In Sports Illustrated's college football preview, the 2007 season was billed as "The Year of the Running Back," and the magazine published five regional covers featuring Michigan's Mike Hart, Arkansas' Darren McFadden, Oklahoma's Allen Patrick, West Virginia's Steve Slaton and a trio of USC backs, along with a story hailing the group as the "best crop of rushers since the late 1970s." Turns out, 2007 was, in fact, the year of a running quarterback in Heisman winner Tim Tebow of Florida.
But we still had big moments from guys whose primary responsibility is to run the ball. UCF's Kevin Smith made arun at Barry Sanders' single-season rushing mark and Heisman runner-up Darren McFadden tied anSEC record with 323 yards against South Carolina.
A season full of upsets took its toll on the poll -- and my preseason top 10 rushing duos. So with the regular season in the books and the bowl bonanza days away, let's take another look at the nation's top 10 rushing tandems. Before we begin, let's remember the cardinal rules: this is about running backs only -- no running quarterbacks, fullbacks or all-purpose wide receivers that take the occasional handoff -- and it has to be a legit tandem, not just one guy with monster numbers. So without further ado:
Preseason rank: No. 1
As Dennis Green would say: "They are who we thought they were." McFadden and fellow junior backfield-mate Felix Jones more than lived up to the hype, beating out every other tandem with 3,240 all-purpose yards and 33 touchdowns. McFadden, who was Heisman bridesmaid for the second straight year (and if he does opt for the NFL, he will go down as one of the greatest to never win a stiff-armed trophy), led the way with 1,725 rushing yards and 15 scores and threw for four more TDs working as a quarterback out of the Wild Hog formation, while Jones, the most overlooked player in the nation, had 13 scores.
McFadden and Jones also channeled another famous duo off the field, dressing up as Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble for Halloween.
Preseason rank: No. 9
The emergence of Knowshon Moreno made all the difference in Georgia's season and its ranking on this list. The redshirt freshman capitalized on injuries to seniors Kregg Lumpkin and Thomas Brown, seizing the starting role in rushing for 1,273 yards (fourth most for a freshman in SEC history) and 12 touchdowns.
While Moreno became one of the year's breakout stars, earning all-SEC first-team honors, he formed formed a formidable duo when Brown returned. Brown averaged 5.4 yards a carry in totaling 706 yards and nine touchdowns, including 139 yards in the regular-season finale against Georgia Tech, in which Moreno had his second-worst game of the year (45 yards).
Preseason rank: NR
Brandon McAnderson and Jake Sharp are the true definition of "Thunder and Lightning." Anderson, at 6-feet, 235 pounds, is the prototypical steamroller, while Sharp (5-10, 190 pounds) brings track speed to the field. Together, they were a major part of the Jayhawks' come-from-nowhere 11-1 season, combining for 2,166 total yards and 25 touchdowns, but they got little-to-no love most of the year.
McAnderson, a senior who was Kansas' No. 1 fullback last season, has developed into a legit weapon in a one-back offense, rushing for 1,050 yards and 16 touchdowns, while Sharp had 788 yards and seven scores.
Preseason rank: NR
Kick returner/wide receiver Devin Thomas may have been the Spartans' breakout star and their catalyst late in the season, but first-year coach Mark Dantonio made the duo of Jehuu Caulcrick and Javon Ringer the showcase of the offense.
Caulcrick, a senior, and Ringer, a junior, combined for 2,159 yards and 27 touchdowns as the foundation of a powerful running attack that averaged 200 yards per game. Ringer, the more explosive of the two, ran for 1,346 yards and six touchdowns and averaged six yards per carry, while the bullish Caulcrick (6-feet, 255) got the goal-line snaps and had a Big Ten-leading 21 scores.
If not for DeMarco Murray's season-ending knee injury, the tandem of Murray and Allen Patrick could have ranked higher. Despite the electric redshirt freshman Murray missing the last two games, the pair still combined for 1,691 yards and 21 touchdowns in the Sooners' explosive offense.
Patrick, a senior, overtook the team rushing lead after Murray went down, running for a career-high 202 yards and three TDs against Oklahoma State en route to a 927-yard season, while Murray finished with 764 yards and 13 touchdowns. Patrick and Murray also had to share carries with another capable runner, Chris Brown, who had 561 yards and eight scores.
Preseason rank: No. 6
The Tigers' rushing attack is deep, with four players each having run for at least 318 yards, but for these purposes we're targeting Jacob Hester and Keiland Williams.
Hester, the hard-nosed senior back whom coach Les Miles seems to have an unwavering faith in on those risky fourth-down gambles, led the 12th-ranked rushing attack with 1,017 yards and 11 touchdowns.
While Hester brings the dependability, Williams brings the flash. The Tigers' big-play back averaged 7.3 yards per carry but missed most of the SEC Championship game with a knee injury. He had 572 total yards, including 458 on the ground, and seven scores.
Preseason rank: No. 4
Much like LSU, the Trojans' backfield is all about depth. USC boasts three running backs whom have run for more than 400 yards, led by senior Chauncey Washington and sophomore Stafon Johnson, who combined for 1,463 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Washington was the unquestioned feature back at Tailback U, carrying 183 times, nearly 100 more than any other Trojans RB in rushing for 894 yards and nine touchdowns, while Johnson had 569 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 6.4 yards on 89 carries. True freshman Joe McKnight also made an impact, running for 415 yards and two touchdowns on 84 carries.
Preseason rank: No. 10
If I disregarded my own rule, the Mountaineers would be a legit threat to Arkansas at No. 1 with quarterback Pat White and his rushing 1,185 yards. But there's still much to fawn over in the nation's fourth-ranked ground attack with Steve Slaton and Noel Devine.
Slaton's junior season has been a bit of a letdown after rushing for 1,744 yards and 16 touchdowns in '06 (i.e. the 11 yard debacle vs. Pitt) but he still ran for 1,053 yards and 17 scores. Devine, a true freshman, came in relief of Slaton in spells, finishing with 519 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 8.6 yards per carry.
Preseason rank: No. 1A
James Davis and C.J. Spiller weren't a complete disappointment, but the pair didn't live up to expectations. They combined for 1,648 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground, 477 fewer yards and 16 fewer touchdowns than they had in '06.
Part of the decline could be a rise in the Cullen Harper-led passing game, which increased its output by 60.5 yards a game, but Davis and Spiller also struggled, especially in the Tigers' three losses. They had 62 combined yards against Boston College and Georgia Tech and had only 12 yards vs. Virginia Tech.
Preseason rank: NR
The Huskies' unexpected rise to tie West Virginia for the Big East crown was largely thanks to its ability to control the ball with its hulking offensive line (which averages 308 pounds), which paved the way for the tandem of Donald Brown and Andre Dixon.
The sophomores were a balanced one-two punch, with Dixon running 160 times to Brown's 157. Dixon had 809 yards to Brown's 749 but Brown had eight TDs to Dixon's three.
Auburn (Brad Lester, Ben Tate); Fresno State (Ryan Mathews, LonyaeMiller); Maryland (Lance Ball, Keon Lattimore); Navy (Reggie Campbell, Eric Kettani); Southern Miss (Damion Fletcher, Tory Harrison); Texas A&M (Mike Goodson, Jorvorskie Lane) and Western Michigan (Mark Bonds, Brandon West).