Pac-12: Kenjon Barner

Pac-12 top 25 for 2013: No. 14

August, 13, 2013
8/13/13
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Our countdown of the Pac-12’s top 25 preseason players in 2013 continues.

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 2012 postseason top 25 here.

14. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon

2012 numbers: Carried 92 times for 701 yards and 11 touchdowns. He led the Ducks with 45 catches for 445 yards and five touchdowns. He also posted a 17.1 punt return average (one touchdown) and a 24.3 kickoff return average (one touchdown) giving him a grand total average of 135.2 yards per game.

2012 postseason ranking: Unranked.

Making the case for Thomas: Oregon’s hybrid could end up No. 1 on the postseason list. Or he could end up unranked like last season. But like last year, it won't be a reflection of what kind of player Thomas is -- we know what kind of a player he is. It’s the fact that he’s so tough to categorize that makes putting him in a traditional ranking so difficult. There are better “true” wide receivers in the conference -- though not many. There are better “true” running backs in the conference -- though not many. Thomas falls into a no-man’s land, where he gobbles up yards per carry, scores per touch and "SportsCenter" highlights. He’s that rare player that can make a short run riveting while bucking the old stereotype that you have to run forward to return a punt for a touchdown. With Kenjon Barner gone, his role in the running game is likely to increase this year. We don’t know how the season is going to end up for Thomas. We just know we’re going to have a lot of fun watching it play out.

15. Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
16. Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
17. Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford
18. Xavier Su'a-Filo, OL, UCLA
19. Morgan Breslin, OLB, USC
20. Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon
21. Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State
22. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
23. Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon
24. Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State
25. Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford

Pac-12 top 25 for 2013: No. 22

August, 1, 2013
8/01/13
11:00
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Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players in 2013 continues.

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 2012 postseason top 25 here.

23. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

2012 numbers: Cooks caught 67 passes for 1,151 yards and five touchdowns last year. He also rushed 19 times for 82 yards.

2012 postseason ranking: Unranked

Making the case for Cooks: The speedy Cooks looks poised to step out of Markus Wheaton's shadow in 2013 and make a push for first-team All-Pac-12. His 88.5 yards receiving per game ranked fifth in the Pac-12 last year, and the only returning receiver ahead of him on that list is USC's Marqise Lee. Cooks' 17.2 yards per reception was tops in the conference among receivers with at least 50 receptions, so the big-play potential is there. If there was a downside to his 2012 season, Cooks had five games with more than 100 yards receiving in the first eight games, none in the final five. And he needs to get into the end zone more. It will help him greatly if the Beavers can develop a strong second receiving option, as he was to Wheaton. It also probably would help if there is continuity at QB.

23. Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon
24. Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State
25. Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford

Pac-12 top 25 for 2013: No. 23

July, 31, 2013
7/31/13
11:00
AM ET
Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players in 2013 continues.

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 2012 postseason top 25 here.

23. Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon

2012 numbers: Helped the Ducks lead the league in rushing offense (315.2 yards per game, 48 touchdowns) while part of an unit that allowed just 19 sacks on the season (third in the league).

2012 postseason ranking: Unranked

Making the case for Grasu: Voted by the coaches as a first-team all-league selection last season, Grasu returns as one of the top centers in the nation. He's on the Rimington watch list and anchors what should be another stellar group of linemen for Oregon. Last season he helped Kenjon Barner to 1,767 rushing yards and will again be carving paths for De'Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner et. all. As is always the case with offensive linemen, it's never easy to quantify their contributions to a team. But know that as the center, he works hand-in-hand with Marcus Mariota in making all of the offensive protection calls -- which in itself is the most crucial part of any play. Expect him to once again be in the mix for postseason league honors -- and perhaps national honors such as the Rimington Award and all-America status.

24. Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State
25. Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford
While the Pac-12 lost a lot of star power at running back from 2012 -- Kenjon Barner, Johnathan Franklin, Stepfan Taylor and John White -- it also welcomes back a strong core of ball carriers.

Four RBs are back who gained at least 900 yards, and that includes the nation's leading rusher in Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey.

Still, there is uncertainty at the position for a number of schools.

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.

So how does it stack up?

GREAT SHAPE

Arizona: Carey rushed for nearly 2,000 yards last year and could eclipse that mark this fall. He also scored 23 TDs and averaged 6.4 yards per carry. The depth behind him is solid.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireArizona's Ka'Deem Carey led the nation with 1,929 rushing yards last season.
Arizona State: Marion Grice and D.J. Foster, as noted by the Arizona State sports information office, produced 2,130 combined yards in 2012 (1,172 rushing, 958 receiving) and 25 touchdowns. Grice averaged 6.6 yards per carry, Foster 4.8. Both are good receivers. They are one of the best combos in the nation, if not the best.

Washington: Bishop Sankey ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in 2012 with 110.7 yards rushing per game. He averaged 5.0 yards per carry and scored 16 TDs. There's good depth behind him, particularly if Jesse Callier is back to form after a knee injury.

Oregon: While running back is one of the Ducks questions, that question is more about how they will do things rather than whether or not they will be good. If De'Anthony Thomas is the No. 1 running back and gets 15 to 20 carries a game (and, knock on wood, stays healthy), he'll be a money guy. Byron Marshall is capable and incoming freshman Thomas Tyner is highly touted.

USC: Silas Redd is back after rushing for 905 yards, but he'll have to fight off some youngsters who want the ball, namely freshman Justin Davis, who was impressive in spring practices. There's also D.J. Morgan, and don't forget about Tre Madden, who offers a power option after sitting out last year with a knee injury.

Oregon State: Storm Woods and Terron Ward combined for 1,747 yards (1,355 rushing, 392 receiving) and 19 touchdowns in 2012. Woods rushed for 940 yards and 13 TDs, despite being banged up much of the year. Ward averaged 6.1 yards per carry. These guys won't wow you but they are a strong pair.

GOOD SHAPE

Stanford: The Cardinal is replacing Taylor's conference-high 322 carries, so even if the prospects are strong, there's some question of if it will be one or two guys or a committee. The return of Tyler Gaffney from pro baseball is big. He had 449 yards and seven TDs in 2011 before taking a year off. There's also Anthony Wilkerson, the most likely starter, Ricky Seale, Remound Wright and Barry Sanders. The Cardinal does get a boost from the return of fullback Ryan Hewitt.

California: The Bears might have an outstanding combination here with Brendan Bigelow and Daniel Lasco. Both have flashed potential, particularly Bigelow, who rushed for 431 yards and averaged 9.8 yards per carry -- yeah, 9.8 yards -- in 2012. But they are not a sure-thing. Bigelow has trouble staying healthy, and Lasco had just six carries last year, though one went for 77 yards.

Colorado: Everybody of note is back, led by 235-pound sophomore Christian Powell, who rushed for 691 yards and seven TDs, averaging a solid 4.4 yards per carry. There's also Tony Jones and Donta Abron to compliment Powell's power with some breakaway ability. Of the Buffs worries, running back is way down the list.

WE'LL SEE

UCLA: Replacing Franklin won't be easy, and it's likely this one will be by-committee, because no single player looks like a go-to guy. Jordon James, Paul Perkins, Malcolm Jones, Steven Manfro and Damien Thigpen, who is coming back from a knee injury, are in the mix. James was the top backup last year, while Perkins is the intriguing redshirt freshman. Thigpen, if healthy, is a slash type guy who isn't a pure running back.

Utah: White, the first Ute to rush for more than 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons, is gone. Kelvin York, White's backup, now gets his shot after rushing for 273 yards last year. He, however, has some injury worries. Behind him, there's Lucky Radley, James Poole and 243-pound Karl Williams. It's also possible JC transfer Devontae Booker will get into the mix. The Utes should be OK here but the pecking order isn't yet clear.

Washington State: Does this position even apply for the Cougars? Last year, they ranked last in the nation in rushing with 29 yards per game and 1.38 yards per carry. Teondray Caldwell is the leading returning rusher with 269 yards. There's also Leon Brooks and Marcus Mason. The issue here isn't the running backs. It's the run blocking, which was pitiful last year.

Proving grounds: Pac-12 North

July, 10, 2013
7/10/13
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Some players come in with plenty of hype, but never quite seem to match it. Others have a great season, then slip the following one, leaving many to wonder if they were one-year wonders. Still others have to bounce back from injury and show they aren't shells of what they used to be.

Either way, there are plenty of players in the Pac-12 with something to prove in 2013. Here are six players with something to prove from the Pac-12 North. This is last year's Proving Grounds post. Tomorrow we'll take a look at the South.

Khairi Fortt, OLB, California: He's yet to play a down for the Bears since transferring from Penn State -- a move that had less to do with the NCAA sanctions facing the Nittany Lions and more to do with his desire for a larger role in the defense. He appeared in every game for Penn State his sophomore year and is well-versed in the 4-3 -- the new base defensive alignment for the Bears this year under Andy Buh. New head coach Sonny Dykes called Fortt a potentially impactful player who needs to be more consistent. The Bears have some defensive stability with guys like Nick Forbes and Deandre Coleman. If Fortt can elevate his play and prove to be an upper-level linebacker, the Bears could have a sneaky-good defense.

De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR/KR/PR/AP, Oregon: When it comes to delivering "SportsCenter" highlights, Thomas has nothing to prove. No question, he's one of the most explosive players in the country and certainly one of the most exciting to watch. But his burden of proof comes from a different place. During his tenure in Eugene, the Ducks relied on LaMichael James in 2011 and Kenjon Barner in 2012 to carry the bulk of the running game, with Thomas providing a change-of-OMG-did-you-see-that? But with two of the most prolific runners in school history departed, it's finally Thomas' turn to shoulder more of the workload. True, Byron Marshall will get his carries, and we're all excited to see what Thomas Tyner brings to the table. But Thomas was the workhorse this spring, and if Marshall and Tyner are slow to develop, the burden of carrying the running game falls on Thomas' frame. Like many, I'm eager to see what he does while consistently getting 15-plus carries per game. He's only had five double-digit-carry games in his career and three 100-yard rushing games -- two of which came on a combined nine carries (Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl after the 2011 season and Fresno State in 2012).

[+] EnlargeJames Vaughters
AP Photo/Rob HoltJunior linebacker James Vaughters gets his chance to live up to the recruiting hype at Stanford.
Obum Gwacham or Richard Mullaney, WRs, Oregon State: Someone at Oregon State earlier in the week told me this: One of these guys has to step up for the Beavers' offense to function properly. So, by definition, if one of them doesn't step up, the offense will function improperly. Not what you want when you have a quarterback competition going on. At 6-foot-5, 227 pounds, Gwacham has tantalizing measurables. But he's had also had a case of the dropsies. Mullaney has the hands, but not the same speed as the last guy to occupy this position, Markus Wheaton. Brandin Cooks was the benefactor of Wheaton's success last year. And while a case can be made that it's Cooks who has something to prove -- to show he can be a legitimate No. 1 without Wheaton -- there is only so much he can do on his own. He needs someone else to step up opposite him. Kevin Cummings will continue to work in the slot and underneath, but the Beavers must have a second outside threat if Cooks is going to improve upon his already-impressive numbers from last season.

James Vaughters, OLB, Stanford: Vaughters was used judiciously in his freshman year in 2011. Even when Shayne Skov went down for the season -- and many thought it would be Vaughter's chance to step up -- he was still used on a limited basis while Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley filled that void. Last year Vaughters moved to the inside, but Tarpley proved to be more productive alongside Skov. With Chase Thomas gone, Vaughters figures to be the primary guy filling that spot. Outside is a more natural position for him, and with Trent Murphy on the other side, it should provide Vaughters plenty of opportunity to showcase his skills. He has all the tools to be an elite player and was considered the jewel of the 2011 recruiting class. He's in a position to excel. And if he can, he makes one of the nation's best defenses that much better.

