LaMichael James and the Top 25 RBs in Pac-10 History
The history of the Pac-10 is filled with stellar quarterbacks and wide-open offenses, but that hasn’t stopped the conference from producing some of the best runners college football has ever seen.
From O.J. Simpson’s Student Body Right days to LaMichael James and Oregon’s spread offense, Pac-10 tailbacks have been lighting up scoreboards for decades.
Herein, the 25 best ball-carriers ever to grace the conference.
25. Jahvid Best, Cal, 2007-09
Jahvid Best had a fine career for the Golden Bears, but his raw totals (2668 career yards, 29 TDs) don’t scream “all-time great”. However, one stat earns him a place on this list.
For his career, Best averaged a jaw-dropping 7.3 yards every time he carried the ball, tying Reggie Bush’s Pac-10 record.
Maintaining that average against Pac-10 competition over 364 career attempts is a feat worthy of all-time recognition.
24. Corey Dillon, Washington, 1996
Corey Dillon played just one season at Washington after arriving as a junior college transfer, but he made it count. His 1996 season ranks among the best individual efforts in conference history.
Dillon ran for 1,695 yards and 24 TDs, the latter breaking O.J. Simpson’s conference record.
Dillon finished his stellar NFL career in 2006. He holds the Cincinnati Bengals’ career records for rushing yards and attempts.
23. Skip Hicks, UCLA, 1993-97
One of a long line of great power halfbacks at UCLA, Skip Hicks is the Bruins’ sixth-leading rusher all-time. Where he stood out, however, was on the goal line.
Hicks is third in Pac-10 history with 55 career TDs, 48 of them rushing.
He would go on to play in the NFL, but managed just over 1,000 yards in his four seasons combined.
22. Russell White, Cal, 1990-92
What Russell White lacked in explosiveness, he made up for in consistency. Though he never cracked 1,200 yards in a season, he’s among just seven backs in conference history to reach 1,000 yards three different times.
White stands as Cal’s all-time leading rusher with 3367 yards and 35 TDs for his career. His yardage total is good for 17th on the Pac-10’s all-time list.
White was drafted by the Rams but would carry the ball just twice in his brief NFL career
21. LenDale White, USC, 2003-05
Though unavoidably overshadowed by the brilliance of backfield mate Reggie Bush, LenDale White made his own mark as a USC runner. Despite sharing carries with Bush, he still racked up 3,159 yards in his three seasons with the Trojans.
His claim to fame, though, was his ability to finish in the red zone. White is second in Pac-10 history with 57 total TDs.
Despite his lack of regular playing time at the NFL level, White is still scoring: He’s run for 24 touchdowns in his pro career.
20. J.J. Arrington, Cal, 2003-04
A junior college transfer to Cal in 2003, J.J. Arrington spent his first season with the Golden Bears backing up Adimchinobe Echemandu. When he got the starting job as a senior, though, he seized the opportunity.
Arrington posted just the third 2,000-yard rushing season in Pac-10 history, shattering Chuck Muncie’s school rushing record by nearly 600 yards. Arrington averaged seven yards a carry during his breakout year.
Arrington’s undistinguished NFL career may be over after his release by the Eagles prior to the start of last season.
19. Rueben Mayes, Washington State, 1982-85
At a school known for its star quarterbacks, Rueben Mayes made his presence felt as a runner. Mayes’ school-record 3,519 yards place him 14th in Pac-10 history, but his biggest claim to fame is one afternoon in the fall of 1984.
Playing against Oregon, Mayes set a conference record by running for 357 yards in a single game.
Injuries cut Mayes’ pro career short, but his brief stint with New Orleans included Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and two Pro Bowl berths.
18. LaMichael James, Oregon, 2009-Present
After having finished as runner-up in both the Heisman voting and the national championship game, LaMichael James is poised to make a run at the top spot in both categories in 2011. After just two years at Oregon, James is already among the greatest stars in Ducks history.
James’ total of 3,277 rushing yards so far is already in the conference’s top 20 all-time, and he came within 146 yards of O.J. Simpson’s two-year rushing record. James has also scored 35 TDs in his two seasons, and his 1,731-yard sophomore campaign is the 10th-best single season in conference history.
17. Steven Jackson, Oregon State, 2001-03
When the Rams gave Steven Jackson the unenviable job of trying to replace Marshall Faulk in their backfield, he came to the role with some experience. As an Oregon State sophomore in 2002, he found himself replacing arguably the greatest star in school history, tailback Ken Simonton.
