The Washington State Cougars faced a host of formidable players during last year’s Pac-12 slate, but due to injuries, suspensions and scheduling situations also missed out on playing some of the conference’s best talent.
Thankfully for WSU fans, many of the best players who ducked the Cougars last year are back and on the 2017 schedule. Here is a list of the 10 best players who did not play WSU last season, but are expected to line up against the Cougs in just a few months.
1. Sam Darnold, QB, USC – The Cougars missed out on seeing a lot of good football players by virtue of not facing USC the past two years, but Darnold stands apart as a player with an especially good chance of being remembered long after his college days are done. Darnold sparked the Trojans resurgence last year – starting the team’s final 10 games and winning the final nine. An excellent thrower and a good runner as well, the redshirt sophomore is expected to be selected very quickly whenever he chooses to enter the NFL draft.
2. Azeem Victor, LB, Washington – By the time the Apple Cup came around, the UW defense had somewhat absorbed the loss of Victor and other linebackers had stepped up, but the Huskies were never able to fully replace his impact. The conference’s hardest-hitting linebacker has a high intimidation factor and lots of Pac-12 teams probably wish he had stayed healthy and left for the pros.
3. Cameron Smith, LB, USC – Just now getting ready to enter his junior year, Smith already has 22 starts and 161 tackles to his name. Smith is also very good in coverage for a linebacker and makes life difficult for quarterbacks by crowding passing lanes and deflecting passes.Utah’s
4. Troy Dye, LB, Oregon – This tough, athletic defender was the first true freshman to start at linebacker for the Ducks in 38 years and led his team in tackles despite missing the games against Nebraska and WSU.
5. Ronald Jones II, RB, USC – The fact that Jones rushed for more than 2,000 yards his first two seasons would be enough in itself to get him on the list. The fact he did it while splitting carries with Justin Davis is downright scary for opposing defenses.
6. Lowell Lotuleilei, DL, Utah – Two years ago Lotuleilei was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection. Expect a return to form now that he’s healthy.
7. Quenton Meeks, CB, Stanford – The Pac-12 lost a lot of cornerback talent in the offseason. Meeks could be the best of the bunch in 2017, and you can bet he’s hungry to face the Cougars after sitting out last year’s 42-17 shellacking with an injury.
8. Iman Marshall, CB, USC – Adoree Jackson got so much attention last year it was easy to forget that USC had another star cornerback who has been patiently waiting for his chance to be the star.
9. Justin Herbert, QB, UO – Justin Herbet owes the Cougars some gratitude, since it was WSU’s 51-33 pasting of the Ducks that spurred former coach Mark Helfrich to make a change at quarterback. Herbert proved to be a capable thrower during his true freshman season, meaning WSU will have to get through a more potent offense in order to make it three-straight against UO.
10. Mitch Wishnowsky, P, Utah – Wishnowsky won the Ray Guy Award last season. If he can replicate his success, the Utes will have taken home that particular piece of hardware four years in a row.