Sleeper picks for the Pac-12

Identifying under-the-radar teams, players and units for the 2013 season

Updated: June 28, 2013, 1:40 PM ET
By KC Joyner | ESPN Insider

Taylor Kelly Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsASU's Taylor Kelly could challenge Oregon's Marcus Mariota for first-team All-Pac-12 QB honors.

The Pac-12 has been a top-heavy conference of late. Over the past three seasons, the conference's premier teams, the Oregon Ducks and Stanford Cardinal, have posted a combined mark of 49-5.

That elite win-loss record is one of the main reasons those two clubs ranked No. 3 and No. 5, respectively, in the third edition of Mark Schlabach's Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25.

With that kind of upper-tier dominance, the odds of any other Pac-12 team pulling off an on-field surprise in 2013 may seem like a longshot. However, there are more than a few candidates capable of shocking the conference this season.

1. Which quarterback could give Marcus Mariota a run for his money for first-team All-Pac-12 quarterback honors?

Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly may be the most unheralded player in college football.

Last year, he ranked eighth nationally in passer efficiency (159.9). Kelly's route depth metrics and bad decision rate (BDR), a measure of how often a quarterback's mental errors led to a turnover opportunity for the opponent, were nearly as impressive, as they compared favorably to or were better than the figures posted by Geno Smith and Matt Barkley.

It says a lot for Kelly that he was a redshirt freshman in his first year as a starter and posted numbers of that caliber. It also speaks volumes for the strength of Todd Graham's offensive system, which three times ranked in the top five nationally in yards per game during his Tulsa tenure. And it highlights the play calling of up-and-coming star offensive coordinator Mike Norvell. That trio's talents could end up vaulting Kelly over the much more heralded Mariota for first-team All-Pac-12 honors.