Pac-12: Cameron Marshall

Ted spent much of the last two weeks looking at individuals from the league who are coming back. But what about from a team standpoint? As is always the case, we have to say goodbye to some folks who have graduated, departed early, transferred or simply chose to follow another path in life. What's left in the pantry?

Today we're going to take a look at what each team has coming back in terms of yards, attempts and touchdowns in the run game. We'll start with the Pac-12 South. "Team" carries are not taken into account looking ahead to 2013, but negative yards in 2012 are. Remember also that sacks are (for some redonkulous reason) counted as a rushing attempts.

Here's a reminder of how the teams ranked in the league in rushing offense last year:
  1. Oregon
  2. Arizona
  3. Arizona State
  4. UCLA
  5. California
  6. Stanford
  7. USC
  8. Washington
  9. Utah
  10. Oregon State
  11. Colorado
  12. Washington State

Here's what the teams in the Pac-12 South have coming back.

Arizona
  • Rushing yards in 2012: 2,961
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 544
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 33
  • Rushing yards returning: 2,427
  • Rushing attempts returning: 419
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 27
  • Percentage of yards returning: 81 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returning: 77 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 81 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Ka'Deem Carey, 1,929 yards, 303 attempts, 23 touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: Matt Scott, 506 yards, 113 attempts, six touchdowns
Arizona State
  • Rushing yards in 2012: 2,670
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 598
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 27
  • Rushing yards returning: 1,998
  • Rushing attempts returning: 421
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 18
  • Percentage of yards returning: 74 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returning: 70 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 66 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Marion Grice, 679 yards, 103 attempts, 11 touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: Cameron Marshall, 583 yards, 135 attempts, nine touchdowns
Colorado
  • Rushing yards in 2012: 1,323
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 425
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 16
  • Rushing yards returning: 1,320
  • Rushing attempts returning: 396
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 15
  • Percentage of yards returning: 98 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returning: 93 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 93 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Christian Powell, 691 yards, 158 attempts, seven touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: Nick Hirschman, zero rushing yards, 25 attempts, one touchdown

*Note: Colorado is interesting because Hirshman is the only player who carried last year who is off the roster, and he evened out with 60 rushing yards and 60 yards lost. Jordan Webb, Connor Wood and John Schrock accounted for minus-152 yards. The 20-yard differential is in minus-20 "team" yards, which aren't taken into account as returning yards.

UCLA
  • Rushing yards in 2012: 2,671
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 599
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 29
  • Rushing yards returning: 954
  • Rushing attempts returning: 305
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 16
  • Percentage of yards returning: 35 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returning: 50 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 55 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Brett Hundley, 355 yards, 160 attempts, nine touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: Johnathan Franklin, 1,734 yards, 282 attempts, 13 touchdowns
USC
  • Rushing yards in 2012: 1,958
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 392
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 12
  • Rushing yards returning: 1,271
  • Rushing attempts returning: 247
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 10
  • Percentage of yards returning: 64 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returings: 63 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 83 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Silas Redd, 905 yards, 167 attempts, nine touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: Curtis McNeal, 701 yards, 116 attempts, two touchdowns
Utah
  • Rushing yards in 2012: 1,605
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 446
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 17
  • Rushing yards returning: 539
  • Rushing attempts returning: 184
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 8
  • Percentage of yards returning: 33 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returnings: 41 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 47 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Kelvin York, 273 yards, 60 attempts, three touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: John White, 1,041 yards, 218 attempts, eight touchdowns
Arizona State Sun Devils

2012 record: 8-5
2012 conference record: 5-4 (Second in South Division)
Returning starters: Offense 6; defense 8; Kick/punt: 2

Top returners: QB Taylor Kelly, DT Will Sutton, LB Carl Bradford, RB Marion Grice, RB D.J. Foster, LT Evan Finkenberg, TE/H Chris Coyle, S Alden Darby, DE Junior Onyeali

Key losses: RB Cameron Marshall, LB Brandon Magee, WR Rashad Ross, P Josh Hubner, OL Andrew Sampson, OL Brice Schwab.

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Marion Grice* (679)
Passing: Taylor Kelly* (3,039)
Receiving: Chris Coyle* (696)
Tackles: Brandon Magee (113)
Sacks: Will Sutton* (13)
Interceptions: Keelan Johnson (5)

