Running Back U. - The Best College RB Schools
O.J. Simpson, Marcus Allen, & Charles White
What schools are the best when it comes to cranking out great running backs? Based only on college production and not looking at pro prospects, talent, and anything that happened in the NFL, Pete Fiutak gives his take on the top 25 Running Back Universities over the last 40 years.
Running Back U. -
The Running Back Factories
Richard Cirminiello Version of
RB U. (College & Pro)
version of QB U. |
Pete Fiutak version of
Cirminiello, I don't care a lick about pro production when it comes
to schools producing great running back. Is San Diego State a great
running back school because Marshall Faulk went there? Is UCF great
because of Kevin Smith? All I care
about is college production in college careers.
Also, forget about NFL-type talent and go by what actually happened on the field. Go back to 1970 and knowing
what you know now, which schools had the best running back production
at the highest level?
Running back is college football's glamour position with the most
stars, the biggest names, and the most legends. Players like
Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson and Ron Dayne can elevate the history of
a whole program, while some schools have consistently cranked out
great back after great back.
So without further ado,
here are the 25 schools that produced the best college running backs
since around 1970, along with the five greatest backs for each
team. Once again, this is based on production and not just talent.
if you didn't take players from the 1960s like O.J. Simpson and
Mike Garrett, USC would still be number one with Heisman winners
Charles White, Marcus Allen, Reggie Bush, and should've-been-winners Ricky Bell
and Anthony Davis. I'm counting O.J. but for the purposes of
this exercise, but I'm not counting Garrett with his fantastic career
ending in 1965. You know a list is strong when Sam Cunningham, who
would've made the top five of almost every other team,
doesn't come close to cracking the USC elite, and neither does
LenDale White. You really know the top five is amazing
when Bell doesn't make the cut. All Bell did was run for
a 1,957 yards and 14 touchdowns in his junior season,
when he should've won the 1975 Heisman over Archie Griffin, and he was
strong in 1976 with a 1,433-yard, 14-touchdown season. That
just happened to be the year that Pitt's Tony Dorsett went
fab five ...
1. O.J. Simpson - Before he became an NFL legend, a
ground-breaking advertising pitchman, a tireless searcher for his
wife's murderer, and a convicted criminal, Simpson was one of the greatest college football
players of all-time. He should've been the first two-time Heisman
winner, cranking out a 1,543-yard, 13-touchdown junior season leading
USC to the 1967 national title. He won the 1968 Award by the largest
margin ever at the time with a 1,880-yard, 23-touchdown campaign.
2. Charles White - The star of some of the greatest USC teams
ever, White tore
off 6,245 yards and 49 touchdowns along with the 1979 Heisman. He set
22 NCAA, Pac 10, USC and Rose Bowl records.
3. Marcus Allen - A fullback for White in 1978 and 1979,
Allen blossomed into a star of his own ripping off a 1,563-yard, 14-touchdown season before his record-setting Heisman campaign in 1981
with 2,427 yards and 22 touchdowns.
4. Reggie Bush - No, he almost never ran inside,
but he was one of the greatest all-around players in college
football history finishing with 6,541 all-purpose yards. He ran for
3,169 yards and 25 touchdowns, averaging 7.3 yards per carry, caught
95 passes for 1,522 yards, and was a legendary kick returner. He won
the 2005 Heisman and almost won it in 2004.
Anthony Davis - Davis ran for over 1,000 yards for three
straight seasons finishing with 3,724 yards and 44 rushing
touchdowns. Even more impressive were his talents as a kick returner
averaging 34 yards per try with six touchdowns. He also caught 47
passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns.
of Auburn running backs and most college football fans will
instantly recall Bo Jackson. The Tiger running attack has enjoyed a
ton of fantastic performers other than just the two-sport superstar,
and few backfields have had as many good runners splitting time.
Imagine having Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown to choose from
(and, for a little while, Brandon Jacobs). How
about Lionel James and Brent Fullwood to go along with Bo? How about James Brooks, Joe Cribbs and Willie Andrews?
