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College Football 2011: Oregon's LaMichael James and the Top 10 Pac-12 RBs

Pat MarrujoContributor IFebruary 18, 2011

College Football 2011: Oregon’s LaMichael James and the Top 10 Pac-12 RBs

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    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Over the years, the Pac-10 has gained the reputation of being a quarterback-dominated conference. But in the inaugural season of the Pac-12, it may be transforming into a running back conference.

    This transformation is led by a surplus of great backs in the conference. Many Pac-12 teams have multiple backs who are good enough to start on most teams in the country.

    For some teams, the running back is the driving force that keeps your offense flowing. Some of the players in this list do that for their squads.

    It was hard to narrow this list down to just 10 players. If you think I left anyone off that I shouldn’t have or over/underrated a player, let me know.

    The following are the top 10 running backs in the Pac-12 for the 2011 season.

10. Dillon Baxter—USC Trojans

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    It is debatable whether or not Baxter deserves to be on this list just yet, but I think he will have a big season in 2011.

    Baxter’s skills have been compared to those of Reggie Bush. He cuts like nobody else in college football and has unbelievable break-away speed. Baxter has the potential to be one of the most electrifying players in the nation.

    Last season Baxter only rushed for 252 yards on 49 carries, but he should see a big increase in the amount of carries he gets in 2011. He can also play receiver and run the ball out of the wildcat. Baxter is one of the best athletes the Trojans have; look for him to get the ball a lot next season.

9. Deantre Lewis—Arizona State Sun Devils

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    A backup for starter Cameron Marshall, Deantre Lewis is one of the most under-the-radar players in the Pac-12 for 2011. He has track star speed and great vision.

    In his freshman season last year, Lewis ran for 539 yards, averaged six yards per carry, rushed for four touchdowns and caught two more touchdowns. Lewis’ numbers are deceiving, because he was banged up for most of the second half of the season.

    Another key stat about Lewis, and the main reason he made this list, is that he led all Pac-12 tailbacks in receiving last season.

    In Lewis’ best three-game stretch of the season against Wisconsin, Oregon and Oregon State, Lewis rushed for 353 on just 40 carries.

    When Lewis is healthy, he is one of the most talented and fastest players in the PAC-12. He might be the best complimentary back in the conference.

8. Kenjon Barner—Oregon Ducks

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    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Last season Kenjon Barner battled injuries while backing up LaMichael James. Barner ran for 551 yards and scored six touchdowns last season. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry and is also one of best kick returners in the country.

    Barner gets it done with his lightning-fast speed and his phenomenal field vision. He is probably the starting running back almost anywhere in the country other than Oregon.

    If he can stay healthy, I see Barner running for about 800 yards and 10 touchdowns while backing up James. His speed and big-play abilities make him an integral part of Oregon’s 2011 campaign.

7. Cameron Marshall—Arizona State Sun Devils

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    If you have not heard of Cameron Marshall, he will be a household name in college football by the end of the 2011 season. Marshall is a 5’10”, 220-pound tank of a running back.

    At first glance you would think that Marshall is a pure power back—not so fast, my friend.

    Marshall has great breakaway speed and has even been known to hurdle defensive backs on occasion (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8k9KUtM0U0&feature=related).

    Last season Marshall ran for 787 yards and recorded nine touchdowns. He was probably the most consistent part of Arizona State’s offense last year.

    In 2011 Marshall should be the focal point of the offense. Don’t be surprised if he rushes for more than 1,000 yards. If the Sun Devils want to live up to their hype in 2011, they need Marshall to be at his best.

6. Marc Tyler—USC Trojans

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Marc Tyler was the most consistent running back for the Trojans last season. He ran for 913 yards and had nine touchdowns in his 2010 campaign.

    This season Tyler will be a senior and probably USC’s go-to running back. He has a lot to live up to; his father was a star running back at UCLA and played many years in the NFL.

    Tyler has the perfect combination of power, speed, agility and versatility. He has the potential to do great things at the next level.

    Without Allen Bradford, Tyler will be expected to carry more of the load at running back. Expect big things from Tyler this season.

5. Jonathan Franklin—UCLA Bruins

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Franklin’s 2011 season was a bit overshadowed last year by the other great backs in the Pac-10, but he should not go unnoticed.

    Franklin rushed for 1,127 yards and eight touchdowns in 2010. His speed and athleticism is what made him so deadly.

    He is not very big at only 5’10”, 198 pounds, but he makes up for it with his unparalleled speed.

    Last season Franklin was a workhorse for the Bruins, and I don’t expect anything different. If UCLA wants to compete with the best teams in the Pac-12, Franklin is going to have to carry his team.

4. Stepfan Taylor—Stanford Cardinal

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    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    There was a lot of pressure put on Stepfan Taylor last season to be the replacement for 2009 Heisman Trophy Finalist Toby Gerhart. Taylor didn’t let that pressure faze him, and he had a big season in 2010.

    Taylor rushed for 1,137 last season and also scored 15 touchdowns. He was one of the most consistent running backs around, rushing for 100+ yards on six separate occasions.

    It will be interesting to see how well Taylor does in 2011. He will have to rely on a completely different offensive line. If they can make holes for Taylor, he will make big plays.

3. Rodney Stewart—Colorado Buffaloes

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Most Pac-12 teams are writing Colorado off in 2011, but this is a guy who will make his name known in the conference. Rodney “Speedy” Stewart is the only player on this list that is new to the conference.

    Stewart is will be one of the fastest players in the conference, hence the nickname “Speedy.” His team might not be very good, but Stewart is one of the most talented backs in the country.

    Last year he ran for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns. Don’t expect anything less from Stewart. He has improved every season since arriving at Colorado.

    Going into his senior season, the Buffaloes will look for him to deliver again.

2. Chris Polk—Washington Huskies

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    With Jake Locker graduating, a lot of pressure will be placed on the shoulders of Chris Polk to carry the Huskies offense. In the last two games he proved that he is more than capable to do so.

    In the Apple Cup game vs. Washington State, Polk exploded for 284 yards rushing and two touchdowns in a 35-28 win. Then in the Holiday Bowl vs. Nebraska, he ran for 177 yards and one touchdown in the upset victory.

    Polk had a whole season of great work in 2011. He ran for 1,415 yards and nine touchdowns.

    If the Huskies want to be a decent team in 2011, Polk needs to dominate. A junior in 2011, it will probably be his last season in Seattle.

1. LaMichael James—Oregon Ducks

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    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    LaMichael James was the leading rusher in the nation last season with 1,731 yards as a sophomore. He also scored 21 touchdowns, second-best in the nation. He was just unstoppable running the ball for the high-powered Oregon Ducks offense.

    He had a remarkable nine games where he rushed for 100+ yards. He won the Doak Walker Award (Top Running Back Award), was a Heisman Trophy Finalist and an All-American.

    James is one of the favorites to win the Heisman in 2011, and his team is one of the favorites to win the 2011 National Championship.

    It is hard to debate that there is a better running back in all the country. That is why LaMichael James is the best running back in the Pac-12 by a long shot.

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