Pac-12 RB Rankings 2023: New Colorado Buffaloes RB Alton McCaskill IV Bearing Down on Bucky Irving

Oregon running back Bucky Irving leads the way but Colorado's capture of Alton McCaskill IV dramatically reshapes our 2023 Pac-12 RB rankings.

In a conference led by a quarterback of the caliber of Caleb Williams that plays their games as the east coast goes to bed, it’s easy to sleep on the Pac-12 as the home to excellent college football running back talent. Yet, there are almost too many good rushers to choose from, making our 2023 Pac-12 RB rankings one of the toughest ones to decipher so far.

2023 Pac-12 RB Rankings

1) Bucky Irving, Noah Whittington, Jordan James, Dante Dowdell | Oregon

Unsurprisingly, the most productive leading rusher in the conference from last fall helps Oregon lead the way in our 2023 Pac-12 RB rankings. Mar’Keise “Bucky” Irving led the Ducks’ ground game last fall, tallying 1,058 rushing yards at 6.8 yards per clip while turning over 21% of his carries into a gain of 10+ yards. He also added 299 receiving yards and three TDs.

Irving was a hot commodity in the transfer portal coming out of Minnesota following the 2021 campaign, and he showed why in his first year with Oregon. Speed. Lateral agility. Foot quickness. Contact balance. Body control. Receiving ability. Irving ticks every single box of RB evaluation and then some. His skill set is unparalleled in the Pac-12 conference.

Behind Irving, Oregon’s RB room is substantially stocked for the 2023 college football campaign. Noah Whittington returns, boasting big-play ability of his own with breakneck speed and physicality behind his size, demonstrated by short-yardage usage and a dangerous stiff arm.

Jordan James also offers significant short-yardage upside, using his 5’10”, 210-pound frame to rumble for five scores last fall. Meanwhile, there is genuine excitement over four-star recruit Dante Dowdell whose speed, athleticism, strength, and size (6’2″, 210 pounds) has earned comparison to Derrick Henry.

2) Alton McCaskill IV, Kavosiey Smoke, Dylan Edwards, Charlie Offerdahl | Colorado

The capture of Alton McCaskill IV dramatically improves Colorado’s standing in our 2023 Pac-12 RB rankings. There are few more dangerous playmakers in the nation. At 6’1″ and 215 pounds, he boasts size and contact balance but also has the speed and lateral agility to be an electric threat anywhere on the field. Oh, and he’s a dangerous receiving threat too.

The Buffs also added experienced back Kavosiey Smoke via the transfer portal after seeing playing time in five consecutive seasons with Kentucky. At his best, Smoke has the speed, physicality, and patient running style to trouble even the best defenses, averaging 6.1 yards per carry at the height of his production in 2019.

College Football Network named incoming Dylan Edwards one of the top impact true freshman running backs in the nation, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see his bewildering straight-line speed terrorizing Pac-12 defenses this fall. Meanwhile, walk-on Charlie Offerdahl impressed during spring practice, prompting Sanders to say:

“You keep on balling out, you ain’t gonna be a walk-on for long.”

3) Ja’Quinden Jackson, Micah Bernard, Jaylon Glover | Utah

In recent seasons, Utah has become the go-to place for top-tier RB talent in the Pac-12. In the 2023 recruiting cycle alone, they’ve added John Randle Jr. — a top 300 player on the CFN Fusion Recruiting Rankings with a grade of 93.869 — and three-star Michael Mitchell.

However, it’s the stable of returner rushers that powers the Utes’ position in our 2023 Pac-12 RB rankings. Micah Bernard leads all returning rushers from last fall after his flirtation with the transfer portal. The 6’0″, 195-pounder is a genuine receiving threat in addition to his physical brand of football full of lowered shoulders, leg drive, and otherworldly contact balance.

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Yet, it’s Ja’Quinden Jackson who has the star potential in Utah’s RB room. The 6’2″, 226-pound back is a powder keg of speed, physicality, and agility who averaged 6.8 yards per carry and found the end zone nine times last fall. Between returning rushers and recruits, the Utes have one of the most complete units in the conference, a sentiment echoed from within.

“I think the room is a really good room,” RBs coach Quinton Gather told KSL Sports. “I will continue to say this and will say it all the time, the strength of the group, is the group. Every guy does something a little different. They bring their own flavor to the table, and I’m excited about everyone letting their personalities come out in their play.”

4) Damien Martinez, Jamious Griffin, Deshaun Fenwick | Oregon State

Oregon State returns a trio of talented running backs for the upcoming season, climbing high in our 2023 Pac-12 RB rankings on the shoulders of leading rusher Damien Martinez. The 6’0″, 230-pound Beavers back tallied 982 rushing yards at an average of 6.1 yards per carry in 2022. Martinez also took 18.01% of his carries over 10 yards.

