September 26, 2023

Ranking the Pac-12’s best running backs of 2023

Pac-12's best running backs of 2023

Oregon running back Bucky Irving glances toward the sideline before a play in the fourth quarter of the Holiday Bowl against North Carolina Wednesday December 28, 2022 at Petco Park. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

The league will have some offensive firepower this fall.

With a plethora of talented gunslingers and rushers around the Pac-12, each team should have solid backfield. Although only one 1000-yard rusher returns to the conference, there’s another that brings the same production from the MAC. Not only are these backs great explosive runners, but they’re also efficient blockers and catchers out in space.

Which is why the Pac-12 will be one of the most entertaining Power Five conferences in 2023.

12. DeCarlos Brooks, Arizona State: The Sun Devils are pretty green in the backfield approaching the fall. Brooks was California’s second-leading rusher last season. He rushed for 43 yards apiece against Notre Dame and Washington. The former three-star prospect generated 35 yards on the ground in the victory over UC Davis. Brooks rushed for 32 yards and a touchdown in the win over Arizona. Tevin White and Javen Jacobs will be in the rotation too. White registered 67 rushing yards in 2022, and Jacobs is a former wide receiver, who switched to running back over the spring. It’s beneficial that Brooks has some experience in Pac-12 play, which will help Arizona State down the stretch.

11. Casey Filkins, Stanford: The Oregon native led the Cardinal in carries, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns last season. Filkins also was efficient at returning kickoffs and punts. He rushed for a score and hauled in a 30-yard touchdown reception in the opening victory over Colgate. The former three-star prospect generated 77 yards on the ground and a touchdown against USC. Filkins rushed for a season-high, 100 yards at Washington. Not to mention Filkins carried the ball a season-high, 32 times for 91 yards and a touchdown against Notre Dame. Filkins also recorded a rushing score against Oregon State, and used his soft hands to catch a 42-yard touchdown pass against Oregon.

10. Alton McCaskill, Colorado: Coach Prime landed a gem out of the transfer portal last month. The former three-star prospect missed all of last season with a torn ACL. However, McCaskill had a monster campaign with the Cougars in 2021. He rushed for 961 yards and scored 18 total touchdowns, including 16 rushing. Not to mention McCaskill earned second-team, All-AAC honors that year. His commitment to the Buffaloes means he’ll likely be the featured back. Now that McCaskill is back fully healthy he’ll bring experience, leadership and production to an offense that’s full of new faces. His presence on the field will keep defenses honest, and take a lot of pressure off Shedeur Sanders.

9. Ja’Quinden Jackson, Utah: The Utes have plenty of talent, and will field a deep backfield. Jackson rushed for nine touchdowns, and averaged 6.8 yards per carry last season. He rushed for a season-high, 117 yards and three touchdowns at Colorado. Jackson generated 105 yards on the ground and two scores in the Pac-12 Championship Game. He also posted a rushing score against Arizona. Arizona State, Penn State and Washington State. Micah Bernard and Jaylon Gover will be in the mix Bernard rushed for a score against Florida and USC, and had a 19-yard touchdown catch against Stanford. Glover added a rushing score against Colorado, Washington State and Southern Utah.

8. Michael Wiley, Arizona: The Houston native led the Wildcats in carries, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and caught 36 passes out of the backfield in 2022. Wiley hauled in a 22-yard touchdown reception, and added 97 on the ground, to go along with a rushing score in the victory at UCLA. He rushed for 79 yards and a score at California. His 214 rushing yards, and three touchdowns in the win over Arizona State were season-highs. Wiley also recorded a rushing score against USC and North Dakota State. Not to mention he posted 77 rushing yards, and caught two touchdowns against Colorado. Wiley could easily record a 1,000-yard campaign in 2023 if gets enough carries.

