UCLA: Thomas Tyner

Spring position breakdown: RBs

February, 25, 2014
Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues.

Arizona: With Ka'Deem Carey off to the NFL, figuring out Arizona's running back situation requires a bit of guesswork. Backups Daniel Jenkins and Kylan Butler are out of eligibility and rising junior Jared Baker tore his ACL in the regular-season finale. That leaves no running backs who had a carry last season. Those competing for carries will be redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier and Zach Green, and true freshmen Jonathan Haden, an early enrollee, and Nick Wilson.

[+] EnlargeOregon/Texas
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesByron Marshall will be the Pac-12's leading returning rusher in 2014.
Arizona State: The torch was passed from Marion Grice to D.J. Foster toward the end of last season, and Foster will have a full offseason to prepare to be the No. 1 guy. He showed impressive flashes in spot playing time in the past two seasons, and ran for 318 yards (6.2 yards per carry) in three starts after Grice was lost to injury.

California: Much was made about Brendan Bigelow's talent during his career in Berkeley, but it never materialized the way many expected it would. He was beaten out by true freshman Khalfani Muhammad a year ago, then opted out of his final year of eligibility for a shot at the NFL -- and subsequently was not invited to the combine. Getting a feel for how coach Sonny Dykes would like to use his running backs is tough considering the lopsided nature of most of the games last year, but Muhammad showed all the signs that he would develop into a good Pac-12 running back.

Colorado: Christian Powell and Michael Adkins II will both be back after combining for 1,097 yards rushing in 2013. With receiver Paul Richardson off to the NFL, there's the need for added production on offense, and while coach Mike MacIntyre showed at San Jose State he'd prefer that to come through the air, it could add up to more opportunities for Powell and Adkins.

Oregon: Does it even matter who the Ducks hand the ball to? Sometimes it doesn't seem like it, but, regardless, Oregon remains loaded with speed and talent at running back. Byron Marshall (1,038 yards rushing) and Thomas Tyner (711 yards) will both see plenty of carries when quarterback Marcus Mariota (715 yards) isn't running on his own. The team does lose De'Anthony Thomas, who opted to leave early for the NFL, but Thomas turned into a relative afterthought last season anyway.

Oregon State: It shouldn't be hard to improve the Beavers' running game after they ranked 115th in the country in rushing yards per game last season. Their top two backs -- Terron Ward and Storm Woods -- return and figure to see more use under new offensive coordinator John Garrett. There was a glimpse of what could be against Boise State in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl as the Beavers unleashed a more balanced approach. Woods ran for 107 yards on 16 carries and Ward added 54 yards on nine carries in a comfortable 38-23 victory.

Stanford:The Cardinal's running back situation is outlined here in more detail, but it should be noted that the competition between Remound Wright, Barry J. Sanders and Ricky Seale -- competing to replace Tyler Gaffney -- will also include Kelsey Young. Young was recruited to Stanford to play running back, but was switched to receiver and is now back at running back. Sanders has the name recognition, but all signs point to Wright getting the first crack at being the primary back. However it plays out, it would be a complete shock if one back was used as much as Gaffney was in 2013 and Stepfan Taylor the two seasons before that.

UCLA: If things play out the way UCLA coach Jim Mora hopes they will, linebacker Myles Jack will be just that … a linebacker. After winning Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year, the Bruins would ideally keep him on defense. For that to happen, someone needs to step up. That conversation still includes Jordon James and Paul Perkins, while Craig Lee, a four-star recruit who redshirted last year, also factors into the equation.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiBuck Allen will likely head up USC's running back committee next season.
USC: After watching Bishop Sankey turn into one of the nation's premier backs under the tutelage of new coach Steve Sarkisian, USC's deep stable of running backs has to be intrigued. The Trojans will return four of their top five leading rushers from a year ago -- Javorius "Buck" Allen, Tre Madden, Justin Davis, Ty Isaac -- when they were predominantly a run-first team. Allen, who was named the team MVP in 2013, figures to get the first crack at being the starter, but that could be just in name only as a running-back-by-committee scenario seems likely.

Utah: Another season, another new offensive coordinator for the Utes. This time it's Dave Christensen's job to invoke life in the Utah offense, which will return leading rusher Bubba Poole (607 yards) and Lucky Radley (284 yards). The Utes averaged just 4.1 yards a carry as a team last year, which is partially to blame for the change from Dennis Erickson to Christensen after just one year.