It's nearly impossible to narrow the list down to a top five leaving
out players like Rudi Johnson and Stephen Davis from the loaded
fab five ...
1. Bo Jackson - The 1985 Heisman Trophy winner was
actually more dangerous in his 1983 sophomore season when he averaged 7.7
yards per carry. Injuries kept him from reaching his full potential
over his final two seasons, getting knocked out of two of the biggest
games of the 1985 season against Tennessee and Florida, which made the
Heisman race closer than it should have been.
2. Carnell Williams - The Cadillac would put up mega-numbers
if he didn't have to split time with Ronnie Brown. While other great
Tiger backs could lay claim to the number two spot, Williams was a
star on a 2004 team that probably should've been playing for the
3. Joe Cribbs - After seeing a little bit of time in his
freshman season, Cribbs took off with 3,056 yards in his
final three campaigns finishing with 34 touchdowns. He was the
school's all-time leading rusher before James Brooks barely passed
him in 1980.
4. Brent Fullwood - The program's most spectacular back not
named Bo, Fullwood averaged 7.2 yards per carry with a scary-good
8.3 average in his senior year. An argument could be made that he was a
better home-run hitter than Jackson.
5. James Brooks - Rudi Johnson and Stephen Davis probably deserve this
spot, but Brooks was the school's all-time leading rusher before
Jackson came along. He ran for 3,523 yards and 24 touchdowns
averaging 5.7 yards per carry.
Even though Georgia hasn't been a pure running program like
Oklahoma, USC and Wisconsin were when they cranked out top rushers,
a frightening array of productive talents came out of Athens. An
argument could be made that Herschel Walker was the greatest college
player of all-time, while some Bulldog teams were so loaded that
future NFL starters like Terrell Davis and Olandis Gary had a hard
time seeing the field and Robert Edwards doesn't make the top five
list. While there were many great backs in Georgia
history, Walker is the reason the program is this high in the
fab five ...
1. Herschel Walker - If Superman had stayed for his
senior year, he would've set the NCAA rushing record going at least
500 yards past where Ron Dayne ended up setting the bar. If ever a
player could've gone straight from high school to the pros, it
would've been No. 34.
2. Garrison Hearst - The only back to come within ten miles
to many of Walker's records, Hearst finished his career with 3,232
yards and 35 total touchdowns. He won the 1992 Doak Walker Award as
the nation's best running back and finished third in the Heisman
3. Lars Tate - Often overlooked, Tate had a nice and steady
career finishing with 3,017 yards and 36 touchdowns.
4. Knowshon Moreno
- While he was never in the Heisman hunt and struggled to
get any All-America recognition, he had a nice career running for
2,734 yards and 30 touchdowns while catching 53 passes for 645 yards
and two scores.
Rodney Hampton - Despite splitting carries in most games
with talents like Tim Worley and Lars Tate, Hampton still finished
with 2,668 yards and 22 touchdowns averaging 5.7 yards per carry. He
was also a great receiver and kickoff returner.
about your big-time producers, Texas has cranked out two Heisman
winners (Ricky Williams and Earl Campbell), a third-place finisher
(Roosevelt Leaks), and Cedric Benson, who deserved more
consideration in 2004.
finished his career as the NCAA's all-time leading rusher and
Campbell was the star of the devastating Longhorn wishbone attack. How
loaded is the list? Great backs like Priest Holmes, Eric Metcalf,
"Jam" Jones, Hodges Mitchell, and Heisman finalist Steve Worster didn't
make it. Jamaal Charles
1. Ricky Williams - Earl Campbell might be a bit more of
a legend for Longhorn fans, but Williams had the better career
finishing with 6,279 yards and 75 touchdowns. There were few more
charismatic, dramatic, and exciting players in college football
2. Earl Campbell - A star from day one, the Tyler Rose was
only slowed down by a bad hamstring in his junior year. He came
roaring back with a 1,744-yard, 18-touchdown senior season on his
way to the Heisman.