Martinez plays with the presumed ruggedness of a back of his size, and then some. But, he’s not all physicality and no finesse. An impressively smooth mover with next-level cut-capability, he’s as explosive as they come, with the contact balance to match. Oh, and he was just a freshman last season and is likely only getting better.

Martinez’s impressive freshman campaign headlined a trio of big-play impact running backs for the Beavers. Jamious Griffin actually took a higher percentage of his carries over 10 yards than Martinez, while Deshaun Fenwick set career highs in yards (553) and touchdowns (seven) in his second season in Corvallis.

As a result, there were no additions to the RB room through the transfer portal or recruiting. However, there was a significant offseason addition as the Beavers lured running backs coach Keith Bhonapha from the Boise State Broncos. He’s coached a succession of game-changing backs, with 11 1,000-yard rushers, including George Holani, Myles Gaskin, and Doug Martin.

5) Jaydn Ott, Isaiah Ifanse, Byron Cardwell, Justin Williams-Thomas | California

In a disappointing season that featured few bright spots, freshman running back Jaydn Ott was the brightest spark for the Cal Golden Bears last fall. The 6’0″, 200-pounder earned All-Freshman honors from multiple outlets after rushing for 897 and eight touchdowns, while turning 17.05% of his carries into runs of 10+ yards.

Ott showcases excellent long speed both between the tackles and as a dangerous force when bouncing to the outside. An excellent athletic profile is headlined by the ability to cut on a dime with good lateral agility. A true receiving threat, the young rusher also showcases stubbornness and physicality to continue runs beyond their natural conclusion.

Their returning rusher propels Cal up our 2023 Pac-12 RB rankings, but the addition of two former four-stars solidifies their standing. Byron Cardwell missed most of last year injured, but the former Oregon RB is a big-play threat. Meanwhile, head coach Justin Wilcox spoke glowingly about Tennessee transfer Justin Williams-Thomas during spring practice.

Not content with already boasting one of the top RB rooms in the Pac-12, Cal added former Montana State standout Isaiah Ifanse late in the spring. His physicality, speed, fast feet, and explosion saw him set Bobcats records before originally transferring to the Mountain West with San Jose State Spartans. He should get a shot at being a star at the Power Five level.

6) Dillon Johnson, Cameron Davis, Richard Newton, Daniyel Ngata | Washington

While there’s a ton of returning talent to the Pac-12 for the 2023 college football season, one of the best running backs that you’ll see this fall arrives in the conference via the transfer portal.

There’s a reason why Dillon Johnson was considered one of the top transfer portal targets for many Power Five programs: the 6’0″, 216-pound former Mississippi State back is a beast.

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Johnson’s rushing statistics won’t play you away. After all, he’s been trapped in a pass-orientated offense in Starkville for the past three seasons. When given the opportunity, he’s shown to be a big-play threat on the ground, turning 19.97% of his carries into 10+ yard runs last fall. He’s a near-unstoppable freight train with added receiving upside for the Huskies.

While Johnson’s multi-faceted skill set makes him one of the top playmakers in our 2023 Pac-12 RB rankings, Washington also added former Arizona State talent Daniyel Ngata — giving them a change of pace from the trio of bigger backs on the roster.

7) Carson Steele, TJ Harden, Colson Yankoff, Keegan Jones, Anthony Adkins | UCLA

As UCLA looks towards life post-Zach Charbonnet, don’t expect one back to handle the entire vacated workload. Chip Kelly’s offense is expected to utilize a plethora of promising RB talent, operating a rotation rather than a one-man show. However, the Bruins landed a true workhorse in former Ball State standout Carson Steele that could force a change of plan.

“You’re kind of like, ‘Wow, that guy’s a really good player,'” head coach Chip Kelly said of Steele, per the Los Angeles Daily News. “He’s a beast in the weight room, he’s got an unbelievable work ethic. You watch how he trains and how he approaches things, and he fits in perfectly with what we’re looking for in a football player.”

Steele rumbled for 1,556 yards on almost 300 carries last fall, averaging 5.4 yards per carry with 14.87% of his touches resulting in an “explosive play.” The long-haired, game-breaker led the nation in yards after contact with his physical style weaponized by deceptive agility and speed.

UCLA also added Anthony Adkins from Army and have a host of talented returning backs led by TJ Harden. The 6’2″, 210-pound back brings his own element of physicality to proceedings and proved to be a big-play threat when on the field. Colson Yankoff has reportedly added 20 pounds during the offseason, making him a terrifying 6’4″, 230-pound threat.