7. Cameron Davis, Washington: The former four-star prospect led the Huskies in touchdowns on the ground, and finished second on the team in carries and rushing yards. Davis had a nose for the endzone, and his 13 rushing touchdowns in 2022 ranked third in the Pac-12. He rushed for three scores at Arizona State. Davis rushed for two scores apiece in wins over Colorado and Portland State. Mississippi State transfer Dillon Johnson will make them a great tandem. Johnson ranked second on the Bulldogs in carries and rushing yards last year. The six foot, 216-pounder posted 89 yards rushing, 60 receiving and scored two touchdowns against Arkansas, which were all season-highs.

6. Austin Jones, USC: The Californian ranked second on the Trojans in carries, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns last season. Jones rushed for 110 yards and two touchdowns against Fresno State. He posted 120 yards on the ground and two scores in the victory over UCLA. Jones also registered two rushing scores against Rice. His 154 rushing yards in the win over Notre Dame were a season-high. Jones will be joined in the backfield by South Carolina transfer Marshawn Lloyd. The former five-star prospect rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown against Kentucky. Not to mention Lloyd’s 169 yards on the ground, and three rushing touchdowns against Charlotte, were all season-highs.

5. Nakia Watson, Washington State: The former four-star prospect started 11 games in 2022, and led the Cougars in carries, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Watson caused damage to opposing defenses with his legs and hands. He rushed for 117 yards in the opener against Idaho. The six-foot, 216-pounder posted a rushing score, and hauled in a 31-yard touchdown pass in the victory at Wisconsin. Watson rushed for a season-high, 166 yards, and scored two touchdowns at Stanford. Not to mention he had 116 yards on the ground, and a season-high, three touchdowns in the win over Arizona State. Watson caught a touchdown against USC, Arizona and Washington.

4. Jaydn Ott, California: The 20-year old made an immediate impact, and rushed for 897 yards, to go along with 11 total touchdowns as a true freshman in 2022. Ott displayed explosiveness and soft hands on the gridiron. He rushed for 104 yards, and caught an eight-yard touchdown in the opening victory over UC Davis. The following week he posted a rushing and receiving touchdown against UNLV. Ott’s 274 yards on the ground against Arizona ranked third in a single game for a California rusher. His three rushing touchdowns against the Wildcats were season-highs. Ott registered two rushing scores against USC. Not to mention he found the endzone against Stanford, Washington State and UCLA.

3. Carson Steele, UCLA: The former two-star prospect averaged 129.7 rushing yards per game at Ball State last season, which ranked eighth in the FBS. Steele’s 1,556 yards on the ground were the third-most in a single season for a Cardinal rusher. His 14 rushing touchdowns tied for 15th nationally. Steele rushed for a season-high, 198 yards and three touchdowns against Toledo. He also rushed for three scores against Northern Illinois and Connecticut. Steele eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards in nine different games. For his heroics Steele earned first-team, All-MAC honors. Now he’s replacing two-time, 1,000-yard rusher Zach Charbonnet, and will do damage in Chip Kelly’s offense.

2. Damien Martinez, Oregon State: The Texas native set the Pac-12 on fire as a true freshman last season. Martinez got his feet wet and rushed for a touchdown against Montana State. He generated 83 yards on the ground, and a score at Stanford. Martinez rushed for 111 yards against Washington State. His 178 rushing yards, and three touchdowns in the victory over Colorado were all season-highs. Martinez also eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards against Washington, California, Arizona State and Oregon. Not to mention he caught fire down the stretch, and posted 100-yard rushing performances over the final six games of the regular season. It all happened in Pac-12 play.

1. Bucky Irving, Oregon: The Chicago native had a breakout season in 2022, and posted his first 1,000-yard campaign. Irving scored a touchdown in multiple ways too, including passing, rushing and receiving. The 20-year old showed he could be a weapon in a variety of ways, including returning kickoffs. Irving rushed for 97 yards apiece against BYU and Stanford. He hauled in a 12-yard touchdown pass, and added 81 on the ground against Washington State. Irving caught a 37-yard touchdown pass and rushed for 107 against UCLA. The former four-star prospect also registered a receiving score against California. Irving had 149 rushing yards apiece against Washington and North Carolina.