The Pac-12 is loaded with potential standout running backs for 2013.
Leading the way is Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, who should be a first-team All-American selection this year. Carey rushed for 1,929 yards and 23 touchdowns last season and should be well over 1,500 yards once again in 2013. Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas should see more carries with Kenjon Barner off to the NFL, and the junior could establish himself as one of the nation’s top all-around running backs. Washington’s Bishop Sankey quietly rushed for 1,439 yards last season and could exceed those numbers in 2013 with more help from his offensive line.
Outside of the top four names, California’s Brendan Bigelow, Oregon State’s Storm Woods and Stanford’s Barry Sanders are running backs that could have a breakout year.
College football’s 2013 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the top players in the nation. With spring practice coming to a close around the nation, Athlon will rank the top running backs in each conference.
Ranking the Pac-12 Running Backs for 2013
1. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona (JR)
The star tailback from Tucson (Ariz.) Canyon del Oro might have been the most underrated player in the nation in 2012. Yet, after leading the nation in rushing (1,929 yards), setting multiple school and Pac-12 records and a few ugly off-the-field incidents, the junior-to-be is flying anything but under the radar in 2013. He is a workhorse back who can do anything he wants on the field and needs to learn that doesn’t apply to his personal life. A domestic abuse incident with his girlfriend as well as a run-in with campus police has his long-term future in question at Arizona. Should he walk the straight and narrow, Carey will be a Heisman candidate in Rich Rodriguez’ zone-read option scheme. If he cannot behave himself, he will find himself suspended or worse.
2. De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon (JR)
Gone is LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, leaving ‘DAT’ a shot at a huge 2013 season. The diminutive do-everything dynamo from Los Angeles has electric speed to burn and the ability to contribute in a variety of ways. He has scored 18 rushing touchdowns on 147 attempts, 14 receiving touchdowns on 91 receptions and four return touchdowns through just two seasons of action. He is a perfect fit for Oregon’s offense, be it run by Chip Kelly or Mark Helfrich, and could see his workload increase in 2013. Pac-12 defenses beware.
3. Bishop Sankey, Washington (JR)
Steve Sarkisian might not be able to provide consistent production on both sides of the ball from year to year, but he has proven the ability to develop tailbacks. Sankey, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound junior-to-be from Spokane, Wash., exploded for 1,439 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2012 — numbers good for 17th and 15th nationally. More impressively, he produced those numbers behind a porous and oft-injured offensive line. With improved play from Keith Price at quarterback, Sankey could be in for a big season this fall.
4. Silas Redd, USC (SR)
With Penn State dealt a postseason ban, Redd transferred to USC in hopes of competing for a national title. Things didn’t quite go according to plan last year, as the Trojans finished 7-6, and Redd finished with 905 yards and nine touchdowns. The Connecticut native had three games of 100 yards or more, including 155 in the 24-14 win over Washington. In his career, Redd has 2,583 yards and 18 rushing scores. With USC breaking in a new starting quarterback, the senior should be the focal point of the offense early in the year. Redd has the talent to be an All-American, and in his final year in college, expect him to produce more than 1,000 yards on the ground for the second time in his career.
5. Marion Grice, Arizona State (SR)
In his first year at Arizona State, Grice led the team with 679 yards and 11 scores. The junior college transfer finished the year by recording back-to-back 100-yard performances, including 156 in the win over in-state rival Arizona. Grice also was a factor in the passing attack, catching 41 passes for 425 yards and eight touchdowns. The Texas native was one of the top big-play threats for the Sun Devils, averaging a touchdown every 7.6 touches. With Cameron Marshall departing, Grice should handle more of the workload this year. DJ Foster will see plenty of carries, but the senior has the size to approach 200 carries. After finishing off 2012 with momentum, look for Grice to top 1,000 rushing yards in '13.
6. Storm Woods, Oregon State (SO)
Oregon State has a rich history of producing great running backs since Ken Simonton helped lead the Beavers to a Fiesta Bowl win in 2000. This includes great freshman performers like Yvenson Bernard and Jacquizz Rodgers. Woods, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman last year, is just the next in this long line of OSU tailbacks. The Pflugerville (Texas) High product finished his first season strongly by scoring seven touchdowns in the last four games. He is ready to make a name for himself in 2013.
7. Brendan Bigelow, California (JR)
Yet another star sophomore out West, Bigelow teased the fans with glimpses of brilliance in 2012. His two long touchdown runs against Ohio State were jaw-dropping — he rushed four times for 160 yards in the Horseshoe. But he was buried behind Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson on the Cal depth chart. As an upperclassman now, the Fresno (Calif.) Central East has the football all to himself and a new offensive whiz calling plays in Sonny Dykes. Look for the explosive all-purpose back to continue to drop jaws and pop eyes in 2013.
8. Byron Marshall, Oregon (SO)
As a freshman from San Jose (Calif.) Valley Christian, Marshall quickly endeared himself to Ducks fans. He earned the No. 3 job (behind Barner and Thomas) last year and averaged more than five yards per carry for the season. He didn’t get a ton of work (87 carries) but has a more physical style of running and posted a career high 125 yards against Tennessee Tech. Look for him to complement Thomas perfectly in the Oregon backfield as the next potential developing star in Eugene.