All Jackson did was set a school record of his own with 1,690 rushing yards, then the eighth-best season in Pac-10 history. He would finish his career in Corvallis with 3,625 yards and 39 touchdowns.
16. Gaston Green, UCLA, 1984-87
Gaston Green served as one of the linchpins of the UCLA offense during one of the program’s most successful eras. The Bruins won four bowl games and two Pac-10 titles during Green’s career.
Green himself had a lot to do with it, running for 3,731 yards and 40 TDs in his four seasons. His yardage total still ranks ninth in Pac-10 history.
Green played briefly in the NFL, making one Pro Bowl as a Bronco before injuries ended his career.
15. Ricky Bell, USC, 1973-76
Round numbers mean a lot in sports, and Ricky Bell might be better remembered if he’d become, as he nearly did, the first Pac-10 runner to break 2,000 yards in a season.
Instead, Bell had to settle for a mere 1,975 yards in the 1975 season, a record at the time and still fourth-best in conference history. He finished his Trojans career with 3,689 rushing yards in all, gaining a school-record 347 of them in one game against Washington State.
In the NFL, Bell would become one of the first stars of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who drafted him No. 1 overall after their winless inaugural season.
14. Trung Canidate, Arizona, 1996-99
If it’s an Arizona rushing record, the chances are that Trung Canidate’s name is on it. The speedy halfback is the Wildcats’ leader in rushing yards for a game, season and career.
Canidate’s 3,824 career rushing yards are eighth in Pac-10 history, and his 288-yard game against archrival Arizona State is the conference’s 10th-best.
Canidate’s injury-shortened NFL career was largely spent on the Rams’ bench.
13. Yvenson Bernard, Oregon State, 2004-07
At 5’9” and 201 lbs, Yvenson Bernard certainly didn’t look the part of a workhorse back. When Oregon State needed him to produce, though, Bernard came up very big.
In Bernard’s three seasons as a starter, he never ran for fewer than 1,200 yards. His 3,862 career yards rank him seventh in Pac-10 history.
Despite his impressive college career, Bernard went undrafted by the NFL and eventually headed north to the CFL. He was signed to a two-year deal by the Montreal Alouettes in February.
12. Anthony Davis, USC, 1972-74
At USC under coach John McKay, the tailback was the offense, and Anthony Davis was quite an offense.
He racked up 3,724 yards in his three years as a Trojan, scoring a then Pac-10 record 52 TDs and carrying USC to two national titles. He also scored a record six TDs in a game (four rushing, two on kick returns) against Notre Dame in 1972.
Though he’d been drafted by the Jets, Davis turned down the NFL for more money with the Southern California Sun of the newly-formed World Football League. He would eventually play in the CFL, NFL (with the Buccaneers) and USFL, none of them successfully.
11. Napoleon Kaufman, Washington, 1991-94
A lightning-quick runner with great hands, Napoleon Kaufman earned a starting kick return job as a freshman despite playing for the defending national champions in Washington. As a sophomore, Kaufman took over as the starting tailback, and his home-run speed became a key part of the offense.
Kaufman would finish his Huskies career with a school-record 4,106 rushing yards, fifth-best in Pac-10 history. He ran for 200 yards in a game four times, also a Washington record.
Kaufman would go on to a workmanlike NFL career with the Oakland Raiders.
10. Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State, 2008-10
As Jacquizz Rodgers gears up for the NFL Draft, Oregon State fans lament what might have been if their diminutive star had stayed for his senior year in Corvallis. Even without a fourth season, though, Rodgers’ performance as a Beaver has been one for the ages.
Rodgers’ 3,877 career rushing yards edge out fellow Oregon State back Yvenson Bernard for sixth all-time in the Pac-10. A big-play specialist, Rodgers also scored 46 TDs in his career.
9. Darrin Nelson, Stanford, 1977-81
Darrin Nelson would belong in the company of the Pac-10’s best for his rushing ability alone, having gained 4,033 yards on the ground during his Stanford career. His real claim to fame, though, is as one of the great rushing/receiving dual threats in college football history
Nelson was the first player in NCAA history to gain 1,000 yards rushing and catch 50 passes in the same season—and he did it three different times.
Nelson would go on to a long and moderately successful career with the Minnesota Vikings.
8. Mike Garrett, USC, 1963-65
Today, playing tailback at USC is like playing centerfield for the Yankees, perpetually in the shadow of an incomparable tradition. In 1963, when Mike Garrett first stepped on the field for the Trojans, it was just another position.
