It’s unfair to compare any running back class to what the Pac-12 had in 2017. There was Heisman runner-up Bryce Love, Pac-12 record breaker Royce Freeman, the slashing Ronald Jones II, the brute force of Ryan Nall, Nick Wilson and Kalen Ballage playing in the desert, and, of course, the people’s Heisman Phillip Lindsay. The Pac-12 is still loaded at running back, but it would be impossible to have as much talent and production as there was a year ago. Nonetheless, here are our rankings:
12. Art Pierce — Oregon State
Art Pierce may be the best offensive player on Oregon State, but he’s last in these rankings because (1) OSU is really bad, and (2) it’s tough out here when you have to compare yourself against the beasts of the Pac-12. The Beavers probably won’t run the ball as much as they want to, but they should have success when they go to Pierce. He’s averaged over 5 yards per carry in 168 career attempts and has scored 7 total touchdowns, plus he’s valuable in the passing game. But to be completely honest, Beavers fans would probably prefer to have Steven Kwan try his hand at running back.
11. Bolu Olorunfunmi — UCLA
Putting Bolu at 11 is not an indictment on Bolu (I will put his name in this paragraph as much as possible), but praise over the depth of the Pac-12 running backs. The bulk of the running backs aren’t as talented as last year, but there isn’t a huge difference between Bolu at 11 and TBJ at 5. Bolu is a bowling ball on the field. He literally stands on an Oregon player here:
Bolu is the leader of a RB by committee approach at UCLA. The stats aren’t flattering to the Bruins. The atrocity that was the UCLA offensive line made sure that the running game couldn’t efficiently move the ball. This year, they start at the bottom of this list because the numbers demand it.
10. James Williams — Washington State
James Williams is a slippery fish. As the most talented RB in a loaded backfield with Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow, Williams saw the field because of how elusive he proved to be. Now, with Wicks and Morrow gone, Williams gets the spotlight now. He is not as good of a receiver or blocker as Morrow, but Wazzu should run the ball more this year, meaning that Williams will see the field. Also, watch out for Colorado product Max Borghi. After enrolling early, he has drawn rave reviews and should play a lot this upcoming year.
9. Eno Benjamin — Arizona State
Benjamin is a natural runner. He split time with Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard last year, but now that they both graduated, he will get the lion’s share of the touches. Eno is a smaller back, but he plays physical and has fantastic balance. Benjamin doesn’t have elite breakaway speed, but he gets up to top speed quick and can hit the corner hard on sweeps and tosses. Benjamin plays similar to Phillip Lindsay, without the heart that is three sizes too big.
8. J.J. Taylor — Arizona
J.J. Taylor will likely play in a supporting role this season, but that’s not a bad thing at all when Khalil Tate is leading the offense. Taylor, a sophomore, is explosive and should benefit greatly from opposing defenses focusing everything on Tate. Assuming Kevin Sumler keeps a spread option offensive attack, Taylor should have plenty of chances to make his name known.
7. Patrick Laird — Cal
Laird is a hard guy to pin down. The former walk-on exploded onto the scene last year for Cal and never let go of the starting job. Patrick is super solid at everything he does, kind like the whole Golden Bear team in general. He can block well out of the backfield, catches passes at a high rate, and can run efficiently. He won’t lose you games, but he doesn’t move the needle as well as the first four names on this list. Given that Cal doesn’t have a backup that’s played a lot of snaps, expect Laird to get a lot of run.
6. Travon McMillian — Colorado
Phillip Lindsay has left a hole larger than himself at Colorado, both on and off the field. Travon McMillian will never be as good as Lindsay, nor will he be the leader of his team, but he will do what he can to fill that void. McMillian is a quality back whose experience and power should be vital skills to the Colorado offense hum. He likely has a set ceiling, but he will be reliable back who could steady an inconsistent offense.
5. Tony Brooks-James — Oregon
Like McMillian with Lindsay and Pierce with Nall, Tony Brooks-James will have to replace a school legend in Royce Freeman. Brooks-James will never re-write the conference record books, but he should be one of the best backs in the Pac-12. TBJ is quick, shifty and has great field vision. He will thrive in a fast-paced, wide-open offense beside star QB Justin Herbert. Watch for him to break out.
4. Zack Moss — Utah
More like Zacc Moss because he’s thicc. But seriously, folks, Moss is built like a bowling ball and is always moving forward, dragging defenders towards the first down marker. After a season in which he had 1,173 yards and 10 touchdowns, he’s poised to have another great year. Utah is a dark horse contender to win the Pac-12 South and if they do, it would be because of Moss and Tyler Huntley leading an experienced offense.
3. Stephen Carr — USC
Everybody, this is Jack. If it were up to me, I’d somehow have Carr higher, despite also ranking Gaskin and Love as 1 and 2. Don’t question the logic, just go with it. Carr is an athletic freak. He is one of the biggest lead backs in the conference, but that doesn’t stop him from being one of the fastest, too. He’s young, as a rising sophomore, and coming off a pretty major injury. Carr will also help the Trojans break in a freshman QB, so he will be leaned on early and often. Stephen has the highest ceiling of anyone not named Love.
2. Myles Gaskin — Washington
Mr. Consistent finally gets his due. After three years of eye-popping numbers, Gaskin is getting the recognition he deserves right as he’s about to leave. It’s a shame really. Gaskin is quietly a member of the 4,000 yard club already, with a very good chance to shoot up to 5,000 yards before his career is done. He has never averaged less then 1,300 yards a season or 5.7 yards per rush. Consistent excellency puts him in the top 5 running backs in the country, but unfortunately for him, the best in the country also resides on the Pacific Coast
1. Bryce Love — Stanford
Don’t read; just watch.