Over the next few weeks we’ll be breaking down each position group heading into spring ball. Today, we look at North Division running backs.
Oregon: With one of the best backs in the country in Royce Freeman, the Ducks are in great shape here. Last season Freeman carried 283 times for 1,836 yards, 17 touchdowns and a robust 6.5 yards per carry. Expect him to be in the hunt for the Doak Walker Award. The pecking order behind Freeman is essentially up for grabs, but we can be sure that Taj Griffin, Kani Benoit and Tony Brooks-James will all get carries in some capacity. Those three combined for 1,222 yards and nine touchdowns.
Stanford: Like their Northern rival Oregon, the Cardinal are in great shape at the position with the Heisman runner-up in Christian McCaffrey. He was rewarded as the AP Player of the Year and was a consensus All-American after setting the NCAA record for single-season all-purpose yards (3,864). He rushed for a school record 2,019 yards and had 45 receptions for 645 yards. He also had 1,070 kickoff return yards. Behind him is Bryce Love, who carried 29 times for 226 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also caught 15 balls and scored a touchdown. Look for Love to be used situationally along with Cameron Scarlett, who will also be vying for snaps.
Washington: The coaching staff (the fanbase, and the rest of the Pac-12 coaches for that matter) realize the Huskies have something special in Myles Gaskin. He was the first UW freshman to ever rush for 1,000 yards in a season, establishing freshman records for yards (1,302) and touchdowns (14). Lavon Coleman is the likely No. 2 (33 carries, 176 yards), with a combo of Jomon Dotson and Deontae Cooper rounding out the returners. Keep an eye out for Sean McGrew -- last year's California Gatorade Player of the Year. He said he wants to be on campus for spring ball (the school hasn’t made any announcements yet) and it’s expected he could rise quickly.
California: The Golden Bears have three different backs who all bring a different skill set to the table -- which is how the coaching staff likes it. Vic Enwere (6-foot-1, 230 pounds) is a bigger, downhill runner who led the team with 106 carries and eight touchdowns last season. Khalfani Muhammad (5-9, 170) is the speedier, shiftier back and Tre Watson (5-10, 195) is a combination of the two. That trio combined for 1,595 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. They are also hopeful Zion Echols will contribute quickly. The Bears might not be the best rushing team in the league (152.8 yards per game last season), but they have depth and diversity.
Washington State: The Cougars return their three main contributors from last season -- Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow and Keith Harrington. They combined for 1,193 yards and five rushing touchdowns as a trio. Not surprisingly, they also combined for seven receiving touchdowns. The Cougars only ran the ball 37 percent of the time last season but were more efficient than they’ve been the last few years. That adds a dangerous dynamic to an already explosive passing attack. Wicks is the North-South guy, Morrow (94 receptions in first two seasons) is a great run-receiving option, and Harrington is the most explosive. Redshirt freshman James Williams will most likely work for carries as well and might be a solid combination of all three guys.
Oregon State: The Beavers’ backfield is a hodgepodge of what-could-bes. Lots of candidates, but not a lot of certainty. Converted tight end Ryan Nall -- affectionately dubbed the “Wrecking Nall” -- carried 73 times for 455 yards and three touchdowns. And he should be in better “running back shape” this fall, but if you saw the Civil War, you know the 6-2, 255-pounder can move. In two starts, he had two 100-yard rushing games. Then there is Chris Brown, Damien Haskins and Deltron Sands -- all with either health or ball-security issues. Transfer Kyle White and freshman Artavis Pierce could get carries. Transfer Tim Cook (who was injured prior to last season) could be the wild card. There's a lot of potential, but also a lot of uncertainty.