In the days leading up to the 2012 Fiesta Bowl, the Emerald will take a position-by-position look at Oregon and Kansas State, determining which team has the edge going into the BCS showdown on Jan. 3.
Oregon — During his long tenure at Oregon, running backs coach Gary Campbell has seen Oregon blossom into Running Back U. The names of the NFL caliber players run together — Onterrio Smith, Maurice Morris, Jonathan Stewart, LeGarrette Blount, now LaMichael James. Campbell has seen them all come and go, and the running back currently lining up in the backfield behind freshman QB Marcus Mariota had a better single game than any of them.
Senior running back Kenjon Barner shredded USC’s defense for 312 rushing yards and five touchdowns, video-game numbers for a back given the unenviable task of following up James. The Riverside, Calif., native went on to have a banner year — 1,624 yards on 248 attempts, good for 21 touchdowns and a 6.5 average that leads the nation for any back with at least 220 carries.
For stat fans, it’s a shame some college football teams play more games than others. Barner’s fantastic year took a hit when the Ducks missed out on the Pac-12 Championship Game, but his 21 rushing touchdowns is still tops for a back with only 12 games under his belt this year.
And all of this says nothing about sophomore sensation De’Anthony Thomas. The one-time Heisman consideration is second in the nation with 7.6 yards per carry this year and remains a constant home-run threat anywhere he lines up on the field.
If the Wildcats had trouble containing ex-Duck Lache Seastrunk against Baylor, they’ll need more than eleven players on the field against Oregon.
Kansas State — It’s a little unfair to judge the Wildcats’ rushing attack by their running backs. Quarterback Collin Klein has more rushing attempts this year than anyone else in Bill Snyder’s stable, and the Heisman finalist has more rushing touchdowns than even Barner (albeit in one more game).
John Hubert is the true running back in this system, and his numbers hold up — 892 yards, 15 touchdowns and a 5.2 average carry. Senior Angelo Pease has 53 more carries in more of a cameo role.
Advantage: Oregon. Kansas State is effective at running the football, but that’s due to No. 7. Hubert does his job effectively, but he simply isn’t called upon to do enough to outweigh the collective accomplishments of Barner, Thomas and the rest.
Yesterday: Wide receivers
Tomorrow: Running backs