Pac-12 Power Positions: Running Backs

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With months to go before the start of the 2014 football season, we’re forced to feed our football addiction by taking a look at some of the returning talent.  Throughout the Pac-12 this last year, running backs dazzled fans all over the conference and kept us on our toes.  Though they lost some top talent such as Ka’Deem Carey, Marion Grice, Bishop Sankey and Tyler Gaffney to the NFL, all hope is not lost.

Over the past few years, the Pac-12 has had a plethora of proven talent in the running backs position.  For the 2014 season, there is not a lot of elite production returning, but there are a lot of guys with elite athletic potential coming back.

Khalfani Muhammad, Cal, Sophomore

As a true freshman 2013, Khalfani Muhammad came in and impressed many people by becoming Cal’s star running back.  He ran for 445 yards and four touchdowns on 74 carries, averaging six yards per carry.  Muhammad had the most rushing yards for the Bears, beating out teammate Brendan Bigelow who had 421 yards on 105 carries.  He also caught the ball 14 times for 187 yards and a touchdown and was second in the Pac-12 in kick return yardage with 1,006 yards.  Muhammad led the team in all-purpose yards with 1,638.

Storm Woods & Terron Ward, Oregon State, Junior & Senior

OSU's Terron Ward trying to run away from the Ducks.

Kevin Cline

OSU’s Terron Ward trying to run away from the Ducks.

For the Beavers, the strength of their running game came in the form of a tandem of backs – not by design, but by necessity.  In the third game of the 2013 season against Utah, Storm Woods was taken off the field in a ambulance after hitting his head against a Utah player’s thigh while throwing a block.

He was out for two games and returned just in time to help Oregon State beat Wazzu.  During his two game absence, teammate Terron Ward stepped up to help the Beavers defeat San Diego State and Colorado.

These two running backs spent the rest of the season neck and neck as to who would be the Beavers’ best running back, and together they propelled OSU’s running attack this year. Woods finished the season with 477 yards, 6 touchdowns in 127 carries, while Ward carried the ball 113 times for 521 yards and 5 touchdowns.  Woods averaged 3.8 yards per carry and Ward edged him out by averaging 4.6 yards.  In OSU’s victory against Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl, both were effective in the running game with 6+ yards per carry, but Woods’ 107-yard performance shined brighter than Ward’s.

This leaves Oregon State with two proven running backs who egg each other on, and will give the Beavers two threats in the running game for 2014.

Christian Powell, Colorado, Junior

It wasn’t until the fifth game of the season that Christian Powell started producing the kinds of numbers that many were expecting from him.  A bruised thigh had him off to a slow start to the season, but he came back with a bang by having one of his best games of the season in the season’s fifth game against Oregon.  He went on to run for 562 yards and three touchdowns on 147 carries, giving him average of 3.8 yards per carry.

With a healthy start to the season, Powell’s numbers should increase considerably, especially with improvements on the offensive line, adding some JUCO talent in OL Sully Weifels and another year of maturity for a unit with few losses.

Javorius Allen, USC, Junior

When Lane Kiffin was fired only five games into the season, it shocked a lot of people and brought about a monumental change at USC — interim head coach Ed Orgeron announced that all game personal decisions would be made by the assistant coaches. The very next week against Arizona, USC discovered that it had an unknown and untapped talent in running back Javorius Allen, who had been at the bottom of the depth chart during Kiffin’s tenure.

In his very first game, Allen, or “Buck” as he is known among his teammates, scored two touchdowns followed by two weeks of three touchdowns each.  At the end of the season, he had run for 785 yards and 14 touchdowns in 135 carries.  He ended the season averaging 5.8 per carry with his longest run being 75 yards.

After his breakout performance against Arizona, fellow Trojan Dion Bailey said to the LA Times, “We were just waiting for him to get his turn and he made the most out of it – it just emphasized the importance of guys being ready because you never know when you’re going to get your shot.”  Let’s see what he can accomplish when he has someone trusting him right from the start.

Thomas Tyner, Oregon, Sophomore

Thomas Tyner scoring his first collegiate touchdown against Virginia.

Andrew Shurtleff

Thomas Tyner scoring his first collegiate touchdown against Virginia.

When Thomas Tyner committed to Oregon, he brought a lot of expectations along with him.  An Oregon kid staying in state to play for Oregon was big news, and once people realized how good he really was, the news got even bigger.  Tyner did not disappoint — as a true freshman last year, he earned playing time and became Oregon’s third leading rusher behind Byron Marshall and Marcus Mariota.

He made his debut in the fourth quarter of a game against an over-matched Virginia team, and he gave people a taste of his potential.  He scored touchdowns on his first and fourth plays as a college football player and a Duck.  Tyner finished the year with 711 yards and 9 touchdowns on 115 touches, averaging just under 6 yards per play.

Throughout the season, coaches lauded Tyner’s maturity in dealing with success and playing college football.  Talking to The Oregonian early in the season, former UO coach Mike Bellotti had this to say about Tyner, “I think the fact that he is playing and the fact that he’s playing early means the coaches trust him and the players trust him.” Tyner went on to prove that the trust was well deserved.

Byron Marshall, Oregon, Junior

Byron Marshall running away with the ball

Kevin Cline

Byron Marshall running away with the ball

Like Tyner, Byron Marshall needs no introduction to Duck fans.  After a good freshman season, Marshall was the expected starter for the Ducks and he used this season to turn himself into a star.  Though he battled Tyner for carries all season, Marshall ended the year with 168 carries for 1038 yards and 14 touchdowns.  He battled an injury late in the season, but returned to play in the Alamo Bowl.

Spring ball and fall camp will be interesting to watch this year as the competition unfolds between Marshall and Tyner to become the starter.  We’ll see who comes out on top, though it can’t be said that Oregon loses either way.

Without a doubt, the Pac-12 has lost some very dominating RBs this year and half of the conference’s teams will be utilizing relatively unproven talent.  Yet, with this much returning talent on the field next year, it will no doubt be a interesting season.

Top Photo by Kevin Cline

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