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June 13, 2011

Monday with Mike: Best offensive duos

In the past few weeks, we've looked at the best offensive and defensive "triplets" in the nation – the best quarterback/running back/receiver trios and the best defensive lineman/linebacker/defensive back trios.

Today, we'll spotlight the best offensive duos at running back, at wide receiver, at tackle and in the interior of the line.

Next week, we'll look at the best defensive duos.

RUNNING BACKS

Best: Oregon's LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner. James led the nation with 1,731 yards last season – despite missing two games. He scored 21 rushing TDs and averaged 5.9 yards per carry. He is explosive and is one of those players who make you hold your breath every time he gets a step. Barner missed two games and had just four games with double-digit carries, but still managed to gain 551 yards and score six TDs while averaging 6.1 yards per carry. While not as fast as James, Barner has good speed and was a big-time kick returner in 2009 before being taken off those duties last season.

ACC: Florida State's Chris Thompson and Ty Jones. The Seminoles don't have an elite back, but they have a lot of good ones. A lot. These two combined for 1,472 and 11 TDs last season, and there's also Jermaine Thomas and true freshman Devonta Freeman. QB E.J. Manuel can run, as well.

Big East: Louisville's Victor Anderson and Jeremy Wright. Anderson ran for 1,047 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2008, but has managed just 759 combined yards in the past two seasons, with injuries one reason for the fall-off. If healthy, Anderson should run for 1,000, and Wright is a speedy backup.

Big Ten: Wisconsin's James White and Montee Ball. The Badgers lost 1,000-yard rusher John Clay, but forgive Badgers coaches if they yawn when that departure is brought up. Neither White nor Ball is a "big back," but both are physical and productive, and they also can run past people. They combined for 2,048 yards and 32 TDs last season.

Big 12: Texas A&M's Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael. Gray hasn't received enough national attention, but the guy is a burner. He ran for 1,133 yards and 12 TDs last season, and Michael – who was injured for half of last season – is a dangerous backup. A&M has an excellent passing attack, but these guys can be deadly, too.

Pac-12: Oregon.

SEC: Auburn's Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb. It will be interesting to see how these guys handle the extra attention now that Cam Newton is gone. Dyer had the key play in the national title game and was a 1,000-yard rusher as a true freshman last season, while McCalebb is a threat to go the distance each time he touches the ball.

Conference USA: Houston's Bryce Beall and Michael Hayes. They combined for 1,499 yards and 20 TDs last season, and Charles Sims – who ran for 698 yards and nine TDs in 2009 before missing last season with academic issues – will re-join the party this season.

MAC: Temple's Bernard Pierce and Matt Brown. Pierce is a big-timer – if he can stay healthy. He's a physical, between-the-tackles runner who has a burst. The 5-foot-6 Brown is a pinball-like runner who provides a great change of pace, but if he has to carry the load, he wears down.

Mountain West: TCU's Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker. The Horned Frogs have a deep backfield headed by this duo. They combined for 1,787 yards and 18 TDs last season, and those numbers should climb because TCU likely will be more ground-oriented this season.

Sun Belt: FIU's Darriet Perry and Darian Mallary. One reason for FIU's emergence as a Sun Belt title threat is these guys. Perry and Mallary were fifth and sixth, respectively, in the league in rushing, combining for 1,518 yards and 18 TDs.

WAC: Utah State's Robert Turbin and Kerwynn Williams. Turbin ran for 1,296 yards and 13 TDs in 2009, then missed last season with an injury. Williams is best-known for his work as a kick returner, but he was solid as a backup tailback last season. The Aggies also welcome back TB Michael Smith, who missed most of last season with an injury. This is a solid group, especially for the WAC.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Best: Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills. Broyles led the nation with 131 receptions last season – 12 more than anyone else – and those receptions went for 1,622 yards and 14 TDs. A senior, Broyles has 266 career receptions. Stills burst on the scene as a true freshman, with 61 catches for 786 yards and five TDs. He has good speed and is physical, and should become an 80-catch guy this season.