Keith Price, QB, Washington: Obvious? Yeah. But so much of Washington's success rides on the play of its once-budding slinger. If you read the intro, Price certainly qualifies as a guy with something to prove. His 2011 season was spectacular. In a year when Andrew Luck shined and Matt Barkley appeared to be a sure-fire first-round pick, Price looked like he was on pace to have that sort of collegiate career. But he regressed in 2012. It wasn't all his fault. There were injuries across the offensive line that certainly were major contributing factors. But at the same time, Price is the quarterback, and part of his job is taking the praise and the heat. As a result, he forced way too many plays and didn't trust the offense. He needs to rely more on his playmakers instead of "trying to play hero." His words, not mine. The pieces appear to be in place for him to succeed in 2013. He's got a 1,000-yard rusher, an elite tight end, good receivers and a healthy line. Time to step up and put the seven-win jokes to bed.

Logan Mayes, LB, Washington State: Maybe it's too much to ask of Mayes ... to step in and fill the void of the departed Travis Long, who was quietly one of the Pac-12's elite defensive players the past couple of seasons. Maybe it's not. Maybe Mayes is good enough to be the team's premier defensive player in the "buck" linebacker spot. To be fair, it probably won't be all Mayes. Expect a healthy rotation of Ivan McLennan and Kache Palacio as well. But no doubt, that position is of great importance to what coordinator Mike Breske wants to do on defense -- and filling the hole vacated by Long is a top priority. Mayes played pretty well in the Apple Cup in Long's absence, posting five tackles and a pair of hits on the aforementioned Price. People forget that Washington State was one of the best teams in the nation last season at generating sacks and tackles for loss (11th nationally in sacks, seventh in TFLs), so maintaining that high level will be a priority.
2013 may be the season of the quarterback in college football, because a lot of good ones are coming back.

In the SEC, there's Alabama's AJ McCarron, Georgia's Aaron Murray and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, who won the 2012 Heisman Trophy. Louisville has Teddy Bridgewater, and Clemson offers Tajh Boyd. In the Pac-12, there's UCLA's Brett Hundley, Stanford's Kevin Hogan and Arizona State's Taylor Kelley.

But the best one coming back is Oregon's Marcus Mariota.

How so? Well, for one, that was the assignment: Make a case for the best quarterback in your conference being the best in the nation.

But it's not too difficult to make Mariota's case.

As a redshirt freshman, he ranked seventh in the nation in passing efficiency. He completed 68.5 percent of his passes for 2,677 yards with 32 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 752 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 7.1 yards per carry.

He threw a touchdown pass in every game and one interception in his final seven games. He was named MVP in the Fiesta Bowl after leading a blowout win over Big 12 champion Kansas State, which capped a 12-1 season and a final No. 2 ranking for the Ducks.

He earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors after leading an offense that ranked second in the nation in scoring (49.6 PPG) and fifth in total offense (537.4 YPG). The Ducks scored 11 points per game more than any other Pac-12 team.

The 6-foot-4, 196-pound Honolulu native is an extremely accurate passer who might be the fastest quarterback in the nation -- see his 86- and 77-yard runs last season. Against USC on the road, he completed 87 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. He tied a school record with six touchdown passes against California. He rushed for 135 yards at Arizona State.

Of course, his 2012 numbers aren't mind-blowing. A lot of that isn't his fault. Oregon blew out so many opponents -- average halftime score of 31-9 -- that it didn't require many plays from behind center after the break. For the season, Mariota threw just 24 passes and rushed eight times in the fourth quarter, compared to 227 passes and 71 rushes in the first half.

Manziel, for the sake of comparison, threw 62 passes and rushed 33 times in the fourth quarter. Bridgewater threw 86 passes and rushed 13 times in the fourth.

The good news is folks are probably going to see a lot more of Mariota this season. With running back Kenjon Barner off to the NFL, the Ducks might skew more toward the passing game after being run-centric under Chip Kelly. New coach Mark Helfrich, who was the Ducks' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach last year, is expected to throw the ball around more because he has an experienced quarterback and a strong, experienced crew of receivers.

That means more numbers for Mariota as he leads a team in the national title hunt. The potential combination of stats and wins might be enough to get Mariota to New York in December for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
On Monday we looked at what each team in the Pac-12 had returning in terms of the rushing game. Here's the breakdown for the South and the North.

Tuesday, we turned our attention to the wide receivers. We're looking at returning receiving yards, returning receptions and returning receiving touchdowns. The South came first; today we look at the North.

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

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

California
  • Receiving yards in 2012: 2,499
  • Receptions in 2012: 212
  • Receiving touchdowns in 2012: 13
  • Returning yards: 1,465
  • Returning receptions: 118
  • Returning touchdowns: 6
  • Percentage of yards returning: 58 percent
  • Percentage of catches returning: 55 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 46 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Chris Harper, 544 yards, 41 catches, 2 TDs
  • Biggest statistical loss: Keenan Allen, 737 yards, 61 catches, 6 TDs
Oregon
  • Receiving yards in 2012: 2,888
  • Receptions in 2012: 250
  • Receiving touchdowns in 2012: 35
  • Returning yards: 2,376
  • Returning receptions: 204
  • Returning touchdowns: 31
  • Percentage of yards returning: 82 percent
  • Percentage of catches returning: 81 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 88 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: De'Anthony Thomas, 445 yards, 45 catches, 5 TDs
  • Biggest statistical loss: Kenjon Barner, 256 yards, 20 catches, 2 TDs

Fun fact: Oregon is the only team in the league (I'm not sure about the rest of college football) that returns a quarterback and an offensive linemen who return with touchdown "receptions." Jake Fisher fell on a fumble in the end zone, but because it came on a swing pass to Thomas, he gets credit for the receiving touchdown, but not the catch. And let's not forget the awesomely bizarre Bryan Bennett-to-Marcus Mariota connection.

Oregon State
  • Receiving yards in 2012: 3,992
  • Receptions in 2012: 315
  • Receiving touchdowns in 2012: 27
  • Returning yards: 2,513
  • Returning receptions: 199
  • Returning touchdowns: 13
  • Percentage of yards returning: 62 percent
  • Percentage of catches returning: 63 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 48 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Brandin Cooks, 1,151 yards, 67 catches, 5 TDs
  • Biggest statistical loss: Markus Wheaton, 1,244 yards, 91 catches, 11 TDs
Stanford
  • Receiving yards in 2012: 2,802
  • Receptions in 2012: 240
  • Receiving touchdowns in 2012: 19
  • Returning yards: 490
  • Returning receptions: 57
  • Returning touchdowns: 1
  • Percentage of yards returning: 17 percent
  • Percentage of catches returning: 23 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 5 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Ty Montgomery, 213 yards, 26 catches, 0 TDs
  • Biggest statistical loss: Zach Ertz, 898 yards, 69 catches, 6 TDs
Washington
  • Receiving yards in 2012: 2,767
  • Receptions in 2012: 266
  • Receiving touchdowns in 2012: 19
  • Returning yards: 2,643
  • Returning receptions: 251
  • Returning touchdowns: 17
  • Percentage of yards returning: 95 percent
  • Percentage of catches returning: 94 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 89 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Kasen Williams, 878 yards, 77 catches, 6 TDs
  • Biggest statistical loss: Cody Bruns, 103 yards, 13 catches, 2 TDs
Washington State
  • Receiving yards in 2012: 3,965
  • Receptions in 2012: 363
  • Receiving touchdowns in 2012: 23
  • Returning yards: 2,791
  • Returning receptions: 275
  • Returning touchdowns: 18
  • Percentage of yards returning: 70 percent
  • Percentage of catches returning: 75 percent
  • Percentage of touchdowns returning: 78 percent
  • Biggest statistical returner: Brett Bartolone, 435 yards, 53 catches, 4 TDs
  • Biggest statistical loss: Marquess Wilson, 813 yards, 52 catches, 5 TDs
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've been reviewing Pac-12 statistical leaders from 2012 who are coming back in 2013. Now it's your turn.

After polling you on who will lead the conference in passing in 2013 -- 42 percent say Oregon's Marcus Mariota -- we move on to who will lead the conference in rushing.

SportsNation

Who will lead the Pac-12 in rushing?

  •  
    25%
  •  
    15%
  •  
    11%
  •  
    6%
  •  
    43%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,767)

As previously noted, the Pac-12 is replacing many of its big names at running back, including Oregon's Kenjon Barner, UCLA's Johnathan Franklin, Stanford's Stepfan Taylor and Utah's John White, who each eclipsed the 1,000-yard benchmark in 2012.

The returning 1,000-yard rushers are:
Both these guys burst onto the scene last year, with Carey leading the nation in rushing and earning All-American honors. Sankey has an experienced offensive line coming back and a veteran QB supporting him, which Carey doesn't.

Of course, past results don't guarantee future returns. There are plenty of other candidates.

Oregon State's Storm Woods rushed for 941 yards last year, and the Beavers look strong -- finally! -- on the offensive line.

USC's Silas Redd rushed for 905 yards last year while sharing the ball with Curtis McNeal. McNeal is gone, and the Trojans might lean on the running game more while breaking in a new starting QB.

That said, Redd likely will still share carries with a solid crew of youngsters behind him.

As for our "other" category, that likely starts with whoever becomes Oregon's primary back. At this point, that looks like De'Anthony Thomas, though it remains to be seen if he's best used as an every-down RB or as a slash guy who plays receiver, too.

Might Tyler Gaffney separate himself from Stanford's other RBs? The rugged Cardinal offensive line is capable of opening big holes for anyone and coach David Shaw prefers to run the ball.

Lots of good choices.

Pac-12's 1,000-yard rushers

May, 29, 2013
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After looking at returning 2,500-yard passers, we're moving on to returning 1,000-yard rushers.

The Pac-12 is replacing many of its big names at running back, including Oregon's Kenjon Barner, UCLA's Johnathan Franklin, Stanford's Stepfan Taylor and Utah's John White, who each eclipsed the 1,000-yard benchmark in 2012.

The returning 1,000-yard rushers are:
Both these guys seem certain to reach the 1,000-yard mark again in 2013, barring injury. Carey was an All-American after leading the nation in rushing. He could become a Heisman Trophy candidate. Sankey got stronger as the year went on, and his offensive line should take a big step forward this fall. It could be tight between them for the Pac-12 rushing crown.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireArizona's Ka'Deem Carey rushed for 1,929 yards and 23 touchdowns last season.
Or maybe a darkhorse rises. While there's a lot of turnover at RB, the cupboard is hardly bare.

Here's a look.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils are in fine shape here with Marion Grice and D.J. Foster giving them one of the conference's best tandems. Perhaps the best. They combined for well over 1,000 yards as cornerstones of the conference's third-best rushing offense, with Grice leading the way with 679 yards. Will one or the other gain 1,000 yards? Why not both?

California: New coach Sonny Dykes doesn't really know what he's got at running back because both Brendan Bigelow and Daniel Lasco sat out spring practices. Bigelow is explosive but needs to be more consistent. If he gets touches, however, he's going to rush for 1,000 yards.

