school, and the intensity he brought from that position has translated well to his transition to defense.
Bradford is expected to put his combination of size (6'0", 240 pounds) and tenacity to good use by containing ball-carriers and attacking the opposition’s signal-caller. As Bradford grows into the Devilbacker position and puts opposing quarterbacks flat on their backs, his name will likely be mentioned often in 2012.
Arizona – Ka’Deem Carey – RB
Carey arrived in Tucson in 2011 as one of the top 20 high school running backs in the country out of Canyon Del Oro High in Arizona. His 425 rushing yards as a true freshman were good enough for second on the team behind senior Keola Antolin.
In addition to carrying the football, Carey is a strong kick returner. In 2011, he returned 25 kickoffs for 549 yards.
Since arriving in Tucson, Carey has added 20 pounds of muscle and has pushed his weight up over 200 pounds. The additional weight figures to help him endure the increased beating his body will take as the featured tailback for the Wildcats this fall.
Rich Rodriguez’s spread offense has produced a number of prolific rushers over the past decade, including Steve Slaton and Noel Devine. There is little doubt that Carey will become the next running back to star in Rodriguez’s system.
Colorado – Connor Wood – QB
Connor Wood enrolled at Texas in 2009 as a ballyhooed recruit out of Houston. Wood was widely regarded as one of the top 5 quarterbacks in the country as a high school senior, but found himself buried on the depth chart in Austin after the 2010 season. This led to his transfer to Colorado last summer.
After sitting out the 2011 season per NCAA transfer rules, Wood saw his first action this spring and was quite impressive. He concluded the practice period with a strong performance in the Buffaloes spring game, completing 7 of 10 passes for 137 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Wood has the prototypical size (6’3”, 225 pounds) and a very strong arm, however, his problems in the past have stemmed from accuracy. Indications are that the accuracy issues have improved since the move to Boulder, and assuming that progression continues, Wood will quickly be known as another dangerous gunslinger in this quarterback-rich conference.
By Chris Harker
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald