Power Ranking Top 5 Pac-12 RBs Pre-2014 Spring Practice
Pac-12 running backs filled All-America teams and stuffed stat sheets in 2013. But with Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, Washington's Bishop Sankey and Stanford's Tyler Gaffney all exiting, the conference faces uncertainty at a position that has been among its greatest strengths.
No matter, because some of the returning running back talent is primed for huge production in 2014.
Some new names will emerge, while role players in recent seasons will break out given the opportunity to accept more responsibility.
Heading into spring practices, the following five are the cream of the crop and the conference's flag-bearers at running back.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com.
5. Arizona State RB D.J. Foster
D.J. Foster was an integral weapon in Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell's spread attack before teammate Marion Grice was lost to injury.
In his freshman season of 2012, Foster rushed for 493 yards and two touchdowns and caught four scoring passes. He continued to operate as a jack of all trades in 2013, finishing the season with 63 receptions for 653 yards and 501 rushing yards as the Sun Devils' second option.
But when the touchdown-scoring machine Grice suffered a lower leg injury late in the season, Foster evolved from pass-catcher and change-of-pace back into a viable feature back. He ripped off 124 yards and two touchdowns in a 58-21 rout of rival Arizona.
Foster was also a decided bright spot in Arizona State's Pac-12 Championship Game loss to Stanford, accounting for both of the Sun Devils' scores with one receiving and one rushing touchdown.
"D.J. Foster is a special tailback," head coach Todd Graham said following the Arizona win, per TheSunDevils.com. "To be able to go and do what he did tonight, it’s not surprising to me at all. He’s a big-time player and a big-time leader for us."
That strong finish sets Foster on the right course to be a focal point for the Sun Devils in 2014.
4. USC RB Tre Madden
A hamstring injury suffered midway through the season derailed Tre Madden, but before then he was the Pac-12's most productive ball-carrier.
Madden hit the century mark in four of USC's first five games, and only missed going five-for-five by seven yards, ending the Utah State game with 93.
He was the constant for a Trojans offense that initially struggled to find its identity. Not only did he shoulder much of the running workload with Silas Redd nursing an injury, but Madden was also a reliable target in a passing game that was erratic amid early-season quarterback controversy.
Madden actually finished 2013 with more receiving touchdowns (four) than rushing scores (three). His multifaceted skill set gives new head coach Steve Sarkisian intriguing options for 2014.
3. Oregon RB Thomas Tyner
Thomas Tyner had not even enrolled in college, much less played a down of college football in 2012 when he carved out a spot in Oregon football lore. Tyner rushed for 643 yards and 10 touchdowns at Beaverton (Ore.) Aloha High School; not all season, but in just one game.
Tyner arrived at Oregon with an already impressive legacy, and his first moments of college football did nothing to dispel the hype.
His first appearance was a 51-yard, two-touchdown effort against Virginia, a stat line made all the more impressive considering he rushed just four times.
Against rival Oregon State and starting as the feature back for the first time with teammate Byron Marshall injured, Tyner broke off a career high 140 yards with a touchdown.
"He’s a huge asset for our offense. He is going to be special," quarterback Marcus Mariota said following Tyner's 99-yard rushing, 42-yard receiving performance against Washington State last October, via GoDucks.com.
Indeed, Tyner has a bright future ahead of him and plenty of opportunity to add to the legacy that started swelling on the Oregon prep gridiron.
2. Oregon RB Byron Marshall
Teammates De'Anthony Thomas and Thomas Tyner may have generated more buzz coming into the 2013 season than Byron Marshall, but Marshall's play made plenty of noise.
He surpassed the 100-yard mark rushing in five straight games midway through the season en route to 1,038 total for the season, the most of any returning ball-carrier in the conference. Marshall also led Oregon with 14 rushing touchdowns.
Despite putting up the best rushing numbers on a team stacked with capable ball-carriers, Marshall remains the off-the-radar player heading into 2014. Quarterback Marcus Mariota is earning well-deserved Heisman Trophy talk, and fellow running back Thomas Tyner is a star in the making.
According to Marshall, all that matters is what happens on the field. After rushing for a personal best 192 yards against Washington State last October, he explained his mindset per GoDucks.com.
My mentality hasn’t really changed that much. I have always had the mindset that once I get on the field I have to dominate the way I know how to. So now that I am on the field more I just get more of an opportunity to dominate.
1. USC RB Buck Allen
Javorius "Buck" Allen's rise from sideline obscurity to the engine of USC's offense was a catalyst of the Trojans' 7-2 finish.
Initially buried on the depth chart behind Tre Madden and Silas Redd, mounting injuries opened the door for Allen. He burst through that opening like a hole in the defense, using his unrelenting power to finish 2013 with at least 123 yards in four of USC's final five regular season games.
Aside from his lofty yard production, Allen displayed a nose for the end zone. His 14 rushing touchdowns were far-and-away the most among USC ball-carriers, and he put together five games of at least two scores on the ground.
Allen is in good company with that feat. The last Trojans running backs to put together a season with multiple rushing touchdowns in at least five games were LenDale White and Reggie Bush, both of whom accomplished it in 2005.
Both White and Bush did so in a full season. With Allen showing his ability in just a half-season as the primary option, the sky is the limit for him in a full campaign.