3. Cedric Benson - The superstar recruit blossomed into a
superstar with four straight 1,000+-yard seasons, 65 career
touchdowns, and the 2004 Doak Walker Award. Williams and
Campbell didn't rush for 1,000 yards in all four of their seasons
(although Williams did it if you count his 62-yard day against
Virginia Tech in the 1996 Sugar Bowl, which the NCAA doesn't).
Jamaal Charles - One of the fastest backs in Texas
history, he finished with 3,328 rushing yards with 36 touchdowns and
caught 49 passes for 539 yards and three scores.
5. Roosevelt Leaks - Leaks finished third in the 1973 Heisman
race as a junior with 1,415 yards and 14 touchdowns averaging 6.2
yards per carry. His senior year should have been his shining
moment, but a freshman from Tyler, Texas had arrived to take away
5. Ohio State
a two-time Heisman winner in Archie Griffin, to pounding backs like
Pete Johnson, Eddie George, Jim Otis and many others, Ohio State
runners have always cranked out yards and production as well as any backs in
college football. While there aren't too many flashy stars, there
are so many good, productive players that the Buckeyes could have
easily finished in the top three. Maurice Clarett, Beanie Wells, and
Antonio Pittman are just three of the great players who didn't make
the top five cut.
fab five ...
1. Archie Griffin - Griffin shouldn't have won two Heismans. USC's
Anthony Davis should have won in 1974 and Cal's Chuck Muncie,
Pittsburgh's Tony Dorsett and USC's Ricky Bell were better backs in
1975. It doesn't matter; facts are facts, and Griffin is the only
two-time winner finishing his career with 5,589 yards and 26
touchdowns averaging six yards per carry.
2. Eddie George - George capped off a stellar career with the
1995 Heisman rushing for 1,927 yards and 24 touchdowns highlighted
by a 314-yard performance against Illinois. He finished with 3,768
yards and 45 scores.
3. Keith Byars - All set for a huge Heisman run in 1985,
Byars suffered a foot injury holding him to a mere 208 yards and
four scores. His sophomore and junior seasons were legendary tearing
off 2,963 yards and 46 touchdowns while leading the nation in scoring in
4. Pete Johnson - Known as a top blocker and the other back behind Archie
Griffin, Johnson was deadly around the goal line
with a whopping 58 career touchdowns. "Big Pete" wasn't
bad outside of the red zone with 2,308 career yards and a
1,058-yard junior season. He was an automatic short-yardage man on
5. Tim Spencer - The Ohio State ground game in 1981 and 1982,
Spencer ran for 2,755 career yards and scored 15 times in his senior year.
6. Penn State
Nittany Lion backs have mostly turned out to be disappointing pros,
doesn't make a difference to college fans. Joe Paterno's runners
have always been among the top college backs with a Heisman winner
in John Cappelletti and finalists in Lydell Mitchell, Ki-Jana Carter
and Larry Johnson. How good have the Penn State running backs been?
Players like Johnson, Franco Harris, Blair Thomas, and D.J. Dozier
don't make the list.
State's fab five ...
1. Curt Warner - Warner finished his career as the
school's all-time leading rusher with 3,398 yards and 24 touchdowns
leading the Nittany Lions to the 1982 National Championship. He was
the consistent rushing threat to balance out Todd Blackledge and the
Penn State passing attack.
2. Ki-Jana Carter - Known now for the unfortunate breaks in
his NFL career, Carter was a blur of a college back finishing second
in the 1994 Heisman race averaging a serious 7.8 yards per carry
rushing for 1,639 yards and 23 touchdowns.
3. John Cappelletti - He won the Heisman in 1973 with 1,522
yards and 17 touchdowns averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He had a
two-season total of 2,639 yards and 29 touchdowns.
4. Lydell Mitchell - While he was decent during his first two
years, rolling up 1,367 yards, his senior season was something
special rushing for 1,567 yards and 26 touchdowns averaging 6.2
yards per carry.
