StatTiger: Is Auburn Running Back U?

StatTiger analyzes the great running backs who have played for the Tigers, Southern Cal Trojans, Michigan Wolverines and Nebraska Cornhuskers.

In 1927, Morley Drury led the University of Southern California football team in rushing with 1,163 yards in just nine games. The Trojans would not see another 1,000-yard rusher until Mike Garrett ran for 1,440 yards in 1965.

After a 37-year drought, Southern Cal would field 14 one thousand yard rushers over the next 17 seasons (1965-1981), which included four Heisman Tophy winners in Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Charles White and Marcus Allen.

During that magnificent run of 1,000-yard rushers, the Trojan starting running back averaged 1,621 yards per season during the 14 seasons with a 1,000-yard tailback. They would easily lay claim to being dubbed, "Running back U."

Over the past six seasons, Auburn has fielded a 1,000-yard rusher five times. If not for a season-ending injury in 2001, Carnell Williams would have made it six in a row.

With Rudi Johnson, Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown in the NFL, Auburn is on the verge of becoming the latest "Running back U." When Kenny Irons rushed for 1,293 yards in 2005, it marked the first time in school history Auburn fielded a 1,000-yard rusher in four consecutive seasons. Irons is destined to be the next highly drafted running back and probably would have been the third back selected in the 2006 NFL Draft had he elected to leave Auburn early.

Auburn History

In 1978, Joe Cribbs became the first Auburn back to rush for more than 1,000-yards since Jimmy Sidle accomplished the feat in 1963. With the emergence of Cribbs, Auburn had a long run of successful running backs.

Cribbs and James Brooks were stars at the collegiate level and very successful in the NFL. William Andrews slipped under the radar at Auburn, but made a major splash in the NFL until suffering a career-ending knee injury. Lionel James, Bo Jackson and Brent Fullwood ran roughshod through the Southeastern Conference, turning their success into a ticket to the NFL.

During Bo‘s prime, no other running back in the country garnered as much attention on the national scale. Stacy Danley and James Joseph shared the Auburn backfield from 1987-1989, but were mainly blue-collar running backs.

James Bostic broke Auburn's drought without a 1,000-yard rusher in 1993, which had not been accomplished since 1986, when Brent Fullwood broke the 1,000-yard barrier. Stephen Davis carried on the tradition over the next two seasons before Auburn went into another slump from 1996-1999. Bostic (Los Angeles Rams) and Davis (Washington Redskins) were both drafted into the NFL with Stephen Davis being the more successful of the two.

Tommy Tuberville brought the focus back to the running game when he arrived at Auburn in 1999. Under Tuberville, four different tailbacks have reached the 1,000-yard plateau, which is the most under any Auburn coach. Rudi Johnson, Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown and Kenny Irons have given Auburn the right to lay claim to being the next "Running back U."

National Comparison

Over the last six seasons, no other major Division I-A team has had more success in terms of individual running backs at Auburn. However, looking at a grander scale, Auburn is in a tight race since 1978. Over the last 27 seasons, Auburn has fielded 14 1,000-yard rushers, with 10 different backs reaching the established mark. In comparison, Southern Cal is tied with Auburn in total number of 1,000-yard seasons, but the Trojans have reached their total with 12 different backs.

Michigan has fielded 19 1,000-yard rushers since 1978, accomplished by 12 different tailbacks. Nebraska is tied with Michigan at 19, but the Cornhuskers did it with 13 different running backs.

The Michigan Wolverines have seven running backs who have rushed for more than 3,000 yards during their career. Southern Cal is second with six who rushed for more 3,000 yards during their career at USC. Nebraska and Auburn were tied with four backs with more than 3,000 career-rushing yards.

The Trojans' 1,000-yard rusher, since 1978, averaged 1,449 yards per season and Auburn was second at 1,365 yards. Michigan finished third with an average of 1,337 yards and Nebraska was fourth with 1,315 yards per season.

Michigan and Nebraska are currently tied with 17 running backs drafted into the NFL since 1982. This total also includes fullbacks drafted during the same time period. Auburn has had 15 backs drafted since 1982 and Southern Cal is fourth with nine running backs drafted into the National Football League.

