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Ranking the Pac-12 Running Back Tandems for 2016

Christian McCaffrey

Christian McCaffrey

Having two running backs is almost essential for every college football team. While some teams have workhorse options that can handle 275 or 300 carries, most programs want to have at least two (and sometimes three) running backs to split up the workload. The thought process is pretty simple: Take the workload off one player and spread it around to keep everyone fresh. This concept seems to gain more steam each year, as a running game is no longer about just one go-to back. Instead, most teams need at least two solid ball-carriers to lead the way on the ground. 

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The Pac-12 has its share of talented running backs returning in 2016. Which teams have the best tandems (No. 1 and No. 2 backs) returning in the fall? Here are Athlon's rankings of the best running back tandems in the Pac-12 for 2016:

Ranking the Pac-12 RB Tandems for 2016

12. Oregon State – Ryan Nall and Tim Cook

Nall showed flashes of promise in limited action (73 carries) for the Beavers last season. He ended the 2015 campaign with 455 yards and three scores and rushed for 174 against Oregon in the regular season finale. Nall should have a breakout year with a full workload, but the Beavers are searching for a No. 2 back. Cook is penciled in here, but junior college recruit Kyle White, freshman Art Pierce and hybrid receiver/running back Paul Lucas will contribute.

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11. Colorado – Phillip Lindsay and Beau Bisharat

There’s room to improve for the Colorado ground attack in 2016. The Buffaloes averaged only 104.8 rushing yards and generated just one rush of 30 yards or more in Pac-12 games last fall. Lindsay has been a steady performer for coach Mike MacIntyre, recording 1,044 yards and six scores over the last two years. The junior will start the year as the No. 1 option, but he’s expected to share carries with converted receiver Donovan Lee and Michael Adkins. However, the name to watch in 2016 is incoming freshman Beau Bisharat.

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10. Washington State – Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow

It’s no secret Washington State is a pass-first offense, but coach Mike Leach has quietly assembled a talented group of running backs. Opportunities are limited in this offense, yet Gerard Wicks made the most of his touches in 2015, averaging 5.7 yards per rush on 107 attempts. Morrow ranked second on the team with 347 yards last year and also grabbed 33 receptions. Wicks and Morrow are listed here, but redshirt freshman James Williams could push for the starting job.

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9. Utah – Joe Williams and Troy McCormick

It says a lot about the depth of the Pac-12 at running back if Utah ranks No. 9 on this list. Devontae Booker rushed for 1,261 yards in 10 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury in November. With Booker sidelined, Williams stepped into the No. 1 role and thrived over Utah’s final three games. Williams recorded at least 91 yards in each of the last three contests, including 187 against Colorado. He should push for All-Pac-12 honors in 2016. McCormick missed the 2015 season due to injury and returns this fall as the No. 2 back. Freshman Zack Moss and sophomore Armand Shyne could push McCormick for snaps. 

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8. California – Vic Enwere and Khalfani Muhammad

The Golden Bears are deep at running back, with three backs expected to see extensive work in 2016. Muhammad and Enwere are listed here, but Tre Watson is also in the mix after recording 494 yards and three scores last year. Enwere ranked second on the team with 505 yards in 2015, while Muhammad led the offense with 586 yards and also displayed big-play potential (6.7 ypc).

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7. UCLA – Soso Jamabo and Nate Starks

Paul Perkins departs after recording back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns, but UCLA should be fine at running back this fall. Soso Jamabo was a five-star recruit in the 2015 signing class and showcased his potential in limited action (403 yards on 66 carries) last season. Jamabo is expected to start, but Nate Starks (6.4 ypc) and Bolu Olorunfunmi should provide quality depth and spell the talented sophomore as needed.

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6. Arizona – Nick Wilson and Orlando Bradford

Assuming Nick Wilson is 100 percent healthy, this duo has a chance to challenge for a top-five spot in the conference this fall. After rushing for 1,375 yards and 16 scores as a freshman in 2014, Wilson finished second on the team with 725 yards and eight touchdowns in nine appearances last fall. When healthy, Wilson is among the Pac-12’s best at running back. Bradford only received 47 carries last season but flashed potential (208 yards and three scores).

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5. Washington – Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman

The future for Washington’s offense is bright with the emergence of Gaskin over the second half of 2015, along with quarterback Jake Browning’s continued development under center. Gaskin only rushed for 209 yards through the first four games but finished last year by recording at least 100 yards in seven out of the final nine contests. Additionally, he averaged 5.7 yards per carry and added 14 scores. Coleman is the frontrunner to claim the No. 2 spot, but he will have to hold off talented freshman Sean McGrew for snaps.

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4. Arizona State – Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage

Richard and Ballage probably deserve to be ranked higher than the No. 4 spot among Pac-12 teams, but the conference is deep at running back for 2016. Richard rushed for 1,104 yards and seven scores and added 31 receptions for 303 yards and three touchdowns in his first year as Arizona State’s No. 1 back. Ballage missed the first three games of 2015 due to mono but still finished the season with 653 yards and four touchdowns.

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3. USC – Ronald Jones and Justin Davis

New coach Clay Helton plans to build his offense around the tandem of Ronald Jones and Justin Davis, along with one of the nation’s top offensive lines for 2016. And with a new quarterback taking over under center, Helton will be leaning on this duo even more early in 2016 against a schedule featuring Alabama, Stanford and Utah in September. Jones was a five-star prospect in the 2015 signing class and certainly didn’t disappoint in his debut with the Trojans. He recorded 987 yards and eight scores in 14 appearances and tied for second in the Pac-12 with four rushing plays of 40 yards or more. Davis was just as productive as Jones, finishing 2015 with 902 yards and seven scores on 169 carries.   

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2. Oregon – Royce Freeman and Taj Griffin

Oregon has led the Pac-12 in rushing offense for 10 consecutive seasons, and it’s a good bet that streak hits 11 in 2016. The Ducks have a new play-caller after Scott Frost left for UCF, but the formula for coordinator Matt Lubick is pretty simple: Get the ball to Royce Freeman. In 13 games last fall, Freeman gashed opponents for 1,836 yards and 17 scores and led all Pac-12 running backs with nine rushes of 30 yards or more. Considering it’s a deep year for running backs on the national level, Freeman isn’t discussed as much as Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook or Leonard Fournette. However, he’s certainly in the conversation as one of the best in the nation. Sophomore Taj Griffin (7.4 ypc in 2015) is battling with Kani Benoit and Tony Brooks-James for the No. 2 role.

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1. Stanford – Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love

McCaffrey emerged as the nation’s top all-purpose player and smashed a handful of records in a prolific 2015 campaign. In 14 games, McCaffrey rushed for 2,019 yards and eight scores, threw two touchdown passes, caught 45 balls for 645 yards and five scores and accumulated 1,200 total yards (and two touchdowns) on returns. McCaffrey’s total yardage (3,864) set a new NCAA record and propelled him to a second-place finish in Heisman voting. McCaffrey will be the focal point of the Stanford offense once again, but coach David Shaw is also going to find ways to get the ball in Love’s hands. As a freshman last fall, Love averaged 7.8 yards per rush and caught 15 passes for 150 yards and one score. 

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