On Monday, we looked at the top 5 quarterbacks in the Pac-12. Now, we're ranking the top 5 running backs in the conference and what you're going to notice is Oregon has two more players on this list than Colorado, Arizona, Arizona state, USC, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State and UCLA combined.
1. De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
2011 rushing stats: 55 att., 595 yards, 7 TD
2011 receiving stats: 46 rec., 605 yards, 9 TD
Thomas is arguably the most electrifying player in the country. Actually, he is the most electrifying player in the country. Coach Chip Kelly showed mercy on opposing defenses last season by limiting Thomas' playing time. “We were conscious in using him,” Kelly said at Pac-12 media day. “We didn't want to overload him.”
If you're an opposing defensive coordinator, Kelly does have some good news for you: He doesn't expect Thomas to be throwing the ball anytime soon. “I think the only thing we won't do is let him throw, because I've seen him throw,” Kelly said.
2. John White, Utah
2011 stats: 316 att., 1,519 yards, 15 TD
2011 receiving stats: 13 rec., 44 yards, 2 TD
If you're wondering how much John White meant to Utah last season, here's some numbers to digest: He accounted for 43.5 percent of the Utes offensive touchdowns and 38.7 percent of their total yards.
Coach Kyle Whittingham's favorite offensive play last season was “hand the ball off to White.” White's 316 carries were the third most among FBS running backs. White should benefit from the return of quarterback Jordan Wynn, who missed the Utes' final nine games last season with a shoulder injury.
3. Kenjon Barner, Oregon
2011 rushing stats: 152 att., 939 yards, 11 TD
2011 receiving stats: 17 rec., 184 yards, 3 TD
With LaMichael James playing in front of him for the past three seasons, it's been tough for Kenjon Barner to become a national household name (most Pac-12 households are probably familiar with Barner).
But for the first time in his career, it looks like Barner could be the Ducks' featured back this year. Though he'll be sharing carries with Thomas, Barner should hear his number called a lot since Thomas will be lining up all over the field. Barner proved last year that he has what it takes to be Oregon's featured back. In a game against Arizona State that James missed with an injury, Barner rushed for 171 yards and a touchdown.
2011 rushing stats: 242 att., 1,330 yards, 10 TD
2011 receiving stats: 25 rec., 182 yards, 2 TD
Even with Andrew Luck last year, Stanford emphasized the run. Now with Luck gone, Stanford will be a team that really emphasizes the run. Coach David Shaw knows there's going to be pressure on his running backs -- especially Stepfan Taylor -- to take pressure off the quarterback.
“There's no question, that's where the pressure is going to be,” Shaw said at Pac-12 media day. “I'm not going to ask Stepfan to do anything he hasn't done on film the for two years, which is be a phenomenal football player.”
5. Isi Sofele, Cal
2011 rushing stats: 252 att., 1,322 yards, 10 TD
2011 receiving stats: 6 rec, 33 yards, 0 TD
Heading into last season, Cal running back Isi Sofele was a largely unknown commodity. There were questions about his height (barely 5-8), his weight (183), his speed, his ability to break tackles. There were a lot of questions.
Sofele answered his critics by rushing for 1,322 yards, the sixth-highest total in school history. His 252 carries answered all questions about his durability. Sofele was a huge part of the team's success last season, as the Golden Bears were 7-2 in games where Sofele received at least 18 carries.