Eight of the Pac-12's top 10 rushers in 2014 return this fall, and the conference welcomes back an average of 3.5 offensive linemen per team, with no team returning fewer than two starters.
Ergo, the conference's "Year of the Running Back," when rushing yards should flow like rain in the Northwest and West Coast RBs should shine like the sun in So Cal and Arizona.
Further, just about every conference team has an interesting narrative at the position. While Utah's Devontae Booker, UCLA's Paul Perkins and Oregon's Royce Freeman are the headliners, there are also the celebrated "underrated" -- Arizona's Nick Wilson, California's Daniel Lasco and Oregon State's Storm Barrs-Woods -- as well as the potential breakout stars everyone is whispering about, namely Stanford's Christian McCaffrey and USC's troika of Justin Davis, Tre Madden and touted true freshman Ronald Jones II.
So is there room for felicitously named Washington running back Dwayne Washington to squeeze into the picture without being accused of a photobomb? Washington, the player, certainly thinks so.
"I want to be better than everybody else," he said. "But my focus right now is on fall camp."
While he's going to have to climb over a number of more accomplished bodies to do that, few finished the regular season stronger than Washington, who totaled 383 of his 697 yards against Arizona, Oregon State and Washington State, averaging a stout 7.8 yards per carry and scoring five of his nine touchdowns. Explosive? He produced runs of 68, 51, 60 and 66 yards during that span.
At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, he's got the added ability to run with power. As a highly productive high school receiver -- 66 receptions for 1,338 yards as a senior at Gahr High in Lakewood, California -- he also offers plenty of versatility in the passing game.
"When I have opportunities in the open field, that's when I show my speed off," he said. "As far as power, I've always been tough on the field. I've always run with power. I don't want to get tackled. ...I'm comfortable catching the ball, screens or even deep routes if I get the chance."
Washington has a good news, bad news deal with the Huskies. The good news is he looks like the focal point of the Huskies' offense this fall. The bad news is that's because the Huskies are uncertain at quarterback, mediocre at receiver and rebuilding their offensive line. The good news is Washington looks like the sort who could produce 1,500 to 2,000 yards of offense -- rushing and receiving -- if he stays healthy. The bad news is that, while Washington lacks name recognition among fans, each Pac-12 defensive coordinator will be eyeballing him with considerable suspicion on every play.
A seven-game starter a year ago -- you'll recall the Huskies used LB Shaq Thompson extensively at the position -- Washington was named the Huskies' offensive MVP pretty much based on his late-season surge, which matched the team's improved play. He was Bishop Sankey's top backup in 2013, and Washington gives Sankey -- "That's a great dude," he said -- plenty of credit for his development. Though it took him some time to establish himself as the top running option, Washington said the transition from Steve Sarkisian and his staff to Chris Petersen wasn't difficult for him.
"I'm good at transitioning coaches and playbooks. It wasn't a problem at all," he said.
Washington won't have to carry the rushing offense alone. For one, 222-pound sophomore Lavon Coleman and star-crossed but talented sixth-year senior Deontae Cooper are solid backups, combining for nearly 900 yards last season. Second, if junior Jeff Lindquist or redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels win the quarterback job, the offense figures to have a spread-option element, as both are capable runners.
As for that QB battle, Washington yields nothing on how he perceives the pecking order.
"We have about five great quarterbacks," he said, nailing the exact number of QBs on the Huskies roster. "We'll see how fall camp goes. All the quarterbacks are looking great."
Further, when the depth at running back is lauded to him, Washington politely agrees but adds, "[I'd] rather have the ball than share carries on field."
Washington is aware the Pac-12 is chock-full of running backs this season and that many have better name recognition than him. But he has a plan to alleviate that.
"I plan on coming out this year way harder, stronger, more physical," he said. "I plan on using my performance last year as a motivation. I want to be the best running back in the Pac-12."