Pac-12: Carl Winston

Washington State season preview

August, 6, 2013
8/06/13
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Today we begin rolling out our day-by-day snapshots of each Pac-12 team heading into the 2013 season. We start in reverse alphabetical order with the Washington State Cougars.

Washington State

Coach: Mike Leach (87-52, 3-9 at Washington State)

2012 record: 3-9 (1-8, Pac-12 North)

Key losses: DE Travis Long, WR Marquess Wilson, QB Jeff Tuel, RB Carl Winston

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
Jake Roth/US PresswireMike Leach is hoping to see more improvement in his second season at Washington State.
Key returnees: WR Gabe Marks, WR Brett Bartolone, QB Connor Halliday, S Deone Bucannon, DT Ioane Gauta.

Newcomer to watch: WR Vince Mayle (JC transfer, Sierra College) is a big, physical receiver at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds. Despite an already-deep receiving corps, Mayle's presence ups the competition in an offense that favors receivers.

Biggest games in 2013: Aug. 31 at Auburn: We'll see what kind of progress the team made in the offseason and who will be the quarterback -- at least for one week. Nov. 29 at Washington: Last year's Apple Cup, a thrilling come-from-behind win for the Cougars, re-ignited the rivalry after the Huskies had won three straight.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The obvious question is who is going to be the quarterback -- Connor Halliday, Austin Apodaca or both? But it's the guys up front protecting the quarterback who are also cause for concern. Elliot Bosch is a steady anchor at center, and there is some depth across the line, if not uncertainty on who plays where. Last year the Cougars gave up more sacks per game than any team in the nation and were second to last nationally in interceptions thrown. A lot of that falls on the quarterbacks. But a lot also falls on the line. Improved line play should also boost the running game, which averaged just 29 yards per game (a bit misleading considering the total number of sacks allowed) and produced just six touchdowns on the ground.

Forecast: Expectations are a little more tempered heading into Year 2 of the Mike Leach era. This time last year, folks were talking postseason. And why not? Leach had never had a losing season as a head coach and had been to 10 straight bowl games. But it didn't work out that way, and people are starting to understand that it's going to take more than Leach being on the sidelines for this team to reach the postseason for the first time since 2003.

With that said, there is talent -- especially at wide receiver with Marks, Bartolone, Isiah Myers and a host of others. If the offensive line, coupled with more consistent quarterback play (presumably, for now, from Halliday), can reduce the sacks and buy more time, we could see the offense be even more explosive than last season when it averaged more than 330 yards per game in the air. The addition of former Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Yost to the coaching staff shouldn't go unrecognized, either.

While the defense yielded more than 33 points per game in 2012, the Cougars saw a major uptick in the pressure department in their first season running Mike Breske's 3-4 front. They jumped from 94th in sacks per game and 78th in tackles for a loss per game in 2011 to 11th and eighth, respectively, in 2012. They need to find a replacement for Long -- and it looks like Logan Mayes, once thought to be the "buck" linebacker in waiting, will focus his time specifically on defensive end. There is some experience in the secondary and Bucannon is a bona fide playmaker and one of the top safeties in a league heavy on safety talent.

It might take another season for the Cougars to really make a big push toward the postseason. But there should be significant signs of improvement as Leach's players come to understand what he demands of them and they continue to grow into the schemes. Last year 17 freshmen started regularly compared to just four seniors. That trial-by-fire experience should start to pay dividends.
Ted spent much of the past 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. Earlier today we looked at the South. Now we'll look at the North. "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 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 North have coming back.

