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Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Ranking the Pac-10 running backs

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Next up is perhaps the deepest position in the conference: running back.

Most conference teams are feeling pretty good about their backfields. Even the teams in the bottom third have intriguing talents who might break through.

California: Everyone knows about Jahvid Best, but backup Shane Vereen rushed for 715 yards last year. And the cupboard isn't empty behind them.
USC: Question the backfield by committee approach, but there are six guys who could have NFL careers. And the Trojans did averaged 195 yards rushing per game last year.
Oregon: Fear the "Oh Le La!" backfield. The 230-pound LeGarrette Blount could be a first-round draft pick this spring, while LaMichael James is a super-quick complement. And there's depth behind them.
Arizona: Nic Grigsby eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark and Keola Antolin added 525 yards in 2008. Moreover, 220-pound redshirt freshman Greg Nwoko offers a power element.
Oregon State: 2008 Pac-10 Offensive Player of the year Jacquizz Rodgers is as good as any first option in the conference. The problem is depth, because Ryan McCants is hurt and Jeremy Francis was forced to leave school because of a personal issue. If Rodgers' surgically repaired shoulder gives him problems, his backup is freshman Jovan Stevenson.
Stanford: Toby Gerhart is the lead dog, perhaps the conference's top power back, and Jeremy Stewart is solid. If fullback were a factor here, the Cardinal would jump a spot or two because Owen Marecic is a brute.
Washington State: The Cougs? you say. Well, senior Dwight Tardy has rushed for nearly 2,000 career yards and James Montgomery was a former marquee recruit at Cal who was impressive this spring. And there's more experience behind them.
UCLA: The Bruins have plenty of names on their depth chart -- Christian Ramirez, Derrick Coleman and Johnathan Franklin, who appears to be the present leader -- but there's little experience and production and therefore little certainty, particularly with offensive line issues.
Washington: This is a strange one. Three of the Huskies top four running backs from 2008 are gone for various reasons, and the fourth, Willie Griffin, appears to be No. 3 on the depth chart. So what's up? Chris Polk, a touted 2008 recruit who was injured last season, and Johri Fogerson, who played safety in 2008, have looked good during preseason practices.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils are much like UCLA here -- lots of names. But the difference is, these guys -- seniors Dimitri Nance and Shaun DeWitty -- have been around for a while and not looked terribly good. It's possible a youngster could emerge -- Ryan Bass, James Morrison or perhaps true freshman Cameron Marshall -- but, with questions on the offensive line, it's clear why coach Dennis Erickson is talking about spreading the field and throwing the ball.