Spring answers
  1. Dynamic duo (1): Running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster should make up one of the most prolific 1-2 punches in college football. This was the first time for both to go through full springs at a major college (Grice was a JC transfer, Foster is a sophomore) and the reports are both have added speed and muscle to their frames. With the way ASU uses its backs in the passing game, expect big total yardage numbers from both in 2013.
  2. Dynamic duo (2): On the opposite side of the ball, DT Will Sutton and linebacker Carl Bradford make up an equally dangerous tandem. There are only 10 players in FBS football returning with 10-plus sacks from 2012. And ASU has two of them. Sutton, the league's defensive player of the year, had 13 and Bradford notched 11.5. Combined with several other returning starters, the Sun Devils boast one of the top front sevens in the league.
  3. QB depth: Per head coach Todd Graham, Mike Bercovici had a fantastic spring. We know Kelly is entrenched as the starter. But with Bercovici surging and Michael Eubank bringing the dimension he brings, the Sun Devils have fantastic depth at the position -- something very important for a team hoping to make a championship run.
Fall questions
  1. WR questions: Help should be on the way. Graham called wide receiver his biggest need and the 2013 class includes Jaelen Strong, Ronald Lewis, Joe Morris, Cameron Smith and Ellis Jefferson. When they get put into the fold, it should make an immediate impact on depth and athleticism at the position. All five are at least 6-foot, giving Kelly plenty of options and wiggle room in the red zone.
  2. Line depth: It's always a concern. And while the Sun Devils look stacked on the defensive line, they are working to replace departed Andrew Sampson and Brice Schwab. The staff spent the spring working Sil Ajawara (LG) and Vi Teofilo (RG) into the starting five. Behind them is some versatility in Tyler Sulka, Devin Goodman and Mo Latu.
  3. Special improvements: Graham called ASU's special teams middle of the road last year -- stressing they need to improve in the kicking game if they want to be a better team. Departed punter Josh Hubner was one of the best in the league. Dom Vizzare looks to step in but will be pushed by incoming freshman Matt Haack. Zane Gonzalez was brought in to push returning kickers Alex Garoutte and Jon Mora.
The offseason is the season of lists. And here's another.

Athlon Sports ranked the Pac-12 running backs, 1-20, and offered a breakdown of each player for your reading pleasure.

It's a pretty solid list, with maybe one or two position flips. But overall, it's a good assessment of the running back talent in the league and an example of just how deep the conference is at the position. As a reminder, the league produced six 1,000-yard rushers last season, the national rushing leader and two of the three Doak Walker finalists. Only two of those six are back -- and, yes, they are highly ranked.

Here's Athlon's take:
  1. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona
  2. De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
  3. Bishop Sankey, Washington
  4. Silas Redd, USC
  5. Marion Grice, ASU
  6. Storm Woods, Oregon State
  7. Brendan Bigelow, California
  8. Byron Marshall, Oregon
  9. D.J. Foster, ASU
  10. Anthony Wilkerson, Stanford
  11. Christian Powell, Colorado
  12. Tyler Gaffney, Stanford
  13. Thomas Tyner, Oregon
  14. Barry Sanders, Stanford
  15. Kelvin York, Utah
  16. Paul Perkins, UCLA
  17. Jordon James, UCLA
  18. Justin Davis, USC
  19. Terron Ward, Oregon State
  20. Teondray Caldwell, Washington State

Some thoughts:
  • The top three make sense -- and the order of those three could really fall into personal preference because all three could be No. 1. If you're looking for a "traditional" running back, then you could probably put Sankey over Thomas. But DAT does so much more than just run the football and is so explosive that I could see him at Nos. 1, 2, or 3. Carey's credentials certainly warrant the top spot and the Pac-12 blog is very high on Sankey, as you can see from here and here. Expect to see more from him in the receiving game as well in 2013.
  • Personally, I'd put Grice ahead of Redd. As Ted pointed out earlier in the week, the Pac-12 is home to the hybrid back and Grice is a super dynamic. And the way ASU uses its backs in the passing game, it will equate to huge total yardage numbers for Grice and Foster. I do think we'll see more ground game from the Trojans this year, which could also mean bigger numbers from Redd. A few guys behind him though who could steal some carries.
  • The Pac-12 blog is a big fan of Woods and we're expecting an even bigger year in 2013. The Beavers were 53-47 in the pass to run ratio, which is good balance. But the passing game was more productive than the ground attack, which ranked 10th in the league last year. As Woods develops (and Ward is a solid change-of-pace back), we're expecting to see those numbers even out.
  • Between Bigelow, Marshall and Foster, Foster was more productive last year (1,026 total yards, six combined touchdowns) compared to Marshall (461, 4) and Bigelow (523, 4) -- but Bigelow and Marshall certainly have explosive potential. Foster should also see increased productivity with Byron's brother, Cameron, gone at ASU. You could easily interchange all three at all three spots and make a solid case for their placement.
  • Stanford and Oregon are the only schools with three backs on the list. Gaffney's return certainly bolsters the Cardinal running back corps -- but neither he nor Wilkerson have had to carry the load the way Stepfan Taylor, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher, did the previous seasons. That continues to be one of the most intriguing position battles of the offseason.
  • Very excited to see what 6-0, 240-pound bruiser Christian Powell can do in the pistol.
  • As I've mentioned on previous Athlon lists, I'm not a huge fan of ranking players who haven't taken snaps yet -- but in the case of Sanders and Tyner, I can buy that. Sanders has arguably the best offensive line in the country ahead of him and Tyner fits an offense that makes great running backs better.
  • York showed some potential last year when he started sharing some carries with two-time 1,000-yard rusher John White, but he missed three games with an ankle injury late in the season. It will be interesting to see what he does over the course of the season and how the running game plays into Utah's new offensive philosophy in the Dennis Erickson-Brian Johnson brain trust.
  • Big hole at UCLA. Anyone have a five-sided coin?
  • Washington State averaged 29.1 rushing yards per game last year. And unless Mike Leach is secretly switching to the triple option, any mention of a WSU running back doesn't feel particularly applicable.

