Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Pac-10 deep & thin: Stocked and depleted positions
By ESPN.com staff ESPN.com
At what position is the Pac-10 deep? At what position in the Pac-10 thin? Here's the second of three parts taking a look at just that.
(By the way, some of you wondered about QB. The Pac-10 is, without question, the nation's deepest conference in terms of quarterbacks -- and it would have been deeper if not for a certain Duck making a very, very poor decision. But that's so obvious and been written about so much that we're not including it in this three-part package).
Deep: Running back
Jacquizz Rodgers is one of several talented running backs returning to the Pac-10 this season.
Why is it deep? Six of the top-10 running backs from 2009 are back, and four of them rushed for more than 950 yards. Eight teams welcome back a player who qualifies as a starter or at least an experienced veteran. Only Arizona State and Stanford, which is replacing Heisman Trophy runnerup Toby Gerhart, are uncertain at the position. But it's not just about starters. There's depth. Most teams can point to one or more solid backups, not to mention there are a number of elite incoming freshmen recruits expected to immediately contribute.
The big names: Start with Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers, the conference's top Heisman Trophy candidate, and Oregon's LaMichael James, who has All-American potential. They combined for just under 3,000 yards and 35 TDs in 2009. Then there's Washington's Chris Polk (1,113 yards rushing), California's Shane Vereen (952 yards, 12 TDs) and Arizona's Nic Grigsby, who rushed for 1,153 yards in 2008. The Wildcats, in fact, have their top four rushers back, including Keola Antolin, who's rushed for over 1,100 yards and 14 TDs over the past two seasons. USC and UCLA are both experienced in the backfield and have highly rated freshmen recruits who figure to be in the mix, particularly USC's Dillon Baxter, who was spectacular this spring. Washington State has three of its top four rushers back.
Why is it thin? Three of the four All-Pac-10 cornerbacks are gone: UCLA's Alterraun Verner, California's Syd'Quan Thompson and USC's Kevin Thomas. Each of them were NFL draft picks. Only second-teamer Trevin Wade of Arizona returns. In fact, only one returning CB even earned honorable mention all-conference recognition (Washington's Desmond Trufant). Only Oregon, Stanford and Washington welcome back both starting CBs from 2009, and each of them is hardly settled at the position after spring practices. Arizona State and USC are replacing both corners, though the return of Omar Bolden from injury and Shareece Wright from academic ineligibility should bolster the Sun Devils and Trojans, respectively.
Fill the void? Wright might turn out to be the conference's best cover corner and a top NFL draft pick. Wade had five interceptions last year and could earn national attention. Bolden had a great spring after missing last season with an injury and suffering through a disappointing sophomore year. Trufant, UCLA's Sheldon Price, USC's Torin Harris and Oregon's Cliff Harris are youngsters who might break through. Oregon's Talmadge Jackson and Oregon State's James Dockery are veterans who could take the next step.