Oregon - The Ducks hit the jackpot in avoiding early entries this season. The highlight was the shocking decision by Royce Freeman to come back for his senior season. While Freeman is the big splash, don’t overlook having receiver Darren Carrington and tackle Tyrell Crosby to come back as they are exactly the kind of talented players who will frequently leave during a coaching change. This trio returning could be the difference between the Ducks missing a bowl and becoming a Top 25 team in 2017.
Washington getting Vita Vea back - The Huskies lost a pack of really talented players, but getting Vea back for at least another year took a lot of the sting off of that. He has the highest potential of any player on the Husky roster and showed it against Alabama by dominating the line of scrimmage. As a 6’5 335 monster with superhuman strength and insane speed, he could be the next Haloti Ngata next season and actually improve the Husky defensive front if he progresses and is consistent.
Luke Falk for Washington State - I thought Falk could have declared after his senior year, but it looks like he is going for all four years. This is huge for the Cougars and not just because they get another year of one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, but because they also get another year to develop an heir apparent. As we know, losing a veteran star at QB has been a disaster for many programs in recent years.
Lowell Lotulelei back for Utah - Lotulelei had a disappointing 2016, but he still seemed like a player destined to be around for only three years, so it was a bit of a pleasant surprise when he decided to come back for his senior year.
Colorado’s offensive stars back - Colorado might lose more talent and experience to graduation than any power conference program in the nation this year, but they scored big by getting star running back Phillip Lindsay and receiver Shay Fields to come back for their senior years. Lindsay and Fields coming back will give their offense a couple of really nice pieces to come back for sophomore starter QB Steven Montez.
Limited bad decisions - It was nice not to see a glut of Pac-12 players who should have not been declaring declare. There were no awful decisions and only a couple that were even questionable.
Washington’s mass exodus - The four players the Huskies lost to the draft was expected, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. Chris Petersen and the Huskies now have to deal with the hardest part of being a Playoff contender - replacing mass early entries.
Stanford’s stars - The Cardinal only lost two early entries, but they were as big as the come. Christian McCaffrey was their entire offense for almost the whole season and Solomon Thomas was arguably the best defender in the entire conference. Thomas hurts much more because McCaffrey was a given and Thomas was actually just a redshirt sophomore.
Utah’s stars - The Utes get Lotulelei back, but were stung big with the loss of tackle Garett Bolles and safety Marcus Williams. These two hurt because both seemed like players who could have come back.
Damien Mama loss for USC - This one stings for USC because they are also losing both tackles to graduation, so they will basically lose all three of their all-conference offensive linemen. Also because Mama is not a slam dunk early draft pick and just started coming into his own as an elite lineman in 2016.
Chad Hansen loss for Cal - His exit made more sense after Dykes was fired, but it really hurts for whoever takes over next because Hansen was quietly maybe the best receiver in the Pac-12 in 2016 and he did not have to go since he is not projected as a top half of the draft prospect.
USC & Washington reload? The Huskies and Trojans combine to lost seven players early to the draft with those seven being some of their best players, but both are still preseason Top 10 teams going into 2017. Can the Huskies and Trojans reload in the spots where they lost young talent and live up to the credit the media is giving them in 2017, despite their losses?
Royce Freeman? Freeman coming back for his senior year was one of the more confusing decisions I can remember in recent years. Even though he had a below-average year and was banged up, at least to me, getting into the NFL as soon as possible is above just about all else for running backs. I can’t imagine enough draft stock can be made up by anything Freeman could do in his senior year which would be worth all the hits he will take in 2017.
I am sure his return will pay off for Oregon, but will it pay off for him.
Luke Falk? Another decision I don’t quite get unless Falk is less of an NFL prospect than it seems. Falk turned down the NFL another year despite a history of injuries and speculation as a mid-round pick.
Same thing as Freeman, this will obviously pay off for Washington State, but will it Falk?