Thursday, April 14, 2011
Pac-12 1,000-yard backs in 2011
By ESPN.com staff
The Pac-10 produced six 1,000-yard rushers in 2010 -- seven if you include Colorado's Rodney Stewart -- and all seven could have returned in 2011 if Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers and California's Shane Vereen had not opted to enter the NFL draft a year early.
Still, the returning collection of rushers is impressive.
Here's the list. Each is good enough to earn All-American and/or All-Conference consideration.
1. LaMichael James, Oregon: James was a Heisman Trophy finalist, a unanimous All-American and was the Doak Walker Award winner as the nation's top running back. He also has a fine singing voice and cooks a mean batch of oatmeal cookies. Rushed for 1,731 yards and 21 TDs in 2010. Only thing that might cramp his numbers is a backfield that is crowded with talent. Two 1,000-yards rushers in 2011?
2. Chris Polk, Washington: Polk may be the favorite to lead the Pac-12 in rushing in 2011. Why? For one, the Huskies are breaking in a new quarterback, so it's unlikely they will pass 30 times per game. Second, Polk is a workhorse -- see 1,415 rushing yards in 2010. Third, the offensive line figures to be improved after surging late last year. Still, there is good depth behind Polk, so he might not get 260 carries again.
3. Rodney Stewart, Colorado: Stewart rushed for 1,318 yards last year, his 109.8 yards per game ranking 12th in the nation. "Speedy" -- that's what Stewart is called in Boulder -- at 5-foot-6, 175 pounds, is built a bit like Jacquizz Rodgers. Coach Jon Embree wasn't thrilled with the depth behind Stewart this spring, which could mean plenty of touches. But can Stewart stay healthy with another 290 carries, particularly in a 13-game season with no off weekends?
4. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA: Franklin rushed for 1,127 yards last year and would have had a lot more if not for continuing fumbling issues. And if Franklin holds onto the ball this fall, it's a good bet that he'll be in the All-Conference mix.
5. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford: Taylor quietly rushed for 1,137 yards last year and has shined this spring -- coach David Shaw calls him a "stud." The Cardinal, however, is deep in the backfield. Taylor likely will share touches, particularly with talented sophomore Anthony Wilkerson.
And who are the top candidates to crash the 1,000-yard party? Consider:
Keola Antolin, Arizona: He no longer has to share the backfield with Nic Grigsby. But can he stay healthy?
Cameron Marshall, Arizona State: Marshall likely will split carries with Deantre Lewis, but Lewis has missed spring practices after being the victim of a random shooting in his hometown.
Isi Sofele, California: Cal always has a 1,000-yard rusher, but this year there's plenty of uncertainty in the backfield. Sofele is a clear No. 1, according to coach Jeff Tedford, but a strong incoming recruiting class might produce a challenge.
Terron Ward, Oregon State: Ward is a 5-foot-7, 190-pound grayshirt from powerhouse program De La Salle, and I know little about him. But Jacquizz Rodgers is high on him and that's good enough for me.
D.J. Morgan, USC: Marc Tyler rushed for 913 yards last year, but he struggles to stay healthy. Coach Lane Kiffin -- and reporters -- are gushing about Morgan. Of course, last preseason, everybody was gushing about Dillon Baxter.
Thretton Palamo, Utah: The former rugby star has been turning heads in Salt Lake City and may be the surprise winner of the RB competition.
Rickey Galvin, Washington State: Galvin, who broke his arm in the Cougars season-opener last year at Oklahoma State, is the Cougars most dynamic back. The Cougs passing game should be strong, which might create opportunities in the running game when defenses over-commit.