When was the last time you heard a debate over Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson? It's a topic discussed passionately between Auburn and Georgia fans and the debate continues as if the two were still playing today.
Despite having different styles, Jackson and Walker became legends at their respective schools and were stars on a national level. Over the last 25 years, no other running back has combined the size, speed and athletic ability Jackson and Walker possessed. Certainly, there have been star running backs in the Southeastern Conference to follow Jackson and Walker, but none matched those big backs for a combination of size and speed.
Herschel Walker would relentlessly pound on his opponent like a human battering ram and Bo Jackson would slice through an opposing defense like a hot knife through butter. They were the type of player who made you hold your breath every time they touched the ball because they were capable of going the distance at any given moment.
Herschel Walker runs for the Bulldogs.
Clearly, Herschel Walker holds all the career totals, making it futile to make a comparison solely based on overall numbers. Had Walker elected to play his senior year, he would have easily been the NCAA's all time leading rusher.
Walker: 5,259 yards, 994 carries, 52 TDs (30.1 carries per game)
Jackson: 4,303 yards, 650 carries, 43 TDs (17.6 carries per game)
Because Walker had 344 more carries than Jackson, it's no surprise Walker had more yards and touchdowns. This is the very reason why a comparison of averages rather than totals is a better look inside the numbers. Jackson holds the advantage in terms of quality and Walker was superior in quantity.
Top 5 Games of Their Careers:
Jackson: 1,233 yards, 143 carries, 11 TDs/8.62 avg/ 13.0 attempts per TD
Walker: 1,230 yards, 180 carries, 10 TDs/6.83 avg/ 18.0 att per TD
They were close in total yards, but Bo Jackson had the better averages. A breakdown of each back's numbers will demonstrate Bo Jackson was the more explosive running back.
Top 11 Games of their careers: Walker: 2,468 yards, 398 carries, 25 TDs/6.2 avg/ 15.9 att per TD
Jackson: 2,162 yards, 281carries, 20 TDs/7.7 avg/ 14.0 att per TD
Once again, Walker leads in total yards with 11 more carries per game, but Jackson had a better average per carry and scored more frequently.
Career Games of 20 carries or more:
Walker: 5,126 yards, 963 carries, 52 TDs/5.32 avg/ 18.5 att per TD
Jackson: 1,934 yards, 272 carries, 18 TDs/7.11 avg/ 15.1 att per TD
Walker had 30 games of 20 carries or more compared to Jackson's 10 games. Bo averaged 193.4 yards per game compared to Walker's 170.9 average, despite averaging less than five carries per game than Walker. Once again, Jackson had a better average per carry and scored more frequently. During their careers, Jackson was held to under five yards per carry in nine of 37 games. Walker was held to under five yards in 17 of 33 games.
Career Games against Opponents with winning records:
Of the 33 regular season opponents Walker competed against, only 12 had a winning record. The combined winning percentage of Walker's opponents was .462. Jackson competed in 37 regular season games of which 25 had winning records with a combined winning percentage of .596 for all 37 opponents.
Jackson: 2,816 yards, 442 carries, 26 TDs/6.37 avg/17.0 att per TD
Walker: 1,916 yards, 381 carries,16 TDs/5.03 avg/ 23.8 att per TD
Jackson averaged 112.6 yards against winning opponents while Walker gained 159.6 yards per game, but Walker averaged 14 more carries per game. Once again, Jackson had the better quality averages despite the fact he competed against much tougher competition.
When Jackson had at least 20 carries against winning opponents, he averaged 186.2 yards per game to Walker's 172.4. Jackson also averaged 6.85 yards per carry to Walker's 5.12 with at least 20 carries against an opponent with a winning record.
Southeastern Conference Games:
Walker: 168.9 yards per game/5.23 avg 20.0 att per TD
Jackson: 113.2 yards per game/6.27 avg/17.2 att per TD
Because of more attempts, Walker had the better average in terms of yards per game, but Bo had a higher average per carry and scored more frequently against Southeastern Conference opponents. When both backs had at least 20 carries against conference opponents, Jackson averaged 185.0 yards per game to Walker's 176.3. Jackson also had the better average per carry, 6.75 to Walker's 5.25.
It also should be noted that 14 of the 20 conference opponents Jackson faced had winning records. Only six of the 17 SEC teams Walker faced had winning records.
Southeastern Conference Opponents with winning records:
Walker: 193.2 yards per game/5.32 avg/18.2 att per TD
Jackson: 108.8 yards per game/6.30 avg/16.1 att per TD
Bo Jackson is still Auburn's all-time leading rusher.
Walker averaged 36.3 carries against SEC opponents with winning records while Jackson averaged 17.3 carries. Once again, Walker had the better total yardage, but Jackson holds the advantage in overall averages. When Jackson carried the ball at least 20 times against "quality" SEC opponents, he averaged 199.0 yards per game.
Number of games averaging five or more yards per carry: Jackson: 28 of 37
Walker: 16 of 33
Number of games averaging six or more yards per carry:
Jackson: 21 of 37
Walker: 11 of 33
Number of games averaging seven or more yards per carry:
Jackson: 10 of 37
Walker: 3 of 33
During their Heisman seasons, Jackson had seven runs of 30 yards or more and Walker had only one. Many fans will agree that the two were the best running backs to come out of the Southeastern Conference. Their styles were different, but I believe that Georgia benefited from the quantity of Walker's career and Auburn prospered from Jackson's quality in performance.
Credit must be given to Walker in regard to his durability through out his career. No other running back in the history of the Southeastern Conference carried the ball an average of 330 times a season over a three-year period. The fact Walker carried the ball nearly 1,000 times without a major injury is utterly amazing and a testament to his conditioning. He carried the ball at least 21 times in 30 of his 33 regular season games and posted an astounding 20 games of 30 carries or more.
In fairness to Walker, opposing defenses had the luxury of focusing their defense on one player, yet he managed to run through the majority of defenses designed to stop him. On the other hand, Jackson ran out of an offense (wishbone) designed to confuse the opposing defense by use of the triple option.
Of course, Jackson had his best season of his career, running out of the Power-I formation in 1985. Jackson also averaged 201.0 yards per game with at least 30 carries and Walker gained 183.8. Jackson averaged 6.77 yards per carry, running from the wishbone and 6.42 yards from the "I" formation.
Of the 37 regular season games Bo Jackson participated in, he had 25 games of 15 carries or more, averaging 143.9 yards per game with a 6.8 yard per average. Eighteen of those opponents had winning records.
In fact, Jackson averaged 110.0 yards per game against opponents with at least a 9-3 record. This is very impressive when you consider he had only three games out of 11 against opponents with a 9-3 record where he carried the ball at least 20 times. When he did carry the ball over 20 times, he averaged 186.7 yards per game against his stiffest competition.
In terms of on field accomplishments, Walker won three SEC titles and one National Championship. Jackson won only one SEC title and was robbed of a mythical national championship in 1983. Except for 1983, Walker played on better overall teams than Jackson, but both players gave their teams a chance to beat anyone in the country. I realize my perspective has an Auburn slant to it, but the averages do favor Jackson's career over Walker.
Both universities were blessed to have fielded such great athletes and the memories will linger on as long as the game is played. Odds are we will never see the likes of Bo Jackson and Herschel Walker again, which is why Auburn and Georgia fans hold them so close to their hearts.