Spring practice has come and gone. So we’re taking a look at each team’s position groups and projecting them as being in either “great shape,” “good shape” or “we’ll see.” Remember that the last category isn’t necessarily bad. It means what it says ... we’ll see.
Jared Goff is gone. So are his top six receivers from a year ago. But the Golden Bears' offensive line returns largely intact, and it has a stable of talented backs to block for. Vic Enwere appears to have made the most impressive strides. It's clear that he's been in the weight room: At 235 pounds, he looked like an absolute specimen during Cal's spring game. The defense couldn't stop him. Enwere is joined by Tre Watson and speedster Khalfani Muhammad. The trio gives the Bears options and versatility during a year in which the run game will be especially important for them.
The Ducks have pressing questions scattered across their roster, but the offensive backfield is certainly not an area of concern. This is where Royce Freeman barrels over opponents with speed that a power back shouldn't have. It's also where Taj Griffin crosses the field in a blur and where Kani Benoit racked up some big, violent runs last year, a sign of the potential he has to change games moving forward. Oregon owns an embarrassment of riches at running back, and it will be fun to watch them compete with the next team on our list for the title of "best backfield" in 2016 -- possibly in the nation.
Go ahead and put this one into the "well, duh" category. The Cardinal return Christian McCaffrey, who only delivered the most statistically productive season in college football history last year. And get this: McCaffrey is actually performing significantly better in Stanford's offseason conditioning program than he did at this time last year.
We should expect incremental speed and strength improvements from McCaffrey because he is still so young -- he played 2015 as a 19-year old -- but that's a scary fact for Pac-12 defenses nonetheless. Bryce Love, who showed this spring that he would likely be the featured back on many teams in the nation, is the Robin to McCaffrey's Batman. The two represent a matchup nightmare, and we haven't even discussed emerging power back Cameron Scarlett and the Cardinal's fullbacks yet.
We dubbed 2016 "The Year of the Running Back" in the Pac-12. It appears that we might have multiple Years of the Running Back in the conference. Perhaps it will become the Dynasty of the Running Back. The Huskies certainly do their part in contributing to the effort. Myles Gaskin emerged for 1,302 yards as a freshman and showed the arsenal necessary to be a Pac-12 star. Washington has lost Dwayne Washington (NFL) and Deontae Cooper (transfer to San Jose State), but they still have Lavon Coleman to complement Gaskin, so this backfield is in excellent shape.
The Cougars more than doubled their rushing output from 2014 to 2015, and they return the troika of running backs that made that surge possible. Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow, and Keith Harrington remain the three primary names to watch here, but don't neglect a fourth: Promising freshman James Williams enters the mix this season. Each of the four backs has his own respective strengths, so expect Washington State to play another game of mix-and-match this season. They're comfortable with their stable here -- especially because the focal point of the offense is the Air Raid operated by veteran quarterback Luke Falk.
Ryan Nall emerged during the Civil War against Oregon to close last season. He racked up 174 yards on 19 carries -- an average of 9.2 yards per rush -- to announce his presence as the Beavers' next primary back. The issue now is developing depth, something that Gary Andersen would really like to see in the backfield because his teams run the ball so much. That issue was not resolved this spring -- Damien Haskins, Paul Lucas, Kyle White and Tim Cook are all vying for playing time -- so plenty of competition awaits Oregon State backs this offseason.