California
  • Rushing yards in 2012: 2,196
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 451
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 18
  • Rushing yards returning: 536
  • Rushing attempts returning: 54
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 5
  • Percentage of yards returning: 24 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returning: 11 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 27 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Brendan Bigelow, 431 yards, 44 attempts, three touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: C.J. Anderson, 790 yards, 126 attempts, four touchdowns
Oregon
  • Rushing yards in 2012: 4,098
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 685
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 48
  • Rushing yards returning: 2,176
  • Rushing attempts returning: 345
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 21
  • Percentage of yards returning: 53 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returning: 50 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 43 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Marcus Mariota, 752 yards, 106 attempts, five touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: Kenjon Barner, 1,767 yards, 278 attempts, 21 touchdowns
Oregon State
  • Rushing yards in 2012: 1,617
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 442
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 26
  • Rushing yards returning: 1,236
  • Rushing attempts returning: 342
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 23
  • Percentage of yards returning: 76 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returning: 77 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 88 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Storm Woods, 940 yards, 13 touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: Malcolm Agnew, 269 yards, one touchdown
Stanford
  • Rushing yards in 2012: 2440
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 549
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 23
  • Rushing yards returning: 825
  • Rushing attempts returning: 175
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 7
  • Percentage of yards returning: 33 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returning: 31 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 30 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Kevin Hogan, 263 yards, 55 attempts, two touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: Stepfan Taylor, 1,530 yards, 322 attempts, 13 touchdowns
Washington
  • Rushing yards in 2012: 1,851
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 466
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 19
  • Rushing yards returning: 1,774
  • Rushing attempts returning: 428
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 19
  • Percentage of yards returning: 95 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returning: 91 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 100 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Bishop Sankey, 1,439 yards, 289 attempts, 16 touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: Dezden Petty, 99 yards, 29 attempts, zero touchdowns
Washington State
  • Rushing yards in 2012: 349
  • Rushing attempts in 2012: 252
  • Rushing touchdowns in 2012: 6
  • Rushing yards returning: 204
  • Rushing attempts returning: 111
  • Rushing touchdowns returning: 1
  • Percentage of yards returning: 58 percent
  • Percentage of attempts returning: 44 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 16 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Teondray Caldwell, 269 yards, 56 attempts, zero touchdowns
  • Biggest statistical loss: Carl Winston, 280 yards, 85 attempts, five touchdowns

EDIT: Unfortunately, due to an out-of-date roster, the WSU numbers have changed and the statistical anomaly that was their returning rushing attack is no more. I'm just as bummed as you all are. The new numbers have been updated.
We're looking at some of the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2012.

Up next: Booting for Apples

Who and against whom: Washington State kicker Andrew Furney -- owner of the second-longest field in goal in college football in 2012 (unrelated to this game) -- helped cap the largest comeback in Apple Cup history with a perfect day between the pipes.

The numbers: Furney went 3-for-3 on field goals -- including a 45-yard kick to tie the game with 1:59 left in the fourth and a 27-yard game-winner in overtime. He was 2-of-2 on PATs.

A closer look: In what was considered a particularly underwhelming year for the majority of Pac-12 kickers, Furney came through in the clutch for the Cougars. Washington State erased an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit to give Mike Leach his first Apple Cup victory and his first Pac-12 win. The Cougars were in the midst of an eight-game skid while the postseason-bound Huskies had won four straight. Furney book-ended the performance by providing the game's first and last points. His 21-yard kick gave Washington State a 3-0 edge late in the first. And then a pair of Carl Winston touchdowns (and a two-point conversion) put the Cougars within striking distance. Furney calmly drilled a 45-yard field goal to tie the game. After Keith Price was intercepted on the first play of overtime, Furney stepped up an hit the game-winner from 27 yards out. Not a great year for league kickers -- but this performance was as solid as they come.

Conference names players of the week

November, 26, 2012
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Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor, Arizona State linebacker Brandon Magee and Washington State kicker Andrew Furney have been named the players of the week by the Pac-12 conference.

From the league's release:
Taylor, a senior from Mansfield, Texas, rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in two-and-a-half quarters of play, helping Stanford to a 35-17 victory over UCLA. He posted a 49-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, then added a 40-yard scamper in the third quarter that led to his second score of the game (a one-yard touchdown run). Taylor, who turned in his school-record-setting 21st career 100-yard rushing performance, eclipsed 4,000 career rushing yards on a 19-yard run on the game’s opening drive. He ranks third in the Pac-12 and 16th in the nation in rushing, averaging 113.67 yards per game this season.

Magee, a senior from Corona, Calif., collected a career-high 17 tackles (14 solo), including three tackles for loss, in Arizona State’s 41-34 Territorial Cup victory over Arizona. His 14 solo tackles are the most in Territorial Cup history, and his 17 total tackles are tied for the fifth-most in the history of the storied rivalry. Magee, who leads ASU and ranks second in the Pac-12 with 104 tackles on the year, became the first Sun Devil to log 100-or-more tackles in a single season since 2006. He plays a key role on a unit that ranks second in the Pac-12 total defense (350.8 yards per game), sacks (4.0 per game) and tackles for loss (8.83 per game).

Furney, a junior from Burlington, Wash., connected on all three of his field goal attempts in a 31-28 Apple Cup victory over Washington. His field goals came on tries of 21, 45, and 27 yards. His 45-yarder tied the game with 1:59 remaining in regulation, and his 27-yarder in overtime gave Washington State its first Apple Cup win since 2008. Furney’s first career game-winning kick capped the largest comeback in Apple Cup history, as WSU overcame an 18-point fourth quarter deficit. His 60-yard field goal against Eastern Washington is the longest in the Pac-12 this season.

Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were running backs Marion Grice of ASU, Kenjon Barner of Oregon, John White of Utah and Carl Winston of Washington State and tight end Joseph Fauria of UCLA. Also nominated on defense were defensive back Deone Bucannon of Washington State and linebackers Chase Thomas of Stanford and Eric Kendricks of UCLA. Also nominated on special teams were punter Josh Hubner of ASU, wide receiver Keanon Lowe of Oregon, wide receiver/kick returner Reggie Dunn of Utah and linebacker Anthony Barr of UCLA.

Player of the week: Pac-12

November, 26, 2012
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Andrew Furney picked a heck of a time to nail his first career game-winning kick.

His 27-yard field goal in overtime elevated Washington State to a 31-28 win over Washington in the Apple Cup, capping a 3-for-3 day for the junior kicker that completed the largest comeback in Apple Cup history.

The Cougars entered the fourth quarter down 18 points. After a pair of Carl Winston touchdown runs brought the Cougars back into the game, Furney's 45-yard field goal with 1:59 left in the fourth quarter sent the game to overtime.

In what has been a decidedly down year for Pac-12 kickers (only one, OSU's Trevor Romaine, is above 73 percent accuracy at 87.5), it was the clutch kicking of Furney that helped the Cougars snap an eight-game losing streak.

A year's worth of frustration evaporated -- if only temporarily -- as the Cougars picked up just their third win of the season. It was Washington State's first win in the Apple Cup since 2008.

Furney also hit a 21-yard field goal to open the scoring and was 2 for 2 on extra points.

Oregon gains maturity in win

September, 30, 2012
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SEATTLE -- The occasional bloody lip can be a good thing. A body blow -- while it might stun momentarily -- is sometimes just what the lungs need to suck in fresh air.

And for 30 minutes Saturday night at CenturyLink Field, the Washington State Cougars swung and clawed and took their best shots at the No. 2 team in the country. They went for it on fourth down. They tried an onside kick. On offense, they attacked at the heart of their opponent and on defense they blitzed without fear or consequence.

And for a period -- a brief period, mind you -- the Oregon Ducks had a little blood on their lips.

But the Ducks calmly reached up, wiped it away, and delivered a potent and dismissive second-half performance en route to a 51-26 victory.

This was a good thing, because it’s only going to get harder for the Ducks (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12). Unlike their nonconference blowouts, things are a little tougher in the Pac-12. The athletes are a little faster and they hit a little harder. So facing a bit of an adversity is just what a team in the midst of a national title run could use.

“Absolutely,” said Oregon running back Kenjon Barner. “With our team, we know we’re going to get everybody’s best shot. Credit to Washington State because they played a great first half. They did everything you are supposed to do in that first half. They just did a great job. But we’re a strong-willed team and we know when we execute and do what we’re supposed to do, it’s hard to stop us.”

Barner got the Ducks going early. After the defense forced a three-and-out on Washington State’s first possession, Oregon calmly marched 50 yards in four plays, ending with a 22-yard Barner run -- the first of his three rushing touchdowns on the night. The Ducks cruised out to a 20-3 lead and it looked like another sleepwalk.

But the Cougars didn’t fold as others have. Carl Winston added a 2-yard touchdown run to Andrew Furney’s 18-yard field goal to make it 20-9 after the missed PAT. Then Brett Bartolone caught a 26-yard touchdown from Connor Halliday midway through the second quarter following a 34-yard field goal from Oregon’s Rob Beard. It was 23-19 and the folks at CenturyLink were thinking another upset could be possible -- following Washington’s stunner Thursday night over No. 8 Stanford.

[+] EnlargeOregon's Kenjon Barner
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesKenjon Barner rushed for 195 yards and three touchdowns, two of which came in the second half.
“We battled away,” said Washington State coach Mike Leach. “Some of our field goals should have been touchdowns. We gave them two relatively easy touchdowns early. I think if we played with more control, we wouldn’t have. We played pretty courageously throughout the rest of it.”

And with less than four minutes to play in the half, Washington State drove inside the red zone and looked poised to, at the very least, make it a one-point game. That’s when the Oregon defense really broke loose.

Three consecutive sacks (Dion Jordan, Michael Clay and Wade Keliikipi) put the Cougars out of field goal range and shifted the momentum heading into the locker room.

“We understood that they gave us their best shots,” said Jordan. “So the second half we went out and focused on going out and trying to finish the game. Guys made big plays … it was wonderful.

