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Rating the Starting Pac-12 Running Backs for 2018

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Stanford v Utah Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

Shane took several looks at the starting quarterbacks in the Pac-12 in 2018 and where Tyler Huntley stacks up. Now, let’s look at his companion in the backfield, running back Zack Moss. The Pac-12 is loaded at running back this year, with the Doak Walker winner returning in addition to three other backs who topped 1,000 yards last season.

1. Bryce Love - Stanford Cardinal

This one is a pretty easy call. Love is the best running back in the country, but when he started the season, he had huge shoes to fill with the departure of Christian McCaffrey. Boy did he fill those shoes; he rushed for over 2,000 yards last year on over 8.0 yards per carry en route to a runner up finish for the Heisman and winning the Doak Walker Award. Love accomplished this on an injured ankle for the second half of the season. Love is a Heisman frontrunner this year.

2. Myles Gaskin - Washington Huskies

In each of his first three seasons in Seattle, the Washington native topped 1,300 rushing yards and has over 4,000 career rushing yards. Gaskin has been the model of consistency, averaging over 100 yards per game for his career. He scored 24 touchdowns last season rushing and receiving. He topped 100 yards receiving against Utah last season, the first 100 receiving yard game of his career. Gaskin will likely finish his excellent career with a big senior season behind a great offensive line.

3. Zack Moss - Utah Utes

Moss was a one man wrecking crew last season (just ask USC linebacker Cam Smith). Moss got off to a great start in 2017, topping 100 yards against North Dakota, but then it took a few games for Moss to get going again in 2017. He ran all over USC, literally, topping 140 yards, setting a career high he would exceed three during the rest of season. Moss finished the regular season with 196 yards against Colorado. Where Moss really excelled last season was limiting negative plays. He showed great vision and was one of the hardest backs to tackle in the conference. Moss is not the fastest back in the conference, but he is consistent and can create yards when they are not there. Utah has a lot of weapons on offense in 2018, but I think Moss is in for a big junior season.

4. Patrick Laird - California Golden Bears

Laird came out of nowhere last season to top 1,000 yards rushing, after only totaling 59 yards as a sophomore. Laird was a dual threat out of the backfield rushing and receiving. He caught 45 passes for over 300 yards and topped 1,100 yards rushing. The main knock on Laird is that he did most of his damage against poor rushing defenses. All five of his 100 yards games came against either FCS teams or teams that ranked in the bottom half of rushing defense in the Pac-12.

5. J.J. Taylor - Arizona Wildcats

Taylor had an excellent freshman season, with 847 yards while splitting carries with Khalil Tate and Nick Wilson. Wilson graduated, so Taylor will be the feature back for Arizona. Along with dynamic quarterback Tate, Arizona will have one of the most formidable backfields in the country. Taylor averaged barely over 11 carries per game last season. He is likely to see his load go up, but he likely won’t see 200+ carries because of Tate and more focus on passing the ball with new coach Kevin Sumlin compared to old coach Rich Rodriguez. Taylor will likely hit 1,000 yards this season if he stays healthy.

6. Stephen Carr - USC Trojans

The former five-star recruit looked good in limited action as a true freshman backing up Ronald Jones II. With Jones off to the NFL, Carr will likely step in as the primary back for USC. Last season, he averaged 6.5 carries per game and appeared in 10 games. He ran for 363 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 5.58 yards per carry. If we project Carr to get a similar number of carries to Jones (roughly 20 per game), he could exceed 1,400 yards as a sophomore if he stays healthy (he missed multiple games as a freshman due to injury) and continues to average more than 5.5 yards per carry.

7. Eno Benjamin - Arizona State Sun Devils

This is a name that should sound familiar for Utah fans. Benjamin chose ASU over Utah at the U.S. Army All-American game in 2017. Benjamin, a former four-star recruit, saw limited reps (only 23 carries for 142 yards and one touchdown) as a true freshman behind seniors Demario Richard and Kallen Ballage. Benjamin did make his carries count though, averaging 6.17 yards per carry. Benjamin should be the feature back as a sophomore, and he has the talent to be a 1,000-yard rusher.

8. Tony Brooks-James - Oregon Ducks

Brooks-James enters his senior year as the leading returning rusher for Oregon with the graduations of Royce Freeman and Kani Benoit. He will have competition for carries from freshman CJ Verdell, who shined in spring. As a sophomore, Brooks-James averaged 7.63 yards per carry and totaled 771 rushing yards. However, as a junior, Brooks-James slipped to 5.35 yards per carry and only 498 rushing yards per game. If Brooks-James regains his sophomore form, he will be one of the top backs in the conference. However, he could end up staying a change-of-pace back and cede carries to Verdell or fellow freshman Cyrus Habibi-Likio. At 5’ 9”, 175, Brooks-James is not the size of most Pac-12 feature backs.

9. James Williams - Washington State Cougars

Williams plays in the offense that cares the least in the country about running the football. However, just because WSU does not run the ball much does not mean they completely ignore their running backs. Williams caught 71 passes for 482 yards and had 395 yards rushing. The other two of WSU’s top three running backs are gone, so Williams will likely see his workload grow in his junior season in 2018. It seems highly unlikely he will rush for 1,000 yards (the Cougars as a team did not top 1,000 rushing last season), but he might be able to total 1,000 yards combined in rushing and receiving.

10. Bolu Olorunfunmi - UCLA Bruins

UCLA basically had two backs that had close to the same number of carries and yards per game, Olorunfunmi and Soso Jamabo. UCLA made improvements running the ball last season, but they were still 11th in the conference, and Olorunfunmi and Jamabo both averaged under 5.0 yards per carry (the only other starters who did not manage to average 5.0 yards per carry last year were Ryan Nall of Oregon State and Phillip Lindsay of Colorado, both of whom are gone). New UCLA head coach Chip Kelly is expected to improve the running game, but UCLA has to make a lot of improvement to be respectable running the ball after finishing 11th in total rushing and 10th in yards per carry in the conference.

11. Artavis Pierce - Oregon State Beavers

Pierce was the primary backup to Ryan Nall, who left school early for the NFL. Pierce saw limited action as a sophomore (68 carries for 323 yards and one touchdown). Of Oregon’s State’s top four rushers last year, he is the only one back in 2018. Expect his workload to increase. His 4.75 yards per carry is not bad for limited reps.

12. Beau Bisharat - Colorado Buffaloes

The former four-star recruit has been the backup to Phillip Lindsay for the last two years. In his first two years at Colorado, he has carried the ball a total of 36 times for 107 yards. Lindsay led the Pac-12 in carries last year and averaged almost five more carries per game than second in the Pac-12 (Oregon’s Royce Freeman). Michael Adkins II is also gone, so Bisharat will be expected to carry the load after having minimal carries as a freshman and sophomore. He could end up being great, but he is unproven, and he is averaging under 3.0 yards per carry for his career. He has the fewest carries of any potential starter and the lowest yards per carry.