With five weeks left in the regular season, who the best players in college football for the 2013 season becomes clearer. In the Pac-12 Conference – which may turn out to be the best league in the country – running backs have played key roles for their teams.
There are the traditional big strong backs banging for yardage, then the speedsters who out-quick their opponents and finally the multi-purpose back who can do it all.
The list here offers a bit of everything and includes two backs from one school. Also, I’ve added a two-headed version where in reality, actually gives this list eight rushers. However, the two backs have handed the baton as one was injured and then the other. Their performance has helped keep that team afloat.
Ka’Deem Carey of Arizona (pictured) led the nation in rushing last year, but who is on top in 2013? Here’s the list and note they’re ranked from seventh to first, first being the best back in the Pac-12 … and likely the country.
Sources: Pac-12 Conference, USA Today
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7. Byron Marshall – Oregon Ducks:
He might be the least known back on this list. This is ironic considering the 5’10” 201 pound sophomore is on one of the most high profile football teams in the nation.
Marshall has gained over a thousand all-purpose yards, but his specialty is running the ball out of the backfield, keeping the Duck rushing attack dynamic. Last year, he played enough to gain well over 400 yards on the ground but this season Marshall has 12 touchdowns with 879 yards-to-date. He’s a superstar in the making.
6. Tyler Gaffney – Stanford Cardinal
The big 6’1” 221 pound senior has been a workhorse for 886 yards on the ground and added 13 total touchdowns. Gaffney leads another strong running game at Stanford that looked suspect when the season started.
However, Gaffney has returned after a year off playing professional baseball to get his degree, and is now becoming one of the stalwarts on the Cardinal team. The year off appears to have made Gaffney hungrier along with looking fresher while banging away on opposing defenses. He will be key to Stanford’s push for a BCS bowl.
5. Tre Madden / Silas Redd – USC Trojans
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the heavily-injured Trojans would have two people for one position. When the 5’10” 200 pound senior Redd missed the first five games of the year, the bigger 6’1” 220 pound sophomore Madden, a former linebacker, moved confidently into the starting tailback spot keeping USC’s offense going as one of the top runners in the country.
However, when Redd returned, he was given the baton back by Madden who was beat up. Redd was able to gain 192 yards in the first two games back and together, they’ve averaged 108 yards per game. If either or both can stay healthy, the Trojans rushing attack will be hard to stop.
4. De’Anthony Thomas – Oregon Ducks
The flashy and sometimes stunning-to-watch junior was expected to be a Heisman Trophy contender. The 5’9” 176 pounder has been injured (ankle) which has always been the concern for someone of his size trying to play running back on a regular basis. Known as a gifted returner, with goods hands as a receiver, the very talented Thomas has only seven touchdowns in 2013 compared to 18 last year.
He appeared ready to go last week with his abundant abilities but was pulled in the first half of the game. The prolific player can change a game but it’s uncertain whether he will be a part of Oregon’s national title run.
3. Bishop Sankey – Washington Huskies
The 5’10” 203 pound junior has been solid if not spectacular this season. He’s gained well over 1,300 total yards in 2013 and is a mainstay for the sometimes inconsistent Washington Huskies.
Sankey earned two 200 yard games this year and has scored 13 touchdowns so far this season. If the Huskies are to improve from years past, they’ll need Sankey to continue his workmanlike pace.
2. Marion Grice – Arizona State Sun Devils
It’s not like he came out of nowhere, but the 6’ 204 pound senior has done whatever has been needed for high-scoring Arizona State. Grice has rushed for 12 touchdowns and has another six TDs receiving.
The multipurpose back may not be under the radar for long and even has been discussed in some Heisman talks. Regardless, he should be an important cog in the Sun Devils battle for the South Division title.
1. Ka’Deem Carey – Arizona Wildcats
The best back in the country a year ago is still the best there is. The 5’10” 196 pound junior has 920 yards on the ground and although teams are keying on Carey, he has been able to rush for 10 touchdowns in Rich Rodriguez’s spread running game.
For Arizona to move to the next level, the supporting crew will need to improve; but in the meantime, Carey will continue to carry the load (pun intended) as the nation’s leading rusher with anticipation towards a possible trip to New York as one of the Heisman hopefuls.