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Top 10 Pac-12 Running Backs of the BCS Era

Reggie Bush

The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.

The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.

So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.

The Pac-12 has had some elite running backs over the years. Marcus Allen and Charles White are two that come to mind — and are the two who stand above the rest of the league in the record books. But with the rise of Oregon's offense, USC's dominance in the 2000s and an impressive track record of runners at Oregon State, the modern era of Pac-12 ball-carriers is as strong as its decorated past.

Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.

1. Reggie Bush, USC (2003-05)
Stats: 433 att., 3,169 yds, 25 TDs, 95 rec., 1,301 yds, 13 TDs, 2,081 ret. yds, 3 TDs

The superstar recruit from La Mesa (Calif.) Helix brought a unique skill set to the evolving running back position. Sort of a first of his kind, the all-purpose talent was unstoppable with the ball in his hands. He played a prominent role on the 2003 national championship team before providing 908 yards rushing, 509 yards receiving, nearly 1,000 return yards and 15 total touchdowns during USC’s 2004 romp to a second national title. He exploded as a junior, rushing for 1,740 yards on a ridiculous 8.7 yards per carry and scoring 19 total touchdowns, coming up just short of his third national title. He earned his second consecutive Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year award as well as the Doak Walker, Walter Camp and Heisman Trophy. His career 7.3 per carry average is fourth all-time and his legacy is only somewhat tarnished by the scandal that put USC on probation and caused him to "return" his Heisman.

2. LaMichael James, Oregon (2009-11)
Stats: 771 att., 5,082 yds, 53 TDs, 51 rec., 586 yds, 4 TDs

Few players accomplished more in three seasons than James. Three straight 1,500-yard campaigns, a Doak Walker Award, consensus All-American honors and a trip to the BCS title game make the speedy and allusive back one of the BCS Era’s greatest tailbacks. His 53 touchdowns and 5,082 yards on the ground are both second all-time in Pac-12 history. The Texarkana, Texas, native finished third in the Heisman voting in 2010 and 10th in '11 and led an Oregon team that went 34-6 and won three straight Pac-12 titles.

3. Steven Jackson, Oregon State (2000-03)
Stats: 743 att., 3,625 yds, 39 TDs, 66 rec., 680 yds, 6 TDs

From a pure talent standpoint, Jackson is the best Oregon State player of all-time and is one of the most talented runners of the BCS Era. The Las Vegas native led the nation in rushing two straight seasons and set the OSU single-season rushing record with his 1,690-yard 2002 season. In just three years, Jackson ranks 17th in Pac-12 history in yards and 15th in touchdowns. He was a first-round draft pick and posted eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in the NFL for a team that rarely pressed for the postseason.

4. Toby Gerhart, Stanford (2006-09)
Stats: 671 att., 3,522 yds, 44 TDs, 39 rec., 395 yds

The Norco (Calif.) High prospect had just 515 yards and one touchdown entering his junior year. In two years as the starter, Gerhart posted 43 rushing touchdowns and over 3,000 yards in his final two seasons. He won the Doak Walker and Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year accolades and earned consensus All-American honors by leading the nation in rushing touchdowns (28), attempts (343) and yards (1,871). He finished second in the Heisman balloting that year and his 28 touchdowns are a single-season Pac-12 record.

5. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona (2011-13)
Stats: 743 att., 4,239 yds, 48 TDs, 77 rec., 679 yds, 4 TDs, 565 ret. yds

There aren't too many records Carey doesn't own and had he stuck around for his final season, he would have rewritten the career rushing record book out West. He owns the single-game Pac-12 rushing record with 366 against Colorado as a sophomore. He led the nation in rushing as a sophomore and was second as a junior, finishing his career with 16 consecutive 100-yard games, and two of the top seven single-season rushing marks in league history. He is seventh all-time in rushing yards and fifth all-time in rushing touchdowns and could have broken both (59 and 6,245) with an equally impressive senior season. Carey was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year for his 1,885 yards and 19 TDs in 12 games this past fall.

6. Ken Simonton, Oregon State (1998-01)
Stats: 1,041 att., 5,044 yds, 59 TDs, 58 rec., 472 yds, TD

Simonton was a four-year starter who rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each season prior to his senior year. He set the school's single-season rushing record in 2000 with 1,546 yards (since broken) and is the all-time leading rusher at a program known for its running backs. Simonton is one of just three players in league history to top 5,000 yards rushing (James, Charles White) and he still owns the conference's career rushing touchdown mark with 59.

7. Marshawn Lynch, Cal (2004-06)
Stats: 490 att., 3,230 yds, 29 TDs, 68 rec., 600 yds, 6 TDs, 744 ret yds 

Beast mode started back in Berkeley where Lynch averaged 6.6 yards per carry over a three-year college career. He never had one elite season but his 1,684 yards from scrimmage, 15-total touchdown season led to a Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year award in 2006. His power and speed was obvious ever since he signed with Cal out of Oakland (Calif.) Technical and he went on to be a first-round draft pick (12th overall) for Buffalo. Now leading the way in Seattle, Lynch has already earned four Pro Bowl invites and a Super Bowl ring in his NFL career.

8. Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State (2008-10)
Stats: 788 att., 3,877 yds, 46 TDs, 151 rec., 1,056 yds, 5 TDs

Little “Quizz” defied logic by producing at workhorse levels despite his 5-foot-7 stature. He carried at least 250 times in all three seasons and never rushed for less than 1,184 yards. He also averaged over 50 receptions per season and won the 2008 Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year award as just a true freshman. Rodgers is 11th all-time in league history in rushing and seventh all-time in rushing touchdowns while also producing in a big way as a receiver.