“We knew they were going to keep fighting and they weren’t going to change much in what they were doing. We just had to turn up the dial as a team and as a unit and that’s what guys did. We got after it and played smart football.”

And therein lies the maturity of the Ducks. They opened the second half with a grinding, 18-play drive (their longest since last year’s game against LSU, when they had a 19-play drive) that went 76 yards and took up 6 minutes, 20 seconds. De'Anthony Thomas capped the march with a 4-yard touchdown.

“We knew we were going to get the ball to beginning of the second half and that first drive was going to be key for us to set the tone for what we wanted to do,” said Oregon coach Chip Kelly. “Everybody contributed and made plays. I thought we were balanced. They made us work for it. Give them credit. I thought defensively they had a good plan and it took us a while to get on the right track.”

When the Cougars finally did get back on the field, the drive was ended when Avery Patterson intercepted Halliday and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown and a 37-19 advantage.

The Ducks no longer tasted blood. They smelled it, sacking Halliday seven times in the game, with two each from Taylor Hart and Keliikipi.

“We turned it up and tried to get him out of the pocket a little bit and get their offensive line on their heels,” Jordan said. “Those guys got more tired than we were in the second half.”

Barner would add a 10-yard touchdown on Oregon’s next possession for the third Ducks score of the quarter. He capped a fantastic game with an 80-yard touchdown run in the fourth, finishing with 195 yards on 20 carries.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Kelly said. “You get a chance and hopefully you don’t make the same mistakes twice and every week is its own season and how the games themselves unfold. We know in this league it’s going to be a 60-minute game … We think we’re built to play for the whole game and a lot of guys kept fighting and battling and they finished.”

Halftime: Oregon 23, WSU 19

September, 30, 2012
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SEATTLE -- Something’s brewing at CenturyLink… again. And it ain’t Seattle’s Best coffee.

After falling behind 20-3, the Washington State Cougars have come roaring back in the second quarter and have narrowed the gap to 23-19 at halftime against the Oregon Ducks, the No. 2 team in the country.

The Ducks jumped ahead 6-0 on a 22-yard Kenjon Barner touchdown and extended it on a Marcus Mariota 13-yard run and a 30-yard touchdown pass to Barner.

But a 2-yard Carl Winston run, a second Andrew Furney field goal and a 26-yard touchdown pass from Connor Halliday to Brett Bartolone has the Cougars within a touchdown heading into the second half.

Mariota is 11-of-17 for 107 yards with a touchdown and a pick. Halliday is 17-of-30 for 151 yards and a touchdown. Barner has 10 carries for 57 yards. De'Anthony Thomas has been a non-factor with four carries for 22 yards and two catches for 11 yards.

The Ducks have sacked Halliday five times while the Cougars have gotten to Mariota three times.

Washington State players came off the field pumping their helmets in the air to fire up the crowd.
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.

Pac-12's 1,000-yard rushers

June, 6, 2012
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Last week we brought you our predictions for the Pac-12's 3,000-yard passers in 2012. And judging from the comments, it seems like at least 10 quarterbacks are going to hit the 3K mark.

Are folks just as optimistic about the running backs reaching 1,000 yards?

First, let's take a look at last year's 1K rushers:
So that's five of the seven coming back. Let's break it down by team.

[+] EnlargeKaDeem Carey
AP Photo/Don RyanArizona RB Ka'Deem Carey is likely to get more carries in Rich Rodriguez's offensive system.
Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona: The Wildcats ran the ball the second fewest of any Pac-12 team last season (331 attempts), but Carey still managed 425 yards on 91 carries. Arizona will run the ball significantly more under Rich Rodriguez -- who usually has one of the top rushing offenses in the nation. His running backs had more success at West Virginia than at Michigan, where QB Denard Robinson sucked up most of the yards. Carey will be close and it might come down to whether Arizona plays a 13th game.

Cameron Marshall, Arizona State: He did it in a pass-first system on an injured ankle. Now he's in a run-first system and healthy. Do the math. Marshall should flourish in a downhill system. The Sun Devils have deep group behind him -- maybe the deepest in the conference -- but I can't imagine anyone cutting into his carries too deeply that it hinders his ability to get back to 1K.

Isi Sofele, Cal: There are mumblings that Cal might move to more of a committee approach and Sofele might not get the same number of carries as last year (252). Even so, he'll still probably be chairman of that committee and will have ample opportunity to reach 1,000 yards again. He'll get there.