Colorado: Christian Powell, a 240-pound bruiser, led the Buffaloes with 691 yards last year. Tony Jones is a solid backup. Still, it will be a major accomplishment if a Buff rushes for 1,000 yards in Mike MacIntyre's first year. If it does happen, however, that would almost certainly indicate a lot more wins in 2013 than many project.

Oregon: The Ducks will have a 1,000-yard rusher because they always have a 1,000-yard rusher. The only question is who is the lead dog and how is the ball distributed. The top candidate is De'Anthony Thomas, with him becoming more of a running back than a hybrid player. But if Byron Marshall and incoming freshman Thomas Tyner can handle the load, Thomas seems most dangerous as a slash guy.

Oregon State: The Beavers also look like a good bet for a 1,000-yard rusher in 2013. For one, Storm Woods fell just short with 940 yards last year. Second, the offensive line's improvement this spring was notable.

Stanford: Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney had an "Or" between then on the post-spring depth chart. Either could be a 1,000-yard back. And the Cardinal's run-first approach and potentially dominant offensive line means one or the other -- or someone else -- is surely going to eclipse the benchmark number.

UCLA: There isn't anyone as talented as Franklin on the roster at present, and the general feeling is the Bruins might go with a committee approach this fall with Jordan James, Paul Perkins and Malcolm Jones. The Bruins might run the ball well, but it's questionable whether one of those guys will hit the 1,000-yard mark or not.

USC: Silas Redd seems like the most likely starter, at least based on his leading the Trojans with 905 yards rushing last year. But he's getting challenged by freshman Justin Davis. And Tre Madden, D.J. Morgan and Javorius Allen might claw into the picture. With a first-year starter at quarterback and a potentially strong offensive line, it would seem like a good bet one of these guys gains 1,000 yards.

Utah: The Utes were happy with their line play this spring, and it seems as though there's solid depth behind likely starter Kelvin York. While James Poole, Lucky Radley and Karl Williams made plays this spring, they likely will be a "Plan B" behind York, who's got a good shot at 1,000 yards.

Washington State: It's called the "Air Raid" for a reason: Mike Leach likes to throw. The Cougars ranked last in the nation with 29.8 yards rushing per game last year. The Cougs also have O-line issues. While there's decent talent in the backfield, led by Teondray Caldwell, the chances are remote a Coug running back will even approach 1,000 yards on the ground. Shoot, the entire team rushed for 349 in 2012 -- 1.4 yards per carry -- which was nearly 1,000 less than even lowly Colorado.
When something seemingly loud happens, we can't help but stare. The momentum of attention, which of course can be monetized by the media, creates a hungry void that is filled with endless analysis. The end-result is a suffusion of broad statements of "This proves this!"

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Kirby Lee/US PresswireThe Eagles drafted USC QB Matt Barkley with the 98th pick in the fourth round of the 2013 draft.
So we have USC quarterback Matt Barkley. It seems now we all should have seen Barkley's precipitous slide in the NFL draft coming. He would have been a top-10 pick in the 2012 draft, not the 98th overall selection he ended up being on Saturday, if he'd only been smart enough not to return to USC for his senior season.

I get it. Hindsight rocks. We'd all be rich, infinitely happy people if we could do a rewind and relive the past, knowing what we know after going through it once before.

With the benefit of hindsight, it's fair to say now that Barkley made a huge mistake. How huge? This is from Sports Illustrated's Peter King:
P.S.: Wondering what that extra year of school cost Barkley? He went 98th overall. Let's say he'd have been the eighth pick a year ago -- that's where Ryan Tannehill went. It's all speculation, of course. But the consensus was he'd have been a top 10 pick. Tannehill's deal: four years, $12.7 million. The 98th pick last year, Ravens center Gino Gradkowski, signed for four years and $2.58 million. Turns out it was a $10.1 million year of school for Matt Barkley.

Ouch.

You business school guys can pencil that out for us over a lifetime. Forget Barkley's second contract. You can't make up a $10.1 million hit.

So, yeah, bad call. Barkley undoubtedly will become a cautionary tale for future players who are debating whether to stay in school or enter the draft early. More than a few folks will insist that if there's a consensus first-round grade for a third-year player, returning merely to make a run at being the first overall pick or a top-10 pick is not a good idea.

Support for that notion comes from the evaluative distance between the end of the regular season and the actual draft. So much happens between December and April that a player, particularly one with great athletic measurables, can dramatically influence the affections of NFL scouts and GMs.

Still, let's look at the Barkley who stood in front of a Christmas tree in December 2011 and smoothly announced his return to USC.

  • There was seemingly no question at that point he would be, at best, the third QB chosen behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Further, you'd think that some of his supposed red flags -- arm strength and foot quickness -- would have revealed themselves at the NFL combine and during workouts, so it's even questionable that he would have won out over Tannehill.
  • Go back to your December 2011 self. Who was the best college QB in the nation? There was Barkley and then a whole bunch of "Who?" and "Neh." Phil Steele's ranking of QBs after Barkley in advance of the season: 2.Tyler Wilson, Arkansas; 3. Landry Jones, Oklahoma; 4. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech; 5. Tyler Bray, Tennessee.
  • Ergo, his rating as the top overall QB entering 2012, based on three years as a starter, seemed absolutely secure.
  • Then there were the Trojans around him: 18 starters back from a team that went 10-2 and won at Oregon. That included four starters on the offensive line to protect him and the best tandem of college receivers in recent memory: Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.

There were only two potential red flags at the time: 1. Injury; 2. The unknown. Both ended up contributing to Barkley's slip.

"The unknown" includes that old scouting adage that a guy can have "too much film." If a guy duplicates his great play from a previous season, scouts will wonder why he didn't dramatically improve. And woe unto him whose numbers drop.

But the now-marginalized reasons for Barkley's return also were sound:

  • Win the Heisman Trophy.
  • Win the national title.
  • Enjoy another year of college as USC's QB, which is a nice thing to carry around the idyllic campus, before taking on real world stresses of playing a game for a living.
  • Become the first QB taken in the 2013 draft, which is typically in the higher reaches of the top-10.