Washington: The NFL combine taught us that Bishop Sankey might have been the most physically gifted running back in the country last year. It's not as simple as plugging in another guy to replace him, but the Huskies are still in good shape. Senior Jesse Callier (48 carries, 213 yards in 2013), who was slated to be the starter before an ACL tear in the season opener in 2012, is intriguing and will compete with fellow senior Deontae Cooper (43 carries, 270 yards) and sophomore Dwayne Washington (27 carries, 332 yards).

Washington State: Considering quarterback Connor Halliday had three single-game passing totals that were more than leading rusher Marcus Mason ran for in entire season (429), any discussion about the Cougars' running game is tough to take seriously. Yes, there will still be running backs on the roster. No, they probably won't combine to run for 1,000 yards as a team.

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The Pac-12 this year, and beyond

June, 20, 2013
Today's assignment for the conference bloggers: Which teams in your conference are built to win this year -- and had better, because the future doesn't look too bright. One problem: It's just not that cut and dry with the Pac-12.

This is playing off of the top 25 future power rankings that were released Tuesday Insider -- projecting where programs will be three years from now. In the top 25 were Stanford (10), Oregon (11), UCLA (22) and USC (25).

Let's tackle the first part before digging into the second. For teams that are built to win now, we can break those down into three categories:
Oregon has proved to be virtually unmatched offensively the past few seasons, and this season they offer an outstanding secondary to boot. Stanford's defense and grind-'em-out West Coast offense has propelled it to three consecutive BCS bowl games.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriUnder coach Todd Graham, Arizona State could very well push its way into the Pac-12's top tier, where Oregon and Stanford are fixtures.
Arizona State has an ambitious 2013 schedule that -- if successfully navigated -- will land it in the national rankings and potentially the Pac-12 championship game. The same is true for UCLA -- which also has a tougher schedule than last season. And you can never count out USC because of the talent the Trojans bring in each year. The switch to the 3-4 is a good step defensively, and having the reigning Biletnikoff winner (receiver Marqise Lee) never hurts.

Washington -- with good quarterback play -- could reach double-digit wins. Oregon State, though there have been down years, is consistently a tough program, and last year Arizona showed offensively what it's capable of in Rich Rodriguez's system.

Now, the second part. This is where the assignment doesn't necessarily apply to the Pac-12 because, frankly, the future looks pretty bright for the bulk of the conference. Maybe I'm the eternal optimist with a backside full of sunshine and pocket full of miracles, but I don't see dynastic collapses in the future. Just the opposite: I'd put Arizona State and Oregon State in the future power rankings now. Maybe even Washington.

I see the rest of the conference getting better. Top to bottom, the coaching staffs are phenomenal. Stanford officially closed the gap on Oregon last year, and Washington and Oregon State are closing the gap in the North. Three years from now, Sonny Dykes and Mike Leach could have California and Washington State, respectively, in the hunt. The South is for sure a three-way battle this season among ASU, UCLA and USC, with Arizona nipping at their heels. Colorado is in rebuilding mode (again) and Utah is entering a very crucial year.

Potential future downfalls? I guess we could grasp at some straws. Oregon does still have some sanctions looming -- expected to be announced anytime between today and when Thomas Tyner graduates. Stanford has done a better job of recruiting speed the past few years, but it will always have to outwork others on the trail because of its admission standards. Washington could be on the verge of an uphill slingshot or downward spiral. Another seven-win season could put coach Steve Sarkisian in hot water. Same for USC; a division or conference title rights the ship, while another seven-win year likely costs Lane Kiffin his job.

Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State are in the toddler stage of new coaches and systems. And all three took significant steps forward last season.

Most will agree that the Pac-12's greatest strength -- its parity -- is also one of its biggest downfalls. The hotly debated nine-game schedule plays a huge factor. Tie-ins with Notre Dame and the annual weekenders with the California schools all but guarantee meat-grinding schedules each year.

Three years from now it's more likely that we'll be talking about how the rest of the league has narrowed the margin rather than which dynasty has crumbled.

Thomas Tyner decommits from Oregon 

October, 17, 2012
Longtime Oregon commit Thomas Tyner of Aloha (Ore.) High School, one of the best athletes to ever come out of the state of Oregon, sent shock waves throughout the entire Oregon fan base -- and also got the attention of fan bases nationwide-- when he made it known that he wants to officially visit other schools, primarily UCLA.

Oregon's policy of not recognizing the commitment of a player that chooses to visit elsewhere is well known. The fact that the policy even holds true when dealing with a local athlete of Tyner's caliber shows that the Ducks' coaching staff is serious about the way they handle recruiting.

Tyner has long said that the one school that has continued to recruit him despite his commitment to the Ducks was UCLA. UCLA's persistence, coupled with Tyner's desire to experience the California lifestyle, led him to make the decision to decommit.



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