We talk a lot about wide receivers in this conference. And why not? The overall collection of wide receiver talent is the strongest of any conference in college football.
Heck, even Cal's Keenan Allen said he doesn't see the Biletnikoff winner coming out of any other conference this year. Most are inclined to agree.
But what about the runners? The guys on the ground who keep the safeties honest and allow big names like Allen, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee to do what they do best. According to ESPN.com Insider KC Joyner, the Pac-12 is home to three of the top 10 running attacks in college football and USC tops the list with the nation's best running game. And this isn't even taking the Silas Redd situation into account.
USC checks in at No. 1, followed by Oregon at No. 3 and Stanford at No. 8. You can see the complete insider article and all of the Top-10 teams here. Joyner also pops some video highlights in the story, which I'm going to include because I like you guys.
Though USC lost its top offensive lineman in left tackle Matt Kalil, the Trojans welcome back four starters to the offensive line, including center Khaled Holmes, projected by many to be the top center in the nation. Factor in a 1,000-yard rusher in Curtis McNeal, a wide receiver corps that will scare safeties into taking an extra step backward and a Heisman-hopeful quarterback who understands the intricacies of reading defenses and you have one efficient rushing attack. Woods is also an outstanding downfield blocker -- which you can see in this highlight as he takes out a pair of Stanford defenders. McNeal was second in the conference in yards per carry (6.9) and of the seven 1,000-yard rushers in the conference last year, he did it with the fewest carries. Imagine what his numbers would have been like with a 13th or 14th game?
Even though LaMichael James is gone at Oregon -- taking his league-leading 1,805 yards, 7.3 average and 18 touchdowns with him -- the Ducks will still be one of the nation's top rushing teams with Kenjon Barner headlining the attack. Barner rushed for 939 yards on 152 carries with 11 touchdowns. And then there is the always potent De'Anthony Thomas -- who can line up anywhere and can turn the most simple play into a long touchdown. The Ducks blew away the rest of the conference in terms of rushing offense last season -- totaling 4,189 yards (299.2 per game) on the ground. Stanford was a distant second with 2,738. Finding a third and fourth option will be key though, which head coach Chip Kelly addressed at Pac-12 media day last week. And Barner said all the things you'd expect from someone replacing an Oregon legend: "I'll be called upon more often now, but it's nothing new. [It's] not too much pressure at all." Here's the shifty Barner in action.
Stanford's rushing attack is built upon its balance. Ex-Cardinal Andrew Luck, who was calling a lot of the plays last season, was phenomenal at putting the Cardinal offense in the best play against the defensive front. By the end of the year, head coach David Shaw said Luck got it right "about 99 percent of the time." But Luck is gone, as are offensive linemen David DeCastro and left tackle Jonathan Martin. But Stanford does return a pair of freshmen All-Americans to the line in David Yankey and Cameron Fleming and a solid center in Sam Schwartzstein. And, oh yeah, a back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher in Stepfan Taylor (1,330 yards, 10 touchdowns last year). And let's not forget about the most versatile fullback in college football -- Ryan Hewitt -- clearing the way for Taylor. Ty Montgomery gives the Cardinal a deep-threat option, tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo will keep safeties guessing and the Cardinal should continue to pound away with Taylor and a deep running back corps.