NCF Nation: Dimitri Nance
While Pac-10 quarterbacks will grab most of the preseason headlines -- that's what happens when the two best NFL prospects at the position play in the same conference -- the class of running backs is nearly as strong.
Three 1,00o-yard rushers are back, and that doesn't include California's Shane Vereen, who piled up 952 yards as a backup, nor does it including Arizona's Nic Grigsby, who rushed for 1,153 yards in 2008. Six of the top-nine running backs will return this fall, and more than a few teams are decidedly deep at the position.
By the way, you might note there is more mention of incoming freshman at this position than others. Two reasons: 1. The Pac-1o had a strong haul of RBs in recruiting; and, 2. RB is often the easiest place for a young player to break into the lineup.
- Oregon: While the Pac-10 blog rates Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers ahead of LaMichael James as an individual player, the Ducks have a decided edge in depth, and not only because James' backup, Kenjon Barner, is one of the conference's most explosive players. The incoming recruiting class also features Lache Seastrunk and Dontae Williams, the No. 6 and No. 13 prep running backs in the nation in 2009.
- Oregon State: Jacquizz Rodgers is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate as the most complete back in the conference. Depth behind him is a little iffy, though Ryan McCants turned in some of his best work during spring practices.
- Washington: Washington fans often note that Chris Polk gained most of his 1,113 yards last year after contact because he was running behind a young offensive line. That line, with four starters back, should be better in 2010. Good depth with Johri Fogerson and freshmen Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier, who both participated in spring drills.
- California: As noted above, Vereen put up impressive numbers as a backup and then starter over the final four games after Best got hurt. 12 TDs on 183 carries shows he has a nose for the endzone. Depth behind him is uncertain. Trajuan Briggs, Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson, Isi Sofele and Dasarte Yarnway are competing for backup touches.
- USC: Allen Bradford, a neglected talent under Pete Carroll, who was oddly in love with the mercurial Joe McKnight, could end up being a first-team All-Pac-10 back. C.J. Gable also will have a chance to emerge from Carroll's doghouse. True freshman Dillon Baxter was the star of spring practices, while Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler are major talents who just need to stay healthy.
- Arizona: The Wildcats welcome back their top three running backs: Grigsby, Keola Antolin and Greg Nwoko. But Grigsby, who averaged 7.2 yards per carry last year when he wasn't hurt, needs to find a way to stay healthy.
- UCLA: It's possible that Johnathan Franklin, Derrick Coleman and Damien Thigpen are first-rate running backs trapped playing behind a struggling offensive line. But the biggest reason that Bruins fans aren't likely fretting this position is the arrival of freshmen Jordon James and Malcolm Jones, the Nos. 5 and 8 running backs in the nation last year.
- Stanford: The Cardinal doesn't have one guy who can replace Gerhart. But who does? The good news for a backfield-by-committee approach with Jeremy Stewart, Tyler Gaffney, Stepfan Taylor and freshman Usua Amanam in the mix is the offensive line in front of them should be outstanding.
- Arizona State: The Sun Devils must replace leading rusher Dimitri Nance, who didn't exactly scare opposing defenses in 2009. Cameron Marshall is the leading returning rusher with 280 yards. James Morrison and Jamal Miles will provide depth, though an incoming freshman might get into the mix. As has been the case for a while with the Sun Devils, the first order is improving the offensive line.
- Washington State: Leading 2009 rusher Dwight Tardy is gone. If James Montgomery is healthy -- and stays that way -- he gives the Cougars a quality runner. He was clearly the best guy last preseason before he got hurt. Logwone Mitz, Chantz Staden, Carl Winston and Marcus Richmond will compete for touches during fall camp. Whatever the pecking order, the offensive line is the biggest issue.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
It doesn't feel like USC played all that well or Arizona State all that badly, but the Trojans are up big, 21-0, at the break.
Obvious bottom line: You can't make mistakes and hang with USC.
Critical moment of the half: A play after the Sun Devils got lucky, winning a wild scramble and getting a first down following a Dimitri Nance fumble, Rudy Carpenter felt heat from a blitz and tried to use an outside route for his hot read. But he floated the ball -- perhaps his velocity was hurt by his bum ankle -- and Kevin Thomas broke on the ball and got a 46-yard pick-six.
Of course, the Trojans wasted the Sun Devils fumbled shotgun snap, failing to score after getting a first down on the ASU 15. But still those were plays when the Sun Devils should have been trying to chip into a 21-zip lead, not making a defensive stand.
The margin for error against USC is small, and losing the turnover battle makes it microscopic.
The biggest surprise is Arizona State is running fairly well: Nance has 49 yards on 11 carries. But how much can a team that trails USC by 21 at half continue to run the ball?
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
TEMPE, Ariz. -- From the Sun Devil Stadium press box:
- Dimitri Nance starts at TB instead of Keegan Herring, who's nursing a hamstring injury.
- WR Michael Jones is in -- his first reception went for 9 yards and a first down.
- Sun Devils can't be too happy that a 15-play drive only yields a field goal, but a drive that kills 7:15 off the clock can't be easy on the Stanford D in this heat.
- The Cardinal offense needs a few first downs to let the D rest -- which it promptly does. QB Tavita Pritchard looks sharp -- completely different than he did vs. Oregon State. Wow! Nice drive to answer.
- Pritchard is 5-for-5 for 68 yards on a nine-play 80-yard TD drive to take a 7-3 lead.
- Bam. ASU bounces back with a 46-yard completion, Carpenter to Chris McGaha. But the Cardinal pressure is getting through the Sun Devil OL. He's getting hit after almost every pass, though only one sack so far.
- It's second-and-goal on the 4 (after a loss of 2) as the quarter ends.
- Stanford is winning in the trenches so far, thwarting the ASU running game and getting after Carpenter.