Vilardo: Pac-12 Once Again Loaded with Great DBs

Posted on October 14, 2021

  By Stephen Vilardo, SportsPac12

The Pac-12 has made a name for itself with productive Defensive Backs over the years, and 2021 is proving to be no different.

Pac-12Oregon has a pair of players in the defensive backfield among the leaders in interceptions this season: Verone McKinley III shares the national lead with four on the season while his teammate Bennett Williams sits tied for sixth with three on the season.

Daniel Scott of California also has three picks on the year to equal the total of Williams.

Looking at interceptions per game, McKinley is tied for second in the nation with 0.80 per contest (Syrus Dumas of New Mexico State leads the country with 1.0 per game in his three games played).

Williams just trails him in fourth with .75 while Scott’s average of .60 is tied for seventh.

Of the Top 10 players in the nation in interceptions per game, three come from the Pac-12. No other conference in the nation can claim more than one player on that top-10 list.


Kyu Blu Kelly of Stanford owns the Pac-12 lead this season with eight passes defended this season, the seventh most in the nation. His average of 1.33 per game is good enough for the 14th most in the FBS.

Joining him in the top-25 nationally are McKinley with 1.20, a figure he shares with Washington’s Kyler Gordon and Clark Phillips of Utah. Rejzohn Wright is tied for the 28th most in the nation with 1.17.

The play of the Oregon teammates this season is nothing new to Duck fans.

Since 2005, three of the 20 best single-season performances in passes defended have been produced by Ducks.

Oregon Ducks Logo Pac-12Thomas Graham had 18 in 2018, which was the second-best in the nation that season. His 18 equaled the mark of Arrion Springs from 2017, which tied him for third-most, and Troy Hill led the country with 18 in 2014.

Also, among the 30 best single season totals since 2005 are Ahkello Witherspoon’s NCAA leading 19 from 2016. The total for the former Colorado star is the 10th-best single-season total in the last 16 seasons.

Paulson Abedo defended 17 passes in 2018 for the 21st best mark during that period, and Keenan Lewis of Oregon State shared the national lead with 11 passes defended in 2005.

If we look at career totals, we find that the 42 passes defended by Aarion Springs for Oregon from 2014-17 are the fifth-most.

USC’s Iman Marshall concluded his career in 2018 with 36, ranking as the 20th most the nation has seen and Jace Whittaker finished his time in Tucson with 34, also in the top-35 nationally.


Former Washington State star Lamont Thompson has the most interceptions in Pac-12 history with 22 for his career, the fifth-most of any player in NCAA history since the stat began being tracked in 1976.

Chuck Cecil, who made a name for himself in the NFL as a hard hitter, had 21 interceptions during his career at Arizona, that total is tied for the fifth most.

Continuing to look at the Top 30 all-time marks, we see Mitch Meeuwsen’s 20 for Oregon State (tied for 10th), the 19 of UCLA’s Kenny Easley (17th).

Harold Lusk of Utah equaled Easley’s 19 during his time in Salt Lake City in the 1990’s, although the Utes were not in the Conference at that time.

Here are seven players from the Conference who have shared the lead or led the nation in interceptions since 1980:

2009Raheem MooreUCLA10
2005Aaron GipsonOregon7
2001Lamont ThompsonWashington State10
1999Deltha O'NealCal9
1987Chuck CecilArizona9
1980Ronnie LottUSC8
1980Mike RichardsonArizona State8
Among active players, Chase Lucas of Arizona State ranks 14th in the nation with 30 passes defended over his career.

Verone McKinley is the active Pac-12 leader in interceptions with nine for his career. Those nine picks are tied for the sixth-most of any player in the country.

As far as team stats go on the season, Oregon State ranks third in the nation with 10 interceptions on the season, while Oregon is fifth with nine and Arizona State ranks 11th with eight. Washington State and USC have seven each to tie for 19th in the nation.

Pac-12 Stats Among the National Rankings

• Drake London’s 16 receptions against Utah last week were the second-most of any player in the nation in a single game this season.

• Those 16 catches for 162-yards  pushed London’s season totals to 10.7 receptions per game, second-best in the nation and 138.7 yards per game good for the third best in the country.


• Britain Covey is second in the nation with a punt return average of 18.3 yards this season.

• Devin Lloyd is averaging 10.6 total tackles per game for Utah this season, the fourth most in the nation, and his 1.80 TFL per game are also the fourth-most.

• Washington State is allowing just 147.2 yards passing per game, the third best mark in the country.

• Oregon is second in the nation with a turnover margin of +2.2 per game.

• Washington has come away with points on all 14 of their trips to the Red Zone this season. The Huskies are one of just four FBS teams that remain perfect inside the 20.

• UCLA has allowed opponents to throw for 307.7 yards per game, the fifth most in the nation this season.

• Oregon State’s 242.5 yards rushing per game are the 13th-most in the nation.

• Utah is getting penalized for just 38.2 yards per game, ninth-best in the nation, Washington State is 14th at 40.0 yards per game.

• On the other end of that, Arizona State is getting penalized for 86.50 yards per game, ranking as the sixth-most with USC-83.17- seventh-most and Oregon-79.20-just behind as the eighth-most in the nation.

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