Garrett brought USC its first Heisman Trophy in 1965, setting Pac-10 records for rushing yards in a season (1,440) and career (3,221).
He would go on to star for the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, leading them to the AFL title (and an appearance in Super Bowl I) in 1966.
7. Toby Gerhart, Stanford, 2006-09
Perhaps the best pure power halfback ever in a conference that has produced them by the bushel, Toby Gerhart didn’t get the chance to show what he could do until his junior year at Stanford. As it turned out, his 1,136 yards and 15 TDs were just the warmup.
Gerhart’s senior season was one of the greatest in Pac-10 history, as he ran for 1,871 yards and a conference record 27 TDs.
He accumulated 322 yards as a Vikings rookie backing up Adrian Peterson last season.
6. Ernie Nevers, Stanford, 1923-25
Ernie Nevers’ stats don’t make a dent in the Pac-10 record books anymore, but few players of the first half of the 20th century made more of an impact than the Stanford star.
A standout as a fullback and linebacker in those days of two-way play, Nevers was such a powerful runner that he went his entire career without being stopped for a loss on a running play.
In the 1925 Rose Bowl, Nevers—playing just 10 days after having the casts removed from his two broken ankles—squared off against Notre Dame’s famed Four Horsemen backfield. Though the Irish would win the game, Nevers ran for 114 yards, outgaining all Four Horsemen put together.
Nevers would go on to a Hall-of-Fame NFL career with the Cardinals that included a record six-TD game in 1929.
5. Ken Simonton, Oregon State, 1998-2001
Ken Simonton was the first Oregon State runner ever to break 100 yards in his first career game, and he never looked back. As a senior, he came within 29 yards of becoming the first Pac-10 player ever to record four 1000-yard seasons on the ground.
Simonton would finish his career with 5,044 yards rushing, a school record by far and second in Pac-10 history.
Simonton’s 5’7” frame likely contributed to his going undrafted in 2001. He played in NFL Europe in 2003 and won offensive MVP honors, but never saw appreciable playing time in the NFL.
4. Reggie Bush, USC, 2003-05
Officially, most of Reggie Bush’s electrifying career never happened, as NCAA penalties have resulted in his records being vacated. Regardless of whether he should have been playing, though, Bush did play, and played some of the best football the college gridiron has ever seen.
Bush topped 2,000 all-purpose yards in a season twice in his career, ran for 1,740 yards and 16 TDs as a junior to win the Heisman Trophy, and finished with an average of 7.3 yards per carry for his career.
Only Vince Young’s Rose Bowl heroics kept Bush from winning back-to-back BCS Championships to close out his career.
3. O.J. Simpson, USC, 1967-68
Before he was a celebrity, before he was an NFL Hall of Famer, O.J. Simpson was the greatest junior-college transfer in football history. He joined USC as a junior in 1967 and immediately rewrote the record books.
Simpson’s career total of 3,423 yards was a Pac-10 record at the time, even though he had just two seasons to accumulate it. His 1,880-yard senior campaign is still the sixth-highest total in conference history.
Simpson’s Heisman-winning 1968 season also featured 23 rushing TDs, a conference record that would stand for nearly 30 years.
2. Marcus Allen, USC, 1978-81
For his first two seasons at USC, Marcus Allen sat on the bench or blocked for Heisman-winner-to-be Charles White as a fullback. For his final two years, he showed Trojans fans what they’d been missing.
Allen’s Heisman-winning senior year was the best single season for any Pac-10 runner ever. He ran for a conference-record 2,427 yards (crushing White’s old mark by 400) and 22 TDs.
His career total of 4,810 rushing yards is third all-time in the Pac-10.
Allen’s Hall-of-Fame NFL career included several seasons paired with fellow Heisman winner Bo Jackson in the Raiders’ backfield.
1. Charles White, USC, 1976-79
Picking the best of the USC tailbacks is a nearly impossible job, but Charles White stands at least as tall as any of his peers.
White’s Heisman-winning 1979 campaign, in which he ran for 2,050 yards, is the second-best season in conference history. For his career, though, White ran for an unmatched 6,245 yards, still 1,200 yards ahead of second place in the conference.
White’s NFL career was nearly destroyed by a cocaine addiction, but he battled back to earn a Pro Bowl selection and a Comeback Player of the Year award as a Ram in 1987.
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