Tony Jones, Colorado: The Buffs' offensive line might be their strongest offensive asset with standouts like tackle David Bakhtiari and center Gus Handler. That bodes well for Jones, who showed he can be very explosive backing up Rodney Stewart last year. But the Buffs spent a lot of time playing catch-up last season and couldn't commit to the run as much as Jon Embree probably would have liked (401 attempts). If they can't develop a downfield threat, Jones is going to see a lot of eight-in-the-box.

Kenjon Barner, Oregon: He was knocking on the door last year with 939 -- and that was behind LaMichael James and his 1,805 yards. Barner will see more carries than his 152 last season, though he'll still have to split carries with De'Anthony Thomas and the Ducks' new quarterback. Still, no one in the conference runs the ball more than Oregon so Barner shouldn't have any trouble getting there.

Committee, Oregon State: We know Oregon State wants to run the ball more. The Beavers were dead last in the conference last season in attempts (318) and rushing yards (1,043) and there are still issues on the offensive line that need to be sorted out. Several players are expected to contribute -- but chances are one individual won't get over 1,000 yards.

Stepfan Taylor, Stanford: The Cardinal have a committee approach, but even so, Taylor has gone over 1,000 yards in back-to-back years. The loss of guard David DeCastro hurts a bit, but the Cardinal are dedicated to the run and Taylor is a fantastic back. Shouldn't have any trouble three-peating.

Johnathan Franklin, UCLA: The new system at UCLA will be pass-oriented. But Franklin (976 yards last year) won't be completely ignored. Just look at Marshall's numbers from ASU when Noel Mazzone was running the show and you can see that running backs are still a big part of the attack. And the Bruins might run a little more until the new quarterback finds his way in the system. He'll be close.

Curtis McNeal, USC: He just cracked the club by five yards last season. This year he'll have the benefit of a 13th -- maybe even a 14th -- game to get there. Can't imagine many teams will stack the box and dare Matt Barkley to beat them with his arm. McNeal should clear 1K easily.

John White, Utah: No back carried the ball more in the conference and only three players in FBS football had more rushing attempts. There's no reason to think the Utes won't take that same approach. White is an explosive back who is a proven workhorse. If Utah can get the passing game going, it will open up more for White who could probably match his yards total with fewer carries.

Committee, Washington: Chris Polk was a special running back -- the kind of guy who could run for speed and run for power. He's gone and there are questions on the offensive line where there weren't last year. Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey will probably headline the committee and Washington's balanced approach (52-48 run-pass ratio last year) will allow for plenty of opportunities for both. They should easily combine, but unless one steps up as an 18-20 carry-per-game back, it's unlikely an individual will reach 1K.

Committee, Washington State: The pie for carries is already small considering the offense. Then you have Rickey Galvin (1A), Carl Winston (1B) and Marcus Mason (1C) cutting into the pie even more to nibble on whatever slices are left. Running backs in Mike Leach's world are better used in the passing game on swings and screens in this offense. So don't expect a 1K rusher.

Pac-12 running back rankings

April, 25, 2012
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Despite the Pac-12 conference being home to some of the best quarterbacks and wide receivers in the country, some teams do occasionally run the football. Some better than others. Some really better than others.

Our friends at Athlon Sports continue their series of assorted Pac-12 rankings. They've given us the Pac-12 coaches and quarterbacks, and now they are up with their running back rankings.

Here's how the top 20 shakes out, which includes last year's production, expectations for 2012 and surrounding personnel:
    [+] EnlargeDe'Anthony Thomas, Kenjon Barner
    Jim Z. Rider/US PresswireOregon's De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner (24) look to be the Pac-12's top RB duo.

  1. De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
  2. Kenjon Barner, Oregon
  3. John White, Utah
  4. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford
  5. Isi Sofele, Cal
  6. Cameron Marshall, Arizona State
  7. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA
  8. Curtis McNeal, USC
  9. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona
  10. Jesse Callier, Washington
  11. Malcolm Agnew, Oregon State
  12. Rickey Galvin, Washington State
  13. Tony Jones, Colorado
  14. Bishop Sankey, Washington
  15. Tyler Gaffney, Stanford
  16. C.J. Anderson, Cal
  17. Nelson Agholor, USC
  18. Deantre Lewis, Arizona State
  19. Carl Winston, Washington State
  20. D.J. Morgan, USC

Initial thoughts:

  • Unlike the quarterback rankings last week, where Ted and I both had some ideas on how we'd move things around, this top 10 seems pretty solid, give or take one or two spots. There will be some games when Barner takes the lead and others where Thomas does. And in the games when they both do, look out. So those two are interchangeable, but certainly worthy of the top two spots based on the scheme they are in and the numbers they are likely to produce.
  • White will probably have better overall numbers than Taylor, because he's likely to have more carries. Taylor is Stanford's primary guy, but the Cardinal rotate liberally -- and with the aforementioned Gaffney, the emergence of Ricky Seale and Barry Sanders coming in, that could cut into some of his carries. But you can still ink Taylor in for 1,000 yards and close to double-digit touchdowns. Stanford and Utah have big holes to fill on the offensive line, but both backs are talented enough to absorb the change.
  • Sofele is a good running back, but Anderson has come on strong and Daniel Lasco and Brendan Bigelow are expected to play bigger roles this season. Five might be a bit high -- depending on his job status.
  • Interested to see what Marshall does without Noel Mazzone as his offensive coordinator. Interested to see what Franklin does with Mazzone as his offensive coordinator. Arizona State is pretty deep at the position, but Marshall is the guy.
  • Without depth, McNeal is going to have to carry a lot of the load. And he's not exactly known for his durability. If the Trojans can get a couple of guys behind him to take a few snaps, he could be top five by season's end.
  • Depending on how quickly the Wildcats pick up the offense, Carey is another guy who could potentially crack the top five. He has enough snaps under his belt and was productive enough in a different kind of spread that he should have very good numbers -- if he gets enough per-game carries.
  • It looks more and more like Washington is moving more toward a by-committee approach with Callier and Sankey at the top of the list. Their overall ranking will depend on how many carries per game they get. By Week 3, we might be flip-flopping them.
  • The final three years at Texas Tech, Mike Leach's rushing attack ranked 115th ('09), 94th ('08) and 119th ('07) nationally. Running backs come second in his offense. Just the way it is.
  • Jones is a good playmaker on a team starving for them. But until we know who is going to throw the ball and catch the ball in Colorado, this ranking seems about right. He does have a couple of pretty good linemen blocking for him though, which could help him crack the top 10 by season's end.

Pac-12 recruiting needs: North Division

January, 25, 2012
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Every team needs to hit every position group each recruiting season, but there are always priorities. It's not just positions where starters are lost or going to be seniors, it's about addressing weaknesses where a true freshman might be a better answer than a returning player.

Up next is the North Division.

California
QB
: Zach Maynard will be a senior, and it says something about the depth behind him that he never lost his job during his midseason swoon.
WR: Keenan Allen is back, but that's it in terms of returning production and experience.
S: Three of the top four safeties from 2011 are gone.

Oregon
Skill:
In Chip Kelly's offense, you can never have enough fast guys. Sure, Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff are back, but there's a lot of youth and uncertainty after that at running back and wide receiver.
TE: His name is David Paulson, but he's gone. Colt Lyerla was a productive backup -- at least in terms of finding the end zone -- but after him things are uncertain. Tight end is one of the most underrated positions in the Ducks offense, so having more than one Kelly trusts is significant.
S: Eddie Pleasant is gone and John Boyett is a senior. Avery Patterson, Erick Dargan and Brian Jackson are next in line, but the young talent isn't as certain as it is at corner.

Oregon State
OL:
Oregon State lost three starters from a line that led the worst rushing attack in the conference and surrendered 27 sacks. Quarterback Sean Mannion has potential, but he needs time. And a running game.
DT: The Beavers had the worst rushing defense in the Pac-12 in 2011. 'Nuff said.
LB: The Beavers had the worst rushing defense in the Pac-12 in 2011. Almost enough said. Cameron Collins is gone, and all the contributors on the two-deep will be seniors, other than junior Michael Doctor.

Stanford
WR
: Perhaps the weakest position for the Cardinal in 2011, this need is augmented by the loss of Griff Whalen and Chris Owusu and the lack of up-and-comers other than sophomore Ty Montgomery.
DB: Three of four starters are gone, including both safeties. In the Cardinal's two losses -- to Oregon and Oklahoma State -- an absence of top-end athleticism in the back half was exploited.
OL: Three starters are back, but the losses are huge: Tackle Jonathan Martin and guard David DeCastro. And backup tackle Tyler Mabry and backup guard Matt Bentler also are gone. If coach David Shaw intends to remain a physical, downhill running team -- and he does -- he'll need to continuously stock up on linemen who can get the job done.

Washington
DB:
Lots of guys are back in the secondary, but the Huskies gave up 284.6 yards passing per game, which ranked 11th in the Pac-12. They couldn't cover anybody and often seemed out of position. So new blood might help.
DL: (See if you can notice a theme here that ignores questions at wide receiver and running back). Two starters are gone from a line that consistently underperformed based on preseason expectations.
LB: Second-team All-Pac-12 middle linebacker Cort Dennison is the only one of the eight men on the depth chart who won't be back, but he was the team's only consistent linebacker.