The Participants

Here are the 1,000-yard rushers from each program since 1978:

Michigan: Tshimanga Biakabutuka, Anthony Thomas, Jamie Morris, Chris Perry, Butch Woolfolk, Michael Hart, Tony Boles, Lawrence Ricks, Jon Vaughn, Tyrone Wheatley, Ricky Powers and Rick Rogers.

Nebraska: Jarvis Redwine, Roger Craig, Mike Rozier, Doug Dubose, Keith Jones, Ken Clark, Derek Brown, Calvin Jones, Lawrence Phillips, Ahman Green, Dan Alexander, Dahrran Diedrick and Corey Ross.

Southern Cal: Charles White, Marcus Allen, Fred Crutcher, Steven Webster, Ricky Ervins, Mazio Royster, Delon Washington, Chad Morton, Sulton McCullough, Lendale White and Reggie Bush.

Auburn: Joe Cribbs, James Brooks, Bo Jackson, Brent Fullwood, James Bostic, Stephen Davis, Rudi Johnson, Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams and Kenny Irons.

Leader of the Pack

Of the four programs mentioned, Marcus Allen of Southern Cal tops the list in terms of his success at the college and NFL level. In terms of notoriety, Bo Jackson and O.J. Simpson would have to be tied at No. 2 on the list behind Marcus Allen.

During his career, Charles White remains the Trojans' all-time leading rusher with 6,245 yards. He played in the NFL from 1980-1988, totaling 3,075 rushing yards. Marcus Allen had the most successful pro career from 1982-1997, gaining 12,243 rushing yards and 123 rushing touchdowns. He also was the Trojans' second all-time leading rusher with 4,810 yards.

Simpson was close behind Allen in terms of his success in the NFL with 11,236 rushing yards from 1969-1979. The "Juice" is fifth on the USC rushing list with 3,423 yards on the ground. Mike Garrett played in the NFL from 1966-1973, gaining 5,481 yards as a pro and was sixth at Southern Cal with 3,221 yards rushing.

Anthony Thomas is currently Michigan's all-time leading rusher with 4,472 yards. He is also the Wolverines' second most productive back sent to the NFL with 3,424 yards from 2001-2005. Tyrone Wheatley finished third on Michigan's all-time leading rushing list and had the most successful pro career with 4,962 yards from 1995-2004. Wheatley gained 4,178 yards rushing as a Wolverine.

Bo Jackson tops the Auburn career rushing mark with 4,303 yards and gained 2,782 yards rushing in the NFL from 1987-1990. His pro baseball and football career was cut short by a hip injury. James Brooks is third all-time at Auburn with 3,523 yards rushing, but was the most productive pro Auburn back gaining 7,962 yards rushing from 1981-1992.

Joe Cribbs gained 3,368 yards as an Auburn Tiger and 5,356 yards in the National Football League from 1980-1988. Stephen Davis fell short of the 3,000-yard mark at Auburn (2,811), but gained 7,875 yards in the NFL from 1996-2005. Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown did very well in their NFL debuts in 2005 with both backs exceeding 900 yards rushing.

Kenny Irons, who will be back this fall, will try to put together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

Only two Husker "I-back" greats had reasonable success at the professional ranks. Mike Rozier is the all-time lead Cornhusker rusher with 4,837 yards and he gained 4,462 yards in the NFL from 1985-1991. Ahman Green had 3,880 yards on the ground at Nebraska and has rushed for 7,432 yards in the NFL from 1998-2005. Until he was recently hurt as a pro, Green was considered as one of the elite backs in the National Football League.

Recent Success

Over the past six seasons, Michigan's leading rusher at tailback has averaged 1,256 yards per season. Auburn is second with 1,159 yards per season. Southern Cal is third with 997 yards and Nebraska is fourth with 848 yards.

One can't ignore the success of the Michigan running backs over the long haul and their recent history since 2000. The Auburn Tigers are clearly on a roll and their extended history has been well documented. LenDale White and Reggie Bush have put the Trojans back on the map, but Nebraska has taken a major fall.

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