The west is the land of wide open offenses and quarterbacks who like to air it out for huge numbers. So who has the best corp of wide receivers in the Pac 12 conference?
I am going with Arizona for now with Washington coming in a close second. The one thing that holds me back from picking the Huskies is a healthy Juron Criner at Arizona and a lack of toughness that was displayed at times by UW receivers last season.
Arizona - Most experts have picked the Wildcats as having the best group pf WR's in the conference and that is hard to dispute since Juron Criner comes back to lead a group with good talent, depth, and experience. It has been rumored that Criner has been suffering from some physical ailment this summer and that it has put his season into possible jeopardy. Mike Stoops is now saying that Criner will be ready to go when camp opens. If that is true we have to give Arizona the nod for having potentially the best group of wide outs in the Pac 12.
Reports late last month claimed that Arizona's All-American wide receiver status for the 2011 season was "uncertain" after an "erratic episode" that had resulted in his hospitalization. But Wildcat head coach Mike Stoops told the Arizona Daily Star today that Criner was "here and ready to go" once the team's fall camp opens on Aug. 4. "We anticipate him being the same player - or a better player - than he was a year ago," Stoops added.
Washington - It is hard not to pick the Huskies number one but the lack of a returning QB could diminish the firepower in comparison the Arizona. Kearse and Aguilar are big time guys entering their senior seasons with plenty of potential for upside. Frosh Kasen Williams will provide immediate impact. There is plenty of experienced depth behind them and there is finally going to be some solid help from the tight end position. ASJ, Hartvigson, and Hudson represent a major upgrade but they are unproven at this point.
A mixed bag. Kearse had big moments, Aguilar had few, Johnson had none. Aguilar caught 14 fewer passes, and also had a drop in yardage and touchdowns. That was a banner season compared to Johnson. The sophomore finished the season with one catch.
Southern Cal - When all you recruit are four and five star players you are definitely going to build up a great arsenal of wide receivers. Robert Woods is the next great Trojan wide receiver while true frosh George Farmer and Kyle Prater have the potential to be even better. As usual there is plenty of talented depth and most importantly an older and wiser Matt Barkley to deliver the ball.
Farmer comes out of the same high school as 2010 freshman phenom Robert Woods and fellow 2011 USC WR recruit Marqise Lee. Farmer, the overall #12 pick and the #1 pick for wide receivers is fast, big, intelligent and has a set of golden hands on him. Speculation says he’d make a great safety as well as wide receiver. It is likely Farmer will start alongside his former high school teammate Robert Woods, with his main competition being redshirt freshman Kyle Prater.
Washington State - The Cougars can throw the ball all over the field and they have receivers who are more than capable of getting after the ball. Marquess Wilson burst on the scene last year as a true frosh and hauled in over 1000 yards. Jared Karstetter snagged 62 passes from QB Jeff Tuel who is primed to have a great season. The Cougs have put together some nice depth behind them led by Gino Simone.
Wilson exploded onto the Pac-10 scene last year as a lithe true freshman, receiving over 100 yards in five of his first eight games. He would end up over 1,000 yards for the season, the first Cougar to do that since Brandon Gibson did it as a junior in 2007. Did I mention he was a true freshman? Playing on an offense that was one of the worst in history the year before he arrived?
Arizona State - The Devils have been amassing some decent talent and experience at the WR positions. Quarterbacking is expected to improve next season so perhaps this group is headed for a breakout season. Mike Willie, Aaron Pflugrad and Jamal Miles will be the starters with some great depth off the bench from George Bell, A.J. Pickens, and J.J. Holliday. Plufgrad is a transfer from Oregon. He left after the Ducks fired his (Robin) dad. His dad landed on his feet and is now the head coach of Montana.
Senior cornerback Omar Bolden left Saturday's scrimmage at Sun Devil Stadium with a knee injury that looked to be serious. Coach Dennis Erickson didn't immediately know the severity, but he was concerned. Especially after senior receiver T.J. Simpson was carted off the practice field just two days ago with a similar issue. "When you see two guys like that go down you almost feel like not practicing," Erickson said. Losing either player would hurt the Sun Devils' chances to contend in the Pac-12's South Division.
Oregon State - I could be rating the Beavers a little high here with the uncertainty surrounding the health of James Rodgers and Jordan Bishop. If those guys are at 100% this group is right at the top of the conference Markus Wheaton, Darrell Catching, Kevin Cummings and Geno Munoz are healthy and good enough to keep the Beavers in the upper half of the conference at this position.