Washington State
DL:
Three of four starters are back, but all three will be seniors.
OL: Three starters are back, but to make the next step on offense, the Cougars need to run the ball better. They ranked 10th in the conference in rushing offense. And that might reduce a conference-high 3.3 sacks per game. Mike Leach's quick-hit offense also might help.
RB: 170-pound sophomore Rickey Galvin is back, as is senior Carl Winston, but the backs need to share responsibility for a 3.1-yards-per-carry average, worst in the conference (of course, losing 237 yards to sacks doesn't help).

Stanford 10, Washington State 7

October, 15, 2011
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PULLMAN Wash. -- Fumbles have turned into touchdowns.

While Washington State wasn't able to do anything with its first quarter interception of Andrew Luck, they were able to find the end zone after Stepfan Taylor's first fumble of the season in the second quarter.

But that was after the Cardinal were able to turn Jared Karstetter's fumble into points.

Corner back Johnson Bademosi forced the wide receiver to fumble at the Stanford 37 and Michael Thomas recovered and returned it 33 yards to the Washington State 20. Seven plays later, Jeremy Stewart barreled in from 1 yard out for the touchdown.

But with 2:18 left in the half, the Cougars got on the board on Carl Winston's 2-yard run following the Taylor fumble. It's the first fumble this season by a running back -- on a running play -- for Stanford.

Sloppy game thus far from both teams.
The Pac-12 features another strong crop of running backs -- five returning 1,000-yard rushers -- but there are also a few teams facing uncertainty at the position.

So how does it stack up?

Great shape

    [+] EnlargeLaMichael James
    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesLaMichael James leads a talented running back corps that has both experience and depth.
  • Oregon: It's not just that the Ducks have Heisman Trophy finalist and unanimous All-American LaMichael James coming back, it's that they have Kenjon Barner and Lache Seastrunk to help carry the load. When you toss in touted incoming freshman De’Anthony Thomas -- play or redshirt? -- Oregon may have the best backfield in the nation.
  • Washington: Chris Polk is a workhorse who gained 1,415 yards last season -- he's also a good receiver -- and there's good depth with Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper, who sat out last year with a knee injury.
  • Stanford: Stepfan Taylor lead the way with 1,137 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2010, but the depth is phenomenal with Anthony Wilkerson, Tyler Gaffney and Jeremy Stewart.
  • UCLA: Not unlike Stanford, there's a returning 1,000-yard rusher -- Johnathan Franklin -- and great depth: Derrick Coleman, Malcolm Jones and Jordan James.
  • Colorado: Rodney Stewart, at 5-foot-6, 175 pounds, is a diminutive workhorse. He rushed for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2010. The only issue here is depth, though redshirt freshman Tony Jones had a nice spring.
Good shape
We'll see

  • California: Strange to see Cal down here, eh? What in the name of J.J., Marshawn, Jahvid and Vereen is going on? Isi Sofele is No. 1 on the post-spring depth chart, but it's wide open after that, with incoming freshmen expected to be immediately in the mix.
  • Oregon State: The Beavers have experience with Ryan McCants, but he's struggled to break through. Sophomore Jovan Stevenson, redshirt freshman Malcolm Marable and grayshirt freshman Terron Ward are options, as is Jordan Jenkins, who missed spring with a shoulder injury.
  • Utah: The Utes lost their top three backs from 2010, and their top three backs heading into 2011 have no experience. But John White, Harvey Langi and Thretton Palamo showed plenty of promise this spring. It's just we don't know what they'll do when the lights go on in Pac-12 play.
  • Washington State: Logwone Mitz and Carl Winston are back -- they combined for 353 yards in 2010 -- and hopes are high for Ricky Galvin, who was injured early in the Cougars opening game last fall. But this is not a position of strength for the Cougars.
Previous reviews

Quarterback

Preseason position reviews: running back

July, 22, 2010
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Another year, another strong collection of running backs, even with the departures of Toby Gerhart and Jahvid Best.

While Pac-10 quarterbacks will grab most of the preseason headlines -- that's what happens when the two best NFL prospects at the position play in the same conference -- the class of running backs is nearly as strong.

Three 1,00o-yard rushers are back, and that doesn't include California's Shane Vereen, who piled up 952 yards as a backup, nor does it including Arizona's Nic Grigsby, who rushed for 1,153 yards in 2008. Six of the top-nine running backs will return this fall, and more than a few teams are decidedly deep at the position.

