LOS ANGELES – Pac-10 fans need not fear the onset of three yards and a cloud of dust. But the conference known for its passing attacks now features one of its most productive groups of running backs in years.
Five 1,000 yard rushers return for the 2009 season.
Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh on Thursday proclaimed Cardinal running back Toby Gerhart, who rushed for 1,136 yards last season, the best in the nation. But Gerhart might not even be in the best in the conference.
Others deserving consideration are Cal's Jahvid Best, who rushed for 1,580 yards last season; and Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers (1,253 yards); Arizona's Nic Grigbsy (1,153 yards); Oregon's LaGarrette Blount (1,002 yards). Not to forget a trio of USC running backs – Stafon Johnson, Joe McKnight and C.J. Gable – who combined for almost 2,000 yards rushing.
"You better be able to stop the run if you want to compete," Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said at the Pac-10's preseason media event.
But teams stacking the line of scrimmage invite danger with the likes of Cal's Jeff Tedford, USC's Pete Carroll and Oregon's Chip Kelly among the conference's pass-happy coaches. The presence of 1,000-yard rushers illustrates a shift toward more balanced attacks.
"It's making it a little harder to game plan," Arizona free safety Cam Nelson said.
Wasn't long after Pete Carroll arrived before the Los Angeles Times cornered him. Earlier in the day, the newspaper reported that USC might have violated NCAA rules because a handful of coaches with NFL experience have served as consultants during Carroll's tenure at USC. The NCAA allows major college football programs nine assistants and two graduate assistants, and USC exceeded that limit with the use of consultants, according to the Times report.
"This is something that we have gone through all the proper channels a long time ago to make sure that we were doing the right thing and all that," Carroll told the Times. "We've documented it."
TRIAL BY TRASH TALK
This past spring, UCLA's defense tested more than Kevin Prince's athletic skill as the redshirt freshman prepared to take over as the Bruins' starting quarterback.
"He's very composed out there, because we would scream and talk a lot of trash," linebacker Reggie Carter said. "… As long as he gets the ball where it needs to be on time, I think he's going to be a great player."
IT'S A FACT
Not long after Reggie Carter said he was looking forward to UCLA's game against Tennessee, Pac-10 spokesman Jim Muldoon announced, "The SEC's a great conference. But just for the record, since 2000 it's Pac-10 10, SEC 7."
In varying volume, coach after coach mentioned how excited they were for preseason practice to begin. But no one was more convincing than Stanford's Harbaugh, who said, "We're ready to kick the door open and start swinging."
Arizona State linebacker Mike Nixon never bothered living in the dormitories. He signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002 for a $1 million bonus before giving up baseball and joining ASU.
"He's got the best house of anyone I've seen not on scholarship," Erickson said. "His house is a hell of a lot better than mine."
Statewide budget cuts will force California to bus from Berkeley to Los Angeles for its game against UCLA on Oct. 17. By Tedford's calculations, traveling by bus will take only one hour longer than the 75-minute flight because the football team won't have to travel to the airport. If so, that must be one fast bus. The distance between Berkeley and Los Angeles: 341 miles.
So how did Arizona State wrest 6-foot-8 quarterback Brock Osweiler from Gonzaga? Simply. "We have a football program," said Erickson, who helped persuade Osweiler to give up basketball and concentrate on football.