"Versatile" certainly describes the two Oregon running backs, who have both made significant contributions to the Ducks as tailbacks, receivers and returners.
Barner was on the Hornung preseason watch list last August, along with Ducks Cliff Harris and Josh Huff. Harris is gone now, having been kicked off the team, and Huff is back this year for his junior season as a wide receiver.
Oregon's LaMichael James, not named to the initial watch list last season, was a finalist for the 2011 award, along with Arkansas' Joe Adams, Georgia's Brandon Boykin and Toledo's Eric Page. Boykin won the award, his offense, defense and special teams contributions for the Bulldogs earning him the honor.
Thomas would seem to have a better chance of snatching up the Hornung Award than Barner, if only because his impact on the receiving game and on special teams were both so huge during Oregon's 2011 Rose Bowl-winning season.
As a true freshman, Thomas was named first-team all-Pac-12 Conference as a return specialist, and was also named the conference's co-offensive freshman of the year, in addition to his selection to the Football Writers Association of America's Freshman All-America team as an all-purpose player. He was the only player in the nation to chalk up at least 500 yards rushing, receiving and returning.
Barner enters 2012 as the Ducks' No. 1 running back, after playing behind James the past three seasons. He will, no doubt, remain heavily involved in the passing game, and will likely see time as a returner, as well.
Barner and Thomas are two of 10 Pac-12 players on the list, and they make the Ducks one of just four teams with multiple players chosen.
The full Hornung Award watch list, which includes 49 players, can be found here.
Adam Sparks has been following Oregon Ducks football since 1990, and has written about the team as a freelancer since 2009.