It took 244 yards of total offense and five touchdowns for Chris Polk to grasp the attention of Husky Nation. While 2011's storylines have centered around the surprising emergence of quarterback Keith Price and the questionable performance of defensive coordinator Nick Holt, Polk has picked up right where he left off last season.
In all eight games so far this season, the 2010 Holiday Bowl MVP has accumulated more than 110 total yards of total offense in each game and has found the end zone nine times.
All of last year Polk lived in the shadow of Oregon running back LaMichael James, who many considered to be the Pac-12's best running back. Now, there is no question that Polk is better than James. This season, Polk has gained more yards, scored more touchdowns and is now considered a better NFL prospect than the Oregon standout.
Is Polk is the greatest Husky running back of all-time? If for some crazy reason Polk comes back for his senior year, he will leave with every single major rushing record in school history. These records will cement him as the best Husky running back of all-time. However, if he leaves early after this season, as expected, there could be doubt on whether his career was the best out of all of the running backs in school history.
With last week's performance, Polk notched his 18th career 100 yard rushing game, giving him the most of all-time passing Napoleon Kaufman who had 17. Before Polk entered the picture, Kaufman and Corey Dillon were the perennial names in the discussion about the best running backs in Washington history.
Husky Legend Highlights: Napoleon Kaufman (via UWAthletics)
Kaufman holds the career rushing yards record with 4,106 yards. Polk currently has 3,577 yards, placing him second behind Kaufman. If Polk averages 105 yards in the final five games — assuming the Huskies play in a bowl game — then Polk will break Kaufman's record. Polk would also break Kaufman's career leading mark of 33 rushing touchdowns if he stayed all four years — Polk has 25 right now. All of this evidence points to Polk being the most productive running back in UW history.
Is Polk the most talented? Probably not. Kaufman and Corey Dillon were both sure-fire first round NFL draft picks, while Polk is projected as a late first round to early second round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
In 1996, Corey Dillon had the most prolific season of any running back and perhaps any individual offensive player in UW history. During his one year at UW in 1996, Dillon rushed for 1,695 yards and 24 touchdowns, the most yards and scores ever in one season for a running back at UW.
Corey Dillon Highlight Video (via UWAthletics)
He was absolutely ridiculous. Against San Jose St., Dillon ran for 222 yards on 16 carries setting the NCAA record for most rushing yards in a quarter. If Dilon stayed for multiple seasons, he could have even more records to his name. The best season of all-time by a UW running back goes to Dillon.
So far, all I've done is look at stats, but looking at each player's context could add another dimension to the argument for Chris Polk as UW's greatest running back.
While Kaufman did contribute to the legendary 1991 National Championship team, he ran behind one of the best offensive lines in America. In his sophomore, junior and senior seasons, Kaufman ran behind the likes of future NFL offensive linemen Lincoln Kennedy, Pete Pierson, Frank Garcia and Andrew Peterson. Dillon also ran behind two future NFL lineman in Bob Sapp and Benji Olson. Polk has had no NFL-caliber offensive linemen, and has had to break many runs from the line of scrimmage on his own without the help of superior blocking.
Additionally, Kaufman and Dillon both did not turn around an 0-12 team, granted, those two guys never had the opportunity to do so. Nevertheless, Polk is the reason the Huskies are where they are right now. Head Coach Steve Sarkisian has been essential in turning the program around, but without the efforts of Polk in last year's final games, I don't think the Huskies make a bowl game. If Washington continues its trend of improvement, Polk will be one of the chief causes for the complete turnaround.
Last but not least, Polk has been a Cougar killer. In 2009, UW won 35-0 behind 130 yards and a touchdown score from Polk. In last year's Apple Cup Victory, Polk ran for 284 yards and two touchdowns — the second best single-game performance from a rushing yards standpoint in school history. Though Kaufman ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns against the Cougs in 1993, he was held to 45 yards and 56 yards in the 1992 and 1994 Apple Cups respectively.
Chris Polk 2010 Apple Cup (via ohhdafix)
Dillon went for 155 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-24 overtime victory in his one Apple Cup appearance. Dillon's performance is worthy, but it still doesn't come close to Polk's 2010 performance. Additionally, Polk has one more Apple Cup to cement his legacy as a Cougar killer in this year's game at Qwest Field.
Deciding whether Polk is the greatest running back in UW history depends on the criteria used. If you want to look at most highly decorated, you'd give the nod to the 1994 Heisman candidate Napoleon Kaufman. For most talented, you'd give that to Dillon. However, when I see Polk I see greatness not only in his stats, but also in the fact that he has single-handily carried an offense and turned a win-less team into a bowl-game team. Even if he bolts for the NFL, his performance so far this year has guaranteed that his name will always be discussed when talking about best Husky running backs ever. And that's a worthy accomplishment in itself.