Preseason position reviews: Running back

June, 26, 2012
6/26/12
7:55
PM ET
The Pac-12 features another strong crop of running backs -- seven return after compiling more than 900 yards rushing in 2011 -- but there are also a few teams facing uncertainty at the position.

Evaluations aren't easy here. A number of teams have an A-list leading rusher back but uncertain depth. Others have plenty of experience returning but no proven A-lister. So stars and depth matter here.

A general impression: Running back is strong position in the conference. No team has a sense of desperation here.

So how does it stack up?

Great shape

Stanford: Stepfan Taylor was second-team All-Pac-12 last year after rushing for 1,330 yards and 10 touchdowns. But the Cardinal also welcomes back its second- and third-leading rushers, Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson, as well as Ricky Seale, who was impressive this spring. And, of course, there's a guy called BARRY SANDERS arriving in the fall.

[+] EnlargeJohn White
Chris Morrison/US PresswireJohn White is the Pac-12's leading returning rusher -- and could get help in the Utah backfield.
Utah: John White, also second-team All-Pac-12 in 2011, is the conference's leading returning rusher with 1,519 yards last year. He was mostly a one-man show -- he led the conference in carries -- but that won't be the case this fall. Harvey Langi and Kelvin York, both over 220 pounds, showed they are ready to contribute quality reps this spring.

California: Isi Sofele ranked fifth in the conference with 1,322 yards rushing in 2011, but he'll have to old off a challenge from C.J. Anderson -- 345 yards and eight TDs in 2011 -- to retain his starting job this fall. The depth is strong with Brendan Bigelow, Daniel Lasco and Darren Ervin.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils have both a star in Cameron Marshall and good depth. Marshall rushed for 1,050 and 18 touchdowns last season. Depth? Kyle Middlebrooks, James Morrison, Deantre Lewis, Marion Grice and incoming freshman D.J. Foster will be battling for touches.

Oregon: The Ducks are difficult to rate. If everything falls into place -- and it's reasonable to believe they will -- Kenjon Barner, LaMichael James' longtime backup, will become a star, spectacular hybrid RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas will make a bunch of big plays in a change-of-pace role and touted incoming freshman Byron Marshall will become the third option. Nonetheless, one injury here would be a major blow.

USC: The Trojans are just like the Ducks: Top-heavy with questionable depth. The underrated Curtis McNeal -- the 1,000-yard rusher averaged 6.9 yards per carry in 2011 -- is back, and so is D.J. Morgan, who rushed for 163 yards last year. If redshirt freshman Javorious "Buck" Allen and incoming freshman Nelson Agholor step up, things should be fine. But depth here is one of the Trojans' few question marks.

Good shape

UCLA: Johnathan Franklin is back, and he's been highly productive -- if fumble-prone -- for a while. Malcolm Jones, who rushed for 103 yards in 2011, is back, and Steven Manfro was a spring standout. While the position isn't spectacular for the Bruins, it's certainly not a chief worry heading into the season.

Arizona: Is promising sophomore Ka'Deem Carey ready to become a star? He rushed for 425 yards last year and looked good this spring. There's also good depth behind him: Daniel Jenkins, Taimi Tutogi, Kylan Butler, Greg Nwoko and Jared Baker.

Washington State: The two leading rushers from 2011, Rickey Galvin and Carl Winston, are back, and they combined for more than 1,000 yards. But sophomore Marcus Mason was with the No. 1 offense during the spring game, and Leon Brooks also is in the mix. Catching the ball well will be almost as important as taking a handoff under new coach Mike Leach.

Washington: Workhorse Chris Polk is gone, but Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey both saw plenty of action in 2011. Might Deontae Cooper get healthy -- finally -- and work his way into the picture? Like a lot of teams, the Huskies have the potential to be fine here. But it's reasonable to expect the running game to take a step back this fall, particularly with issues on the O-line.

We'll see

Oregon State: Everybody is back, but no Beaver rushed for more than 423 yards last year. And, of course, Oregon State was one of the nation's worst rushing teams. The pecking order also didn't seem to completely work itself out, though redshirt freshman Storm Woods had a strong spring.

Colorado: The good news is Tony Jones had a good spring and looks capable of replacing the departed Rodney Stewart. Still, he averaged 3.8 yards per rush in 2011. Josh Ford rushed for 128 yards last season. Depth is a bit uncertain also, with D.D. Goodson and Malcolm Creer, who is coming back from a knee injury.

Ted Miller | email

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