Pac-12: Deantre Lewis

It's time to start our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

We continue the series with running backs.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: The combination of Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner should be as dangerous as ever. De'Anthony Thomas never really grew into the role as an every-down back, but Marshall carried 168 times for 1,038 yards and 14 touchdowns. Tyner slowly picked up more carries and finished with 115 for 711 yards and nine touchdowns. Folks are also excited to see what incoming freshman Royce Freeman brings to the table. This is a scary corps, even before you realize that Marcus Mariota also carried 96 times for 715 yards and nine touchdowns last year.

USC: The emergence of Buck Allen was a pleasant surprise after he spent much time in Lane Kiffin purgatory. He boasted 5.8 yards per carry to go with 785 yards and 14 touchdowns. He'll be pushed by Tre Madden, Justin Davis and D.J. Morgan, who is back after missing all of 2013 with a knee injury. This is a group that could do damage in Steve Sarkisian's up-tempo offense. Think about what Bishop Sankey did last year.

Arizona State: Marion Grice was a touchdown machine. But D.J. Foster is no slouch after rushing for 501 yards and catching 63 passes for 653 yards in a dual-threat role. The local product is explosive and has big-play speed. Deantre Lewis and Kyle Middlebrooks, back from injury, provide depth since Mike Norvell won't want to pass up the opportunity to use Foster in the slot at times. The depth has ASU teetering on the Great Shape/Good Shape fence, but Foster's experience and explosiveness give ASU a perfect replacement for Grice. So we're confident saying ASU is in great shape with him at the helm.

GOOD SHAPE

UCLA: No, we're not going to list Myles Jack as a running back. Get over it. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone told the Pac-12 blog he's been looking for Jordon James to make strides as a "one-cut" runner. He believes he has. And Paul Perkins and Steven Manfro will press for carries with the intriguing Craig Lee waiting in the wings. Keep in mind it was quarterback Brett Hundley who led the Bruins in carries (160), yards (748) and touchdowns (11). Maybe ... just maybe ... we'll see Jack also pick up a few carries. The Bruins are dedicated to the run (only Oregon has more carries over the last three seasons) and they have the depth to deliver.

Stanford: No Tyler Gaffney. Four of five starters on the line are gone. Surely this is the year Stanford's running game takes a step backward, right? Probably not. The line will feature five members of the heralded 2012 recruiting class and a committee approach with Remound Wright, Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders and Kelsey Young seems likely. Only Oregon and UCLA have attempted more rushes over the last three seasons, so the Cardinal are going to continue to be dedicated to the ground game. There is a lot of untapped potential with this group and they have a coach who loves to run the football. There are a lot of unknowns, but Stanford's recent history of success running the football warrants the benefit of the doubt to put them in the "Good Shape" column.

Utah: For now, it looks like Bubba Poole will be the primary back. But Kyle Whittingham and Co. are excited about the emergence of JC transfer Davontae Booker and the complementary role Troy McCormick might play. They aren't married to the idea of a single back. In fact, Whittingham told the Pac-12 blog he'd like to have situational flexibility. This trio provides that at Utah for the first time in a while. Spreading things out is a priority for new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen. But don't be surprised to see a balanced attack if these three see success.

Colorado: The Buffs are surprisingly deep in the running backs department, with seasoned players like Christian Powell, Michael Adkins II, Tony Jones and Donta Abron returning. Powell (562 yards, three touchdowns) provided the power while Adkins emerged as a fine complement with 5.2 yards per carry (103 carries, 535 yards and six touchdowns). Look for the coaching staff to keep using those two in unison as a thunder-and-lightning tandem.

Oregon State: The running game, or lack thereof, has been a sore spot for Mike Riley the last couple of seasons. However, with last year's combination of Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks the personnel dictated 603 passing attempts. With Cooks gone, the staff will look to Terron Ward and Storm Woods (who combined for 240 carries, 998 yards and 11 touchdowns) to build off of last year's showing of 94.4 yards per game -- which was 11th in the conference. This tandem has the potential to be very good. It just has to go out and show it.