Pac-12's top 25 is coming!

January, 21, 2013
1/21/13
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On Tuesday, the Pac-12 blog will begin its countdown of the conference's top 25 players.

As we go on, send your complaints here. Kevin is in charge of those.

He made making this list much more difficult than previous years. From 2008 through this preseason, the list was always perfect because I made it alone. Now, the process has been injected with more intelligence, insight and discernment than past years. And, really, who the heck wants any of that?

It did lead to some amusing disagreements. I suspect many of you would be interested in our give and take, which was substantial, even at the very top of the list. That likely will be presented when the list is complete.

Both of us started with a list of about 35 players. It was mostly the same 35 players, but our pecking orders, from top to bottom, were very different. The compromise process was painful. Our "Michael Clay!" "Kiko Alonso!" back and forth was like an old Miller Lite commercial: "Great taste!" "Less filling." (Everyone knows "Great taste!" should prevail, but Kevin "Less filling!" Gemmell is a tenacious debater).

What is most interesting is that, more than any previous year, the postseason list is WAY different that the preseason list.

You can review the preseason top 25 here. And you can review the entire list of bios and notes here.

And here's the preseason list.

No. 1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
No. 2: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
No. 3: De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon
No. 4: Robert Woods, WR, USC
No. 5: Keith Price, QB, Washington
No. 6: Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford
No. 7: Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State
No. 8: Keenan Allen, WR, California
No. 9: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
No. 10: T.J. McDonald, S, USC
No. 11: Dion Jordan, OLB/DE, Oregon
No. 12: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
No. 13: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No. 14: Nickell Robey, CB, USC
No. 15: John White IV, RB, Utah
No. 16: John Boyett, S, Oregon
No. 17: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 18: Khaled Holmes, C, USC
No. 19: Cameron Marshall, RB, Arizona State
No. 20: Dion Bailey, LB, USC
No. 21: Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
No. 22: Curtis McNeal, RB, USC
No. 23: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
No. 24: Isi Sofele, RB, California
No. 25: Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State

I see little wrong with that list if I re-enter my August self. But from today's perspective, our expectations were way off.

You can imagine the USC presence goes down a bit this go-around.

Mailbag: Oregon fan hypothetical

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
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Greetings. Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter here. It's where the Pac-12 blog tweets, which is a sight to behold.

Brian Mahuna from Portland writes: Do you think Oregon is on the cusp of having an elite group of receivers? Josh Huff will be a senior, the guys behind him are young but talented with the two true freshman Addison and Stanford. Plus the twins who will arrive in Eugene next year. Everyone is quick to talk about how good their running backs are (mainly because they are REALLY good) but I think in the next few years, we could be talking about a complete offense. Great QB in Mariota and a good group of young wide outs would certainly do that.

Ted Miller: You're forgetting Diante Jackson, Tacoi Sumler and Devon Blackmon. How many passes did those once super-awesome recruits catch this season?

And, Brian, if it seems I'm being snarky -- seeing that none of the above are still with the team -- it's because you are asking me to entertain a hypothetical. Chip Kelly has soured me on those. Unless they serve my selfish purposes.

Oregon does have plenty of potential at receiver next year. Quarterback Marcus Mariota will get all of his top six receivers back, including De'Anthony Thomas and Huff, who posted a breakthrough year. And, if all goes according to plan, there are some incoming recruits who are promising.

Yet we now enter one of my pet peeve areas. It's called "Incoming Dude Is Obviously Transcendent."

Or IDIOT.

"IDIOT," of course, is what fans often call me when I question a team's depth at one position or another entering a new season when it's OBVIOUS! I don't know what I'm talking about because I don't read recruiting messageboard X, and therefore don't know about incoming recruit 007 Batman Wolverine who is a mix of Dick Butkus, Jim Brown and Peyton Manning. Only better.

Oregon State fans right now are going, "Don't. Please. Don't mention him. This is a Duck question! Just leave us alone!"

Simi Kuli! (Sorry about that).

Kuli, for those who don't recall, was a five-star JC defensive end recruit for Oregon State in 2008, one of the highest rated guys the Beavers ever landed. He was reputed to be beastly, and proved to be just that. Beastly like a Sasquatch. I once told Mike Riley I doubted Kuli's existence. Oregonian writer Paul Buker's humorous tracking of Kuli's abortive progress to Corvallis was one of the more entertaining things I remember from that year.

Last I heard of Kuli is he ended up at West Texas A&M and got into a bit of trouble, but was still receiving wide-eyed speculation on NFL draft boards last year.