At the time Barkley made his decision to stick around, there were few naysayers about his and his team's prospects. That everything went so completely rear-end-over-tea-kettle still boggles the mind if you aren't one of those people who pretends you saw it all coming a year ago.


All this said, with a few exceptions, my long-held belief on this is a player should enter the draft as soon as possible. "Stay in school!" sounds nice, but a guy can always go back to school.

That position, however, is not all about merely jumping into the draft when your stock is seemingly high. It's also about age. It's better to start earning a (substantial) paycheck at, say, 21 than 22, if it is available to you. The career clock doesn't tick very long in the NFL, and an extra couple of million can help later in life.

Consider two Pac-12 players who had less fanfare this draft cycle but are probably nearly as disappointed as Barkley: Oregon RB Kenjon Barner and Stanford OLB Chase Thomas.

Both opted to return for their senior seasons in order to improve their NFL draft prospects. It appears neither did, with Barner going in the sixth round and Thomas going undrafted. My hunch is they would have done better last spring.

Both now have an additional year of wear-and-tear on the bodies without getting paid, which is particularly an issue for Barner because running backs see their productivity drop substantially at 30. Barner just turned 24.

Ultimately, a disappointing draft doesn't make or break an NFL career. Ask Tom Brady. I think just about every conversation I had with former Seattle Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck circled back to his annoyance at being picked in the sixth round, watching QBs he felt were inferior to him get picked before him.

Barkley, who has seemingly led a charmed life at quarterback, might get a boost from having a chip on his shoulder (a Chip Kelly one, at that). Maybe "Angry Matt" will turn out better than "Breezy Matt."

The NFL draft is often confounding. It is laden with risk and reward on both sides of the process. Barkley took on a defensible risk and things didn't go as he hoped. That's notable, but it's also an annual occurrence.

As for Barkley, you'd think that at some point in his life he will encounter a greater adversity than being picked in the fourth round of the NFL draft.
Five Pac-12 players were selected in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday.

Here's the chart:


So... what's our take?

Thanks for asking.

Kevin Gemmell: I must say, very, very interesting first round. And one that I think most Pac-12 fans can be relatively pleased with. The five players drafted Thursday night are the most since the league sent six in 2008. So that's progress.

Two things really stood out as surprising to me. First, it's not that Dion Jordan went third overall to the Miami Dolphins. It's that he went to a 4-3 defense. Perhaps Jeff Ireland is a huge fan of the Pac-12 blog and was reading our Take 2 from a few weeks ago. And if that's the case, you're welcome, Jeff.

[+] EnlargeDion Jordan
Al Bello/Getty ImagesThe Dolphins traded up from No. 12 to No. 3 in the first round to select Oregon's Dion Jordan.
Jordan is pretty good at stopping the run -- but it's not the strength of his game. As every draftnik in the world noted before and after the selection, he's a beast at speed rushing off the edge, but has some work to do in other aspects of his game. They also made the apt comparison to former Dolphin defensive end Jason Taylor. Fitting since both players have similar frames and skill sets. He had an OK career, so maybe it all works out.

The second thing that surprised me was that Star Lotulelei was not the first defensive tackle taken. We figured he could go pretty much anywhere in the top 15 -- most mocks had him where he landed at No 14 to the Carolina Panthers. One pick earlier, Missouri's Sheldon Richardson went at No. 13 to the New York Jets. I admit I don't know a ton about Richardson. I just know that Lotulelei graded out higher, had a comparable 40 time (though it was inconsistent because it was at a pro day, not the NFL scouting combine) and he had eight more reps on the bench. Maybe it's just personal preference, but I was pretty surprised he wasn't the first defensive tackle off the board.

Liked the pick of Oregon's Kyle Long by the Bears. They are getting a versatile player who could really fit in at any position across the line after he gets a little seasoning. We've seen him slowly creep up in mock drafts -- starting several months ago in the third-round range -- and that buzz was legitimized with his pick at No. 20.

And I liked that Atlanta had Desmond Trufant targeted and they traded up to get him. It was a need position and they jumped at the chance to get an NFL-ready starter. Good pick.

Datone Jones is a guy Ted and I have been talking about for a couple of years now -- how we just kept waiting for him to breakout. And then UCLA switches to the 3-4 and he blows up. He could be a real solid player for years in Green Bay's 3-4 front.

Overall, I'd call it a fair-to-good first day for the Pac-12.

Ted Miller: Of course, the big question many will ask is how did the Pac-12 compare to the other conferences.

Here are the first-round numbers. Yes, there will be SEC crowing, with some justification.

  • SEC – 12
  • ACC – 6
  • Pac-12 – 5
  • Big 12 – 3
  • Independent – 2
  • MAC – 1
  • C-USA – 1
  • Big East - 1
  • Big Ten - 1

The SEC's 12 picks ties the record set by the ACC in 2006. Don't forget the SEC now has 14 teams. Or, for that matter, the Big 12 has 10.

My first-round takeaways? Well, the above numbers are meaningful.

The SEC? Well. I'll let you guys try to explain those away. (Good luck with that.) I tweeted this story the other day, and I think it well relates how SEC dominance, once a chimerical creation from a region that often doesn't fret the truth getting in the way of a good story, has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The bottom, however, is almost as telling -- see the Pac-12's Rose Bowl partner, the Big Ten with just one selection. That certainly validates the perception that conference has slipped, something we've seen on the field in recent years.

As for the five Pac-12 picks, I had a nice conversation with Jordan at the Fiesta Bowl about how his fortunes had turned. He seemed genuinely awed by it. And grateful. After the game, I was standing there when his mother worked here way through the crowd to give him a hug. Apparently it was raining inside University of Phoenix Stadium.

