With less than 90 days to go until the start of the 2007 college football season, the FanHouse is exploring the impact players in each conference. Here's the most anticipated performers on offense, defense and a sneak peak at some fresh faces to look forward to in the Pac-10 this fall:
John David Booty - QB - USC: Where else to begin but the consensus Heisman candidate QB for 2007? While USC lines up All-Conference talent on both sides of the ball, Booty is the key guy in the Pac-10 for the upcoming year. Great stats in 2006, with over 3,300 yards passing and 29 TD's in just his first full season as the starter, tops in the conference in both categories. Losing WR's Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith to the NFL is a concern for Booty's stats, but Patrick Turner and Vidal Hazelton look ready to step right in. Combine that with the fact that, as the FanHouse's Brian Grummell points out, there are up to ten high school All-American running backs on the USC roster? Oh yeah, there are ten starters returning on defense? Life looks pretty sweet for #10.
Jonathan Stewart - RB - Oregon: Hard to believe he's already a junior. One of the most heralded recruits in Oregon history and rated by many as the top high school running back his senior year in high school, huge things have been expected of Stewart since the day he arrived in Eugene. An excellent combination of size (a very thick 5-11, 230) and legit 4.4 speed, he's also rated by some as the top kick returner in the conference. However, he must avoid the nagging injuries that have slowed his ascent to stardom, and thus far his career has been a slight disappointment, not yet posting a 1,000-yard season. Oregon is loaded with offensive talent and speed this year, and with new offensive coordinator Chip Kelly proclaiming this spring that they will use the running backs more than ever, 2007 could be Stewart's monster year.
DeSean Jackson - WR - CAL: Junior-to-be WR has done nothing but make big plays since he first broke into the Golden Bear lineup as a true frosh in 2005. Had over 1,000 yards receiving and 9 TD catches as a sophomore last year, but it's not just catching the ball that makes Jackson so great. He took 4 punts to the house in 2006, and is regarded as one of the fastest players in America. There is no ceiling to what Jackson could do in 2007.
Sedrick Ellis - DT - USC: Voted the Pac-10's top defensive lineman in 2006, the monster All-American returns for more this year. While not a big stat guy, as is the nature a lot of times with interior lineman, the 6-1, 295 lb. tackle is a force in the middle and will help anchor an outstanding USC defense that returns a staggering ten starters in 2007.
Rey Maualuga - LB - USC: Great size (6-3, 250), hits hard, runs well, plays angry and with swagger. Pretty much everything you want out of your Butkus Award candidate, Maualuga is the total package at middle linebacker. It's no picnic going against USC's defense, and Maualuga is the ultimate intimidator. Second on the team with 78 tackles last year, Maualuga should be on every All-American team for 2007.
Antoine Cason - CB - Arizona: Well what do you know, a non-USC impact player on defense? Cason has been a starter since a true frosh in 2004 and hasn't looked back. Cason's side of the field is one that opposing offenses just try to avoid altogether. Prototype size at 6-0, 180, he's the top cover man in the Pac-10, leading the Wildcats in INT's and pass breakups in 2006. He's not afraid to get his hands dirty on defense either, ranking third on the team with 62 tackles last season.
Jake Locker - QB - Washington: Called the savior of UW's rebuilding program, Locker is the top recruit of the Ty Willingham era. Locker has been compared to not only past Husky greats at the QB position like Marques Tuiasosopo, but even the name John Elway has been whispered by some who have studied his progress so far. A muscular frame at 6-3, 215, blessed with an outstanding arm, great feet and a leadership quality that is off the charts, the weight of the Husky program is clearly on Locker's shoulders.
Everson Griffin - DE - USC: Just what USC needs, another great young player to add to the mix. Griffin has a buzz that is high even for Southern Cal's standards, and Pete Carroll has been quoted on how excited he is for Griffin. USC's pass rush wasn't all that great last year with 35 total sacks, tied for 4th in the conference, but Griffin should make a big impact off the edge.
Simi Fili - DT - Oregon: The huge (340 lbs) interior lineman could play immediately as a true frosh this fall. He's a natural fit at nose tackle and will occupy a ton of space up the gut. Generated a lot of hype at the All-American bowl this winter, where he was reportedly unstoppable in practices against some of the top offensive lineman recruits in the nation. While Oregon does have some depth at tackle this year, some of the returning players had injury issues last season, so the opportunity could be there for Fili to work his way into the rotation.