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Here I take a look at the positional ranking of the running back position in the Big 12. It's not just about the starters but the overall depth and talent of each team's position of running back and how I believe this unit will do as a whole this coming season.
The Sooners are loaded and could stack up pretty well against anyone in 2015. Then you have some talented running backs here from Waco, Lubbock, Austin, Morgantown, and Ft. Worth. There's also a potentially monster new comer in Stillwater.
Oklahoma freshman Samaje Perine had a sizzling true freshman season in 2014 after rushing for 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns. It was an incredibly year, especially the back half which included a 427-yard performance against Kansas. There’s a new offensive coordinator (Lincoln Riley) and likely a new quarterback in Norman, but expect much of the same for the Sooner run game, especially from this powerhouse sophomore.
There’s some nice talent behind Perine in the OU backfield. All Sooner fans are anxious to see former five-star prospect Joe Mixon run the rock. He was suspended all of 2014 by Sooners coach Bob Stoops and that suspension included the spring game. By all accounts, Mixon impressed the Oklahoma staff all throughout the spring practice session and looks like the first running back off the bench. Another player that impressed this spring was red-shirt junior Alex Ross. He’s another big back at 220-pounds. True freshman Rodney Anderson and red-shirt junior Daniel Brooks are two other running backs that should get some touches this fall.
Riley is known as a pass first offensive coordinator with an offense called the ‘air raid’ but make no bones about it; the running back group at Oklahoma is so strong it has to be the centerpiece of this offense.
Junior Shock Linwood is one of the Big 12’s best offensive players. He has racked up some impressive numbers his first two playing seasons in Waco, rushing for 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound talent from Linden (Texas), made first team All-Big 12 in 2014. He will need to have a big fall campaign for the Bears, especially considering Baylor is breaking in a new quarterback.
But the run game won’t all fall on Linwood’s shoulders, as there are a few seasoned running backs behind him on the depth chart. Sophomore John Jefferson and junior Devin Chafin combined to rush for over 900 yards and 14 scores last season. This is a strong group for Art Briles. JaMycal Hasty is a four-star in-coming freshman for this program.
Injury in 2014 forced Aaron Green into the starting lineup. This 5-foot-11, 202-pound running back didn’t disappoint. Green rushed for 922 yards, nine touchdowns and averaged 7.1 yards per carry. He also scored two more times in the passing game. The senior has good speed and should be the primary guy this fall in the run game. But he won’t be alone.
Sophomores Kyle Hicks and Trevorris Johnson will be in the running back rotation. Hicks has good speed like Green while Johnson is a change of pace bruiser that’s 221-pounds. Shaun Nixon is a talented back that red-shirted last season. The Horned Frogs have a talented group in the backfield for 2015.
4) Texas Tech
Deandre Washington rushed for 1,103 yards and two touchdowns in 2014. He also caught 30 passes for 328 yards and two scores. Now a senior, Washington was the first Red Raider to surpass the century mark in 17 seasons. Washington averaged 5.9 yards per carry on an offense last season that made a lot of mistakes.
Justin Stockton is one of the team’s faster players and he gives this unit some home run ability. He rushed for nearly 400 yards, four touchdowns and averaged 8.2 yards per carry in 2014. Quinton White is another running back that contributed last year. Keep a close eye on Demarcus Felton. He’s a red-shirt freshman that impressed this spring. Four-star running back recruit Corey Dauphine will join the team this summer. This has a chance to be a very good group in 2015 and beyond for Texas Tech.
For Oklahoma State, they signed Chris Carson to be the man. This is a four-star junior college transfer. He just showed up to campus and the Cowboys are hoping he makes a quick and seamless transition to their offense and life in the Big 12. This is a 6-foot-1, 210-pound back that runs very well and has good quickness for his size. He’s going to get every chance to earn his share of carries in Stillwater this fall and should be a huge addition to this offense.