Washington State: That the Cougars return their top two rushers from last season, Marcus Mason and Teondray Caldwell, bodes well -- even in an offense in which the running back serves more to keep the opposition in check than to run the football. However, it might be Theron West and redshirt freshman Jamal Morrow who get the majority of the carries. The coaching staff was high on Morrow in the spring and if the Cougs can do just enough to keep the safeties guessing, it might open things up more for the Air Raid's primary objective.

WE'LL SEE

Arizona: The Wildcats have to replace Ka'Deem Carey. No easy task. And it was made worse by the recent news that Pierre Cormier's won't be returning. That leaves carries to be divided among Nick Wilson, Zach Green and Terris Jones-Grigsby. Jonathan Haden is still waiting to get cleared and Jared Baker missed the spring with an injury from last year's ASU game. Look for special packages with DaVonte' Neal as well. The Wildcats are silly with wide receivers, which could help open things up in the running game.

California: The Bears averaged just 122.2 rushing yards per game last year -- ninth in the league. Despite the reputation for being a pass-happy team, the coaches would actually prefer more balance, so they'll need better production out of oft-injured Daniel Lasco and Khalfani Muhammad. The departed Brendan Bigelow had the most carries (105) last year, but Muhammad and Lasco combined for 141 totes for 762 yards and six touchdowns. Muhammad is the burner at 175 pounds while Lasco has the bigger frame at 200 and change. Incoming freshman Tre Watson is also an intriguing prospect.

Washington: Like Arizona, the Huskies must replace a phenomenal back in Sankey. But there are options. Dwayne Washington was the No. 2 behind Sankey last year, rushing for 332 yards and four touchdowns on 47 carries. Behind him are Jesse Callier, who was the original starter in 2012 before his injury gave rise to Sankey, and Deontae Cooper. Both have a history of knee injuries. Jomon Dotson and Lavon Coleman could see time. We'll see isn't necessarily a bad thing. It just means, we'll see.

OTHER POSITION REVIEWS

Quarterback

Stakes high for ASU, Arizona

November, 26, 2013
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In terms of general bitterness, the Arizona-Arizona State rivalry over the Territorial Cup is pretty darn underrated nationally. That's understandable, though, because the game rarely has much national relevance. One team can be up or down, but it's been rare that both are good and playing for more than state pride.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty ImagesTodd Graham (left) and Taylor Kelly are directing one of the Pac-12's best offense, but will be missing their top rusher.
That’s why Saturday’s meeting feels a bit different. For the first time since 1986, both teams enter the game with at least seven wins. Most notable: Arizona State needs to beat the Wildcats to secure home-field advantage for the Pac-12 title game against Stanford on Dec. 7.

How much does that matter? The Sun Devils are 6-0 at home this year with an average margin of victory of 26.8 points per game, including wins over two ranked teams, Wisconsin and USC, as well as a blowout victory over Washington. They are 3-2 on the road, with a 42-28 loss at Stanford, a game that was 39-7 entering the fourth quarter.

The Wildcats are trying to upgrade their own bowl prospects while playing the role of spoiler. And Arizona fans, who have never experienced a Rose Bowl, want to make it as difficult as possible for the Sun Devils to get to the Granddaddy for a third time.

Both teams are coming off the biggest victories their second-year head coaches have produced. Todd Graham and the Sun Devils captured the South Division crown with a win at UCLA last weekend. A road win like that -- over a quality foe with high stakes -- is something that has been tough to come by for ASU through the years. Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats ended No. 5 Oregon's Rose Bowl hopes with a shocking 42-16 blowout win.

The game sets up to be hotly contested. Seven of the last nine matchups have been decided by a TD or less. The past four games have been decided by a total of 15 points. And home field often doesn't matter. The visiting team has won eight of the last 13 matchups, including the last four.

“I don’t worry about all that stuff,” Graham said. “I don’t think what happened last year has anything to do with this year. People have a whole bunch of time in their hands to spend analyzing stuff. We don’t overanalyze it.”

Despite that harrumph, Graham probably feels pretty good about what happened last year. His team won 41-34, overcoming a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit in front of a stunned Tucson crowd.