5. Curtis Enis - Larry Johnson, Blair Thomas and D.J. Dozier
could be here as well. Enis was phenomenal over his final two
seasons rushing for 2,573 yards and 32 touchdowns, but Penn State
fans have a hard time forgiving him for his involvement with an
agent keeping him out of the 1998 Florida Citrus Bowl.
The Sooners have enjoyed
some of the most exciting and talented backs college football has
ever seen. Getting to play in one of college football's premier
rushing attacks during the 1970s and 1980s, players like Billy Sims,
Greg Pruitt, Joe Washington and Marcus Dupree were some of biggest
stars in the game, while Adrian Peterson was one of the greatest
running back talents the game has seen since Herschel Walker. Even though the offense became more pass oriented
under Bob Stoops, there were still some decent non-Peterson backs, highlighted by
the underrated Quentin Griffin.
fab five ...
1. Billy Sims - The two-time All-American and 1978
Heisman winner was one of the greatest players of all-time. He ran
for 4,108 yards and 53 touchdowns scoring a whopping 45 times in his
final two seasons. Most impressive, along with his hair, was his career 6.9 yard-per-carry
average. Yes, he probably should be knocked down the list a few pegs
after Boomering it up when Sam Bradford won his Heisman.
2. Steve Owens - Yeah, he breaks the 1970 rule for these
rankings, but he comes close enough. The 1969 Heisman winner was a
touchdown machine setting the OU record with 57 in his three seasons
to go along with his 4,041 yards.
3. Adrian Peterson - Injuries kept him from fully reaching
his potential, especially after finishing second in the 2004 Heisman
race with 1,925 yards and 15 scores as a freshman. He finished with
4,057 career yards and 41 touchdowns, and is on the short list of
the greatest players to never win a Heisman.
4. Joe Washington - The two-time All-American ran for 3,995
career yards and scored 39 touchdowns finishing his career as OU's
all-time leading rusher. "Little Joe" finished third in the 1974 Heisman
race, but he led the Sooners to the national title.
5. Quentin Griffin - Flip a coin between Greg Pruitt, who was
an All-American in 1971 and 1972 and ran for 3,122 yards and 38
scores, and the diminutive Griffin. Griffin never received
the credit he deserved after amassing 4,732 total yards over his last
three seasons to go along with 41 rushing touchdowns and a national
title. Even with all
of his touches, he almost never fumbled.
cranking out 1,000-yard rushers, with one hitting the mark every
year from 1993 to 2002, Wisconsin has boasted some of the
nation's most productive backs over the last few decades. The system and the offensive
lines have had a lot to do with the numbers, but the backs really have been great. Ron Dayne, the greatest ground gainer in NCAA history,
is just one of the stars while Michael Bennett, Brian Calhoun, Anthony Davis and Billy Marek were all among the
nation's best players in their
respective seasons. There were also 1,000-yard seasons from
Terrell Fletcher, Rufus Ferguson and Carl McCullough. P.J. Hill and
John Clay have kept the tradition rolling.
fab five ...
1. Ron Dayne - The most disrespected superstar in college
football history because he was boring, and he happened to take over the spotlight a
year after the flashier Ricky Williams, Dayne is the NCAA's all-time
leading rusher leading the Badgers to two Rose Bowls and three bowl
victories in four years.
2. Anthony Davis - The little star can started his career out
with 3,021 yards before suffering a setback his junior year with an
ankle injury. He finished with 3,994 career yards and ran for 11
scores as a senior.
3. Billy Marek - Marek tore off three straight 1,000-yard
seasons from 1972 to 1974 as the focal point of the Badger attack.
He held all the UW records before Dayne and Davis came along.
4. Brent Moss - The first big star of the Barry Alvarez era,
Moss was the workhorse for the 1993 Big Ten championship run working with
Terrell Fletcher in the devastating ground attack. He finished his
career with 3,428 yards and 34 touchdowns.
Fletcher - Rufus Ferguson and Michael Bennett could take this
spot, but Fletcher was the better performer for four years finishing
with 3,414 yards and 25 touchdowns. He averaged an excellent 5.6
yards per carry.
