Ask your typical college pigskin fans what's the first thing that comes to mind when you say "Pac-10 football." The most likely answer – aside from "why are you asking me that?" – is "quarterbacks."
The Left Coast has garnered a well-deserved reputation for producing some of the best passers in the land year in and year out. In the last decade, USC alone has had three signal callers drafted in the first round of the NFL draft.
The guys under center such as Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley are still getting plenty of preseason hype out west. Quietly, however, a new stable of young running backs may be preparing to steal the show.
Guys like Oregon burner LaMichael James and Jacquizz Rodgers of Oregon State are already national names. Keep an eye on this crew of Pac-10 runners to emerge in 2010:
You probably know about UW quarterback Jake Locker already, but did you know that Polk rushed for more than 1,100 yards in 2009? The young Huskies made some big strides last year in coach Steve Sarkisian's first season, and the offense, which returns 10 starters, undoubtedly will continue its upward ascent this season. Polk has a legitimate shot to lead the conference in rushing.
Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh gave Heisman finalist Toby Gerhart 26 carries per game last season. Even with Gerhart pounding away at opponents, Harbaugh sprinkled in an average of five attempts every game for Taylor. The dynamic freshman snared 5.5 yards per carry as the change-of-pace back. Now, however, the Cardinal will be counting on Taylor to be the every-down man in an offense that ran the ball on 63 percent of its plays last year.
With Jahvid Best dinged up for the final five games of the year, Vereen became the focal point of the Golden Bears' offense. The sophomore took the gig and ran with it - to the tune of 952 yards and 12 touchdowns. Four starters return on the offensive line and Cal QB Kevin Riley stinks. Sounds like a formula for lots and lots of carries for Vereen.
*Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin, Arizona
Plenty of backfield duos are better-known than Grigsby and Antolin, but few can match their explosiveness. The shifty Grigsby averaged 7.2 yards per attempt, while Antolin got 5.6. How the Wildcats adjust to life without offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes remains to be seen. This pair combined with productive junior QB Nick Foles provide a good starting point, though.
The next USC running back to inherit the title of the "Next Reggie Bush," Baxter is one of the most-hyped newcomers in the country this year. His YouTube video from the Trojans' spring practices left jaws dropping everywhere. For a program reeling from the effects of probation, the Trojans need the kind of optimism that a player like Baxter can create.