While Oregon's LaMichael James has one of the All-Pac-10 first-team running back spots all but locked up, the race for the other is tight. Three backs can make convincing arguments, and two of them will be on display Saturday at Reser Stadium.
The focus will be on the tailback spot when Cal visits Oregon State. The Bears feature junior Shane Vereen, who is fourth in the Pac-10 in rushing (103 yards per game), first in touchdowns (13) and third in all-purpose yardage (127.6 ypg). The Beavers counter with junior Jacquizz Rodgers, who ranks third in the conference in rushing (103.5 ypg), tied for second in TDs (12) and fourth in all-purpose yards (124.8 ypg).
"That's exciting. I wouldn't want it any other way," Vereen said.
While Vereen spent the previous two seasons as a backup to Jahvid Best, Rodgers has established himself as one of the best running backs in the country. He was named the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year as a freshman and was a third-team All-American last season by The Associated Press after rushing for 1,440 yards and 21 touchdowns, as well as catching 78 passes for 522 yards.
Rodgers, who was on the preseason watch list for a handful of postseason awards, gets substantially more attention than Vereen.
"I don't really care about what I hear," Vereen said. "I just want to go up there and play a great game."
Vereen and Rodgers are different types of backs. Vereen is faster and bigger; Rodgers is a smaller back who has exceptional patience and vision, as well as excellent lower-body strength.
"He's a great back," Vereen said. "He gets through tight creases in the O-line. He's very talented. I like the way he runs and I respect his game."
Cattouse had arguably the best game of his career against the Sun Devils, recording eight tackles and an interception.
"I definitely think so," Cattouse said when asked if he could continue that level of play. "I plan on it. I have to wait until Saturday, but I plan on it every week."
Cattouse started the final six games of last season but was beat out by Hill in training camp.
"I just want to win up there, more than anything," said Riley, who regularly attended Oregon State games growing up. "Really early on in my career, it felt good going back home and playing. But now that I've played everywhere and my family has seen me play everywhere, it's just another game. We haven't beat them in a while. We need to beat Oregon State."
Riley's first college start came in a home game against Oregon State in 2007, a game in which he infamously tried to run for a touchdown with no timeouts remaining, and the clock ran out before the Bears could attempt a game-tying field goal.
"He gave us words of encouragement, words of things to come," Vereen said. "It really helped us all."
Vereen rushed for 91 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries against the Sun Devils.