Yesterday I released my preseason quarterback rankings for college football and got a pretty large amount of feedback. Now it’s time for the running back rankings.
The top choice is pretty easy. Most people will agree that Jahvid Best is the top running back at the collegiate level right now. He’s the featured part of California’s offense and will be one of the main reasons they do or do not win the Pac 10 this season. After that everything is thrown up in the air.
Obviously Noel Devine, Kendall Hunter, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Jonathan Dwyer are going to be somewhere on the list, but in what order? That’s just part of the decision making process I had to go through. Other decisions included how to evaluate players that were in multi-running back offenses like USC and Florida. Both teams got one player on the list. Also, how do you evaluate running backs that play in weaker conferences?
Again, just like the quarterback list, only players that have been in college for at least a year and have played enough to be evaluated for a list like this are included. That means zero incoming freshman are included. It’s completely unfair to evaluate a prospect without seeing him player against the top level of collegiate competition. Every player looks like a superstar on the highlight film. Most players below were starters last season and all of them saw a large amount of game time.
Without further adieu, here’s my running back list:
1. Jahvid Best (CAL): Best is the top running back in college football hands down. Every time I hear someone speak of him the phrase “darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate” is used to describe him. I’m not sure how a guy that everyone knows about can be a darkhorse, but I guess Best falls under that category. Last season he rushed for 1,580 yards and 15 TDs. This year I expect him to be even better. His Heisman chances will probably come down to his game against USC on October 3rd.
2. Noel Devine (WVU): Devine has been overshadowed a bit in his time at West Virginia by Steve Slaton and Pat White. With White’s graduation both are gone, meaning he will be the main feature of the Mountaineers offense. Coming out of high school Devine looked a guy that could develop into one of the best collegiate running backs ever. So far he hasn’t lived up to those expectations, but he should have a great year this year. Last season he had 1,289 yards.
3. Jonathan Dwyer (GT): Georgia Tech’s triple option attack suits Dwyer just fine. Last season on 200 carries Dwyer rushed for 1,1395 yards and 12 TDs. In the Yellow Jackets final four regular season games Dwyer topped 128 yards every single time and scored seven touchdowns. His second season in the offense should be even better. Last season Virginia Tech was the only ACC team to completely shut him down. The Hokies come to Atlanta on October 17th.
4. Jacquizz Rodgers (OREST): Last season Rogers announced his existence to the world in an incredible game against USC. How about this stat line: 37 carries, 186 yards, 2 touchdowns. In games where Rogers had 20 carries or more the Beavers were 7-2. His short size is what makes him a fan favorite because people can’t believe how good he is at 5-7. Overall last season he had 1,253 yards and 11 TDs. Personally, I can’t wait until Rodgers and Oregon State travel to USC on October 24th.
5. Kendall Hunter (OKST) : The Cowboys offense is going to be deadly with Hunter, Zac Robinson, and WR Dez Bryant back. Last season Hunter rushed for 1,555 yards and 16 touchdowns while helping lead Oklahoma State to a 9-4 record. This season Hunter should be even better with defenses focused on slowing down Robinson and Bryant–the guys who garner the most media attention. The one thing Hunter can work on is being a bigger factor in the passing game. He scored only once last season on a reception.
6. LaGarrette Blount (ORE): Blount is a human highlight film. Last season against Arizona State he actually had a play where the Sun Devils thought he was down and stopped pursuing him; allowing Blount to keep running and score a touchdown. On the play he kept his feet driving and his knee never touched. When watching Blount play that’s the one thing you will notice about him: his legs never quit driving. He breaks a large number of tackles and seems always poised to make the big play.
7. C. J. Spiller (CLEM): Last season Spiller received the fewest amount of carries he’s gotten in any year he’s been at Clemson with just 116. That resulted in his lowest rushing yards total, but do not be fooled by the low output. When he gets into the open field his breakaway speed takes over and nobody is catching him. He’s also a menace on kick returns when the Tigers elect to put him back deep. Any time Clemson can get Spiller the ball in space they will because there’s a very good chance it will result in a touchdown.
8. DeMarco Murray (OU): Murray scored 14 touchdowns last season playing in the best offense in college football season history. He was second on the Sooners in rushing–behind Chris Brown–but totaled 1,002 yards. This year Bob Stoops will hope to get the Sooners running game going once again. When Murray missed the national championship game against Florida, Oklahoma struggled in the redzone. It’s hard to tell whether having Murray would’ve made any difference, but he certainly wouldn’t have hurt anything.
9. Chris Brown (OU): Since Oklahoma’s rushing duo was so dominant last season I don’t think it’s fair to separate them by too much. Brown rushed for 20 TDs last season which was only surpassed or equaled by four other players. The Sooners offensive line helped make things easier for both Brown & Murray but their numbers are still very impressive. This season they are looking to repeat their success and bring home a national championship (and a win over Texas).