Junior Rennie Childs is the leading returning rusher. In 2014, he posted 294 rushing yards and three scores and is coming off a solid spring performance. Childs and Carson will get the bulk of the carries. Another junior, Raymond Taylor saw some limited action for Oklahoma State. Freshman Sione Palelei and junior Todd Mays will also be in the mix. The Cowboys have one incoming freshman running back in Jeff Carr.
Senior Johnathan Gray looks like the guy this year in Austin as the No. 1 running back for Charlie Strong and Texas. It’s a deep and talented group led by Gray, who rushed for 637 yards and seven touchdowns in 2014. Gray is a 206-pounder that was coveted by everyone in the country but has yet to live up to all the recruiting hype. Perhaps it will all come together for him this fall in 2015. Remember, the Longhorns are changing their offense up and it should be much better suited for Gray’s style.
It won’t only be the Gray show for the burnt orange, as he’s getting pushed by several, most notably D’Onta Foreman. This sophomore had a tremendous spring and has earned his share of touches this season. Duke Catalon was red-shirted last season after a bad hamstring injury. He’s another one that will get a serious look for some carries. There’s also a pair of talented freshman that could push the backs already on campus in Chris Warren and Kirk Johnson. Another incoming freshman that will likely red-shirt is Tristian Houston. Strong and the Longhorns will need a productive campaign from this group in 2015.
The Mountaineers have a talented group in their backfield as well. West Virginia is led by junior Rushel Shell. He made a splash in both and the run and passing games for Dana Holgerson and his high flying offense in Morgantown. Last season he started eight of the 12 games he played in and finished with 788 yards rushing and scored seven touchdowns and caught 21 passes. He gives this offense a good inside presence from tackle to tackle.
Then you have a handful of additional running backs that are very multi-dimensional and do damage out in space and in the passing game like Wendell Smallwood and Donte Thomas-Williams. Smallwood gave the Mountaineers 722 yards on the ground and also caught 31 passes. He started seven games in 2014. Thomas-Williams and Jacky Marcellus also had strong springs for West Virginia.
8) Kansas State
Charles Jones returns as K-State’s leading rusher, though he did average less than four yards per carry. He ran for 540 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2014. This junior looks to keep the production going for the Wildcats as their opening game starter this fall.
There’s talent behind him pushing for playing time. True freshman Alex Barnes graduated early and participated in spring practice. He got ten carries for 48 yards in the spring game. Then you have two players that red-shirted in 2014, Dalvin Warmack and Justin Silmon, as well as junior Jarvis Leverett. Tyler Burns is an incoming freshman for the Wildcats.
It’s a new regime for the Jayhawks with former Kansas assistant David Beaty running the show. Coming out of spring Beaty announced that his top running back, sophomore Corey Avery, was suspended indefinitely. That’s not good news for a team looking for playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Avery accounted for 631 yards and five scores last season. Hopefully he’s back for Kansas sooner rather than later.
Now the pressure falls to senior running back De’Andre Mann. He’s a veteran of the program that rushed for 399 yards in nine games played in 2014. After Mann that’s not much production or experience from the group whatsoever. Junior college transfer Ka’aun Kinner had a great spring and Kansas is hoping he brings big play capability to the offense this fall. Senior Taylor Cox is a guy with experience but hasn’t played in two seasons. Running back Taylor Martin is a three-star in-coming freshman for the Jawhawks.
10) Iowa State
The Cyclones lost their top two rushers from a year ago are no longer with the program. That means Iowa State and Paul Rhoades have to turn to some talented but inexperienced running backs as they look ahead to 2015.
A trio of players are vying for playing time and carries with only two seeing any kind of action in 2014. Red-shirt sophomore Tyler Brown rushed for 109 yards on 24 attempts while sophomore Martinez Syria only had 20 carries. Mike Warren red-shirted last year after a shoulder injury. Syria runs with the most power and seems to have what the coaching staff covets the most with the way he runs while Brown has the big play, breakaway speed. Remember, these three are all young players.
Then you have two incoming freshman that will jump into the action for playing time in Sheldon Croney and Joshua Thomas. Croney is coming off a self-inflicted gunshot wound but should be healthy by camp.
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