ACC: Duke's Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon. Duke isn't good, but these guys – both from Miami's Gulliver Prep – are productive for a one-dimensional offense. Vernon, a junior, led the ACC with 73 receptions last season and has 128 in his career. Varner, a senior, was fourth in the league with 60 catches, and he has 146 for his career. Vernon had nine games with at least five catches – including 12 against Boston College – while Varner had six.

Big East: Rutgers' Mark Harrison and Mohamed Sanu. With decent quarterback play, this duo would be extremely dangerous. Both have good size – Harrison is 6-3/230 and Sanu 6-2/218 – good hands and good speed. Each had 44 catches last season. If that number doesn't increase to 60, either the coaches haven't done their job or the Scarlet Knights' quarterbacks are bad.

Big Ten: Michigan State's B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin. This duo gets the nod over Michigan's because the Wolverines may be without Darryl Stonum this season. Cunningham has a shot at All-Big Ten honors and Martin is a solid complementary guy as well as being a dangerous return man.

Big 12: Oklahoma.

Pac-12: Arizona's Juron Criner and David Douglas. Criner is one of the nation's five or six best receivers; he had 82 receptions for 1,233 yards and 11 TDs last season. Despite going without a catch in two games, Douglas finished with 52 receptions and five scores.

SEC: Arkansas' Joe Adams and Greg Childs. Childs missed the final five games with an injury, but if he's healthy this season, he will put up numbers that will garner him all-league mention. Adams can fly and is the Hogs' leading returning receiver. While TB Knile Davis is the Hogs' best player, coach Bobby Petrino loves to wing it around, so these guys – as well as two or three other wide receivers – are going to be busy.

Conference USA: SMU's Cole Beasley and Darius Johnson. SMU lost its best receiver, Aldrick Robinson, but the Beasley-Johnson duo should combine for around 200 catches this season. Johnson, a junior, should blossom into an all-league guy this fall.

MAC: Western Michigan's Ansel Ponder and Jordan White. White received a sixth season of eligibility, and that's good news for QB Alex Carder. White had 94 catches for 1,378 yards last season. Juan Nunez, who had 91 catches, is gone, so expect Ponder to be the Broncos' No. 2 receiver this season.

Mountain West: TCU's Josh Boyce and Antoine Hicks. These guys aren't going to have great stats because of TCU's offensive system, but both can run and are deep threats.

Sun Belt: Arkansas State's Dwayne Frampton and Allen Muse. This duo combined for 111 receptions and 11 TDs last season, and should be even more productive this season working with second-year starting QB Ryan Aplin.

WAC: Nevada's Rishard Matthews and Brandon Wimberly. Matthews came up huge in wins over Boise State and Boston College last season, and Wimberly is an effective complement. Their production could wane some because of a new quarterback.

TACKLES

Best: Ohio State's Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts. These are two former five-star recruits who have lived up to billing. There are no questions about Adams' on-field skills, as he is equally adept blocking for the run as for the pass, and might be the best tackle in the nation. But he will miss the first five games of the season for his role in "tattoo-gate." Shugarts, a senior, will be a three-year starter for the Buckeyes.

ACC: Virginia Tech's Blake DeChristopher and Andrew Lanier. DeChristopher has a legit shot at all-league honors, while Lanier is steady on the right side.

Big East: Pittsburgh's Jordan Gibbs and Lucas Nix. Nix is making the move from guard in new coach Todd Graham's offensive system. Gibbs is a returning starter.

Big Ten: Ohio State.

Big 12: Oklahoma State's Levy Adcock and Nick Martinez. Adcock, who plays on the right side, has a mean streak and is one of the best tackles in the nation. Martinez is heading into his second season as a starter.

Pac-12: Utah's Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen. Both are returning starters and should help pave the way for a revamped offense. Cullen was impressive after transferring in from a junior college last season.

SEC: Ole Miss' Bobby Massie and Bradley Sowell. Sowell had some growing pains early in his career, but he's now a senior who has impressed NFL scouts. Massie is a road-grader on the right side.

Conference USA: SMU's Kelvin Beachum Jr.and J.T. Brooks. Beachum has started all 39 games since his redshirt freshman season, and was a first-team all-league performer last fall. Brooks, also a senior, is heading into his third season as a starter.