Or recall when a receiver by the name of "Marqise Lee" was a recruiting afterthought because of USC signing George Farmer. I recall watching Robert Woods getting asked if he was prepared to be the Trojans No. 2 receiver in 2011 with Farmer shortly to arrive.

Farmer, in fact, was an example of the Pac-12 blog falling for the hype. Having watched tape of Farmer, we wrote him in as a sure-thing for the Trojans. A hard lesson about IDIOT was learned again.

While there's no reason not to be optimistic about a touted guy's prospects, it's also premature to write him into a key role before he's even practiced with his college team. It's always best to subscribe to GTSITBI when considering incoming players.

Got To See It To Believe It.




Jim from Los Angles writes: What is the New Years wishlist for the CAL BEARS football program in the new era of Sonny Dykes?

Ted Miller: That's easy.

1. A great recruiting class that is strong on linemen.

2. A strong spring performance from a quarterback that creates a clear pecking order heading into the summer.

3. A team that is competitive in every game in 2013 while posting a winning record.

4. A Rose Bowl berth before the Old Blues become Dead Blues.




Austin from Tempe, Ariz., writes: What do you think will happen to Arizona State running back Cameron Marshall? He seems to have the size and tools to at least be a backup but will this season hurt him bad enough since he wasn't ever given the ball?

Ted Miller: It's always difficult to project NFL careers, but I think Marshall, who shared the ball this year but was still the Sun Devils leading rusher, is going to have a nice NFL career.

He's a physical guy with good-enough speed who can catch the ball. He's also got a nose for the endzone.




Brian Vancouver, Wash., writes: The second best conference, whatever it shall be, is henceforth to be referred to as the Second Eminent Conference. See what I did there? Signed, A Realistic Duck Fan.

Ted Miller: I do see what you did there.

What I realized this week before and after UCLA's Holiday Bowl debacle with Baylor was Big 12 fans share two things with Pac-12 fans.

1. They resent being automatically called a candidate for second-best conference and are not willing to automatically yield No. 1 to the SEC.

2. Big 12 fans think as little of the Pac-12 as Pac-12 fans think of the Big 12.




Lenlen from Wilkesboro, N.C., writes: I recommend you read the letter Abe Markowitz's Dad sent to NCAA president Mark Emmert and the thread that follows. Now we can see first hand how NCAA shenanigans affect student athletes economically.

Ted Miller: It would be great if the NCAA would appoint someone to the position of Smart & Reasonable. This person would be put in charge of reviewing appeals, such as Markowitz's. Their charge would be simple: Err on the side of the student-athlete.

This is where a bureaucrat shows up and talks about the importance of rules and the slippery slope for allowing flexibility.

I don't buy it. That position is merely a prop for folks who aren't skilled at being fair & reasonable.

Final: Arizona State 41, Arizona 34

November, 24, 2012
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It was a tough night for Arizona quarterback Matt Scott. And the Arizona State Sun Devils made him pay for each and every mistake.

ASU intercepted Scott three times and forced a fumble from the signal-caller. All four turnovers were converted into touchdowns as the visiting Sun Devils erased a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to top the rival Wildcats 41-34 in the Territorial Cup.

Marion Grice rushed for 156 yards and three touchdowns to lead a Sun Devils attack that stalled at times -- but used the momentum of the turnovers to outdistance the Wildcats.

They also blocked a punt in the fourth quarter deep in Arizona territory that Cameron Marshall turned into a touchdown on the next play. The fourth turnover -- an interception from Robert Nelson -- was returned 66 yards to the Arizona 2-yard line late in the fourth. Michael Eubank took a quarterback sneak in from a yard out to give the Sun Devils (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12) a 41-27 advantage with less than three minutes left in the game.

No. 24 Arizona (7-5, 4-5), however, didn’t go away quietly -- not surprising since the last three meetings between the schools have come down to the final play. It took just 57 seconds for the Wildcats to get a quick score -- a 17-yard pass from Scott to David Richards with 1 minute, 54 seconds to play.

But Arizona failed to recover the onside kick and Sun Devils were able to run out the clock.

Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey, the nation’s leading rusher, carried 25 times for 172 yards and a score. He did, however, miss a few series with an undisclosed upper-body injury -- but did return later in the game.

Though Scott finished with three touchdowns, the three interceptions and the fumble were killers. ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly was far more protective of the ball, completing 16 of 29 throws for 191 yards with no touchdowns -- but also no interceptions.

The victory moves Arizona State in front of the Wildcats in the final Pac-12 South standings and likely means a higher-profile bowl game for ASU.

Beavers start slow, finish fast

November, 4, 2012
11/04/12
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In the battle of teams needing to bounce back, it was the No. 11 Oregon State Beavers who proved to be the springier team with a 36-26 victory over the Arizona State Sun Devils.

The new-look OSU backfield of Cody Vaz and Terron Ward helped the Beavers overcome an early 14-3 deficit. Filling in for the injured Storm Woods, Ward rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Vaz, who was named the starter following Sean Mannion’s four-interception performance in the loss to Washington last week, completed 14 of 33 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns with an interception.

Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks each eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark. Wheaton had four catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Cooks led the Beavers (7-1, 5-1 Pac-12) with six catches for 116 yards and a score.

For the Sun Devils (5-4, 3-3), who have now dropped three straight following a 5-1 start, it was the second consecutive week they had jumped out to an early double-digit lead but were unable to hold it. On Oct. 27 they were up 14-0 on UCLA before losing a back-and-forth contest on a last-second field goal.

Quarterback Taylor Kelly was held to just 153 yards passing, completing 22 of 41 attempts with a touchdown and an interception.

ASU jumped ahead in the first minute when Junior Onyeali recovered a Vaz fumble deep in Oregon State territory and returned it 1 yard for the touchdown. A Trevor Romaine field goal cut the lead to 7-3 before a 1-yard Cameron Marshall touchdown put the Sun Devils ahead 14-3.

But that was ASU’s only offensive touchdown until the very end of the game. The rest of its points came on a Keith Kostol blocked punt for a safety and a 31-yard Jon Mora field goal. A 2-yard touchdown pass from Kelly to Marion Grice prevented the second-half shutout.

The Sun Devils are back on the road again next week when they travel to USC in search of that crucial sixth victory.

Oregon State’s win sets up an interesting showdown next week at Stanford.

ASU redefining the back attack

October, 16, 2012
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At the rate things are going, Arizona State probably won't have a 1,000-yard rusher this season. Yet the rushing offense is already well over 1,000 yards six games into the season. The Sun Devils probably won't have a 1,000-yard receiver, either. But running backs Marion Grice, D.J. Foster and Cameron Marshall are on pace to crack the 1000-yard receiving mark between them.

ASU's talented trio is redefining what it means to be a running back at Arizona State. Gone is the one-dimensional runner who barrels full-steam ahead into the ample rears of 300-pound lineman. Running backs in the ASU scheme better have the hands to back up their legs.

"I thought I had an idea of what this offense was going to be like, but I didn't really know it was going to be like this," said true freshman running back Foster. "I love it."

Take Foster, for example, and the touchdown catch he had last week against Colorado. Lining up in the slot, he hauled in a 34-yard toss from quarterback Taylor Kelly over his shoulder -- while falling -- for the score. But he also got to carry it nine times for 61 yards. And Marshall carried 13 times for 98 yards and a touchdown. Twice Grice scored on screens, and a third time Kelly found him on a wheel route coming out of the backfield. In fact, Grice and Foster combined for 11 catches for 172 yards and four touchdown receptions.

ASU's offense takes some of the most athletic players on the roster and puts them in space to make plays. It's a simple enough concept, but one that doesn't always yield results. The Sun Devils, however, are making it work with terrific success.

"The thing about this offense is you want to be multiple and be diverse and get your playmakers in one-on-one situations -- regardless of whether it's a wide receiver or a running back," said offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, who has been with head coach Todd Graham for the past five seasons. "Looking at our group, we've got a great stable that can do a lot of different things."

Grice, Marshall and Foster have accounted for 19 of the team’s 30 offensive touchdowns. Grice with nine (five rushing, four receiving), Marshall with six (five rushing, one receiving) and Foster with four (two rushing, two receiving). As a trio, they average 5.3 yards per carry. The Sun Devils average 479 yards of offense per game and Grice, Marshall and Foster contribute 208 of those yards.

So far ASU's running backs have accounted for about one-third of the total receiving yards. Norvell said that's not necessarily by design, but he's happy with the result nonetheless.

"There's not really a set number," he said. "Part of my job is to make sure we're getting our best players in a position to make plays. When the opportunities come, they are making plays. I'm really pleased with the production they've been able to have in the passing game. They've all done a great job."

And they've made life a lot easier for Kelly, a first-year starter who has exploded onto the scene with his efficient play and spectacular operation of the offense.

"Oh yeah, it's nice because those guys all make it look easy," Kelly said. "All three of them are great. They can all run routes and get open on linebackers and catch the football. It's comforting for me knowing if I go to my check downs, they are going to catch it and usually get some extra yards."

Their biggest test of the year comes on Thursday night when ASU hosts No. 3 Oregon -- another team known for having an explosive offense and dynamic playmakers.

Tune in, says Graham.

"If you want to watch great running backs, this is a great game to come watch," Graham said. "I think six of the best running backs in America [will be] on the same field. That is how good the running backs are. What I like about our running backs is the diversity among them. Obviously, D.J. Foster is dynamic, inside outside catching the ball. Cameron Marshall is physical, just a downhill physical runner. Marion has got the speed and breakaway ability. So you have D.J. and Cam and Marion in the middle. The thing I like about all three of them is there toughness. When you take those six guys -- their three running backs and our three, there can't be guys much better than those guys."

Oregon has certainly set the standard for the way it uses its running backs in space. See Thomas, De'Anthony. While the Sun Devils haven't exactly duplicated Oregon's approach to using backs -- it's safe to say the ASU coaching staff believes it has the horses to produce similar numbers and similar success.

