Washington's Chris Polk is among the top running backs in the Pac-12… (Elaine Thompson / Associated…)
Oregon Coach Chip Kelly called him "one of the best backs in the country," and he wasn't talking about his own LaMichael James or Kenjon Barner, who certainly fit that description.
Instead, he was aiming his praise north up Interstate 5 to Washington's Chris Polk, whose 127-yards-per-game rushing average leads the Pacific 12 Conference and is fifth nationally.
Kelly's No. 6-ranked Ducks will try to slow Polk on Saturday at Husky Stadium.
But Polk's own coach, Steve Sarkisian, topped Kelly's praise when he compared the back to a pair of notable ballcarriers who were at USC when Sarkisian was an assistant coach for the Trojans.
"He really is a cross between LenDale [White] and Reggie [Bush], quite honestly," Sarkisian said Tuesday during the weekly Pac-12 football coaches' conference call.
So, is Polk more thunder, like White, or more lightning, like Bush?
"I don't think he's one or the other," Sarkisian said. "I think he's tucked right in between those guys."
That may sound like hyperbole, but there's no doubt Polk, a 5-foot-11, 222-pound junior, is having a dynamite season.
He racked up five touchdowns — four rushing, one receiving — against Arizona last Saturday while becoming the first Husky with at least 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game. Polk had 144 yards rushing in 33 carries and caught four passes for 100 yards.
"I do know if you're going to have a Heisman Trophy conversation, Chris Polk's name should be in that conversation," Sarkisian said during a news conference Monday.
Perhaps, but in the Great Northwest he's still considered the second-best running back behind the injured James, even though he's only 529 yards away from Washington's career rushing record of 4,106 set by Napoleon Kaufman.
Sarkisian said Polk was always physical, but he has become shiftier, so he's breaking off longer runs — he's averaging a career-best 5.6 yards per carry — by juking tacklers beyond the line of scrimmage. He's also an improved receiver and has 18 catches for 249 yards with three touchdowns.
"He's become an extremely complete back for us," Sarkisian said.
California Coach Jeff Tedford wants a quarterback who is consistent and doesn't turn the ball over.
That doesn't sound much like Zach Maynard, who ranks 81st nationally in passing efficiency and has had seven passes intercepted in the last three games — including four against UCLA.
But Maynard is still Cal's starter — for now.
"Zach is starting as of today unless something were to happen during the week," Tedford said.
With the Golden Bears preparing to host Washington State on Saturday, that leaves the door nudged open for backup Allan Bridgford, a former Mission Viejo High quarterback who has appeared in two games this season.
"We do have confidence in Bridgford, and if need be then we'll give him the opportunity," Tedford said.
Maynard played well in Cal's first three games, throwing for nine touchdowns with three interceptions.
In the next five games — four of them losses — he has three touchdowns and seven interceptions.