MAC: Toledo's John Morookian and Mike VanDerMeulen. Meet the most experienced tackle duo in the nation. Morookian, a senior, will be a four-year starter and has made 35 consecutive starts at right tackle. VanDerMeulen, a senior, will be a four-year starter and has made 36 consecutive starts at left tackle. The last Toledo freshman to start at left tackle was Nick Kaczur, now with the New England Patriots.

Mountain West: San Diego State's Tommie Draheim and Kurtis Gunther. Draheim, who began his Aztecs career at center, is heading into his third season as a starter. Gunther (6-8/290) is huge.

Sun Belt: FIU's Rupert Bryan and Caylin Hauptmann. We mentioned how FIU became a Sun Belt contender because of their running backs. Well, these are two of the guys who opened holes for Perry and Mallary last season. Hauptmann is a native of Beverly Hills, Calif., and now he gets to hang out on South Beach.

WAC: Idaho's Matt Cleveland and Tyrone Novikoff. Cleveland has started every game the past two seasons, while Novikoff is headed into his second season as the starter on the right side.

INTERIOR LINEMEN

Best: Wisconsin C Peter Konz and G Kevin Zeitler. Here's a surprise – the Badgers have some potential All-America linemen. Stud offensive linemen are as prevalent as cheese in Wisconsin. Konz, a junior, is entering his third season as a starter. He has good size (6-5/313) and mashes people inside. Zeitler (6-4/317) is another masher up front; he's a senior who will be a three-year starter.

ACC: Virginia C Anthony Mihota and G Austin Pasztor. Virginia's running game wasn't that impressive last season, but the line has big-time potential, especially in the interior. Mihota was a star defensive lineman in high school and is heading into his second season as the starting center. Pasztor, who is Canadian, will be a four-year starter for the Cavs.

Big East: West Virginia C Joe Madsen and G Josh Jenkins. New coach Dana Holgorsen favors an up-tempo attack, and you can be sure a lot of WVU runs are going to go right up the middle behind this duo.

Big Ten: Wisconsin.

Big 12: Oklahoma C Ben Habern and G Gabe Ikard. Habern, a junior, will be a third-year starter this fall despite suffering two ankle injuries in his time with the Sooners. Ikard arrived on campus as a tight end, but he has added about 50 pounds (he's now at 6-2 and 290) and was one of the best freshmen linemen in the nation last season after redshirting in 2009.

Pac-12: Stanford Gs Kevin Danser and David DeCastro. We're taking a leap of faith of sorts. DeCastro is a given and is the nation's best guard; he's cerebral but also a nasty, physical guy in the middle of the line. While Danser has great size (6-6/287), he will be a starter for the first time. He had a great spring, though, and looks ready to mash opposing defensive fronts.

SEC: Alabama C William Vlachos and G Barrett Jones. Jones, a junior, may be the best offensive lineman in the SEC; he is heading into his third season as a starter. His dad, Rex, played basketball for the Tide in the early 1980s. Vlachos, a senior, also is entering his third season as a starter.

Conference USA: Tulsa C Trent Dupy and G Clint Anderson. Dupy, a junior, is a scrappy guy and entering his third season as a starter for a prolific offense. Anderson, a senior, will be a three-year starter for the Golden Hurricane.

MAC: Northern Illinois C Scott Wedige and G Joe Pawlak. Wedige blossomed into an all-league performer last season, his first as a starter. He's 6-4 and 314 pounds – and one of his hobbies is water-skiing. Pawlak will be a three-year starter for the Huskies, who won 11 games last season thanks to a physical rushing attack.

Mountain West: Boise State C Thomas Byrd and G Joe Kellogg. Byrd is a squatty guy (5-11/288) from Oakland who will be a four-year starter in the middle of the line. Kellogg, from the Phoenix area, is a middle-of-the-line mauler.

Sun Belt: Louisiana-Monroe Gs Jonathan Gill and Justin Roberts. Gill, a junior, is heading into his third season as a starter. Roberts, a 6-4, 307-pound senior also will be a three-year starter for ULM. Roberts also played on his high school golf team.

WAC: Nevada C Jeff Meads and G Chris Barker. Barker, a junior, has started every game for the Wolf Pack since his redshirt freshman season. Meads, meanwhile, is a fifth-year senior who didn't make his first start until last season but came through nicely.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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