"That's something we take a great deal of pride in," Norvell said. "Part of our job as coaches is getting the best players matched up. When you can bring in guys like the group of backs we have, we have to do a service to this football team to get the best players matched up and put the best product out on the field."

Big second half boosts ASU over Buffs

October, 12, 2012
10/12/12
12:38
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video

For the first 30 minutes, it looked like Colorado had a chance. The Buffs had all of the momentum heading into the locker room after scoring 10 points in the final 24 seconds of the half and cutting Arizona State’s lead to 20-17.

But a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half from ASU’s Rashad Ross, and the Sun Devils’ screen game on offense, was more than the young Buffs squad could handle and Arizona State pulled away for a 51-17 road victory.

Running back Marion Grice caught three of Taylor Kelly's career-high five touchdown passes; another went to running back D.J. Foster, who was running out of the slot. The two backs combined for 11 catches, 178 yards and four touchdowns. Kelly finished 20-of-28 for 308 yards. It was also the fifth time in six games that Kelly did not throw an interception.

The victory moves the Sun Devils to 5-1 (3-0 Pac-12) and sets up an intriguing showdown next Thursday night with No. 2 Oregon (6-0, 3-0). Colorado slips to 1-5, 1-2.

The Buffs didn’t make it easy on ASU early on. After the Sun Devils took the lead on Grice’s first touchdown (point-after attempt blocked), Colorado responded by taking a 7-6 lead early in the second quarter on a 2-yard run from Tony Jones. Touchdown receptions from Grice and Foster moved the Sun Devils ahead 20-7 toward the end of the first half.

But Jordan Webb (20-of-41 for 180 yards) engineered an 11-play, 75-yard drive that cut the lead to 20-14 in the closing minute. On the ensuing kickoff, Jamal Miles fumbled the ball back to Colorado at the ASU 19, which set up a 37-yard Will Oliver field goal to close out the first 30 minutes.

It was a different story in the second half, which started with Ross’ touchdown. ASU’s defense blanked the Buffs and Kelly added his fourth and fifth touchdown passes of the game -- the last one going for 31 yards to Richard Smith.

A scary moment in the closing minutes of the game when Colorado linebacker Brady Daigh was taken off the field on a stretcher after a collision with ASU's Michael Eubank. Daigh was seen moving his hands and his head; ESPN's Samantha Steele, who was working the game on the sidelines, reported that the medical staff was taking precautionary measures by putting him on the stretcher.

After the delay, Cameron Marshall (13 carries, 98 yards) added a late 14-yard touchdown run.

Pac-12 Player of the Week

September, 24, 2012
9/24/12
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First, give credit to Arizona State head coach Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell for drawing up the plan against Utah. But as the old saying goes, coaches don't win games, players do.

Which is why ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly is the Pac-12 blog's pick for player of the week. Kelly executed the plan against the Utes with cool precision en route to a 37-7 blowout win over Utah. He was 19 of 26 for 326 yards with three touchdowns.

It was a career day for Kelly against what was supposed to be one of the tougher defenses in the Pac-12 -- North or South. But Kelly carved up the Utes, posting career highs in attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and rating. He now leads the Pac-12 in passing efficiency.

Kelly engineered five consecutive scoring drives to open the game for the Sun Devils, who produced four touchdowns and a field goal to take a 31-7 lead into the locker room at halftime. By the break, Kelly had already surpassed his career high in passing yards.

His touchdowns included a 38-yard strike to Rashad Ross, a 10-yarder to Marion Grice and 13-yard touchdown to Cameron Marshall. He also rushed seven times for 19 yards and was fantastic at keeping plays alive with his feet.

In four games this year, Kelly has completed at least 73 percent of his passes in three of them and twice he's completed better than 78 percent.

ASU blasts Utah in rebound win

September, 23, 2012
9/23/12
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If Saturday’s Arizona State-Utah matchup was supposed to be a “separation” game in the Pac-12 South, then you have to consider the Sun Devils and Utes miles apart after what happened in Tempe.

The Sun Devils unloaded on the Utes early and often, scoring on their first five possessions (four touchdowns, one field goal) to take a 31-7 lead into the locker room at halftime before closing out a 37-7 victory.

ASU (3-1, 1-0) jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter behind a pair of touchdown passes from Taylor Kelly and a 1-yard rushing touchdown from Cameron Marshall.

The shell-shocked Utes had few answers -- especially in the first half -- for ASU’s offense, which totaled 512 yards for the game and converted 7 of 16 third-down attempts.

It was the ninth consecutive win for ASU over Utah and the kind of bounce back performance head coach Todd Graham was hoping for following ASU’s first loss of the season last week at Missouri.

“They did a good job responding after a tough setback last week,” Graham told the Pac-12 Network after the game.

Kelly finished the game 19 of 26 for a career-high 326 yards with touchdown passes to Rashad Ross, Marshall and Marion Grice.

