Borrowing a page from my colleague Connor O’Gara’s playbook, I swiped his idea for an All-Bang The Drum Team, full of Pac-12 players who I’m championing loudest in 2023. (Connor banged the drum for SEC players on our SEC site, Saturday Down South.)

These are not the league’s brightest stars or biggest names. But all showed tremendous potential in 2022, as if they were on the verge of something special.

And isn’t that more fun, hitching a star to a star’s wagon just as it’s being born? If any of these guys vault into the league’s upper echelon, you heard it here first.

I like Connor’s parameters, so I’ll stick to those:

  • 1 player per team
  • No first-team All-Pac-12 selections from last year
  • No quarterbacks

Without further ado, here’s a look at my Pac-12 squad …

Arizona: LB Jacob Manu

The sophomore from Servite was part of a horde of talented players from the Santa Ana-based school to call Tucson their new home. He was in some good company, too, joining quarterback Noah Fifita and wide out Tetairoa McMillan. Manu had the best freshman year of the three, and one of the best debuts of any Pac-12 rookie defender. He made 7 starts, finishing with 54 total tackles, leading all true freshman in the category.

He broke the double-digit mark in tackles against Washington and had 7 tackles and a sack in the Territorial Cup win over Arizona State.

Arizona State: WR Elijhah Badger

The Sun Devils wide receivers room is suddenly a bit crowded with the transfer of Colorado transfer Jordyn Tyson, but don’t write off Badger, ASU’s leading returning wideout. Badger had an impressive stat line with 70 receptions for 866 yards and 7 touchdowns, and the Sun Devils have a much better quarterback situation this year.

If Kenny Dillingham does what Kenny Dillingham can do, Badger could be in line for a 1,000-yard season.

Cal: S Craig Woodson

With the Bears losing arguably the league’s top safety in Daniel Scott, Woodson will fill a major void in both production and leadership this year. He had 76 tackles, 2 interceptions and a forced fumble last year, including 21 combined tackles in back-to-back losses to Oregon and USC.

Cal head coach Justin Wilcox is also bullish on Woodson this year.

“Craig Woodson looks dang good,” he told reporters during spring ball. “We’ve got high expectations for him. He’s played a lot for us but this offseason his mental game has been really sharp.”

Colorado: RB Anthony Hankerson

One of a handful of returning Buffaloes to actually make an impact last year, it might be Hankerson’s Florida ties that kept him in Coach Prime’s good graces. Or maybe it was just the production, no matter how scarce.

Hankerson had three games with 10 or more carries and averaged 55 yards per game. He had 47 yards and a score in the Bears’ 20-13 overtime win over Cal on Oct. 15.

Oregon: RB Noah Whittington

Whittington returns to play 2nd fiddle Bucky Irving once more, but the talented Oregon back would be first chair on any other roster. Whittington was a terrific complement to Irving, rushing for 779 yards and 5 scores on 139 carries while adding 169 yards on 22 receptions. The fact that both stayed for 2023 speaks volumes to the culture that Dan Lanning is already instilling in Eugene.

Oregon State: WR Silas Bolden

I’m slightly skirting the rules here, because Bolden was an all-conference second-team pick as a kick returner last year. But I’m pegging to make a drastic difference in the passing game this year. The younger brother or former Beaver great Victor Bolden, Silas could triple his 305 yards and 4 scores and I wouldn’t be surprised.

Jonathan Smith has vowed to get more creative in Bolden’s usage, and he could put up a lot more performances like he did in the team’s 30-3 Las Vegas Bowl win over Florida. He had a career-best 6 grabs for 99 yards against the Gators, a preview of things to come.

Stanford: DE David Bailey

One of the most impactful defensive freshmen in the conference, Bailey tied for 2nd on the Cardinal with 2.5 sacks. He announced his presence early with 9 tackles and 1.5 sacks against USC in Week 2, then had 2 more 9 tackle games, finishing with 46 0n the year. On a defense that is lacking impact linemen, Bailey could develop into one of the league’s top pass-rushers as a true sophomore.

UCLA: LB JonJon Vaughns

How can you possibly not love the dual-sport stud? A outfield-patrolling starter for the Bruins always-competitive baseball team and a mid-field patrolling linebacker for Chip Kelly and the UCLA football team, JJV had 53 tackles, 2 interceptions and 5 passes defended last year in his first year of major time. He’ll be a critical piece for the Bruins defense this year.

USC: LB Eric Gentry

A consensus Freshman All-American first teamer as a freshman at Arizona State in 2021, Gentry was one of the Trojans’ biggest transfer gets last year. He quickly became an emotional leader for the defense, finishing with 71 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 QB hurries, 2 forced fumbles, 3 pass breakups and 1 pick despite missing 3 games because of injury.

He had some big individual games late in the year, with 9 tackles and 1 forced fumble against Notre Dame and He tallied 8 tackles, including 1.5 for loss with 1 sack in the Pac-12 Championship against Utah.

Utah: RB Ja’Quinden Jackson

If this list feels too running back-heavy, just stop reading right here. But if I’m all in on an unsung Ute, it has to be Jackson, the former quarterback-turned-bell cow. Jackson was unreal down the stretch for the Utes. He got double-digit carries in four of Utah’s last five games. In those 4 games, he totaled 400 yards and 7 touchdowns.

Extrapolate those numbers out, and we’re talking maybe the best back in the Pac-12. Oh, and an emergency QB, to boot. Or bootleg.

Washington: RB Cameron Davis

If you can be overlooked with 13 rushing touchdowns, Cameron Davis was overlooked last season. Sharing carries with Wayne Taulapapa, Davis scored in 8 separate games, topping 10 carries a half-dozen times. If he doubles his carries as expected this year, he could lead the league in rushing.

That would be quite the story for the long-time Husky, who had just 17 carries his 1st two years and jumped up to 85 carries for 308 yards in 2021. He upped his YPC from 3.6 to 4.9 last year.

Washington State: CB Chau Smith-Wade

Playing in a solid defensive backfield alongside Armani Marsh and stud freshman Jaden Hicks, Smith-Wade nonetheless shined. He finished with 43 tackles, 8 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions, and he was a scout’s dream, earning the 3rd-best defensive grade among all Pac-12 cornerbacks according to PFF College. He had a particularly nice game against Stanford in Week 10, when he had 5 tackles and 2 passes defended and he also had 3 tackles, 2 pass breakups and recovered a fumble in the Apple Cup against Washington.

I’m not the only one big on him.

“Chau’s been phenomenal,” Cougars coach Jake Dickert told reporters late last year. “I don’t even think he’s to his ceiling yet, and that’s an awesome place to be.”