But the typically loquacious Graham might have been grumpy Monday during his news conference because his star running back Marion Grice is highly questionable with what appears to be an ankle injury he suffered in the fourth quarter at UCLA. Grice has been a TD machine this year, leading the Pac-12 and ranking fifth in the nation with 10.7 points per game. Grice also ranks first in the Pac-12 and fourth nationally in all-purpose yards with 176.5 per game.

QB Taylor Kelly is the Sun Devils second-leading rusher, though Deantre Lewis and D.J. Foster are capable backup running backs.

The most obvious personnel change between these two teams compared to last year is Arizona replacing QB Matt Scott with B.J. Denker. The Wildcats are scoring just five fewer points per game than in 2012, but the more notable development is the Wildcats dramatic defensive improvement, something that should put coordinator Jeff Casteel in line for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation's top assistant coach.

The Wildcats are yielding nearly two fewer touchdowns per game this year compared to 2012 (21.6 points per game versus to 35.3 ppg in 2012). They are giving up 100 fewer yards per game (399 vs. 499) and nearly 40 fewer yards rushing per game (206.2 vs. 166.6). They've risen from ninth in the conference in pass efficiency defense to fourth. And they just held Oregon to its lowest point total of the season.

[+] EnlargeJeff Casteel
AP Photo/John MillerRich Rodriguez (right) has a signature win at Arizona after defeating Oregon, but it's been the play of Jeff Casteel's defense that has been surprising.
Of course, the Sun Devils are no slouch on defense either. Playing against a tougher schedule than the Wildcats, they've yielded the same total on yards per play -- 5.2 -- and rank second in the conference in total defense and third in run defense.

"They have nine seniors starting on defense and five senior backups," Rodriguez noted. "That might be the oldest defense in college football.”

It's actually seven senior starters, but Rodriguez's point is it is a veteran unit. The Wildcats start five seniors.

While the game has more tangible meaning for Graham and Arizona State, it might have more intangible meaning for Rodriguez. For one, it would be fair to say he and Graham don't have a terribly warm relationship. And in a battle for state supremacy, Rodriguez doesn't want to find himself in a 0-2 hole against Graham as they battle for state supremacy. So, yeah, this one is important for myriad reasons.

Said Rodriguez: “You’d have to be living under a rock if you play for Arizona and don’t realize how important the ASU rivalry is.”

Lunch links: Buffs will try two QBs

September, 11, 2012
9/11/12
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"Excuse me, Flo? Flo, like the TV show. Uh, what is the Soup Du Jour?"
"It's the Soup of the Day."
"Mmmmm. That sounds good. I'll have that."
 
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.
Every team has a strength -- that one position group that can make a play on offense or make a big stop on defense when needed.

Based on what happened this spring, we're going to look at the strongest position group for each school. It could be on either side of the ball -- and it could be subject to change after fall camp goes into full swing.

We're going in reverse alphabetical order.

Arizona State

Strongest position group: Running back

Headliner: Cameron Marshall (1,050 yards, 4.6 per carry, 18 TDs)

Supporting cast: Jamal Miles (237 yards, 8.2 per carry); James Morrison (11-59); Kyle Middlebrooks (42-150); Deantre Lewis (2010: 539 yards, 5.9 ypc, 4 TDs)

The skinny: Marshall is an NFL prospect, a 223 pounder who is physical and tough and faster than you think. Miles and Middlebrooks are hybrid RB/WR types. Morrison is a physical runner who's been threatening to break through for a couple of years and looked this spring like he was finally ready to really do it. Lewis is a wildcard. He was lightning to Marshall's thunder in 2010 as a true freshman but it remains to be seen if he can get back to 100 percent form after suffering complications from a random gunshot wound that impacted his 2011 season. Further, two incoming running backs arrive with plenty of hype: JC transfer Marion Grice and freshman D.J. Foster. How will the pecking order turn out? That remains to be seen. But running back might be the only position where the Sun Devils have no concerns.
Despite the high ankle sprain ... despite the bone spurs in his ankle ... despite the fact that he was a running back playing in a pass-first spread system, Arizona State's Cameron Marshall was still one of the top statistical running backs in the Pac-12 last season.

With all those things working against him, Marshall still pounded out 1,050 yards on the ground and matched Oregon's LaMichael James for most rushing touchdowns with 18.