9. DJ Foster, Arizona State (SO)
Just like Marion Grice, Foster made a huge impact in his first season on campus. The Arizona native rushed for 493 yards and two scores on 102 attempts and caught 38 passes for 533 yards and four touchdowns. Foster didn’t record a 100-yard rushing effort, but he had 49 yards in the huge in-state win over Arizona and 61 in the 45-43 loss to UCLA. With Cameron Marshall out of eligibility, Arizona State will lean even more on Grice and Foster in the backfield. Foster should see an increase in carries and overall touches, which certainly isn’t a bad thing for the Sun Devils, especially since the Arizona native averaged 4.8 yards per rush last year.
10. Anthony Wilkerson, Stanford (SR)
Trying to continue the power running tradition started by Toby Gehart and Stepfan Taylor is a tall order. But the senior from Foothill Ranch (Calif.) Tustin might get the first crack after playing the role of primary backup to Taylor last year (224 yards, TD). The 220-pounder will battle with fellow senior powerback Tyler Gaffney and young speedster Barry Sanders Jr for primary ball-carrying honors in 2013. There may not be a true workhorse in Palo Alto but fans can bet David Shaw will run it early and often.
11. Christian Powell, Colorado (SO)
There were few bright spots for Colorado last season, but Powell quietly turned in a productive year. Despite missing two games due to injury, he recorded 691 yards and seven scores. Powell only caught seven passes for 30 yards but with receiver Paul Richardson sidelined with an ACL tear, he was Colorado’s most reliable player on offense last year. The converted fullback should see plenty of carries in 2013, as the Buffaloes enter the season with uncertainty surrounding the quarterback situation, but return a veteran offensive line. If Powell stays healthy, surpassing last year’s totals are a reasonable expectation.
12. Tyler Gaffney, Stanford (SR)
A two-sport star from San Diego (Calif.) Cathedral Catholic, Gaffney enters his senior season ready to compete for lead back carries on The Farm. The 220-pounder is a physical back who gives Shaw what he wants from that position but to earn carries he will have to beat out Anthony Wilkerson and Barry Sanders Jr. for time.
13. Thomas Tyner, Oregon (FR)
The record-setting in-state true freshman with elite power and speed might be the most talented running back recruit to sign with Oregon. Yes, that includes De'Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall, LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, Lache Seastrunk and Jonathan Stewart. He’s that good.
14. Barry Sanders Jr., Stanford (FR)
There’s no question Sanders has the talent to be an All-Pac-12 running back. However, Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney are likely to see more carries than the talented freshman this season, so he may have to wait until 2014 for his turn as the starter. The son of former NFL standout Barry Sanders should at least see limited action this year, before emerging as Stanford’s top back next season.
15. Kelvin York, Utah (SR)
John White’s departure leaves some big shoes to fill in the Utah backfield. York is expected to get the first opportunity to start for the Utes. The Louisiana native showed potential in limited opportunities last season, rushing for 273 yards on 60 attempts. Interestingly enough, York shared time as a high school senior with former Alabama running back Eddie Lacy and was committed to USC before joining Utah. The Utes have the makings of a solid offensive line, and York seems to have the talent to have a productive year if he holds off Lucky Radley, James Poole and Devontae Booker for the starting job.
16. Paul Perkins, UCLA (FR)
Replacing Johnathan Franklin’s production won’t be easy for UCLA in 2013. The Bruins lack a clear replacement, as Perkins, Damien Thigpen, Jordon James and Malcolm Jones are all battling for time. Perkins was a high school teammate of Bruins’ quarterback Brett Hundley and ranked as a three-star recruit by Rivals.com in the 2012 signing class. Perkins is the early frontrunner, but UCLA could use a committee of backs in 2013.
17. Jordon James, UCLA (JR)
James was rated as one of the top high school backs in the nation in 2010 but has yet to make an impact during his first three years on campus. He rushed for 54 yards and one touchdown as a redshirt freshman in 2011 and recorded 215 yards and two scores on 61 attempts last year. With Johnathan Franklin out of eligibility, James, Paul Perkins, Malcolm Jones and Damien Thigpen will compete for the starting nod this preseason.
18. Justin Davis, USC (FR)
Although Silas Redd is entrenched as USC’s No. 1 back, don’t be surprised if Davis sees plenty of carries this year. The true freshman enrolled early and impressed the coaching staff in the spring, staking his claim to the backup spot and playing time in 2013. Davis ranked as the No. 16 running back by Athlon Sports in the 2013 recruiting class and is someone to watch once the season kicks off.
19. Terron Ward, Oregon State (JR)
The junior-to-be from Antioch (Calif.) De La Salle came on in the second half of the 2012 season. He rushed for 383 of his 415 yards and all six touchdowns over the final six games of the year. The 200-pounder plays much bigger than his 5-foot-7 frame would indicate.
20. Teondray Caldwell, Washington State (SO)
The 5-foot-8, 197-pound sophomore-to-be came to Pullman from Los Angeles (Calif.) Venice. The Cougars rushing attack was pathetic last year but at almost five yards per carry, Caldwell is their best hope at reestablishing some sort of ground attack.
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