10. Joe McKnight (USC): It’s hard to pick one running back out of USC’s stable of talented backs, but McKnight is easily the most gifted. He only scored twice last season because of the way Pete Carroll rotates his running backs, but he made a ton of tremendous plays. Every single time McKnight had 10+ carries in a game last season he rushed for 99 yards or more. Overall last season on just 89 carries he rushed for 659 yards. Against Ohio State he was one of the biggest stars offensively for the Trojans.
11. Evan Royster (PENNST): Royster is another running back with breakaway speed. Last season he ran for 1,236 and 12 touchdowns while almost leading Penn State to an undefeated regular season. Royster scored six touchdowns in the Nittany Lions first two game of the season and then scored only six the rest of the season. In the Rose Bowl against USC (Penn State’s biggest game) Royster had six carries for 34 yards before injuring his left knee and leaving the game.
12. Jeffrey Demps (FLA): Last season as a freshman Demps averaged an incredibly 7.8 yards per carry. He scored seven touchdowns on 78 carries and was an integral part of Florida’s national championship run. While splitting carries with Chris Rainey, and even at times USC transfer Emanuel Moody, Demps was probably the most impressive Florida running back due to his speed. Most casual fans don’t realize that Demps also runs track for the Gators.
13. Charles Scott (LSU): Scott began the season as a Heisman Trophy candidate due to four straight 100+ yard games to begin the season. Those hopes came crashing down after Florida held him to just 35 yards on 12 carries. Scott has pretty nice agility for a guy his size (234 lbs) and can run over anyone who gets in his way in Jerome Bettis type fashion. He finished the season on a high note by rushing for three touchdowns in the Chic-Fil-A Bowl.
14. Derrick Washington (MIZZ): Washington gets less attention than Kendall Hunter, Chris Brown, and DeMarco Murray because Missouri isn’t a national championship contender, but he’s a speedy running back that can make a lot of big plays. Last season he had 1,036 yards and 17 touchdowns. Those numbers can’t be ignored, even in the defensively challenged Big 12 conference. Without Chase Daniel to threaten defenses with his arm, he might have a harder time getting anything going on the ground.
15.Da’Rel Scott (MD): Scott was most of the Maryland offense last season. He rushed for 1,133 yards and eight touchdowns. He had four 100 yard rushing games last season but the opponents were Delaware, Middle Tennessee State, N. C. State, and North Carolina. Not exactly the toughest opponents to show out against. Still, overall the season was a success with a 5.4 average per carry. In Maryland’s opener against California Scott will get his chance to shine.
16. Mark Ingram (AL): Ingram is the third player on this list–along with Demps & McKnight– in an offense that likes to use multiple backs on a game to game basis. In 2008 he was behind Glenn Coffee, the newest San Francisco 49er, but should get the bulk of the carries of this year for the Crimson Tide. Last year Ingram rushed for 728 yards and 12 touchdowns. He only received double digit carries in seven games but managed to rush for 63 yards or more in all of them.
17. Michael Smith (ARK): Smith became one of the nation’s best running backs last season as a junior. After playing behind Felix Jones and Darren McFadden he finally got his chance to shine and took full advantage of the oppurtunity. Last season he rushed for 1,072 yards and eight touchdowns. His best game was against Kentucky in a 21-20 loss where he had 35 carries for 192 yards and a touchdown. I can’t wait to see what he does for an encore against the SEC’s tough defenses.
18. MiQuale Lewis (BALL): Lewis was a very important part of Ball State’s undefeated regular season in 2008, although quarterback Nate Davis garnered most of the media publicity. He rushed for a NCAA high 22 touchdowns and 1,736 yards. It’s hard to judge just how great he is against MAC defenses, but–like I’ve said in the case of some smaller conference quarterbacks that put up big numbers (example: Tim Hiller)–those numbers are impressive against anyone.
1 9. Toby Gerhart (STAN): Gerhart’s coming out party was in 2008. He rushed for 1,136 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season including eight 100+ yard performances. Against USC, in a 45-23 loss, Gerhart rushed for 101 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown. Not bad against the best defense in the country. Against lowly Washington State Gerhart scored four touchdowns and had 132 yards rushing. In the two years before ‘08 Gerhart had only totaled 515 yards rushing.
20. James Starks (BUFF): Starks was one of the main reasons Buffalo was able to turn around their football program by winning the MAC last season. Head coach Turner Gill will probably feed Starks the ball even more than last season (272 carries) and give him a chance to lead FBS in rushing. Last season he had 1,333 yards and 16 touchdowns in just 12 games. In the last nine games he’s played he’s scored a touchdown. Due to missing the Army game last season his streak is only seven consecutive Buffalo games.
Among Others Considered: Corera Eason (MS), Anthony Dixon (MISSST), Ben Tate (AUB), Jake Sharp (KU), Nic Grigsby (AZ), Stefan Johnson (USC), Vic Anderson (LOU), Harvey Unga (BYU), Matt Asiata (UTAH), Damon Fletcher (USM), Bryce Beall (HOU), Vai Taua (NEV), Daniel Porter (LATECH), Reggie Arnold (ARKST), DuJuan Harris (TROY), Chris Rainey (FLA), Brandon Minor (MICH), John Clay (WISC), Darrell Scott (COL)