10 best performances in the Pac-12 last season
PFF grades every play of every college football game involving an FBS opponent, meaning we were witness to a long list of impressive individual performances last season. Which ones stood out the most?
We ranked the top 10 from the PAC-12 from 2015 among players returning for the 2016 season:
- Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey vs. Iowa, Rose Bowl
It should be noted that three of Christian McCaffrey’s games should be on this list, but we wanted to feature other outstanding Pac-12 player performances as well. In Week 7 against UCLA, McCaffrey racked up 243 rushing yards and four touchdowns and added 125 kick return yards for a +7.0 grade. Against USC in the Pac-12 conference championship game, McCaffrey rushed for 207 yards and one TD on 32 attempts. He also caught four passes for 105 yards and one TD and added 119 kick return yards.
McCaffrey’s most well-rounded and impressive game was against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Rose Bowl in which he rushed for 172 yards on 18 carries, caught four passes for 105 yards and one TD, forcing nine missed tackles from Hawkeye defenders and a +5.7 grade. Additionally he scored on a 63-yard punt return and earned a +2.0 special teams grade which when added to his offensive grade bumped him up to +7.7, his best grade of the year and the best performance in the Pac-12 last season.
- UCLA QB Josh Rosen vs. Virginia, Week 1
The highly-touted debut of Josh Rosen did not disappoint. The true freshmen stepped onto the field and looked like a much older and more polished quarterback than one making his first start. Rosen threw all over the Cavaliers, completing 28 of 35 passes for 351 yards, three TDs and a +6.5 passing grade. Rosen unleashed his best game of the season on the road in Week 1 against Virginia and let us know that he was not only a legitimate starting college quarterback but a player that can have UCLA in playoff contention for the next few years before leaving to the NFL as a high draft pick.
- Stanford DE Solomon Thomas vs. Central Florida, Week 2
Solomon Thomas was one of the Pac-12’s most dominant and versatile defensive linemen in 2015. Thomas is good against the run and can rush the passer, he can also line up at defensive end or defensive tackle. Thomas’s highest-graded performance of the season (+9.1) came against Central Florida in which he had one sack, one hit, three hurries and a +3.9 grade as a pass rusher. He also defeated several blocks against the run and had a tackle, two assists, and a +6.0 run defense grade. Thomas graded out very well last year and had a great spring showing, so expect a big season for the Cardinal in 2016.
- UCLA DL Eddie Vanderdoes vs. Virginia, Week 1
Eddie Vanderdoes is a very light-footed and athletic big man who can move quickly up and down the line of scrimmage and disrupt plays. Unfortunately, this was Vanderdoes’ only game of the season as he tore his anterior-cruciate ligament during it and missed the rest of the 2015 season. Vanderdoes only played 32 snaps in 2015 but for those 32 snaps he was dominant. He had six stops in the run game and earned a +5.6 run defense grade. He also had three QB hurries earning a +2.0 pass rush grade. Vanderdoes’ +7.7 overall game grade was a very impressive performance from a player that should be highly productive in 2016 and an NFL draft pick in 2017.
- USC LB Cameron Smith vs. Utah, Week 8
The freshmen linebacker had one of the most impressive individual defensive performances of the year against Utah with a +6.7 overall grade. Smith had eight tackles, one assist and a +1.9 grade as a run defender. In coverage Smith was thrown at five times, allowing one completion for three yards and intercepting three of the passes for a +5.0 coverage grade. While three interceptions is an impressive feat he also helped the Trojans even more with his interception returns. He first interception he returned 41 yards to set up a Trojans’ TD. Smith returned his second interception 54 yards for a TD. Smith’s performance was a huge contributing factor to USC’s victory. Smith is one of the Pac-12 most intriguing young defenders, the Trojans hope he can continue to make plays but become a more consistent player as a sophomore.
- Washington State QB Luke Falk vs. Oregon, Week 6
A road win against a ranked-team and conference powerhouse transcends numbers and that is what Luke Falk helped the Cougars accomplish in Eugene last year. Washington State had not defeated Oregon since 2006 but Luke Falk completed 50 of 76 passes for 513 yards and five TDs to end that streak. Falk made timely and accurate throws late in the game and in overtime to help the Cougars pull off their huge upset. Falk had big drives that led to road wins against Rutgers and UCLA as well and a near-win against Stanford but his work in Eugene stands out among last year’s performances. Falk should emerge this year as a top-10 quarterback.
- Oregon RB Royce Freeman vs. Washington State, Week 6
While Freeman was on the losing side of the game his +5.8 overall grade against Washington State was an impressive performance. Freeman is a 230-pound power back who can run over people or make them miss. Freeman carried the ball 27 times against the Cougars for 246 yards and 2 TDs. He also added three catches for 51 yards and a TD. Freeman generated yardage on his own as well forcing 12 missed tackles during the game. While his team ultimately came up short Freeman’s game against Washington State was still one of the best performance from a Pac-12 running back in 2015.
- Washington LB Azeem Victor vs. Southern Mississippi, Heart of Dallas Bowl Game
The Washington Huskies defense has NFL-caliber players on all three levels. Several of them played well in their bowl game but Azeem Victor’s well-rounded performance stood out the most. Victor is a versatile and athletic linebacker and made plays all over the field against Southern Mississippi. Against the run Victor had three stops and a +1.7 run defense grade. As a pass rusher Victor posted a +2.4 pass rush grade. In coverage Victor had two passes defensed and a +1.1 coverage grade. Victor even added a special teams tackle to his +5.3 overall grade for the game in an incredibly well-rounded effort from one of the better linebackers in the nation.
- Utah DT Lowell Lotulelei vs. Fresno State, Week 3
Lowell is a powerful run defender who is hard for opposing offensive linemen to move at the point of attack. He has a similar build and playing style to his older brother Star, who is currently playing for the Carolina Panthers. Lotulelei’s run defense prowess was on full display against Fresno State as he clogged run lanes, freed up his teammates to make plays and also added two tackles and an assist to earn a +6.2 run grade for the game. Lotulelei is already one of the Pac-12’s elite run stoppers — if he can improve on his pass rush production he could be a very high draft pick when he leaves Utah.
- Colorado CB Chidobe Awuzie vs. Arizona State, Week 6
Awuzie is a physical, versatile play-making cornerback who can play outside, inside and at safety. Against Arizona State Awuzie only allowed one catch for 10 yards while in coverage but showed that he can be used effectively in a variety of different ways. Awuzie was frequently sent after the quarterback against Arizona State and collected one sack, one hit and four hurries, earning a +2.1 pass rush grade. He also added four run stops showing the physicality and tackling ability that the NFL loves in cornerback prospects. Awuzie’s +18.0 overall grade from 2015 ranks No. 4 among all returning cornerbacks in FBS. Look for Awuzie to have an impressive 2016 season and hear his name called in the 2017 NFL draft.