Because you never know when a mustachioed quarterback from 3,000 miles away will show up and change the course of a season: Our ranking of 25 impact newcomers — it’s actually more than 25 — in the Pac-12 this season.
The precise definition of newcomer is, of course, vital in an exercise of this nature, and we’ve set parameters that are both narrow and broad.
Narrow: Only players who haven’t set foot on the field for a Pac-12 program were considered — that’s transfers, true freshmen and redshirt freshmen who didn’t play a lick last season, but not intra-conference transfers.
Broad: New assistant coaches, coordinators and staff members were also considered, but not head coaches. (Sorry, Mel Tucker, you’re not eligible).
The impact level of each candidate was derived from a subjective assessment of team needs, likelihood of the player/coach filling those needs, and team potential if those needs are filled.
And please note: Representation below isn’t equal; some teams are more reliant than others on newcomers.
Just missed the cut: Arizona transfer guard Robert Congel and true freshman receiver Boobie Curry; Cal redshirt freshman guard Matthew Cindric and transfer receiver Kekoa Crawford; Oregon true freshman receiver Mycah Pittman; Oregon State transfer linebacker Addison Gumbs and transfer receiver Tyjon Lindsey; UCLA graduate transfer punter Wade Lees and graduate transfer linebacker Jason Harris; Washington State transfer defensive lineman Lamonte McDougal and graduate transfer quarterback Gage Gubrud.
(Note: Anthony Gordon, recently named Washington State’s starting quarterback, appeared in two games last season and therefore wasn’t considered. Had we loosened the framework, Gordon and other reserves would surely be high on the list.)
25. Stanford punter Ryan Sanborn: Likely replacement for one of the greatest punters in school history (Jake Bailey). The true freshman is the Cardinal’s only rep on our list: No staff turnover, no transfers and little reliance on rookies.
24. Colorado safety Mikial Onu: The Buffs once possessed an elite secondary. The current version is young and full of questions — to the extent that the Buffs are relying on Onu, a graduate transfer from SMU, as the anchor.
23. Washington safety Cameron Williams: Enrolled in January and made optimal use of spring practice to position himself for a starting spot in the overhauled secondary. Another in the line of where-did-that-guy-come-from DBs in Seattle.
22. Utah punter Ben Lennon: The rookie replacement for Mitch Wishnowsky is a 24-year-old former Australian rugby player who will undoubtedly be a Ray Guy Award finalist. Because Utah is Utah.
21. Colorado offensive coordinator Jay Johnson: The former offensive analyst at Georgia could cause disruption in the South if he brings out the best in quarterback Steven Montez and receiver Laviska Shenault.
20. USC cornerback Chris Steele: Better known to many fans for his cross-country travels, Steele has the potential to be a lockdown corner and will play immediately for a secondary in transition.
19. Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux: Probably lower than most would expect given his 5-star resume, but we’re not convinced Thibodeaux’s impact will be substantial on a consistent basis.
18. Oregon State linebacker Avery Roberts: One of several Nebraska transfers on the Beavers’ roster, Roberts is pegged to start at one of the inside spots. He’s vital to a run defense that got run over last season.
17. UCLA left tackle Sean Rhyan: One of the most-heralded offensive line recruits in UCLA history, Ryan could start the opener at Cincinnati. We expect the 323-pound true freshman to remain in the lineup until the day he turns pro.
16. USC defensive end Drake Jackson: The true freshman is a raw but massive talent with the potential to turn a gifted unit into one of the best fronts in the country. Whatever the conference record is for sacks by a freshman, it’s in jeopardy.
15. Colorado left tackle Arlington Hambright: A graduate transfer from Oklahoma State, where he started early last season before an injury. Hambright is tasked with walling off the left side to give Montez and Shenault enough time to connect.
14. Arizona State defensive tackle Roe Wilkins: The back seven should be just fine, but ASU lost key contributors on the defensive front. Wilkins, a grad transfer from Rice, is essential to avoiding a backslide.
13. Washington receivers coach Junior Adams: One of the smartest offseason hires in the conference, Adams has upgraded UW’s recruiting at the position and will have the same impact on a talented but previously-underperforming unit.
12. Arizona defensive tackle Trevon Mason and nose tackle Myles Tapusoa: A combined entry because of their similar positions, comparable backgrounds (junior college transfers) and shared importance: 640 pounds of humanity starting in the middle of the Wildcats’ defensive line, which must hold up against the power running games in the South.
11. Cal linebacker Kuony Deng: Arrived in January from Independence CC and raised all eyebrows with his athleticism. The Bears’ defense has just about everything else, so why not a 6-foot-6 inside linebacker.
10. USC strength coach Aaron Ausmus: Aside from the head coach, no staffer is more important to a program than the strength coach. The Trojans should dominate teams physically but have been overrun too often. Ausmus, who worked for USC in the Carroll era, is charged with ramping up the brutality.
9. Oregon State quarterback Tristan Gebbia: The Beavers have named Jake Luton the starter, as expected. But Gebbia’s position here reflects our doubts about Luton’s ability to remain healthy. For a few weeks or many weeks, we suspect, the Nebraska transfer will get his shot.
8. Washington State safeties Daniel Isom and Bryce Beekman. Another combo entry: Both are junior college transfers and both are expected to start in WSU’s revamped secondary. High-level play on their part would elevate the entire defense and aid WSU’s push for the division title.
7. Colorado tailback Jaren Magnum: The 215-pound true freshman from Detroit runs with power and speed and could be this year’s version of Oregon State’s Jermar Jefferson (in 2018): One of the top rookie tailbacks in the country.
6. Oregon defensive coordinator Andy Avalos: The new face and voice of the Duck defense has a hybrid scheme — different is good — and enough returning talent to make it work. Frankly, we’re more skeptical of Oregon’s efficiency on the other side of scrimmage.
5. Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig: Stout defense is a given in Salt Lake City. If Ludwig maximizes his personnel and is creative with the playcalling down the stretch, when opponents have identified tendencies, the Utes should return to the conference championship.
4. Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels: On campus since January, the 4-star freshman is a major talent (arm and legs) surrounded by serious talent (receiver and tailback). ASU’s fortunes in the South — contender or pretender — hinge on his ability to avoid mistakes. (Of note: The Sun Devils’ backup quarterback, Joey Yellen, is also a true freshman.)
3. Oregon receiver Juwan Johnson: The Ducks are stocked everywhere but receiver. The 6-foot-4 Johnson, who transferred from Penn State, is the most likely candidate, by far, to become Justin Herbert’s preferred target, particularly on third down and in the red zone. First impact opportunity comes Aug. 31 in Arlington.
2. Washington quarterback Jacob Eason: Has the arm to inject UW’s offense with a needed downfield component and take pressure of the new defense. If he stays healthy and makes sound decisions, Eason could contend for conference (and perhaps national) honors.
1. USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell: His spread offense, if successful, could alter the dynamic of the division race, propel the Trojans into position for a major bowl, help revitalize the Pac-12’s reputation and save coach Clay Helton’s job. Heck, Harrell could be the Trojans’ next head coach.