I’m running through the 10 most intriguing players in the Pac-12 this season. This isn’t a list of the most important players or the best — we’ve already done that. Instead, it’s a look at which players across the league have the widest-ranging potential. Who can swing the league with a strong campaign? Which players have the potential to flip a win or two their team’s way? Here’s the group so far:

No. 10 Stanford offensive line

No. 9 Washington’s Zion Tupuola-Fetui

No. 8 Oregon’s Justin Flowe


No. 7 Calen Bullock, USC safety

For the USC fan that consumes Trojan football content on the daily, second-year defensive back Calen Bullock has been impossible to ignore this offseason. 

For literally everyone else, Bullock is going to be impossible to ignore this season.

There maybe wasn’t a single player on USC’s roster that drew more consistent and across-the-board attention from his peers — both coaches and teammates — than Bullock throughout the spring and summer. He got bigger, he settled in at one position, and he emerged as a seemingly likely starter for a Trojan defense that got much more talented in a very short amount of time. USC went out looking for more talent. Bullock took it upon himself to make sure he wasn’t lost in the shuffle. 

Mission accomplished.

“I can’t wait to see him play,” said quarterback Caleb Williams back at Pac-12 Media Day. “Some of the plays that he’s gone and got or that he’s done, your eyebrow raises. Like, woah. 

“We had Mario (Williams) running on the left sideline and he ended up going up field because it’s a scramble drill, and Calen comes from my right hash and he gets over the top of Mario and bats the ball down. I looked at him like, ‘Man, how’d you get all the way over there?’ I saw him coming, but I didn’t think he was going to get all the way over there. He’s made some pretty good plays on me and I just can’t wait to see him in this defense.”

A gangly 6-foot-3 defensive back prospect, Bullock was a bit of a wild card. He played wideout in high school. He was part of a top-10 2021 signing class for the Trojans that brought 10 top-200 prospects to campus. Being the 11th-highest rated signee, he was maybe a little undervalued entering the 2021 season.

And then when last year’s defense came out and struggled mightily, it became pretty easy to say, “USC needs more bodies and it needs a ton of work.” Last year’s unit allowed 6.4 yards a play and became the only defense in the last 100 years of USC football to allow opponents to score 30 points a game.

If there’s a silver lining to be taken from all of that, it’s the play of Bullock. He played corner. He started at nickel. He was the first true freshman Trojan to start at safety for the program since 2013. Wideout Kyle Ford called him ‘Sticks’ because of the frame. He took his lumps, but he showcased some real skill and —maybe most importantly — fight during a lost season. 

Bullock had 40 tackles in 12 games, the sixth-most on the team. He broke up four passes and intercepted two others. The FWAA named him to its Freshman All-American team. He earned a 72.3 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus and was tabbed by the outlet as a breakout player to watch this season. 

The way he can cover ground and (cover) the whole back end of the field, he really surprised me when I came out here,” said wideout Jordan Addison. 

Bullock said he added about 10 pounds of muscle over the offseason. That’ll continue as he grows into his frame and lives the good life in a D1 program with all the nutritional benefits and strength-training innovation USC can offer. 

The bigger offseason change for his game is positional. 

Bullock gets to settle in and hone his craft in a specific position rather than being deployed all over the field. Versatility is nice, but consistency for a young player in terms of what they’re being asked to do is big for development. 

“Last year I was moving around everywhere,” Bullock said prior to the start of camp. “I never really got comfortable at one spot. This year I’m focusing on that safety position, which makes everything easier for me.”

When the two best players on the offensive side of the football — and two of the best offensive guys in the country at that — say it’s working, it’s most definitely working. 

That length, that mobility, he can do some special things as he continues to develop in USC’s scheme. 

“We have high expectations for him,” defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said in the spring. “He’s certainly got a long way to go, but we’re excited about it.”

This USC defense needs playmakers all over. Coaches on staff feel like they have a guy at safety who can develop into one of the best in the country.