Could Oregon have three 1,000-yard running backs in 2014?

RB coach Campbell on naming a starter

Could Oregon have three 1,000-yard running backs in 2014?
August 26, 2014, 10:15 am
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RB Thomas Tyner

Royce Freeman.

Byron Marshall. 

EUGENE - The suggestion that the Oregon Ducks could produce three 1,000-yard running backs in one season might sound ridiculous on its surface but it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

UO released its depth chart on Monday. It notably includes sophomore Thomas Tyner, junior Byron Marshall and freshman Royce Freeman listed atop the running back position separated by the word "or" to indicate that they are equals with no clear-cut starter.

If that holds true in terms of number of carries, and Oregon's offense is running equal to past levels, all three running backs could reach 1,000 yards rushing this season.

The math is there to support this rather tall order.

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For this miracle to happen each player must average a modest 77 yards per game over 13 games (a bowl game is virtually assured) to reach 1,001. Should the Ducks play in the Pac-12 championship game (a distinct possibility), each running back would need to averaged 71.5 yards per game to reach 1,001.

Top-end running backs in the "blur offense" have averaged about six-to-seven yards per carry. Let's go with the low end of the spectrum and use six.

To reach the previously stated yardage goals per game at six yards per carry, each back would need about 12 carries per game in 14 games, or 12.8 over 13 games.

Sounds quite plausible, assuming all three running backs remain healthy.

Of course, Oregon's offense would have to produce enough rushing yards for all three with a large chunk being set aside for quarterback Marcus Mariota, one of the best rushing quarterbacks in the country.

Where are all of these yards going to come from? Well, they have existed in past seasons.

[WATCH: Mariota on RBs]

In 2012 Oregon rushed for 4,098 yards in 13 games. Kenjon Barner (1,767), De'Anthony Thomas (701) and Marshall (447) combined for 2,915. That's an average of 971.7 per player. That occurred with Mariota rushing for 752.

In 2011 Oregon rushed for 4,189 in 14 games. LaMichael James (1,805), Barner (939) and Thomas (595) combined for 3,339 rushing yards for an average of 1,113 per player.

The key in 2014 is carry distribution. In 2011 and 2012 the lead back received the lion's share of the rushing attempts.

In 2011, James (injured mid-season) carried the ball 247 carries compared to Barner's 152 and Thomas' 55. James averaged 7.3 yards per carry. Barner averaged 6.2. Thomas went for a ridiculous 10.8.

In 2012, Barner carried the ball 278 times (6.4 yards per carry) while Thomas had 92 carries (7.6) and Marshall had 87 (5.1).

In each of these seasons the lead back was never in dispute. That's not the case this year.

[RELATED: 3 and Out on Oregon Depth Chart]

's 13-game season into account, the top three running backs carried the ball 457 times for an average of 152.3 carries per player. Multiply that number by six yards per carry and you get 913.8 rushing yards. Not quite 1,000 but one can see how the number is no out of reach. We're talking a mere seven more yards per game, per player to reach 1,000 each.

Not in recent memory, if ever, has Oregon started a season with three running backs atop the depth chart. Certainly not three this talented.

There is no doubt that Marshall and Tyner each are capable of rushing for 1,500 yards in a season. Both averaged 6.2 yards per carry last season with Marshall rushing 168 times for 1,048 yards, and Tyner going 115-711.

If Freeman after just three weeks is now considered their equal, then he too must be considered a potential 1,500-back.

So logical deduction suggests that if each back receives a virtually equal number of carries while averaging a very attainable six yards per carry, all three could reach 1,000 yards.

One might wonder if Mariota would have to give up rushing or passing yards in order for all three running backs to reach 1,000. That's not the case.

In 2011, Darron Thomas and Bryan Bennett (filled in for an injured Thomas in three games) combined for 3,130 yards passing and 39 touchdown passes while the team rushed for 4,189 yards.

In 2012, while the Ducks top three backs combined for 2,915 yards, Mariota rushed for 752 and threw for 2,677 and 32 touchdowns. Mariota threw more passes last season (386 attempts to 336 in 2012) but that did not impact the team's overall rushing numbers as much as UO simply not playing well down the stretch of last season.

What Oregon must avoid is duplicating that poor effort when the Ducks rushed for 181 yards per contest over their final five games compared to about 340 per game in the previous eight. If UO's running game is not improved this season then this entire idea is dead in the water.

[WATCH: Thomas Tyner on RB depth]

Blowouts leading to reduced playing time should not be an issue. The Ducks usually rush for between about 350-400 yards in large-margin victories. It's reasonable to assume that in these types of games at least two of the three running backs in question would already have well over 100 yards. Who is to say that if the third guy has not reached these levels he can't receive some late carries in mop up duty.

We all saw Tyner in the game against WSU last season with the game out of reach.

The real stumbling block will be those close games where the running game barely cracks 200 yards. These days must be offset by bigger games to maintain the average yards needed for each player to reach 1,000.

Fresh legs out of the backfield could be a huge factor for Oregon. None of Oregon's top three running backs should be fatigued come the fourth quarter if they are sharing carries equally. This fact could lead to extra long runs late in games against worn down defenses. This undoubtedly would help create opportunities for large chunks of yards to be had making it much easier to maintain that 72-77 yard average per game.

So, as you can tell, If the Ducks duplicate the rushing yards produced in 2011 and 2012, and all three running backs receive close to equal touches, we could witness history taking place at Autzen Stadium.

Or, these are merely the ramblings of a man up way past his bedtime obsessing over the impossible.