Top 25 Returning Pac-12 Players: Is Oregon State or Washington State Home to the Most Talent?

    Only two teams remain in the conference, Oregon State or Washington State, but which one has the most athletes on the top 25 returning Pac-12 players?

    Only two teams remain in the Pac-12, but the conference isn’t dead yet. Oregon State will look like an entirely different team this season, with head coach Jonathan Smith and most of his staff off to Michigan State and nearly every starter elsewhere via the NFL Draft, graduation, and the transfer portal.

    Washington State didn’t fare much better in terms of returning production, but at least their coaching staff is still in place. But which squad has the most talent among the top 25 returning Pac-12 players?

    Top 25 Returning Pac-12 College Football Players in 2024

    25) Brock Dieu, G, Washington State

    Brock Dieu didn’t get his first collegiate start until Week 3 last season, and then an injury sidelined him until Week 7. However, once he returned, he proved to be a reliable pass protector and improved as a run blocker as the season waned. Dieu will need to hit the weight room this offseason, as he is currently listed at 6’3″ and 289 pounds on Washington State’s roster.

    24) Isaiah Chisom, LB, Oregon State

    Isaiah Chisom redshirted as a true freshman, but he saw action in two games, including a start in the Sun Bowl against Notre Dame. Linebacker is an experience-heavy position, so don’t expect Chisom to break out in 2024, but he has the fluid movement skills and downhill trigger to be a menace against the run early.

    Also, keep an eye on JUCO transfer Aiden Sullivan, who will push Chisom for a starting role.

    23) Grant Starck, G, Oregon State

    After starting at left tackle for Nevada in 2022, Grant Starck joined the Beavers as the sixth man on the offensive line. He ultimately started five games and played LG, RG, and RT. He is a lock for a starting spot in 2024, likely at guard.

    The move to the interior came with some growing pains pass-blocking-wise, but Starck harnessed his physical tools as a run blocker, and he should only improve with another offseason of training.

    22) John Mateer or Zevi Eckhaus, QB, Washington State

    John Mateer and Zevi Eckhaus aren’t Cam Ward; that much is clear. Yet, Mateer was a four-year starter in high school and went 7 of 8 for 148 yards and two TDs against Northern Colorado last year.

    Meanwhile, Bryant transfer Zevi Eckhaus threw for 2,907 yards and 28 TDs to seven INTs en route to Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2023. With his collegiate reps, mobility, and arm strength, Eckhaus should be the favorite to win the job.

    21) Ben Gulbranson, Gevani McCoy, or Gabarri Johnson, QB, Oregon State

    There is a three-way race at QB underway in Corvallis. Ben Gulbranson should have the leg up over the transfers, as he has been with the program since 2020 and has a 7-2 record as a starter. Gevani McCoy threw 41 touchdowns across two seasons at Idaho in the FCS, and former four-star recruit Gabarri Johnson didn’t see action in his lone season at Missouri.

    There is certainly talent in the room, but the coaching staff needs to peg a starter soon.

    20) Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan, OT, Oregon State

    No one can fill the shoes of top-10 draft pick Taliese Fuaga at right tackle, but Gerard Christian-Lichtenhan has the massive size (6’10”, 315 pounds) and two years of significant reps at Colorado to make a valiant attempt.

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    Being as tall as an NBA center obviously makes it difficult for GCL to stay balanced, but he is a project that OL coach Kyle DeVan could mold into a brick wall on the edge.

    19) Noble Thomas Jr., DB, Oregon State

    Noble Thomas Jr. only played in six games toward the end of last season, but he started from the nickel in five of them. Although his tackling was suspect, he should improve with more reps and offseason work with the first team. Not to mention, he didn’t seem 100% healthy at any point last year.

    18) Christian Hilborn, G, Washington State

    At 6’5″ and 320 pounds with LT and LG experience, Christian Hilborn is an intriguing player in the conference. Focusing on one position would improve his play, but the fact that he can move to the edge and hold his own is impressive. His mass and anchor make it difficult for DTs to rush through him and cover for lack of consistency as a run blocker.

    17) Jacob Strand, OT, Oregon State

    Jacob Strand saw valuable reps against Oregon and Notre Dame last season, and he looked particularly impressive against the Fighting Irish. Joshua Gray is projected to kick inside to guard, opening up the blindside role for Strand.

    He has to put more weight on his frame to withstand more powerful edge rushers, but he has the feet and hands to become a stalwart at left tackle.

    16) Takari Hickle, EDGE, Oregon State

    Takari Hickle didn’t play much as a redshirt freshman, but he flashed when he did. He presumably takes over Sione Lolohea’s starting rush end spot, and he has the size (6’3″, 260+) and speed to be a much bigger pass-rush threat than his predecessor.

    15) Tyson Durant, DB, Washington State

    At 5’10” with inside-out versatility, Tyson Durant could start anywhere in Wazzou’s secondary. However, he has started at CB for the last two years for Akron, logging five INTs and 14 PBUs. His size can be a problem against bigger WRs downfield, but Durant works to keep himself in position to make a play on the ball, and he improved each season with the Zips.

