Ranking the Pac-10 backfields

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
A day after labeling the Pac-10 quarterbacks as a motley, usually undecorated crew, it's necessary to do the same with the conference running backs.

How's this to start: All four backs from the All-Pac-10 first- and second-teams are gone. While five teams welcome back their leading rusher, none eclipsed the 1,000-yard benchmark.

Injuries complicate things. How well will talented runners like UCLA's Kahlil Bell, California's Jahvid Best and Oregon's Jeremiah Johnson (among others) bounce back from serious injuries?

How should educated speculation figure in about touted freshmen and transfers figure in the tabulation?

And should the QB's running ability figure in the equation? Washington ranks last here, but if Jake Locker -- perhaps the nation's best running QB -- were figured in, the Huskies would jump into the top half of the conference?

Should the offensive line be a factor? UCLA's got solid running backs, but they may not see many holes this year.

So, as Crash Davis once said, "We're dealing with a lot of" stuff.

Does it sound like we're whining about making a list? Sorry.

Because every team regularly will use more than one running back, this ranking considers the tow presently atop the depth chart with some fudging introduced based on knowledge of further depth (like say at USC and Oregon).

  1. USC (Stafon Johnson, Joe McKnight): There's, like, 10 guys here who'd start for many BCS programs, and the depth chart conspicuously uses an "OR" between names to obscure anyone clamoring for a pecking order. But these are our two favorites.

  2. Oregon (Jeremiah Johnson, LeGarrette Blount): Johnson blew out his knee in 2007, but he's quick and versatile. Blount was the star of spring drills with his power running, so we promoted him ahead of Andrew Crenshaw, who had 415 yards rushing a year ago.

  3. Arizona State (Keegan Herring, Dimitri Nance): Herring is tops among returning tailbacks with 815 yards rushing a year ago. Nance rushed for 527 yards with seven TDs. Neither of these guys will blow your socks off, but both are productive.

  4. UCLA (Kahlil Bell, Raymond Carter): Bell, a 220 pounder, rushed for 795 yards in eight games a year ago before going down. Carter, a redshirt freshman, would have played last year as a true freshman if he didn't blow out his knee during the preseason.

  5. California (Jahvid Best, Tracy Slocum): Best was spectacular when healthy a year ago, a threat as a runner and receiver. Slocum doesn't have a carry to his credit but was a touted prep recruit.

  6. Washington State (Dwight Tardy, Chris Ivory): The pair combined for nearly 1,000 yards a year ago, averaging 4.7 and 5.2 yards per carry, respectively. Pretty good OL should help.

  7. Stanford (Anthony Kimble, Toby Gerhart): The Cardinal welcomes back their top four rushers from a year ago, with Kimble leading the way with 509 yards and Gerhart earning mention because of his 11.7 yards per carry average before he got hurt.

  8. Arizona (Nic Grigsby, Xavier Smith): Grigsby showed flashes while rushing for 704 yards last year for a pass-happy team. Expect more of the same in 2008.

  9. Oregon State (Ryan McCants, Jeremy Francis): McCants looked great in spring and the 240 pounder certainly passes the sight test, but this pair doesn't have a carry to its name. It's notable that scatback WR James Rodgers rushed for 586 yards in 2007, but he doesn't count here.

  10. Washington (Brandon Johnson, Willie Griffin): Johnson only averaged 3.8 yards per carry in limited action last year and Griffin is a redshirt freshman. Doesn't help that All-Pac-10 center Juan Garcia may miss the first half of the season with a foot injury.