One of the things I always think about on draft day is how through-the-looking-glass strange it's got to feel for guys, at least the reflective ones. Sure, most top picks get fronted money by their agents, so they've been living the life for a few months. But when it becomes official, a guy in his early 20s suddenly become certifiably rich.

The third pick last year, Cleveland's Trent Richardson, got four years at $20.4 million. Just imagine yourself at 23 having a conversation about $20 million. And how it's a bit low.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsMatt Barkley could be the next Pac-12 alum off the board.
As for the rest, the Panthers got a steal with Star Lotulelei at No. 14. The Panthers just put a checkmark in the box for the middle of their defensive line. And I think Jets fans will remember in a very Jets fans way that the Jets took Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson a pick before the Panthers.

Oregon O-lineman Kyle Long at No. 20 was a mild surprise, but the Bears probably swooned over his obvious upside. You can't beat his bloodlines either.

The Trufant pick clearly validates the Pac-12 blog at the expense of Washington fans. See... we told you he was good.

Wait. I may not be recalling that accurately. Two words: Kevin's fault.

And Jones, whom we've been touting pretty much since he arrived at UCLA, obviously found his rhythm over the past year.

As Kevin noted, there are a lot of good Pac-12 players left on the board, including a substantial handful who figure to get selected in the next two rounds. Things should continue to be interesting, starting with who steps up and picks USC quarterback Matt Barkley.
It didn’t take long for there to be some drama in the 2013 NFL draft. And former Oregon Duck Dion Jordan was right in the middle of it.

Jordan, the hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker, was selected by the Miami Dolphins with the No. 3 pick ... much to the surprise of the ESPN draft coverage crew. And Jordan.

After offensive tackles went first and second, Jordan was the first defensive player taken in the draft when the Oakland Raiders traded the pick to the Dolphins.

Jordan’s selection was met with mostly positive, yet still mixed responses. Mel Kiper Jr., Jon Gruden and Chris Berman praised Jordan’s athleticism and ability to rush off the edge. But they also questioned whether that’s worth the No. 3 overall pick. Obviously, the Dolphins thought it was.

Many believed that former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, now the head coach with the Philadelphia Eagles, was going to take Jordan with the fourth pick. Instead, the Dolphins moved one spot ahead, leaving Kelly to take Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson.

“I was surprised ... I wasn’t expecting that,” Jordan told ESPN’s Suzy Kolber. “I’m very blessed. I’m going to bring tremendous athletic ability … I’m ready to get in there and work with the guys.”

Jordan, Oregon’s highest drafted player since Joey Harrington went No. 3 overall in the 2002 draft, was the first of what turned out to be five first-round picks for the Pac-12 on Thursday night. It was the most first-round picks since the league had six in 2008.

After the Jordan selection, things quieted down for the league until the 14th pick, when the Carolina Panthers selected Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. He was the second defensive tackle taken in the draft after Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson went at No. 13 to the New York Jets.

“He is a space-eater,” said Kiper after the selection. “He’s a stay-at-home type defensive tackle. He won’t give you a lot of pass rush. But he’s strong. He’s quick. He’s a tough kid. I thought a very good player, but the pass rush wasn’t there.”

ESPN's Pat Yasinskas has a good breakdown of what this means for the Panthers.

The second “surprise” pick of the draft also involved a Duck – when the Chicago Bears drafted Oregon offensive guard Kyle Long.

Said Kiper: “He has the kind of skill set you want. [But] he needs a lot of coaching ... he’s a developmental prospect … [His] versatility and mean streak intrigued a lot of people.”

Just two picks later, the Atlanta Falcons traded up to get Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant at No. 22. After posting a 4.38 at the NFL scouting combine -- third fastest among the defensive backs -- his stock jumped from early second round to first-round selection.

Said Kiper: “He’s an instinctive ball hawk. A guy I think really got better as his career moved along … this is a need area and [Atlanta] went up aggressively to get him.”

UCLA defensive end Datone Jones became the league’s fifth selection when the Green Bay Packers took him at No. 26. ESPN's Jon Gruden was a fan of the pick.

“If you’re into combine workouts, you’re into Datone Jones. Because he dominated the combine,” Gruden said. “The arrow is going up on this kid. He’s my sleeper of the first round. He has NFL movement skills ... he can play on a tight end. He can play inside. And the Packers need a dominant inside defender. Good pick.”

There is still plenty of intrigue looking ahead with names like Zach Ertz, Robert Woods, Matt Barkley, Keenan Allen, Matt Scott, Brian Schwenke, Steve Williams, Markus Wheaton, Jordan Poyer, David Bakhtiari, Chase Thomas, Kenjon Barner, Johnathan Franklin and about a dozen more from the league still on the board.

Settle in for a draft-filled weekend.

Pac-12 owns the dual-threat back

April, 23, 2013
4/23/13
5:30
PM ET
Typically, offensive coordinators hand the ball to their running backs and pass the ball to their receivers. When they switch roles, it's just for a change of pace, such as a screen pass or a reverse.

That is how it is in most college football conferences. But not the Pac-12.

Only five returning FBS players ran the ball and caught passes for at least 400 yards last season. Only three played in AQ conferences. And all three of those came from the Pac-12.

Heck, two came from Arizona State -- Marion Grice and D.J. Foster -- which is why this information comes from the Sun Devils sports information department.

The third, as you might have guessed, is Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas.

Thomas rushed for 701 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. He caught 45 passes for 445 yards and five scores. He also returned a punt and kickoff for a TD, the latter, notably, taking place on the first play of the Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State.

Grice, while not amassing fancy-pants plays on special teams, was essentially Thomas' statistical match. He rushed for 679 yards and also scored 11 TDs and hauled in 41 passes for 425 yards and eight scores.

As for Foster, he rushed for 493 yards and two TDs and caught 38 passes for 533 yards and four TDs. His 14.0 yards per reception registering as very receiver-esque.


