|Dean Hare / Associated Press|
|Arizona State's Jaelen Strong should face stiff competition to be the Pac-12's leading receiver in 2014.|
It's fun to talk about numbers in sports, and while projecting stats might seem an exercise in futility to some, did we mention that it's fun to talk about numbers in sports?
Besides, we're still about six weeks away from the start of the college football season, so why not slip on the Nostradamus hat and try to figure out who will lead various statistical categories in each league?
Today, we're spotlighting the Pac-12 before hitting the SEC on Friday.
Passing yards: Washington State QB Connor Halliday
Buzz: The Pac-12 has developed a reputation for being the conference of quarterbacks the past few years, and that certainly is the case in 2014 with a strong group of returnees at the position. Oregon State's Sean Mannion edged out Halliday last season by a hair in this category, but Mannion top receiver Brandin Cooks to the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Contrast that with Halliday playing in Mike Leach's Air Raid system while getting his top seven receivers back from a year ago and he gets the nod.
Rushing yards: Oregon RB Byron Marshall
Buzz: The Ducks will once again have a loaded backfield this year, and only the USC Trojans might be able to make a case that they have as much RB depth as their rivals in the Pacific Northwest. Marshall has been overshadowed frequently during his time in Eugene, but does come into 2014 as the Pac-12's leading returning rusher. Thomas Tyner will likely see an increased role at tailback, but Marshall should still have the numbers to edge anyone who challenges him for the rushing title in what could be a big junior season.
Receiving yards: Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong
Buzz: Strong is considered by some to be a possible first-round pick if he were to come out early for the NFL draft, and it's not hard to see why after a strong first season for the Sun Devils. He caught 75 passes for 1,122 yards last season. He has a number of running mates that can help take coverage pressure off him, and has one of the better quarterbacks in the Pac-12 in Taylor Kelly. Utah's Dres Anderson, Stanford's Ty Montgomery and USC's Nelson Agholor could mount a challenge, but Strong looks like the top dog going into the season.
Tackles: Colorado LB Addison Gillam
Buzz: Gillam was one of the better stories out of the Pac-12 last season as a true freshman, and was one reason why the Buffs made such a quality leap forward in terms of on-field play under coach Mike MacIntyre. Considering he led the conference in tackles per game despite playing college football for the first time, chances are high he can lead the Pac-12 in tackles as a sophomore.
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Sacks: Washington DE Hau'oli Kikaha
Buzz: Kikaha is a relative unknown outside the Pacific Northwest, but he's a name to remember when talking about defensive linemen in 2014. He finished just behind Trent Murphy in the Pac-12 with 13 sacks last year after coming off several knee injuries and has a good chance to end up atop the sack list with a space-eater like Danny Shelton and a coaching staff that knows how to turn out quality pass rushers.
Interceptions: Washington CB Marcus Peters
Buzz: While Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu might be the conference's best corner, teams will likely throw away from him more often than they will avoid Peters, who's not far behind the Ducks defender in the mind of some NFL scouts. The Huskies do have to revamp their secondary, but a quality front seven to pressure the quarterback should give Peters a chance to top the Pac-12 in picks and improve on the five he snagged a season ago.
Follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter @BryanDFischer.