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Take 2: The rushing champ will be?

4/11/2013

We've been talking a lot about running backs this week. There was the feature on Washington running back Bishop Sankey. Some chatter about Arizona and looking ahead to Ka'Deem Carey in 2013 and the ESPN conference-call video segment featuring a dapper Pac-12 blogger talking about the running back race at UCLA.

But with some of the league's top backs from 2012 moving on, who is going to be the rushing king of 2013?

Ted Miller: Why do I think Washington's Sankey will lead the Pac-12 in rushing in 2013? First of all, because I think Huskies quarterback Keith Price will play more like Arizona's Matt Scott in 2012 than Keith Price in 2012.

No, I don't think Price will put up spinning slot machine numbers, as Scott did. But I think the Huskies' improved passing game and more experienced offensive line will mean a more efficient Price. That will mean bigger holes for Sankey, who averaged 154.6 yards per game over the last five games of 2012, a per-game total that would have led the nation if extended over the entire season.

Don't buy it? Well, consider what Sankey did last year with Price in the dumps and the Huskies' offensive line shuffling injured players in and out. He rushed for 1,436 yards and 16 touchdowns, and his 110.7 yards per game ranked fourth in the Pac-12 and 21st in the nation.

The three backs in front of Sankey -- Arizona's Carey, Oregon's Kenjon Barner and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin -- each played for an offense that ranked in the nation's top 25. The Huskies' offense ranked 97th in the nation.

Further, Carey, the only other returning Pac-12 back with more than 1,000 yards in 2012, won't have Scott. We don't know who he will have playing quarterback, but there's been little to suggest this spring that the Wildcats will approach Scott's production at the position in the fall.

So I expect Sankey's numbers to go up and Carey's to go down. When the smoke clears, they both likely will be first-team All-Pac-12. But this go-around, Sankey will be 1A and Carey 1B.

Kevin Gemmell: Ted stole my choice! But only because as the guy going first this week, I just assumed he'd go with Carey and I'd slide right in and make all the same arguments in favor of Sankey that he just made. Sneaky, Ted. Very sneaky.

Oh well, I guess that leaves me talking about the guy who actually led all of FBS football last season -- the aforementioned Carey, who totaled 1,929 yards on the ground and a robust 6.4 yards per carry.

I don't think the offensive drop-off at Arizona is going to be as significant as Ted does. Carey certainly benefited from Scott -- but Scott also benefited from Carey. It works both ways.

Whoever wins the quarterback job at Arizona has a deep and talented wide receiver corps to throw to -- including Biletnikoff semifinalist Austin Hill and returners Johnny Jackson, Terrence Miller and Tyler Slavin, among others. This isn't an offense that is suddenly going to flatline because Scott is gone. In fact, by the very nature of the offense Arizona runs, it's likely that Sankey is going to see far more eight-man boxes than Carey. You don't sell out against the run with Hill running sluggos all day.

It's also worth noting that Sankey has to face Stanford, which had the nation's No. 5 rush defense last season, in Palo Alto. The Wildcats miss the Cardinal this season. Sankey had a big game against Stanford last season -- but when we're talking about rushing titles, one game could be the difference, and that's certainly worth considering.

Plus, Washington is hoping to have Jesse Callier back from the knee injury that initially thrust Sankey into the starting role. I'm not saying they'll be by-committee -- but a healthy Callier will certainly cut into Sankey's carries. Great for Washington. But when you're talking rushing titles, that could have a big impact.

I think the Arizona offense takes a natural step back with a new quarterback at the helm. But it's not going to be a giant leap. Carey will get his 300-plus carries again, and the Wildcats should continue to move up and down the field. And if you've got your calendars handy, the two square off Sept. 28 in Seattle. You might want to tune in for that one.