8) Cameron Skattebo, DeCarlos Brooks, Tevin White | Arizona State

It’s all change for Arizona State as they replace Xazavian Valladay and Washington-bound Ngata, their two leading rushers from last fall. The Sun Devils added three-star rusher Kyson Brown, but it’s likely that a duo plucked from the transfer portal will power the ground game this upcoming season.

It remains to be seen how Cameron Skattebo adapts to the Power Five level, but the Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year has shown big-play potential whenever he’s on the field. Tallying over 1,700 total yards last fall, he’s a physical, yet athletic triple-threat who can hurdle you or hurl you out of the way. He’s also an adept receiver with special-teams experience to boot.

While returning Sun Devil Tevin White adds speed, vision, balance, and burst into the mix, DeCarlos Brooks should be the one challenging Skattebo atop the Arizona State depth chart. The former Cal rusher has low mileage on his tires and boasts physicality, burst, and quick feet. Landing in Tempe reunites him with his former high school coach.

“DeCarlos brings a little bit of that experience playing in the Pac-12, and he understands the speed and physicality that comes with the game,” ASU RBs coach Shaun Aguano said of his former high school talent. “I’m excited to coach him again, and we’ve been off three years, but he brings that maturity to that room and that professionalism. I’m excited to see what he can do.”

9) MarShawn Lloyd, Austin Jones, Raleek Brown, Quinten Joyner, A’Marion Peterson | USC

USC has potentially the best quarterback in the nation and a WR room that is bursting with talented playmakers even following the departure of Jordan Addison. They might not sit at the top of our 2023 Pac-12 RB rankings, but don’t think that means that there aren’t talented backs on the Trojans roster.

“That room has been a real bright spot here in camp,” head coach Lincoln Riley said via the USC team website. “We’ve been impressed with the older guys in that room that get a little bit more known. Certainly their skill sets are improving, and then I’ve been really impressed with the two young guys. Every day those guys show up and make some big plays.”

There’s an assumption that South Carolina transfer MarShawn Lloyd will automatically fill the void left by the departed Travis Dye atop the depth chart. With his physical between-the-tackles rushing style, receiving upside, and blocking prowess, it’s an easy assumption to make.

However, Austin Jones should handle over 100 carries for the second consecutive season after averaging 5.2 yards per pop last fall. Explosive playmaker Raleek Brown was used across the formation this spring, which could see carries for true freshman four-star duo Quinten Joyner and A’Marion Peterson, who’s been praised for his blocking work.

10) E.J. Smith, Casey Filkins, Sedrick Irvin Jr., Ryan Butler, Jacob Lowe | Stanford

If Stanford can keep E.J. Smith healthy this season, expect the Cardinal RB room to shoot up our 2023 Pac-12 RB rankings. There are few more naturally talented playmakers in the conference than the son of NFL great Emmitt Smith. In limited exposure last fall, Smith flashed his football IQ, footwork, speed, and contact balance, taking 20% of his carries over 10 yards.

Leading returning back Casey Filkins projects to be the primary backup for Smith, but don’t be surprised to see true freshman Sedrick Irvin Jr. emerge as a big part of Troy Taylor’s offense. The 2023 three-star plays with patience, vision, burst, and lateral agility, while his natural pass-catching ability is dangerous in a scheme that utilizes RBs in the passing game.

11) Nakia Watson, Jaylen Jenkins, Dylan Paine | Washington State

Washington State had the second-fewest rushing attempts of any team in the conference last fall, and you’re not going to see gaudy production numbers from the Cougars’ running back room. That said, Nakia Watson averaged 5.3 yards per carry last fall, showcasing his physicality and ability to produce moments of eye-popping brilliance, such as a spin move against Wisconsin.

Jaylen Jenkins provides playmaking sizzle to Watson’s punch and could be set for a breakout year. He turned 22% of his carries into gains of 10+ yards last season, demonstrating an alluring combination of fast footwork, burst, and speed. His receiving ability will also be a massive boost for a Washington State offense that returns quarterback Cameron Ward under center.

12) Michael Wiley, Jonah Coleman, DJ Williams, Rayshon Luke | Arizona

Such is the depth of talent at running back in the conference, it feels criminal to have anyone down the bottom end of our 2023 Pac-12 RB rankings. This is especially the case given how easily Michael Wiley has been able to blow apart defenses and the potential in Jonah Coleman, DJ Williams, and Rayshon Luke.

Wiley averaged 6.8 yards per carry last fall, demonstrating the long speed to rip off big plays, the wiggle to evade tackles, and even the physicality to push the pile as an inside rusher.

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Over the last two seasons, he’s also been an integral part of the Wildcats’ passing game, reeling in seven touchdowns and over 600 receiving yards.

It’s worth pointing out, however, that a substantial chunk of his rushing production came against an Arizona State defense that ranked near the bottom of the conference for yards per carry and rushing touchdowns allowed during the 2022 campaign.