Top to bottom, the Pac-12 Conference may not present the depth seen in other Power Five leagues, but Washington State won’t escape the 2021 football season without facing All-American talent and potential Heisman Trophy candidates on both sides of the ball.
Every year with the exception of 2020 we’ve highlighted one player from each of WSU’s 12 opponents who may pose the biggest threat to the Cougars’ chances of winning. Here is this year’s “Dangerous Dozen.”
Utah State – Savon Scarvey, wide receiver/returner: Utah State didn’t place an offensive or defensive player on the preseason All-Mountain West teams, but the Aggies claim the preseason MWC Special Teams Player of the Year. To put Scarvey’s accomplishments into context: WSU returner Travell Harris has one career kickoff return touchdown and needs just one more to tie the school record. Entering his fifth year, Scarvey already has six return TDs to his name.
Portland State – Anthony Adams, cornerback: It’s been two years since the Vikings played a full football season, but the last time they did, Adams was almost always a factor in the defensive secondary. In 2019, he was named an Associated Press First Team All-American and the Cougars will have to think twice before throwing his way, as Adams intercepted five passes in 12 games as a junior. He defended 24 passes, had two tackles-for-loss and also blocked a kick just for good measure.
USC – Kedon Slovis, quarterback: He didn’t have the 2020 season many thought Slovis was capable of, but the USC signal-caller is already being considered one of the top quarterbacks in the 2022 NFL draft, and it’s unlikely he’ll lack confidence entering a Week 3 game at WSU. When the Cougars and Trojans met last season, Slovis completed 17 of 18 passes for 209 yards and five touchdowns, including four in just the opening quarter. Slovis’ top target, Amon-Ra St. Brown, is now in the NFL, but USC brings back Drake London and adds Colorado transfer receiver K.D. Nixon.
Utah – Devin Lloyd, linebacker: Kyle Whittingham’s defense isn’t littered with future NFL draft picks like it was two years ago, but the Utes should be a force to be reckoned with when their opponents are on offense and much of that has to do with Lloyd, a Sporting News All-American Second Team selection in 2020. Arguably the most disruptive player in the Pac-12 South, Lloyd had 10 tackles-for-loss and two sacks in five games last season. His best game came in the season finale against WSU, when the California native had 10 tackles and a career-high four tackles-for-loss.
California – Josh Drayden, cornerback: Quarterback Chase Garbers was a tempting choice, but Drayden made the preseason all-conference list as an honorable mention choice and will play a valuable role for a team that’s sent three defensive backs – Camryn Bynum, Jaylinn Hawkins and Ashtyn Davis – to the NFL draft the last two years. Drayden had one interception in four games last season and he led the Golden Bears in pass breakups with four.
Oregon State – Avery Roberts, linebacker: In 2020, Roberts ranked second to Washington’s Edefuan Ulofoshio in tackles per game at 11.5 and led the Pac-12 in total tackles with 69. He also registered three tackles-for-loss in six games. OSU’s defense still allowed 28.8 points per game in 2020, but that was down from the 31.1 ppg the Beavers allowed in 2019. If OSU expects to make another jump defensively, Roberts will be a big part of the equation, as well as defensive lineman Isaac Hodgins.
Stanford – Thomas Booker, defensive line: Stanford has plenty of rebuilding to do on both sides of the ball after losing five NFL draft picks, but the Cardinal return one of the conference’s top pass rushers in Booker, a preseason All-America Fourth Team selection by Phil Steele. In 2020, he had 21 tackles, three tackles and one sack to go with two PBU, one fumble recovery and two blocked PATs. One of those PAT blocks came inside the last minute of a rivalry game against California and allowed the Cardinal to seal a 24-23 victory.
BYU – Tyler Allgeier, running back: Few teams lose a No. 2 overall draft pick and not suffer the consequences a season later. BYU’s offensive won’t be as explosive without QB Zach Wilson, but the Cougars’ backfield still has a chance to be elite, largely because they return Allgeier, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2020 who crossed the 100-yard threshold in six separate games. In total, Allgeier rushed 150 times for 1,130 yards – an average of 7.5 yards per carry – and scored 13 touchdowns on the ground. His best effort came against UCF when Allgeier rushed 19 times for 173 total yards.
Arizona State – Jayden Daniels, quarterback: The dual-threat junior may pose the biggest threat to USC’s chances of winning the Pac-12 South and returns in 2021 with 22 career passing touchdowns and just three interceptions to his name. In 2020, Daniels passed for 701 yards and rushed for 223 more, registering five TDs through the air and another four on the ground. In his only career game against WSU, Daniels completed 26 of 36 passes for 363 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He sealed a 38-34 win for ASU inside the final minute of the fourth quarter when the QB scrambled for a 17-yard touchdown.
Oregon – Kayvon Thibodeaux, defensive end: Aside from Slovis, Oregon’s talented pass rusher may be the Pac-12’s best chance at a Heisman Trophy in 2021, and he’ll almost certainly be its top draft pick next spring. The MVP of the 2020 Pac-12 Championship game has 12 sacks, 23.5 tackles-for-loss, six passes defended and one forced fumble in 21 career games. He was the Ducks’ first defensive lineman to earn All-American honors since DeForest Buckner in 2015, and in 2019 he led the nation with seven sacks in the fourth quarter. When the Ducks and Cougars face off in Eugene, the game will once again pit two potential first-round draft picks against one another in UO’s Thibodeaux and WSU right tackle Abraham Lucas.
Arizona – Stanley Berryhill III, wide receiver: The Wildcats were the only team in the conference without a preseason all-conference selection on offense or defense, and we couldn’t justify putting placekicker Lucas Havrisik on this list. Arizona’s QB situation is murky, but at least the Wildcats bring back their top pass-catcher. In 2020, Berryhill III was the only Arizona receiver with at least 20 catches, the only one with 200-plus receiving yards and the only one with multiple TD catches. He finished the year with 23 receptions for 227 yards and three touchdowns.
Washington – Zion Tupuola-Fetui, outside linebacker: Had this list come out a week ago, Tupuola-Fetui wouldn’t have been considered. Up until Friday, it seemed unlikely the talented edge rusher would even sniff the field in 2021 due to an Achilles tear, but UW coach Jimmy Lake promised the Hawaii native would play at some point this fall. Therefore, we can guess with some certainty he’ll be back in time, and perhaps back in form, when the Cougars and Huskies meet in the late-November Apple Cup. During his breakout 2020 season, Tupuola-Fetui was named a Second Team All-American by The Athletic and Walter Camp and led the nation in sacks per game (1.75) and tied for the national lead in forced fumbles (0.75 per game).