By the way, you might note there is more mention of incoming freshman at this position than others. Two reasons: 1. The Pac-1o had a strong haul of RBs in recruiting; and, 2. RB is often the easiest place for a young player to break into the lineup.

Great shape

  • Oregon: While the Pac-10 blog rates Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers ahead of LaMichael James as an individual player, the Ducks have a decided edge in depth, and not only because James' backup, Kenjon Barner, is one of the conference's most explosive players. The incoming recruiting class also features Lache Seastrunk and Dontae Williams, the No. 6 and No. 13 prep running backs in the nation in 2009.
  • [+] EnlargeJacquizz Rodgers
    Rick Scuteri/US PresswireJacquizz Rodgers may be the most talented individual running back in the Pac-10 this year, but Oregon has the best group.
  • Oregon State: Jacquizz Rodgers is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate as the most complete back in the conference. Depth behind him is a little iffy, though Ryan McCants turned in some of his best work during spring practices.
  • Washington: Washington fans often note that Chris Polk gained most of his 1,113 yards last year after contact because he was running behind a young offensive line. That line, with four starters back, should be better in 2010. Good depth with Johri Fogerson and freshmen Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier, who both participated in spring drills.
  • California: As noted above, Vereen put up impressive numbers as a backup and then starter over the final four games after Best got hurt. 12 TDs on 183 carries shows he has a nose for the endzone. Depth behind him is uncertain. Trajuan Briggs, Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson, Isi Sofele and Dasarte Yarnway are competing for backup touches.
  • USC: Allen Bradford, a neglected talent under Pete Carroll, who was oddly in love with the mercurial Joe McKnight, could end up being a first-team All-Pac-10 back. C.J. Gable also will have a chance to emerge from Carroll's doghouse. True freshman Dillon Baxter was the star of spring practices, while Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler are major talents who just need to stay healthy.
  • Arizona: The Wildcats welcome back their top three running backs: Grigsby, Keola Antolin and Greg Nwoko. But Grigsby, who averaged 7.2 yards per carry last year when he wasn't hurt, needs to find a way to stay healthy.
Good shape
We'll see

  • Stanford: The Cardinal doesn't have one guy who can replace Gerhart. But who does? The good news for a backfield-by-committee approach with Jeremy Stewart, Tyler Gaffney, Stepfan Taylor and freshman Usua Amanam in the mix is the offensive line in front of them should be outstanding.
  • Arizona State: The Sun Devils must replace leading rusher Dimitri Nance, who didn't exactly scare opposing defenses in 2009. Cameron Marshall is the leading returning rusher with 280 yards. James Morrison and Jamal Miles will provide depth, though an incoming freshman might get into the mix. As has been the case for a while with the Sun Devils, the first order is improving the offensive line.
  • Washington State: Leading 2009 rusher Dwight Tardy is gone. If James Montgomery is healthy -- and stays that way -- he gives the Cougars a quality runner. He was clearly the best guy last preseason before he got hurt. Logwone Mitz, Chantz Staden, Carl Winston and Marcus Richmond will compete for touches during fall camp. Whatever the pecking order, the offensive line is the biggest issue.

A-list position battles: Washington State

May, 24, 2010
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The final post in a series taking a look at top position competitions this fall.

Washington State:

Why the competition? The Cougars leading rusher each of the last four seasons, Dwight Tardy, is gone.

Candidates: Senior Chantz Staden (5-10, 211), junior Logwone Mitz (6-1, 229), senior Marcus Richmond (6-1, 214,), sophomore Carl Winston (5-8, 197), freshman Leon Brooks (5-6, 160) and senior James Montgomery (5-10, 193)

The skinny: One ball, six guys. After reading a bunch about the competition here, my impression is no one knows how this one will play out. Montgomery is the most talented and would have been the No. 1 guy in 2009 if not for a horrible episode with "acute compartment syndrome" with his calf. He also had knee surgery and didn't participate in spring practices. If he's 100 percent and back to his old form in August, count on him pushing hard for the starting job. Further complicating things this spring were injuries to Winston -- 164 yards rushing in 2009 -- and Richmond, who started spring atop the depth chart despite not having a carry in 2009. That left most of the carries to Staden, who missed last season with a knee injury after backing up Tardy in 2008, and Mitz, who rushed for 173 yards in 2009. Staden had 86 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries and Mitz 59 yards on 10 totes with a 16-yard touchdown reception in the spring game. Brooks is a former walk-on who has flashed potential.

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