So why this concentration in the Pac-12? We could just say "general awesomeness," but that's not very insightful.

Well, for one, both Oregon and Arizona State use run-first spread schemes, which tend to help multiple running backs put up rushing numbers. Thomas was All-American Kenjon Barner's understudy. Barner, by the way, caught 20 passes for 256 yards and two scores while rushing for 1,767 yards and 21 TDs.

Oregon led the Pac-12 and ranked third in the nation in rushing with 315.2 yards per game. Arizona State ranked third in the Pac-12 and 25th in the nation with 205.4 yards per game.

Further, neither Oregon nor Arizona State were loaded at receiver last year. That being the case, it's natural to look for alternative pass-catchers when throwing the ball, just as Stanford has been leaning on its tight ends the past couple of years.

Receiver is perhaps Arizona State's biggest question heading into 2013. Oregon looks much better at the position this spring compared to last, which is good because Thomas is presently slated to replace Barner as the Ducks' primary rusher, though the Pac-12 blog is of the mind he will continue to be as much a "slash" player as anything.

Thomas will be interesting to watch next fall. His 2012 numbers were good but not spectacular. At least they fell short of stratospheric expectations that were inspired by an often breathtaking true freshman season. If, however, he proves durable enough to provide 20 carries per game while still getting plenty of use as a receiver next fall, he could become a top Heisman Trophy candidate. His golden numbers there probably start at 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 20-plus TDs.

As for Grice and Foster, they are the lead dogs in a deep backfield. They likely will share the ball and continue to be used in diverse ways, with their numbers becoming impressive as a combination rather than as individuals.

And don't be surprised a couple of other Pac-12 backs push toward these numbers in 2013. Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey led the nation in rushing with 1,929 yards and also caught 36 passes for 303 yards last year, while Washington's Bishop Sankey rushed for 1,439 yards and caught 33 passes for 249 yards. Oregon State's Storm Woods rushed for 941 yards and caught 38 passes for 313 yards.

By the way, a diversity of skills is always a nice thing when the NFL comes calling.
We've been talking a lot about running backs this week. There was the feature on Washington running back Bishop Sankey. Some chatter about Arizona and looking ahead to Ka'Deem Carey in 2013 and the ESPN conference-call video segment featuring a dapper Pac-12 blogger talking about the running back race at UCLA.

But with some of the league's top backs from 2012 moving on, who is going to be the rushing king of 2013?

Ted Miller: Why do I think Washington's Sankey will lead the Pac-12 in rushing in 2013? First of all, because I think Huskies quarterback Keith Price will play more like Arizona's Matt Scott in 2012 than Keith Price in 2012.

No, I don't think Price will put up spinning slot machine numbers, as Scott did. But I think the Huskies' improved passing game and more experienced offensive line will mean a more efficient Price. That will mean bigger holes for Sankey, who averaged 154.6 yards per game over the last five games of 2012, a per-game total that would have led the nation if extended over the entire season.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireArizona's Ka'Deem Carey will be trying to put up big rushing numbers with a new QB under center.
Don't buy it? Well, consider what Sankey did last year with Price in the dumps and the Huskies' offensive line shuffling injured players in and out. He rushed for 1,436 yards and 16 touchdowns, and his 110.7 yards per game ranked fourth in the Pac-12 and 21st in the nation.

The three backs in front of Sankey -- Arizona's Carey, Oregon's Kenjon Barner and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin -- each played for an offense that ranked in the nation's top 25. The Huskies' offense ranked 97th in the nation.

Further, Carey, the only other returning Pac-12 back with more than 1,000 yards in 2012, won't have Scott. We don't know who he will have playing quarterback, but there's been little to suggest this spring that the Wildcats will approach Scott's production at the position in the fall.

So I expect Sankey's numbers to go up and Carey's to go down. When the smoke clears, they both likely will be first-team All-Pac-12. But this go-around, Sankey will be 1A and Carey 1B.

Kevin Gemmell: Ted stole my choice! But only because as the guy going first this week, I just assumed he'd go with Carey and I'd slide right in and make all the same arguments in favor of Sankey that he just made. Sneaky, Ted. Very sneaky.

Oh well, I guess that leaves me talking about the guy who actually led all of FBS football last season -- the aforementioned Carey, who totaled 1,929 yards on the ground and a robust 6.4 yards per carry.

I don't think the offensive drop-off at Arizona is going to be as significant as Ted does. Carey certainly benefited from Scott -- but Scott also benefited from Carey. It works both ways.

Whoever wins the quarterback job at Arizona has a deep and talented wide receiver corps to throw to -- including Biletnikoff semifinalist Austin Hill and returners Johnny Jackson, Terrence Miller and Tyler Slavin, among others. This isn't an offense that is suddenly going to flatline because Scott is gone. In fact, by the very nature of the offense Arizona runs, it's likely that Sankey is going to see far more eight-man boxes than Carey. You don't sell out against the run with Hill running sluggos all day.

It's also worth noting that Sankey has to face Stanford, which had the nation's No. 5 rush defense last season, in Palo Alto. The Wildcats miss the Cardinal this season. Sankey had a big game against Stanford last season -- but when we're talking about rushing titles, one game could be the difference, and that's certainly worth considering.

Plus, Washington is hoping to have Jesse Callier back from the knee injury that initially thrust Sankey into the starting role. I'm not saying they'll be by-committee -- but a healthy Callier will certainly cut into Sankey's carries. Great for Washington. But when you're talking rushing titles, that could have a big impact.

I think the Arizona offense takes a natural step back with a new quarterback at the helm. But it's not going to be a giant leap. Carey will get his 300-plus carries again, and the Wildcats should continue to move up and down the field. And if you've got your calendars handy, the two square off Sept. 28 in Seattle. You might want to tune in for that one.

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