Defensively, the Sun Devils stifled the Utes (2-2, 0-1), who managed just 209 total yards -- 92 of them coming on the ground. Running back John White fumbled twice and had just 18 yards on 14 carries. Kelvin York led the Utes on the ground with 86 yards on 13 carries. Utah’s lone score came early in the second quarter -- a 2-yard pass from Jon Hays to Karl Williams.

“We want to be known for defense and our guys have taken on that challenge and I thought we dominated tonight so I was proud of them,” Graham said.

Notes on the preseason Pac-12 top 25

September, 3, 2012
9/03/12
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Our listing of the Pac-12's top 25 players concluded on Friday, just in time for the season.

You can review the entire list here.

And here are some notes you might find interesting.

By unit
Offense
: 16
Defense: 9

The 2011 postseason list broke down with 19 offensive players and six defensive players. The league does feel like it will be better on defense this year.

By team
USC ... 8
Oregon ... 4
Stanford ... 3
California, Utah, Washington, Washington State ... 2
Arizona State, Oregon State ... 1
Arizona, Colorado, & UCLA ... 0

USC dominates the list, and really there's no one you could make a decent argument doesn't belong on the list. On the 2011 postseason list, Stanford had six and Oregon five. If I were a gambling man, I'd wager Oregon might add two or three players to the 2012 postseason list.

As for the teams with no players: Who would you make a case for? Kevin and I discussed Colorado offensive lineman David Bakhtiari, who was second-team All-Pac-12 in 2011, and UCLA RB Johnathan Franklin. Arizona has QB Matt Scott and a couple of nice guys in the secondary.

By position
QB ... 3
WR ... 4
RB ... 7
OL ... 1
TE ... 1
LB ... 3
DE ... 1
DT... 1
CB ... 2
S ... 2

There were five QBs and four running backs on the 2011 postseason list, so maybe the league will be more run-based this fall. There were three offensive linemen on the postseason list -- I bet you can name them. Every position group -- other than special teams -- got at least one player. That happens in large part because while making the list you think, "Who's the best guy in the conference at this position?"

Fourteen guys from the 2011 list are back, and five of them are from USC. Here they are with their old ranking.

2. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
5. Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford
7. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
8. Robert Woods, WR, USC
11. Keith Price, QB, Washington
12 De'Anthony Thomas, WR-RB, Oregon
13. Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State
15. Keenan Allen, WR, California
16. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
19. T.J. McDonald, S, USC
20. Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
21. John White, RB, Utah
23. Nickell Robey, CB, USC
24. Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford

New guys on the list include:

No. 13: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No. 16: John Boyett, S, Oregon
No. 17: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 18: Khaled Holmes, C, USC
No. 19: Cameron Marshall, RB, Arizona State
No. 20: Dion Bailey, LB, USC
No. 21: Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
No. 22: Curtis McNeal, RB, USC
No. 23: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
No. 24: Isi Sofele, RB, California
No. 25: Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State

So who moves up the list? Or gets knocked off? You can expect the postseason list to be very different.

And, by the way, far more meaningful. It will reflect actual performance rather than projection.

Pac-12 top 25 for 2012: No. 1

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
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Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players in 2012 concludes today.

Most of this looks back, but, of course, there also is a good dose of projecting forward. A lot of good players, as it happens every year, won't make the preseason list. It is in their hands to make the postseason list.

You can review our 2011 postseason top 25 here.

1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC

2011 numbers: Completed 69.1 percent of his throws (308 of 446) for 3,528 yards with 39 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.

2011 postseason ranking: No. 2

Making the case for Barkley: Drum roll please. ... No? No drum roll? We don't have that sound file? OK, so this isn't exactly a "who shot J.R. moment" for the Pac-12 blog. I think it's safe to say we all saw this coming. And why not? Matt Barkley is by far the most complete quarterback in the country. With A-list wide receivers flanking him on either side, a phenomenal ground attack that includes two 1,000-yard rushers, fantastic tight ends, a solid offensive line and a stellar defense to get him the ball back, Barkley should produce credentials worthy of Heisman consideration and a high first-round NFL draft pick. He put the spotlight on himself when he made his declaration of "unfinished business," but if you know Barkley, you know he's not one to shrivel in the spotlight. And there is a bright one on him and his team this year as they enter the season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll. He earned second-team all-conference last year and is on every major preseason All-America team this year. Assuming all goes to plan, Barkley will be in New York for the Heisman presentation. He can go a long way toward making his case if he can produce similar numbers to last year and keep his team atop the rankings all season.

No. 2: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
No. 3: De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon
No. 4: Robert Woods, WR, USC
No. 5: Keith Price, QB, Washington
No. 6: Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford
No. 7: Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State
No. 8: Keenan Allen, WR, California
No. 9: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
No. 10: T.J. McDonald, S, USC
No. 11: Dion Jordan, OLB/DE, Oregon
No. 12: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
No. 13: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No. 14: Nickell Robey, CB, USC
No. 15: John White IV, RB, Utah
No. 16: John Boyett, S, Oregon
No. 17: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 18: Khaled Holmes, C, USC
No. 19: Cameron Marshall, RB, Arizona State
No. 20: Dion Bailey, LB, USC
No. 21: Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
No. 22: Curtis McNeal, RB, USC
No. 23: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
No. 24: Isi Sofele, RB, California
No. 25: Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State

Pac-12 top 25 for 2012: No. 2

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
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Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players in 2012 continues.

