1. Oregon (Unanimous)
The secondary has always been a strong point for the boys up in Eugene and this year is no exception. The Ducks may have their best defensive backfield yet as cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu headlines a group that has plenty of NFL potential. Ekpre-Olomu is garnering attention on Preseason All-America lists, but don't sleep on junior Terrance Mitchell who lines up on the opposite side of the field and has next-level skills.
Oregon also has the benefit of returning two senior veterans at the safety positons as Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson form one of the conference's best tag teams. Jackson finished third on the team with 69 tackles last season and also had two interceptions while Patterson enjoyed three picks last year. The scariest part of this secondary is that behind the four returning starters is a talented group of up-and-comers chomping at the bit for a chance to play.
Oregon was the unanimous No. 1 selection, but Stanford garnered every second place vote from our staff. The Cardinal feature two of the top safeties in the Pac-12 including 3rd Team All-American Ed Reynolds. Reynolds is a downhill player who intercepted six passes last season and returned three of those for touchdowns. Jordan Richards will start at strong safety after intercepting three passes last season and recording 12 pass breakups.
Aside from the thunder and lightning combination at safety, Stanford boasts a returning starter in sophomore Alex Carter at the cornerback position. Sophomore Wayne Lyons and converted running back Usua Amanam wil lbattle for the other cornerback job, but both are highly capable of becoming All-Pac-12 performers.
The Trojans' secondary is led by two-year starter Dion Bailey who anchors the secondary from his strong safety position. After earning Conference Freshman Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2011, Bailey returned in top form last season and wrapped up 80 tackles while pulling down four interceptions.
Oft-injured but productive corner Torin Harris returns for his senior season while Anthony Brown appears ready to take on a starting role opposite of Harris. Coach Lane Kiffin is also very excited about freshman safety Leon McQuay III who joined the USC program in the spring and has the talent to slide into the starting free safety spot immediately.
4. Arizona State
The Sun Devils are fortunate to return two of their top defensive backs from last season as cornerback Osahon Irabor and safety Alden Darby are back for their swan songs. Darby is a team captain and a "character guy" who makes the perfect fit for Todd Graham's scheme while Irabor made great strides last season in helping Arizona State become one of the nation's top-5 pass defenses.
While Arizona State lost Deveron Carr to graduation, the team has plenty of viable options to start opposite of Irabor including Robert Nelson, Rashad Wadood, and Lloyd Carrington. The biggest question mark remains at free safety, where recruits Damarious Randall and Marcus Ball could battle for the job.
Coach Steve Sarkisian appears to be assembling a sleeper in Seattle as the Huskies routinely score in the top half of our power rankings. Washington returns two starters in the defensive backfield as senior Sean Parker will be back at strong safety while sophomore Marcus Peters hopes to build on a strong freshman campaign.
Peters had three interceptions last year and proved himself, so teams might take a gamble and throw the way of JUCO transfer Travell Dixon who originally signed with Alabama. The Huskies have the choice of going with Will Shamburger or redshirt freshman Brandon Beaver at free safety, but they appear to be leaning toward Beaver.
Once again, the Wildcats show up in the middle of the pack in our defensive group rankings even though they basically return all 11 starters on this side of the football. This unit allowed 25 touchdown passes last year, but they hope to improve upon that number as they have plenty of experience.
Shaquille Richardson and Jonathan McKnight are back at corner while Jared Tevis and Jourdon Grandon return at the safety positions. Tevis had 82 tackles, six pass breakups, and two interceptions last year and appears to be the leader of this group.
7. Oregon State
Last year, the Beavers had arguably the best defensive back in the conference as cornerback Jordan Poyer pulled down seven interceptions en route to Second Team All-America honors. This year, Poyer will prove tough to replace, but Mike Riley has the pieces to put together an above-average secondary.
Rashaad Reynolds was a Second Team Pac-12 corner last season and he will hope to improve upon his three interceptions. Tyrequek Zimmerman is also back at strong safety after a 63-tackle campaign while Ryan Murphy returns at free safety. Questions remain at the corner position opposite Reynolds, but the Beavers do have enough talent to survive against good passing teams.
The Bruins lose all four starters in their defensive backfield, but coach Jim Mora has recruited so well that the growing pains should be minimal this year. Keep your eye on Priest Willis, who was one of the top recruits in the UCLA class and could factor into the starting lineup immediately.
Ishmael Adams suffered an injury setback last year, but the highly touted redshirt freshman should secure a starting corner position this year. Meanwhile, Anthony Jefferson saw very limited time, but he also appears poised to hold down a corner spot. At safety, the Bruins have Dietrich Riley (SS) and Randall Goforth who batted down four passes as a freshman.
The Utes would definitely rank higher on this list if not for the fact that they lose Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 safety Brian Blechen to the linebacking corps this year. Blechen recorded nearly 150 tackles over the last two seasons, and filling in for him at strong safety could be JUCO transfer and former Cal Golden Bear Tevin Carter.
Eric Rowe has 16 pass breakups over the last two seasons at his starting free safety spot, but he'll need to be an even bigger factor this season as the Utes are breaking in two new cornerbacks.
Free safety Michael Lowe is the only returning starter the Bears have in the secondary, but he proved to be a ballhawk with three interceptions last season. Stefan McClure possesses the talent to be an impact cornerback while Kameron Jackson made the most of his time on the field last season by pulling down three interceptions.
The Bears look stuck at strong safety, as special teams demon Avery Sebastian looks like one of just a few options the team has at the position. The Pac-12 has a lot of great defensive backfields, and while the Bears shouldn't be awful, they likely won't stack up with the rest of the competition.
11. Washington State
The Cougars defense accounted for 15 interceptions last season and they return three starters, so naturally, they should appear high on our power rankings list. But not so fast. This is the same secondary that surrendered 26 touchdown passes and allowed opponents to score more than 40 points four separate times.
Casey Locker and Deone Bucannon are solid options at safety, especially Bucannon who earned Second Team Pac-12 honors last year. Anthony Carpenter is the third returning starter in the secondary, and he'll hold down one of the cornerback slots.
The Buffaloes return all four starters in the secondary, but it's a group that allowed a 67 percent completion percentage, 39 touchdowns, and a mind-blowing 46.0 points per game. With stats like that, it's only fair to rank Colorado 12th.
Jered Bell and Parker Orms are back at safety while Kenneth Crawley and Greg Henderson return at corner. Crawley possesses the most potential to improve as he was the most highly touted recruit of the four starters and is also that youngest of the bunch.
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