One of the earliest lessons I learned as an NFL scout was to ask players for their opinions of their peers. They know, perhaps better than anyone else, who can really play and who is being overrated.
The Pac-12 is unique in that it is the only conference in BCS football that appears to agree with this rationale. As such, they give the conference's offensive lineman an opportunity to vote for the league's most dominant defensive lineman. The Pac-12's defensive linemen get the same treatment. Their opinions are the only ones that matter in recognizing the conference's elite offensive lineman. The top vote-getter is rewarded with the Morris Trophy.
Though the Pac-12 hasn't officially announced the winners yet for this season, NFLDraftScout.com has learned their identities.
The winners this year couldn't be much different.
To no one surprise, the Pac-12's defensive linemen voted Southern California junior left tackle Matt Kalil as the dominant offensive lineman in the conference. While overshadowed by USC's talent at the skill positions, savvy followers of the program know that the 6-6, 295 pound Kalil played a critical role in the Trojans' averaging an eye-popping 35.8 points per contest. That number may pale in comparison to many of the spread schemes proliferating the country, but for a ball-control offense playing against the caliber of competition USC faced this season, the production is very impressive. The younger brother of former USC standout (and current Carolina Panthers' Pro Bowler) Ryan Kalil, Matt could elect to leave after his junior season and be a likely a top ten pick. Kalil currently ranks No. 4 on my Big Board and is NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated offensive tackle potentially available for the 2012 draft.
The defensive winner, on the other hand, is a name that few outside of the Pac-12 will recognize. In fact, many inside of the conference likely don't know much about Utah junior defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. The conference's offensive linemen, however, obviously think quite highly of the 6-3, 325 pound defensive tackle.
Lotulelei signed with Utah from Snow Junior College just last year but emerged as a starter by season's end. This season, he's been virtually unstoppable despite the fact that he's often double-teamed. Lotulelei, who was named a First Team all-conference pick by the league's coaches, registered 38 tackles, including 9.5 tackles for loss on the season. His combination of size and power could make him a highly valued commodity -- especially for NFL teams looking for a potential nose guard. As such, Lotulelei is quickly rising up NFL draft boards. He is currently NFLDraftScout.com's No. 8 rated defensive tackle in the class of 2013.
Just as they likely are doing with Kalil, Pac-12 opponents can only hope the NFL proves so enticing that Lotulelei -- who is married and has a little girl -- elects to leave school early.