Pac-12 Power Positions: Cornerback

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Exactly two months from today, Abiliene Christian plays Georgia State in the first game of the 2014 football season. As we march closer and closer to the glorious time of the year that we know as football season, we still must feed the monkey that is our football addiction.

One way we can do that is by looking at some of the top returning cornerbacks in the conference. The Pac-12 lost some very good, very talented players such as Oregon’s own Terrance Mitchell, Oregon State’s Rashaad Reynolds, Arizona’s Shaquille Richardson and Utah’s Keith McGill to the NFL, but some of the best players chose to stay and we can’t wait to see what they have to show us this season.

Arizona Wildcats

Defense during Arizona vs. Oregon 2013

David Pyles

Defense during Arizona vs Oregon, 2013.

The Wildcats lost one of their best cornerbacks to the NFL in Richardson. Derek Babiash, one of the top players expected to take his spot after spring drills, left the program. What the Wildcats do have is redshirt senior Jonathan McKnight, who played opposite Richardson last season and recorded 54 tackles, eight broken passes and two interceptions.

After Babiash’s departure, sophomore Devin Holiday will likely be tapped to play opposite McKnight. Holiday played in all 13 games last season as part of the secondary and on special teams. He recorded seven tackles and one interception during his true freshmen year.

Colorado Buffaloes

In the past two seasons, Colorado has struggled with its secondary, as witnessed by the 63 touchdown passes it allowed and only 13 recorded interceptions. This coming season, the Buffaloes return both corners from last season in Kenneth Crawley and Greg Henderson and have added some good prospects from this year’s class of recruits.

Kenneth Crawley trying to stop Daryle Hawkins in the 2013 game.

Cliff Grassmick

Kenneth Crawley trying to stop Daryle Hawkins in the 2013 Oregon-Colorado game.

Henderson is definitely the leader of the group with 58 tackles and four interceptions in 2013 and will likely have a big season in 2014. On the other side of the field, Crawley, who had 38 tackles and two interceptions last year, is battling JUCO transfer Ahkello Witherspoon for the starting position. Witherspoon, who didn’t even start playing football until his senior year of high school in 2012, transferred from Sacramento City College where he recorded 26 tackles and three interceptions.

Head coach Mike McIntyre has taken special interest in the cornerbacks and has been coaching them himself. With McIntyre’s guidance, experience under their belts and more talent to choose from, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Buffaloes’ secondary vastly improve in 2014.

UCLA Bruins

The Bruins are set on their two corners with the return of sophomores Fabian Mareau and Ishmael Adams. Moreau and Adams both started all 13 games last year and impressed people everywhere. Adams ended the season with 61 tackles and four interceptions while Mareau had 52 tackles and earned all-Pac-12 honorable mention.

While UCLA is set at both corners, there are players such as Priest Willis waiting in the wings to step in and shine. With a star QB in Brett Hundley and a great defense, the Bruins should definitely give teams in the conference a run for their money.

Oregon State Beavers

Oregon State's Steven Nelson trying to stop DeAnthony Thomas

Kevin Cline

Oregon State’s Steven Nelson is deked by De’Anthony Thomas.

Oregon State lost Rashaad Reynolds, one of the best corners in the conference, to the NFL but still has Steven Nelson on the other side of the field. In 2014, Nelson had 62 tackles and six interceptions while playing in all 13 games. To fill in the hole left by Reynolds’ departure, the Beavers have a lot of potential starters. There is junior Larry Scott who had nine tackles, one interception and a forced fumble in 2013 and redshirt freshman Dashon Hunt who was one of the Beavers’ prize recruits in 2013.

Washington Huskies

Last season, Washington’s Marcus Peters emerged as one of the best cornerbacks in the conference. In only his sophomore season last year, Peters had 55 tackles, five interceptions and one sack. Where he truly shined was interrupting opposing teams’ big plays and giving the Huskies a chance in every game they played. This ability earned him second team all-Pac-12 honors.

On the other side of the field, the Huskies have senior Travell Dixon who transferred from Alabama and freshmen Jermaine Kelly. They both got some playing time in the spring and will battle it out for the starting position.

Oregon Ducks

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu showing the Beavers exactly why he's the best.

Craig Strobeck

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu showing the Beavers exactly why he’s the best.

Finally we reach the Ducks, and with them, undoubtedly the best cornerback in the country in Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Oregon fans were shocked and happy when Ekpre-Olomu decided to return for his senior year. In 2013, he had 84 tackles and three interceptions and was one of the biggest thorns in the sides of offensive coordinators in the conference. He will likely be a high first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

The departure of Mitchell came as a surprise for most fans, but the Ducks don’t need to worry. Senior Dior Mathis recorded 18 tackles last year and is likely to step into Mitchell’s former position. Senior Troy Hill will get playing time, as well, and the Ducks’ defense under new defensive coordinator Don Pellum will hopefully make the lives of opposing offensive coordinators that much tougher.

In the next eight weeks as we get closer to football season, it will be interesting to see which players pull away in their position battles and who ultimately earns starts in those up-for-grabs positions.

Top Photo by Craig Strobeck

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