The college football season is nearly upon us. I wanted to look at which teams have the best group of running backs. These rankings are comprised of previous production and future projection. They also take into account every player that is likely to see the field rather than solely the starters. Below are my 1-10 rankings of the Big 12 running back rooms.
No. 10 Baylor
There’s very little to be excited about in Baylor’s running back room. They lost John Lovett after the 2020 season, leaving Trestan Ebner as the most likely starter. He produced only 107 yards and 1 touchdown on 50 carries in 2020. With that being said, he did add 26 receptions for 299 yards and 3 touchdowns. Craig Williams flashed last season, recording 197 yards and 2 touchdowns on 26 carries. While the sample size is small, 7.6 yards per carry at least gives Baylor fans hope if he can take on a larger role. Linebacker Abram Smith transitioned to running back for this season, and he’s expected to bring more physicality to the position than in previous seasons.
No. 9 Kansas
Pooka Williams opted out during the 2020 season and is now in the NFL. Kansas will return three of their top four running backs from last season. Velton Gardner leads the way after producing 325 yards and 2 touchdowns on 72 carries. Daniel Hishaw Jr. had similar production on less volume, recording 229 yards and 2 touchdowns on only 52 carries. Amauri Pesek-Hickson saw only 40 carries last season, posting 145 yards without scoring. With Lance Leipold taking over as head coach, there will be plenty of opportunities for each running back to find success. Although the group isn’t elite, a three-way rotation gives Kansas a better chance of finding someone that can replace Williams.
No. 8 TCU
TCU features an interesting backfield in 2021. Quarterback Max Duggan led the team in all rushing categories last season, while lead back Darwin Barlow transferred during the offseason. Although inconsistent, freshman Zach Evans flashed at times in 2020, posting 230 yards and 2 touchdowns on only 19 carries against Kansas and Louisiana Tech. He averaged 7.7 yards per carry on the season and will look to take on a drastically bigger role for TCU. Kendre Miller also averaged over 7.0 yards per carry in 2020, totaling 388 yards and 2 touchdowns on 54 carries. He’ll likely make a one-two punch with Evans this season. Daimarqua Foster and Emari Demercado will provide valuable depth at the position.
No. 7 Texas Tech
SaRodorick Thompson wasn’t fully healthy for the entire 2020 season, but he still led Texas Tech with 610 yards and 8 touchdowns on 109 carries. He added 21 receptions for 124 yards, as well. Thompson will remain the top guy for a deep Texas Tech running back group. Xavier White and Tahj Brooks will back up Thompson this season. White ran for 436 yards and 2 touchdowns on 62 carries in 2020, while Brooks added 255 yards and 4 touchdowns on 69 attempts last season. Chadarius Townsend flashed with limited carries last season, and he adds a home run threat to the group. Overall, there are multiple backs that could take over for Texas Tech without missing a step if any struggle or get injured.
No. 6 Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State doesn’t have one focal point of their rushing attack, but they feature several solid options that could start this season. LD Brown’s expected to start for the group, recording 437 yards and 2 touchdowns on only 82 carries last season. Dezmon Jackson led the current running backs in 2020 with 547 yards and 4 touchdowns on 100 carries. He flashed as a potential workhorse back, posting 353 yards and 4 touchdowns on 65 carries against Texas Tech and TCU. Freshman Dominic Richardson recorded 223 yards and 3 touchdowns on 44 attempts last season. He saw 23 carries against Baylor, rushing for 169 yards and 3 touchdowns. He’ll be an elite change-of-pace back this season. Finally, Utah State transfer Jaylen Warren could play a small role in the offense, as well. Oklahoma State doesn’t have the premier guy that some other schools in the Big 12 feature, but they have arguably the deepest running back room in the conference.
No. 5 West Virginia
After producing 813 yards and 5 touchdowns on 198 carries through his first 2 seasons, Leddie Brown broke out with 1,010 yards and 9 touchdowns on 199 carries over 10 games in 2020. He added versatility last season, posting 31 receptions for 202 yards and 2 touchdowns. Brown’s an efficient up-the-middle option, and he’ll act as a workhorse for West Virginia this season. With Alec Sinkfield transferring to Boston College, the Mountaineers will need Brown to stay healthy this season. They don’t have a deep group behind him, but he will be a focal point of the offense once again in 2021.
No. 4 Kansas State
Freshman of the year Duece Vaughn burst onto the scene in 2020, leading Kansas State in carries (123), rushing yards (642), rushing touchdowns (7), receptions (25), and receiving yards (434), while also producing 2 receiving touchdowns. Although small in stature, Vaughn’s an electric, do-it-all back at the collegiate level in the mold of Darren Sproles. Joe Ervin, who opted out of the 2020 season, and Jacardia Wright are expected to spell Vaughn throughout the season. The versatile sophomore will continue to change the game in several ways in 2021, as he averaged over 20 yards per kick return last season, as well.
No. 3 Texas
With Keaontay Ingram transferring to USC, Bijan Robinson can take over as the main running back for Texas. Coming in as a 5-star recruit, Robinson posted 703 yards and 4 touchdowns on only 86 carries as a true freshman. He looked elite toward the end of the season, recording 522 yards and 4 touchdowns on 47 carries, averaging 11.1 yards per attempt. Former quarterback-turned-running back, Roschon Johnson, will contribute for Texas in 2021 after recording 418 yards and 6 touchdowns on 80 carries last season. Head coach Steve Sarkisian suggested transfer Keilan Robinson and freshman Jonathon Brooks could contribute in the backfield, as well. Texas has one of the deepest running back rooms in the NCAA, and Bijan Robinson should prove to be one of the best backs in the nation by the end of the season.
No. 2 Oklahoma
Oklahoma lost its top three running backs from 2020 this offseason. Rhamondre Stevenson, TJ Pledger, and Seth McGowan, who combined for 1,975 total yards and 16 total touchdowns, are all off of the team for various reasons. Luckily, Kennedy Brooks, who opted out of the 2020 season, is returning to the field. Through his freshman and sophomore seasons, he’s totaled 2,067 yards and 18 touchdowns on 274 carries. Overall, he’s averaging 7.5 yards per carry throughout his career. Brooks could also look to add more to the Oklahoma passing attack this season after recording only 20 receptions for 136 yards through 24 games. He’ll add another dynamic piece to what could be the best offense in the nation.
No. 1 Iowa State
Breece Hall is the clear-cut top running back in the Big 12 and potentially all of the NCAA. He flashed as a freshman, recording 897 yards and 9 touchdowns on 186 carries. Hall followed that with 1,572 yards and 21 touchdowns on 279 carries as a sophomore, earning himself first-team All-American honors. He added 46 receptions for 432 yards and 3 touchdowns over those seasons, as well. The Doak Walker Award frontrunner is back for his junior season, and he will be looking to replicate his 1,500+ yards and 20+ touchdowns once again.
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