Consider all of the above factors and then let it sink in. You might start to realize that the 5-foot-11, 223-pound back is a special player.

The sprain has healed. The bone spurs have been surgically repaired. Arizona State's new offense is run-first. And Marshall is poised to establish himself as one of the conference's elite backs.

[+] EnlargeCameron Marshall
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesCameron Marshall's senior season could be a standout one in coach Todd Graham's offense.
"I think I needed to go through that last year," said Marshall, a senior from Valley Christian High School in San Jose, Calif. "It hurt when I walked. It hurt when I would just be standing. But I think in the end it was good for me to go through. I learned a lot about myself. I learned I can play through the pain."

Marshall missed much of the spring session rehabbing his ankle, but says he's "almost" 100 percent and should be completely ready for fall camp. Not surprising, he's excited to be playing in a Todd Graham scheme, which led the nation in total offense in 2007 and 2008 and was fifth in 2010.

"As a running back, that's the kind of offense you want to be in," Marshall said. "It's a lot of downhill running. I can keep my shoulders squared. I think that plays very well to my skill set because I'm much more of a downhill runner than I am lateral runner."

Marshall knows he's not the first runner people think of when they look at the Pac-12's backs. And if it bothers him, he doesn't admit it. But his combination of speed and power has him slotted anywhere between a third-and-fifth round draft pick next year. And that's without pundits having seen what he can do in an offense that caters to his strengths.

First and foremost, he's looking to help ASU bounce back from the disappointing five-game skid that ended 2011. The Sun Devils -- after jumping out to a 6-2 start -- dropped their final four regular season games by an average of 6 points before closing out the year with a 56-24 thumping by Boise State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.

"It's in the past, but it still grinds on us," Marshall said. "It was a year where we should have done better. There was a lot of hype around us early in the season when we were successful. This year I anticipate us being able to finish out the season instead of losing a bunch of close games.

"We're tired of being the team that has the potential but can't put it together."

And if the Sun Devils do put it together in Graham's first year, a big reason is going to be because of Marshall's legs. But he's not alone in the backfield. Arizona State has one of the deepest crops -- if not the deepest -- of running backs in the conference. Kyle Middlebrooks, James Morrison and Deantre Lewis will all see carries. And then there is Arizona prep sensation D.J. Foster, who might make an impact as a true freshman. Marshall feels the heat. And he likes it.

"As a competitor, you love that competition," he said. "They keep me on my toes and make me prove that I deserve that top spot. If I don't, then there are a lot of guys who could take the job. I have to practice harder than everybody else and be in the film room longer than everybody. And it's a realistic point of view of how it's going to be at the next level."

By the time Marshall leaves ASU, he might be the school's most celebrated running back. With 29 career touchdowns, he's just 10 shy of matching the school's career record.

Arizona State spring wrap

May, 14, 2012
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2011 overall record: 6-7

2011 conference record: 4-5 (T 3rd, South)

Returning starters

Offense: 4; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

RB Cameron Marshall, OT Evan Finkenberg, WR Jamal Miles, LB Brandon Magee, DT Will Sutton

Key Losses

QB Brock Osweiler, WR Gerell Robinson, WR Aaron Pflugrad, C Garth Gerhart, LB Vontaze Burfict, LB Colin Parker, S Clint Floyd

2011 statistical leaders (*returner)
Rushing: Cameron Marshall* (1,050 yards)
Passing: Brock Osweiler (4,036 yards)
Receiving: Gerell Robinson (1,397 yards)
Tackles: Colin Parker (75)
Sacks: Vontaze Burfict (5)
Interceptions: Clint Floyd (4)

Spring answers

1. He's selling, you buying? New head coach Todd Graham describes himself as an "old school" guy, meaning no swearing, no jewelry, yes sir, no sir ... that kind of stuff. His practices are intense, as is the fast-paced offense he's installing. Players talked about being a little shell-shocked by how he does things and the discipline he demands. But so far, they seem to have taken to it.