    14) Kapena Gushiken, CB, Washington State

    The 2023 season was Kapena Gushiken’s first in Pullman, as he spent his first two collegiate seasons in the JUCO circuit. He operated out of the slot for the Cougs, breaking up five passes and taking his lone INT 88 yards to the house. Gushiken has to clean up his tackling and ability against the run, but he’s already a stalwart in coverage.

    13) David Gusta, DT, Washington State

    David Gusta thrived in his first season as a starter, particularly as a run defender. He wasn’t able to make much of an impact as a pass rusher, but he didn’t miss a tackle all season and plugged up gaps at the line of scrimmage. Another year to work his pass-rush moves and develop his raw power could spell disaster for opposing offenses.

    12) Jack Kane, S, Oregon State

    Despite only starting three games last season, Jack Kane is one of the more experienced safeties on the roster. But don’t let that detract from his ability on the field. He is free flowing in coverage with the ability to line up in the slot, box, and at deep safety. Coming to balance as a tackler will be key to limiting YAC and cracking down on runs in space.

    11) Jaden Robinson, CB, Oregon State

    Jaden Robinson is returning for his seventh season but has only started one year (2023). In fact, he’s the lone starter returning for the defense, producing eight pass breakups. While his age and body maturity certainly give him an advantage, Robinson has the awareness and fluidity to hold down his side of the field, especially in the first half of the 2024 campaign.

    10) Darrius Clemons, WR, Oregon State

    Following two years at Michigan, Darrius Clemons has returned to his home state. The former four-star recruit only has four catches and 40 yards to his name thus far.

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    But at 6’3″ and 210 pounds, Clemons offers whoever starts under center a big-bodied weapon with the body control and length to capitalize downfield. We just have to see it in 2024.

    9) Kobe Singleton, CB, Oregon State

    Kobe Singleton has gone from FCS (Southern Utah) to Group of Five (Liberty) to Power Five (Oregon State) in his four-year career. He has snatched nine interceptions thus far, returning two for TDs, and showed vast improvement as a tackler from 2022 to 2023. It’s no surprise defensive coordinator Keith Heyward believes Singleton has a future in the NFL.

    8) Kris Hutson, WR, Washington State

    After back-to-back 400-yard campaigns, Kris Hutson fell down the depth chart in Eugene. He gets a much-needed fresh start with the Cougars and should be featured heavily on offense. He can operate in the slot or outside and as an underneath YAC threat or a downfield vertical weapon.

    7) Taariq Al-Uqdah, LB, Washington State

    Following a redshirt season, Taariq Al-Uqdah served as a backup LB last year before starting the final five games. His 6’0″ and over 220-pound frame offers him maneuverability other LBs don’t possess. He flashed his coverage chops with a pick and a pass breakup and was efficient when he had the chance to blitz, earning two QB hits.

    While still developing as a run defender, Al-Uqdah was solid enough there and will only mature with more reps.

    6) Jam Griffin, RB, Oregon State

    Jam Griffin has racked up the frequent flyer miles over the last few years. He spent his first three seasons at Georgia Tech before transferring to Oregon State, generating 400+ yards and four scores.

    Then, he left for Ole Miss, only to return to the Beavers this offseason. With Damien Martinez gone, Griffin has the skill set to be the team’s new workhorse, with the strength to break through contact and the ability to cut on a dime.

    5) Syrus Webster, EDGE, Washington State

    Utah Tech will miss Syrus Webster’s utter dominance off the edge, as he racked up 161 tackles, 27.5 TFLs, 14.5 sacks, and seven forced fumbles over the last three years. He has grown into his body over that time, and although the jump from the FCS to the FBS isn’t small, Webster has the experience and physical tools to hit the ground running.

    4) Kyle Williams, WR, Washington State

    All Kyle Williams does is produce. Since first stepping onto a football field at UNLV in 2020, he has never had fewer than 400 yards and two TDs in a single season.

    He broke out after transferring to WSU last year, generating 842 yards and six scores on 61 receptions. His strong hands keep passes from hitting the ground, and he comes down with contested targets more often than not.

    3) Nick Haberer, P, Washington State

    That’s right — the best player out of Wazzou is a punter. That’s not a negative, as Nick Haberer has routinely flipped the field and put his defense in an advantageous position over the last three years. Of his 158 attempts, 82 have been fair caught and 50 have landed in the 20, and Haberer can boot his punts high for hangtime or low to pin opposing offenses.

    2) Van Wells, C, Oregon State

    One of 30+ transfers out of Colorado, Van Wells is an instant starter at center for Oregon State. He isn’t as much of a mauler as the player at No. 1, but he is solid on the move and working to the second level. Pass blocking is Wells’ calling card, as he consistently looks for work and performs well against stunts and games.

    1) Joshua Gray, G, Oregon State

    There was no one else more deserving of the No. 1 spot than Joshua Gray. Returning for his fifth season as a starter for the Beavers, Gray is a locker-room leader with the experience that the new head coach, Trent Bray, certainly appreciates.

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    The collegiate veteran has slowly progressed as a pass blocker, but he makes his money as a road grader in the run game, moving defenders against their will with ease.

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