Most of this looks back, but, of course, there also is a good dose of projecting forward. A lot of good players, as it happens every year, won't make the preseason list. It is in their hands to make the postseason list.

You can review our 2011 postseason top 25 here.

2. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

2011 numbers: Recorded 44 total tackles, with nine coming for a loss. He had 1.5 sacks, a pass break-up, forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

2011 postseason ranking: No. 7

Making the case for Lotulelei: Lotulelei, 6-foot-3, 320 pounds, is not only the best defensive lineman in the Pac-12, he might be the best defensive lineman in the nation. The consensus preseason All-American won the Pac-12's Morris Trophy last year, an award voted on by opposing offensive linemen. He also, of course, was first-team All-Pac-12. But, I know, Pac-12 fans like numbers, and the above numbers -- or numbers for any interior defensive lineman -- won't blow anyone away. So we have to go with what folks think of Lotulelei's chances at the next level. Here's what ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper writes about Lotulelei after ranking him the No. 9 overall NFL draft prospect: "Safest DT in class right now based on consistency. Demands double-teams, clogs up the middle of the field. A great sense for disrupting the run game, with power to bull rush. Explodes off the ball, with great upper-body strength."

Scouts Inc. ranks him sixth overall, giving him a grade of 94, which is the same grade they give the No. 1 prospect, a certain USC QB. In its evaluation, it praises Lotulelei's skills as a run stopper and his "motor." A popular comparison? Former Oregon defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. He has been named to the Bronko Nagurski, Outland Trophy, Lott Trophy and Maxwell Award watch lists.

No. 3: De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon
No. 4: Robert Woods, WR, USC
No. 5: Keith Price, QB, Washington
No. 6: Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford
No. 7: Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State
No. 8: Keenan Allen, WR, California
No. 9: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
No. 10: T.J. McDonald, S, USC
No. 11: Dion Jordan, OLB/DE, Oregon
No. 12: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
No. 13: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No. 14: Nickell Robey, CB, USC
No. 15: John White IV, RB, Utah
No. 16: John Boyett, S, Oregon
No. 17: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 18: Khaled Holmes, C, USC
No. 19: Cameron Marshall, RB, Arizona State
No. 20: Dion Bailey, LB, USC
No. 21: Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
No. 22: Curtis McNeal, RB, USC
No. 23: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
No. 24: Isi Sofele, RB, California
No. 25: Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State

Pac-12 top 25 for 2012: No. 3

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
6:00
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Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players in 2012 continues.

Most of this looks back, but, of course, there also is a good dose of projecting forward. A lot of good players, as it happens every year, won't make the preseason list. It is in their hands to make the postseason list.

You can review our 2011 postseason top 25 here.

3. De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon

2011 numbers: Rushed for 595 yards and seven TDs, averaging 10.8 yards per carry. He caught 46 passes for 605 yards and nine TDs. He averaged 27.3 yards per kick return with two TDs.

2011 postseason ranking: 12th (tied with Oregon QB Darron Thomas!)

Making the case for Thomas: Thomas was very good last year as a true freshman -- you saw the Rose Bowl, right? -- but this high ranking here is more a projection forward. If Thomas doesn't get invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony this winter, he should in 2013. Simply, Thomas is the most explosive player in the conference, perhaps the nation. If you asked a defensive coordinator who you'd least like to see in open space, it would be Thomas. In that Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin, he probably previewed things to come with a team-high 314 all-purpose yards, carrying the ball twice for 155 yards and two TDs, including an are-you-kidding-me? 91 yard bolt. He was the Pac-12 co-offensive freshman of the year and earned first team All-Conference honors as a kick returner. He was the only player in the nation with at least 400 yards rushing, receiving and kick returning. He ranked 11th nationally in all-purpose yards with 147.8 ypg. He earned numerous freshman All-American honors. The expectation here is he will take a big step forward in 2012. Heck, he might even move up this list.

No. 4: Robert Woods, WR, USC
No. 5: Keith Price, QB, Washington
No. 6: Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford
No. 7: Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State
No. 8: Keenan Allen, WR, California
No. 9: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
No. 10: T.J. McDonald, S, USC
No. 11: Dion Jordan, OLB/DE, Oregon
No. 12: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
No. 13: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No. 14: Nickell Robey, CB, USC
No. 15: John White IV, RB, Utah
No. 16: John Boyett, S, Oregon
No. 17: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 18: Khaled Holmes, C, USC
No. 19: Cameron Marshall, RB, Arizona State
No. 20: Dion Bailey, LB, USC
No. 21: Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
No. 22: Curtis McNeal, RB, USC
No. 23: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
No. 24: Isi Sofele, RB, California
No. 25: Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State

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