2. Oh, line: Once thought to be a concern for the Sun Devils after losing three offensive linemen from last year's squad, Graham has gone out of his way to note how good the unit looks. They are set at left tackle with Evan Finkenberg, a two-year starter, but he's versatile enough to play anywhere on the line. Andrew Sampson has 20 consecutive starts. Jamil Douglas, Kody Koebensky and Brice Schwab should fill out the line.

3. Back attack: The Sun Devils have something special in running back Cameron Marshall, who should flourish with Graham's downhill running offense. Behind him is a deep, talented group, but little is known about the pecking order. Kyle Middlebrooks, James Morrison, Deantre Lewis, Marion Grice and incoming freshman D.J. Foster all figure to play some sort of role. Worth keeping an eye on Marshall's surgically repaired foot as well. He's expected to be 100 percent by fall. While this might be ASU's deepest group, there is still some uncertainty to how it will all look in Week 1.

Fall questions

1. QB question mark: Graham hinted that the coaching staff is closer to a decision on their quarterback than they are probably letting on publicly. Still, the public at large is no closer to knowing whether it will be Mike Bercovici, Michael Eubank or Taylor Kelly running the show. Each has their own unique skill sets, but fans are calling for Eubank, who many have dubbed a Cam Newton replica.

2. Magee back? The return of linebacker Brandon Magee, who was limited in spring as he continues to recover from a torn Achilles that kept him out of 2011, would be a monumentally huge step in the right direction for the Sun Devils. And for Graham. Magee is not only a talented linebacker, he's a locker room guy who commands the respect of his teammates. They'll usually step in line with him. And if he's good to go, it would be a big step for the Sun Devils on and off the field.

3. New offense, new(er) receivers: Jamal Miles returns as the second-leading receiver (60 catches) and is a dynamic player, but there isn't a ton of experience at the position as the Sun Devils said goodbye to five scholarship receivers. Projected starters Rashad Ross and Kevin Ozier combined for just 29 catches between them last season. J.J. Holliday, A.J. Pickens and Kevin Anderson all figure to be in the mix as well. Plus there are more coming with the recruiting class and their impact remains to be seen.
We're continuing with our under the radar series.

The idea is to pick out a player who is not a big name, but who might be underrated. Or, at least, a guy who will need to step up and play a crucial role in 2012.

We're going in reverse alphabetical order.

Arizona State: RB James Morrison

2011 production: Carried the ball 11 times for 59 yards with a score against Colorado.

Making the case for Morrison: Outside of Arizona, most folks probably don't know Morrison. He came in as a walk-on out of St. Mary's high school in Phoenix and never really found a place with the old coaching staff. New coach Todd Graham has dubbed the 5-foot-11, 215-pounder "Tank" for his power style of running. He's coming off a fantastic spring and used the absence of Cameron Marshall to gain valuable reps.

In this new ASU offense, the focus is on downhill running. And that's something Morrison can do. The big question is whether he did enough in the spring to earn the reps, because ASU's backfield is going to be crowded in the fall. He could be featured as a third-down back because he's a good blocker, or simply as a goal-line/short-yardage specialist. He could be the No. 2 guy off the bench behind Marshall -- pending the status of Deantre Lewis. Or he could be a spring wonder who never gets consistent carries, falling back behind Lewis, Kyle Middlebrooks and incoming freshman D.J. Foster, who might contribute immediately. Morrison is by no means a sure thing to break out, but if you're looking for someone who could surprise under the right circumstances, he's the guy.

Pac-12 running back rankings

April, 25, 2012
4/25/12
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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.
Last week we gave you our thoughts on which Pac-12 team had the best specific position group -- taking into account playmakers at the top of the group and overall depth at the position.

SportsNation

What's the best position group in the conference?

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    28%
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    7%
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    36%
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    23%
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    6%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,102)

Knowing full well he'd catch some grief, Kevin Gemmell still picked the Stanford linebacking corps, citing All-American candidates Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov and a very deep list of players who can fill out the Cardinal 3-4 scheme.

Ted Miller went top heavy, pointing out USC's fantastic wide receiver duo of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, but also noting that players such as George Farmer, De'Von Flournoy and Victor Blackwell could provide some depth behind those two.

Did we pick the wrong units?

