Pac-12 Power Rankings: The Running Backs

Ed Szczepanski-US PRESSWIRE

Our next batch of rankings focuses on the best Pac-12 running back units.

Up next in House of Sparky's Pac-12 power rankings series is the running back position. Stanford's Stepfan Taylor, Oregon's Kenjon Barner and UCLA's Jonathan Franklin have all moved on to the NFL, meaning we will have some new faces among the conference's elite backs.

The entire staff got their vote in for our rankings this week. Here are the teams we feel have the best backfields in the Pac-12.

1) Oregon (6 First Place Votes)

The Ducks completely swept our rankings, as every single voting member put them atop their running back rankings. Oregon has three running backs who strike fear in the heart of defensive coordinators across the conference. De'Anthony Thomas is the most explosive player in the conference and is dangerous every time he touches the ball. Last season, he rushed for 901 yards on 91 carries with 11 touchdowns. He also caught 45 passes for over 400 receiving yards.

Sophomore Byron Marshall rushed for 447 yards as the No. 3 back in his freshman season, as the rest of the depth chart was made up of walk-ons. True freshman Thomas Tyner comes to Oregon with high expectations, as some recruiting experts believe he is the best running back to come to Eugene (that is saying a lot). Tyner is a 5-star local product who enrolled in the spring and should see significant playing time in 2013.

2) Arizona State Sun Devils

The one-two punch of Marion Grice and D.J. Foster gives Arizona State one of the most flexible duos in the conference. Both backs excel at catching the ball out of the backfield and both are difficult to bring down in open space. Grice led ASU in rushing yards (679) and touchdowns (11) his first season in Tempe.

Foster rushed for 493 yards and had 533 receiving yards in his true freshman season. Don't forget about Deantre Lewis either, as he figures to see plenty of time as the third back rotating in. Redshirt junior Marcus Washington had a nice spring capped off with an impressive performance in the spring game, and redshirt freshman Terrell Davis may see some carries this season as well.

3) Arizona Wildcats

The Pac-12's leading rusher returns in Arizona's junior star running back Ka'Deem Carey. Carey led the country with 1,929 rushing yards, setting multiple conference records. Carey is a workhorse, however his off the field issues have kept him off the field in the spring.

The Wildcats have two senior running backs behind Carey. Daniel Jenkins rushed for over 200 yards last season in a backup role. Jared Baker and Terris Jones may see more carries this season behind Carey.

4) Stanford Cardinal

Stanford lost its leading rusher from 2012 Stepfan Taylor. The Cardinal do not have a marquee name heading into 2013, but what they have is a solid group of backs that will be used as a committee. Senior, Anthony Wilkerson, leads the group. Wilkerson rushed for 224 yards last season and at 220 pounds, is a power back that can be used in short yardage situations.

Fellow senior Tyler Gaffney will compete for carries alongside Wilkinson. Gaffney is another 220-pound physical back for the Cardinal. Behind the two seniors is a freshman by the name of Barry Sanders Jr. Yes, the son of that Barry Sanders. I'm going to assume he may be pretty good.

5) USC Trojans

Penn State transfer Silas Redd returns for his second season in Los Angeles. In his first year as a Trojan, Redd rushed for 905 yards and nine touchdowns on a 7-6 USC team. With a new starting quarterback for the Trojans, expect Redd to carry the load for the USC offense.

True freshman Justin Davis will likely come in and complete for playing time behind Redd. Davis enrolled early and reportedly impressed the USC coaching staff.

6) Washington Huskies

Junior Bishop Sankey had a breakout 2012 campaign, rushing for 1,439 yards and 16 touchdowns in his sophomore season. Sankey was one of the most underrated players in the conference last season, and he ran behind an offensive line that battled with injuries.

The Washington running back core was marred by injuries in 2012, as Ryan McDaniel, Deantae Cooper and Jesse Callier all missed significant time last season. This allowed Chandler, Arizona, product Kendyl Taylor to be the featured backup to Sankey. If the Huskies can stay healthy, they seem to have a good amount of depth in the backfield.

7) UCLA Bruins

The loss of Jonathan Franklin leaves a void in the UCLA backfield, however the Bruins boast the talent to replace him. Like Stanford, UCLA will most likely use a "running back by committee" system, meaning players will split carries. The front runners in this committee are freshman Paul Perkins and junior Jordan James.

Perkins was a high school teammate of Brett Hundley at Chandler HS and came to Westwood as a 3-star prospect in the 2012 class. Damien Thigpen and Malcolm Jones provide the Bruins depth and a plenty of different looks to give opposing defenses.

8) Oregon State Beavers

Even though Oregon State comes in at No. 8 in our rankings, the Beavers look to be solid in the backfield. Sophomore Storm Woods leads the way, after compiling nearly 1,000 yards last season. Woods ran for 13 touchdowns, and will surely help out whoever the Beavers starting quarterback is.

Junior Terron Wood rushed for 415 yards and six touchdowns last season, really coming on towards the end of the season.

9) California Golden Bears

Brandon Bigelow showed signs of brilliance for the Cal Golden Bears last season, as he had 160 yards against Ohio State on just four carries. Bigelow steps into a larger role on the Cal offense now as an upperclassman.

The Golden Bears lack depth behind Bigelow, which will force a heavy load on the junior.

10) Colorado Buffaloes

Sophomore running back Christian Powell was about the only bright spot for the Buffaloes last season. Powell ran for 691 yards and seven touchdowns in 10 games in 2012. Powell, a converted fullback, should be a fixture in Colorado's offense in 2013.

The Buffaloes return junior Tony Jones, who was second on the team in carries and third in catches. Senior Josh Ford should also see some extended playing time this year.

11) Utah Utes

The Utes lose John White IV, so players like Kevin York, Karl Williams and James Poole will carry the load in Utah's third season in the Pac-12. York is a big, bruising back who had 86 yards against ASU last season in Tempe, however he has been derailed by injuries so far in his Utah career.

Poole does a nice job catching the ball out of the backfield, meaning he may be used in the slot some in this new Utah offense. The Utes also signed four freshman in their 2013 recruiting class that may complete for playing time.

12) Washington State

The Washington State rushing attack was non-existent last season. The Cougars were 124th nationally, averaging 29 yards per game on the ground. Sophomore Teondray Caldwell will lead the meager rushing attack, as a freshman he averaged five yards per carry. Honestly, the Cougars just don't run the ball enough to be any higher on our list.

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