9. Maurice Jones-Drew, UCLA (2003-05)
Stats: 481 att., 2,503 yds, 26 TDs, 64 rec., 819 yds, 7 TDs, 1,366 ret. yds, 6 TDs

Formerly Maurice Drew, the UCLA tailback was a consensus All-American in 2005, yet never rushed for more than 1,007 yards in any season. He was an all-around talent who delivered in all three phases of the game — running, receiving and returning. His numbers don't begin to explain his talent, as he went on to become one of the NFL's best backs after being taken in the second round by Jacksonville in the 2006 draft.

10. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford (2009-12)
Stats: 843 att., 4,300 yds, 40 TDs, 97 rec., 778 yds, 5 TDs

From a career achievement standpoint, few were as important to their team as Taylor was to Stanford. He posted three workhorse seasons for the Cardinal, topping 1,100 yards three times and 1,300 yards twice. Taylor is Stanford's all-time leading rusher and is seventh all-time in league history with 4,300 yards. His 40 rushing touchdowns are second only to Gerhart and he carried Stanford to a Pac-12 title with 322 attempts, 1,530 yards and 13 TD as a senior — all without Andrew Luck.

Just missed the cut:

11. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA (2009-12)
Stats: 788 att., 4,403 yds, 31 TDs, 58 rec., 517 yds, 3 TDs

The Mayor of Los Angeles was the consummate leader, teammate and professional workhorse. He holds the career marks as UCLA’s all-time leading rusher — which is good for fifth all-time in Pac-12 history. And he also owns the school's single-season rushing record with 1,734 yards on 282 carries as a senior in 2012. Franklin was the complete package in the backfield for the Bruins.

12. LenDale White, USC (2003-05)
Stats: 541 att., 3,159 yds, 52 TDs, 31 rec., 331 yds, 5 TDs

The round mound of touchdown played alongside Reggie Bush in one of the best backfields in college football history. White is USC’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns and is third all-time in league history with 52. He played on two national title winners and a third that lost in the BCS title game before getting taken in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft.

13. Kenjon Barner, Oregon (2009-12)
Stats: 582 att., 3,623 yds, 41 TDs, 54 rec., 591 yds, 7 TDs, 1,634 ret. yds, 2 TDs

He was often overshadowed by James at Oregon, but Barner’s numbers stack up with anyone’s in league history. He is 18th all-time in rushing and is second only in school history to James in both career and single-season rushing yards (1,767 in 2012). He played on three Pac-12 title teams and helped the Ducks to the 2010 BCS title game.

14. J.J. Arrington, Cal (2003-04)
Stats: 396 att., 2,625 yds, 20 TDs, 42 rec., 299 yds, 3 TDs

Arrington is alongside Marcus Allen (2,427) and Charles White (2,050) as the only three running backs in league history to top 2,000 yards. His 2,018 in 2004 are obviously a school record and it went along with 15 touchdowns, an eighth-place finish in the Heisman voting and consensus All-American honors.

15. Jonathan Stewart, Oregon (2005-07)
Stats: 516 att., 2,891 yds, 27 TDs, 49 rec., 334 yds, 4 TDs, 1,664 ret. yds, 2 TDs

Few players can match Stewart’s raw ability and physical talent. He was a dynamic return man and capped his short three-year career with a monster (then school record) 1,722 yards and 13 total touchdowns in his final season in 2007. He was the 13th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft by the Panthers.

Best of the Rest:

16. Yvenson Bernard, Oregon State (2004-07): 876 att., 3,862 yds, 38 TDs, 118 rec., 790 yds, 3 TDs
Posted three 1,000-yard seasons and is 12th all-time in Pac-12 in rushing and also is in the top 20 in touchdowns.

17. Trung Candidate, Arizona (1996-99): 604 att., 3,824 yds, 25 TDs, 42 rec., 468 yds, TD
Was Arizona’s all-time leading rusher and 12th in the Pac-12… until Ka’Deem Carey came along.

18. Bishop Sankey, Washington (2011-13): 644 att., 3,496 yds, 37 TDs, 67 rec., 567 yds, TD
Had two monster years before turning pro early. His 1,870 yards were a school record in 2013.

19. Jahvid Best, Cal (2007-09): 364 att., 2,668 yds, 29 TDs, 62 rec., 533 yds, 6 TDs
Electric playmaker who is tied with Bush with a 7.3 career yards per carry average.

20. Chris Polk, Washington (2009-11): 789 att., 4,015 yds, 26 TDs, 79 rec., 683 yds, 4 TDs
Is 10th all-time in Pac-12 history in rushing and ended up less than 100 yards shy of Napoleon Kaufman’s school record.

21. DeShaun Foster, UCLA (1998-01): 722 att., 3,194 yds, 40 TDs, 58 rec., 548 yds, 4 TDs
Bruins' No. 4 rusher all-time and trails only Skip Hicks’ 48 rushing touchdowns in school history.

22. De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon (2011-13): 243 att., 1,890 yds, 26 TDs, 113 rec., 1,296 yds, 15 TDs, 2,159 ret. yds, 5 TDs
He scored 46 total touchdowns and produced 5,345 all-purpose yards in only 37 games in three years.

23. Jerome Harrison, Washington State (2004-05): 482 att., 2,800 yds, 25 TDs, 34 rec., 275 yds, TD
Consensus All-American is one of just six players in league history to top 1,900 yards in a season.

24. Justin Forsett, Cal (2004-07): 567 att., 3,320 yds, 26 TDs, 41 rec., 386 yds, TD
Capped a solid career with a monster 305-att., 1,546-yard, 15-TD season as a senior in 2007.

25. Tyler Gaffney, Stanford (2009-13): 486 att., 2,500 yds, 33 TDs, 32 rec., 264 yds, 4 TDs
Led Stanford to back-to-back Pac-12 titles and set records with 330 att., 1,709-yard, 21-TD season in ’13.