Arizona Wildcats contribute to 2013 as year of running back in Pac-12



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The Arizona football team begins its 2013 season against Northern Arizona at Arizona Stadium on Aug. 30, which is 69 days away. From now until then, this Web site will count down the days with facts about the Wildcats, their players, coaching staff and opponents. This is not a ranking, only a list of 100 facts and observances related to the 2013 Arizona football team and coach Rich Rodriguez.

Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey is the No. 1 returning running back in the Pac-12 according to Athlon magazine

Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey is the No. 1 returning running back in the Pac-12 according to Athlon magazine (YouTube video still)

The history of USC running backs notwithstanding, the Pac-12 is a quarterback league with five Heisman Trophy winners at that position and a tradition of pass-happy offenses.

Some, such as ESPN.com’s Kevin Grimmell, suggest the 2013 season will be the year of the quarterback in the league.

“The Pac-12 might have its best crop of quarterbacks in league history,” writes Grimmell, who points out the Pac-12 has sent at least one quarterback to the NFL since 1995 and at least one was chosen in the first round in nine of the past 16 drafts.

However, while it is true that Oregon returns Marcus Mariota and UCLA Brett Hundley, half of the league has unsettled quarterback situations, including Arizona with prolific passer Matt Scott exhausting his eligibility. USC’s Matt Barkley is also gone.

Stanford (Kevin Hogan), ASU (Taylor Kelly), Oregon State (Sean Mannion) and Washington (Keith Price) also return their starters, but until proven otherwise, they are not elite quarterbacks.

Phil Steele, one of the leading authorities of judging college football talent, ranks only Oregon (No. 5) and UCLA (No. 8) among the top 15 quarterback depth charts in the nation. He rates four running back units in the top 15 — ASU (No. 4), Oregon (No. 6), Arizona (No. 7) and USC (No. 9).

Steele writes he would have rated the Wildcats’ running backs higher if junior Ka’Deem Carey (the nation’s leading returning rusher with 1,929 yards) had an experienced or highly-touted backup. He mentions little-used sophomore Jared Baker and incoming freshman Pierre Cormier as Carey’s primary backups.

He must have completed this ranking before senior Daniel Jenkins announced last month he will return to Arizona instead of transfer to Washington State as an immediate-eligible graduate.

Jenkins rushed 67 times for 293 yards and two touchdowns last season as Carey’s primary backup. His best game was in the 2012 regular-season finale against Arizona State, when he carried 21 times for 78 yards when Carey was sidelined with a sore collarbone.

“We feel he’s really a co-starter,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez told a Salt Lake City radio station last month. “He played quite a bit last season; he has a lot of experience. He’s a mature guy. We have a lot of confidence in Daniel Jenkins.”

Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas is Mel Kiper Jr.'s top-rated NFL running back prospect in the NFL

Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas is Mel Kiper Jr.’s top-rated NFL running back prospect in the NFL

The Pac-12 boasts three of the top four NFL running back prospects in the country — Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas, Carey and USC’s Silas Redd — according to ESPN’s NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. The other in Kiper’s top four — Baylor junior Lache Seastrunk — is formerly of Oregon.

Thomas is a definite Heisman candidate and Carey and Redd have an outside chance. Mariota is also a Heisman hopeful for the Ducks. He can join Oregon State’s Terry Baker (1962), UCLA’s Gary Beban (1967), Stanford’s Jim Plunkett (1970), and USC’s Carson Palmer (2002) and Matt Leinart (2004) as quarterback Heisman winners from the conference.

Mariota and Hundley are good, but the league belongs to the running backs.

Steele has published four preseason All-America teams (first team, second team, etc.), and among the eight running backs listed, three come from the Pac-12 (Thomas, first team; Carey, second team; and Silas, fourth team). That’s the most of any conference. SEC and Big 12 each had two.

The Pac-12 appears to have enough talented running backs to make up for the loss of UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin, Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor and Oregon’s Kenjon Barner, all of whom will be playing on Sundays.

Other top returners in the league include Oregon State’s Storm Woods and Washington’s Bishop Sankey. Woods who rushed for 940 yards on 192 carries last year as a redshirt freshman. Sankey averaged 155 yards per game over his last five as a sophomore, including a 205-yard performance in the Las Vegas Bowl against a decent Boise State defense.

ASU’s unit is rated high by Steele because senior Marion Grice — who rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns in the Sun Devils’ win against Arizona — posted 679 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns and another 425 receiving yards while getting only about a third of the carries at running back. D.J. Foster, a sophomore, had 493 yards rushing and 533 yards receiving in his first year of college football.

Oregon and ASU each have two of the top 10 running backs in the Pac-12 as rated by Athlon, which puts Carey atop the list. The Ducks and Sun Devils listed are Oregon’s Thomas (No. 2) and Byron Marshall (No. 8) and ASU’s Grice (No. 5) and Foster (No. 9).

Barry Sanders’ son, Stanford freshman Barry Sanders Jr., is ranked No. 14. He has the most famous name in a group of Pac-12 running backs who will become quite popular nationally this season.

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The best No. 69 to play for Arizona is former center John Briscoe (1962-64), who was the Western Athletic Conference lineman of the year in 1964. Briscoe is a member of the WILDABOUTAZCATS.net’s Arizona’s All-Time All-WAC team.

WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, TucsonCitizen.com and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site ZonaZealots.com.


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