What about Utah's defensive line. The Utes boast the best defensive lineman in the conference in Star Lotulelei and are talented across the line.

What about the Oregon linebacking corps headlined by Michael Clay. They are athletic, deep and talented. Clay and Kiko Alonso are potential all-conference guys in 2012.

ASU has a pretty good stable of running backs. Cameron Marshall has impressed in the spring and James Morrison and a healthy Deantre Lewis make it that much deeper. JC transfer Marion Grice and incoming freshman D.J. Foster add to that depth.

Which team has the best position group?

Pac-12 links: Kelly's 'Win the Day' video

March, 12, 2012
3/12/12
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Before you make those kinds of demands you should put a note on your door that says, "Do not come into my room and read my diary and wear my clothes."

Lunch links: Stewart tries to impress scouts

March, 9, 2012
3/09/12
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Happy Friday.

Arizona State running back Deantre Lewis talks about getting shot, missing the 2011 season, and coming back in 2012.

Pac-12 lunch links: Cal having QB struggles

October, 14, 2011
10/14/11
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Happy Friday.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 3

September, 18, 2011
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What did we learn from Week 3 of Pac-12 action?

1. The Pac-12 won't be getting much national respect: After a weekend of going 3-4 versus FBS foes, the conference is 12-9 versus FBS nonconference foes and 4-6 against other AQ conferences, with a single win over a ranked foe. That's not terribly distinguished. That will be how many so-called pundits will measure the conference. And it will hurt teams such as Stanford and Oregon that are trying to push back into the national title mix.

[+] EnlargeRick Neuheisel
AP Photo/Bret HartmanRick Neuheisel's seat got a little warmer after UCLA was routed by Texas on Saturday.
2. Stanford is good, but has questions: With 567 yards of balanced offense and a mostly dominant defense, Stanford answered questions with a 37-10 win at Arizona, and it now leads the nation with an 11-game winning streak. Still, it took two-and-a-half quarters to established dominance, struggled in the red zone and, most importantly, appears to have lost LB Shayne Skov to a knee injury. He's a first-team All-Pac-12 talent and the leader of the Cardinal defense. Still, Stanford might not be truly tested until it visits USC on Oct. 29, and perhaps not until its red-letter date with Oregon on Nov. 12.

3. Arizona State takes a step back: A nonconference road loss at Illinois won't necessarily ruin Arizona State's season, particularly if it bounces back and beats USC on Saturday. But the Sun Devils probably should have won -- they outgained Illinois 362 yards to 240 -- and they are now 3-11 in games decided by a touchdown or fewer over the past three seasons. Further, ASU lost DE Junior Onyeali to a knee injury of uncertain severity early in the game. He could become its seventh starter to miss extended action due to injury, a list that doesn't include RB Deantre Lewis.

4. Neuheisel is in deep trouble, and Wulff might be, too: No coach from the conference was fired last year (Colorado's Dan Hawkins was fired as a Big 12 coach). The Pac-12 probably won't be so lucky in 2011. The hottest seat belongs to UCLA's Rick Neuheisel. The Bruins are now 1-2 and haven't looked good getting there. It's hard to imagine the Bruins winning five of their final nine games and earning bowl eligibility, a general baseline for what most think Neuheisel needs to remain at alma mater. Over at Washington State, coach Paul Wulff's task got harder when his team fell apart in the second half at San Diego State. The Cougars are 2-1 and will need to win four conference games to earn bowl eligibility -- double its conference wins in Wulff's first three seasons. And five of the final nine are on the road. The Cougs are much improved, but it's possible that backup QB Marshall Lobbestael's honeymoon is over. Things only will get tougher.

5. Utah could be factor in South Division: What we know about the South Division: USC isn't eligible and UCLA and Arizona look flawed to varying degrees. Arizona State showed it's not ready for prime time by losing at Illinois. What about Utah? All we know about the Utes in Pac-12 play is they were a blocked field goal away at USC from forcing overtime. Oh, and they were good enough to stomp their archrival BYU 54-10 on the road. The Utes do just enough on offense and play tough defense. In fact, the Utes probably should be included when we debate the conference's best defense. The home game with Arizona State on Oct. 8 looms large.

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