Remember, this list is based on actual college production and not pro
potential. If you're going by NFL caliber backs, Miami would be near
the top with pro talents like Clinton Portis, Ottis Anderson, Willis
McGahee, Alonzo Highsmith, Edgerrin James, Cleveland Gary and
several others. Ten Hurricane backs have been first round
picks. Without a Heisman winner (even though McGahee was robbed) and
without a ton of big-time stats, it's hard to put Miami too much
higher than this based on college careers.
fab five ...
1. Edgerrin James - While he didn't play on national
title teams and didn't get the spotlight that Willis McGahee and
Clinton Portis received, James was still a force averaging 6.2 yards
per carry with 2,960 yards and 35 career scores.
2. Ottis Anderson - In the rush of great Hurricane running
backs it's easy to forget about Anderson.
He held the school's all-time leading rusher with 3,331 yards and
second in all-purpose yards with 4,265.
3. Willis McGahee - He only had one season as the starter,
but it was a big one with a school record 1,753 yards and 28
touchdowns. He wasn't just consistent, he was clutch making the big
runs when needed to keep a march for a second straight national
title appearance alive.
4. Clinton Portis - The workhorse for the 2001 national
champion, Portis finished his career with 2,523 yards and 21
McGuire - A scoring machine, McGuire tied for the career lead
in total Miami touchdowns with 35 while rushing for 1,953 yards as a
key cog in two national title winning attacks.
The Huskers should probably
be higher than this with several All-Americans to go along with
Heisman winner Mike Rozier. The Big Red rushing machine was one of
the most devastating offenses in all of sport, before it all got
scrapped, thanks to one of the
best offensive lines year-in-and-year-out and quarterbacks that knew
how to run. All-Conference caliber players like Jarvis Redwine, Roger Craig, I.M. Hipp,
Jeff Smith, Jeff Kinney, and Derek Brown don't
make the cut, but certainly could've. As a side note, for this piece, Johnny Rodgers is
considered a receiver rather than a running back.
fab five ...
1. Mike Rozier - A
devastating rushing star for three seasons, Rozier capped off his career
with all of the 1983 all-star hardware after rushing for 2,148 yards and 29
touchdowns. He finished averaging 7.16 yards per carry with 4,780
yards and 52 total scores and amassed 5,445 all-purpose yards.
2. Ahman Green - Nebraska's number two all-time leading
rusher when he finished his career, Green ran for 3,880 yards and helped lead the Huskers to a share of a
national title. He averaged a whopping 6.76 yards per carry with 42
3. Tom Rathman - Call this a nod to all the great Husker
fullbacks that were so instrumental in making the Big Red Machine
go. Rathman wasn't a bad ball-carrier with 881 yards and eight
touchdowns in 1985.
4. Lawrence Phillips - Yeah, he was far more trouble than he
was worth, but he was a brilliant college runner with 2,177 yards
and 21 rushing scores. It's a shame he couldn't stay under control
off the field with as much talent as any Nebraska runner.
5. Calvin Jones - While not a sexy pick, Jones was an
effective producer finishing his career as the school's number two
all-time leading rusher (before Green and Eric Crouch passed him by)
with 3,153 yards and 40 touchdowns.
The next 15 greatest running back schools since 1970
(remember, based on college production)...
11. Tennessee - The main man: Jamal Lewis
12. Oklahoma State - The main man: Barry Sanders
- The main man: Ronnie Harmon
14. Florida - The main man: Emmitt Smith
State - The main man: Lorenzo White
16. Michigan - The main man: Mike Hart
17. North Carolina - The main man: Amos Lawrence
18. SMU - The main man: Eric Dickerson
19. Colorado - The main man: Rashaan Salaam
20. Pitt -
The main man: Tony Dorsett
21. Arkansas - The main man:
22. California - The main man: Chuck Muncie
23. Minnesota - The main man: Darrell Thompson
24. West Virginia - The main man: Steve Slaton
LSU - The main man: Joseph Addai