In a perfect world, the Oregon State passing game would look golden going into spring football: what's not to like about strong-armed QB Ryan Katz throwing to the likes of James Rodgers, Markus Wheaton, Jordan Bishop, Darrell Catchings and Joe "The Tank'' Halahuni? Who doesn't love the upside of 6-foot-5 Obum Gwacham, an intriguing red zone target once he learns to run routes properly, or dependable Geno Munoz, who moves to slot receiver?
California - The big problem with the Cal offense as of late has been the play at QB. Consistent play from new QB Zack Maynard would give this group a big shot in the arm. Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones will carry most of the load. Ted Miller of ESPN picked Pac-12 Cal WR Keenan Allen as the most indespensable player on the Cal roster.. Allen is the half-brother of new quarterback Zach Maynard, and as a true freshman caught 46 passes for 490 yards and a team-leading five receiving scores.
This one might come as a surprise to some, but not to observant Cal fans. This selection is not just about Keenan Allen, sophomore receiver. It's about the idea of Keenan Allen: an athletic, big-play guy who, with his half-brother Zach Maynard playing quarterback, becomes the second coming of DeSean Jackson as a sophomore -- only at 6-foot-3 -- the flashy half of a top receiving combination with Marvin Jones.
Oregon - The Ducks were pounded by graduation at these positions but they do have one of the best TE's in the conference in David Paulson. In addition to solid depth at TE they have some real serious talent coming in as freshman this season. Devon Blackmon, BJ Kelley, and Raushan Vaughn are expected to contribute in a big way. Lavasier Tuinei and Josh Huff saw extensive action last season and are laso expected to pick up a piece of the slack.
Say hello to Lavasier Tuinei. This senior wideout should be a force to be reckoned with in the Pac-12 this season if his play even comes close to his physical attributes. Although Tuinei only had 36 receptions for just fewer than 400 yards last season, he is a physical specimen who defensive backs will have a hard time covering.
Stanford - The Cards graduated their two top WR's but they do have a great stable of tight ends and the best QB in the country. Andrew luck will deliver the ball on the money and whoever Stanford puts out there is going to catch the ball. Chris Owusu is the top returnee but there are a few health questions concerning him. When healthy he is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. Drew Terrell, Darren Daniel, Griff Whalen and Jamal-Rashad Patterson represent the current future and depth at the position.
As new Stanford head coach David Shaw convened his first spring football practice Monday, it was clear that Andrew Luck didn't develop any rust on his passing touch since the Orange Bowl. It was less clear who his main targets will be in the fall.
UCLA - The Bruins are in one of the most fertile recruiting territories in the country. There is always talent on this roster at the skill positions. Nelson Rosario can be one of the better WR's in the country when he is engaged. The question is how happy and engaged is this unit or squad with a coach on the hot seat? Randy Carroll and Josh Smith will be expected to take it to the next level to help out this season's starting QB.
Our top two receivers - Embree and Rosario - combined for 61 total receptions during the 2010 football season. In comparison, J. Kearse, Pac-10's 6th best receiver caught 63 balls during the same season.
Rosario and Embree combined for 718 receiving yards. That number would have been barely good enough for the 8th spot in conference statistics in which Robert Woods - a Trojan freshman - placed 7th with 786 receiving yards in Lane Kiffin's offense.
Bruin receivers and tight ends combined for 8 TDs for the entire season. Jeff Maehl from Oregon (and Kearse from Washington) caught 12 scores alone during the same season.
Utah - DeVonte Christopher is the only guy on the roster returning who has much experience. The cupboard isn't empty though. The Ute's have some good looking talent with Reggie Dunn, Dres Anderson, Luke Matthews, Dexter Ransom and Kenneth Scott getting a shot to compete for spots in the rotation.
Receiver DeVonte Christopher emerged as a dangerous deep threat last season and should be the go-to guy in new coordinator Norm Chow's offense. Christopher - a 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior who played quarterback in high school - is Utah's leading returning receiver after recording 39 catches for 660 yards (16.9 ypc) and six touchdowns in 2010. Christopher topped 100 yards against Pitt, Iowa State and Colorado State en route to earning honorable-mention All-Mountain West Conference honors.
Despite losing CU's all-time leading wide receiver in Scotty McKnight, we return five guys who saw the field last year, plus one guy who logged playing time two seasons ago. We should be OK at the position this season, and I'm not sure there is much question as to who will be seeing the field.