All of this running back chatter this week -- USC being called the top rushing attack in the country, the Trojans gaining Penn State running back Silas Redd -- got Ted and I thinking: Who is the favorite to lead the conference in rushing this year?
We've already had two running backs on our 2012 preseason top 25, and you can bet more are coming.
The conference had seven 1,000-yard rushers last year. Five of them are back, four of them are options. Of course, there are always "others" out there who could make a run at the rushing title. So who is the favorite to take home the Pac-12 rushing crown in 2012?
Kenjon Barner: The Oregon running back didn't break the 1K barrier last year, coming just short with 939 yards. Of course, that was because LaMichael James had 95 more carries than Barner. The Ducks are likely going to lead the conference in rushing again, so it stands to reason that Barner will be in the mix for the rushing title. An extra 95 carries certainly would help.
Isi Sofele: The Cal back, who finished fifth in rushing, was one of just five players to average more than 100 yards per game on the ground last season (101.7), totaling 1,322 yards and 10 touchdowns. While he might be splitting more carries this year, he's also less likely to see stacked boxes as Zach Maynard becomes a more efficient quarterback. Safeties will have to step back to respect him and receiver Keenan Allen, which could mean more efficient runs for Sofele.
Stepfan Taylor: You can only be called underrated for so long. And Taylor is a guy who has been called underrated so many times that it's lost its intended effect. So let's say it like it is -- Taylor is an elite Pac-12 running back. He's gone for more than 1,000 yards in back-to-back years and was fourth in the conference last year with 1,330 -- and that's with a committee of backs behind him. Look for him to get a lot of work as the Cardinal break in a new QB.
John White IV: Utah's workhorse led the conference by a wide margin in number of attempts last season with 316. That helped him to 1,519 rushing yards, which was second only to the departed James. He also was second in touchdowns (15) and yards per game (116.8). The Utes should be stronger in the passing game this year, which should take some of the pressure off of White. Does that make him a more efficient back?
Other: Curtis McNeal was a 1,000-yard rusher last year. He'll be sharing carries now that Redd is in town, but with an explosive 6.9 yards per carry, is it possible he takes the rushing crown? Or will Redd, who cut his teeth as a 1,000-yard rusher in the Big Ten blow away the field? ASU's Cameron Marshall is in a system that's going to favor his skill set. Could he be the guy?