College football fans were treated to the greatest running backs in the history of the game from the mid-1960s to 1990. Some of the all-timers (think Archie Griffin, George Rogers, Earl Campbell, and the rest) dominated the gridiron game - and that's before counting the three freaks of nature who played within a few short years of each other in Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson and Marcus Dupree. That type of incredible run of backs will likely never be duplicated.
Still, when looking at the next generation of runners from 1990 through today in the college game, there have been some exceptional running backs. The top overall spot can be debated. Here’s a list of the top ten running backs over the past 25 years.
10) Darren Sproles (Kansas State) 2001-2004
This little back from K-State was an incredible all-around player for the Wildcats. Over three seasons, Sproles rushed for 4,769 yards and 44 touchdowns. He was also a huge weapon in the passing game and as a return man. Sproles finished with 6,812 all-purpose yards, placing him sixth in college football history. He’s 5-foot-6 and had incredible speed and better quickness.
9) DeAngelo Williams (Memphis) 2002-2005
Williams had a sensational career for the Tigers, rushing for over 6,000 career yards and netting 7,573 all-purpose yards. He also scored 60 touchdowns in his four year career at Memphis from 2002-2005. After racking up nearly 700-yards as a freshman, Williams then got better each season, rushing for 1,400 yards as a sophomore, 1,948 yards as a juniors, and 1,964 yards as a senior.
8) LaDanian Tomlinson (TCU) 1997-2000
Tomlinson was good his first two seasons at TCU, but really exploded the final two years in the program. As a junior, LT rushed for 1,850 yards and 18 touchdowns. This included a 406 yard performance against UTEP. He blew by that as a senior, rushing for 2,158 yards and 22 touchdowns. Tomlinson finished his career with 5,263 rushing yards.
7) Darren McFadden (Arkansas) 2005-2007
McFadden surpassed 1,000 yards rushing in each of his three seasons, posting 1,113 yards as a freshman and 1,647 yards as a sophomore. McFadden had an incredible junior year, rushing for 1,829 yards and finished second to Tim Tebow for the Heisman Trophy. In all, McFadden rushed for 4,590 yards and scored 41 touchdowns. He currently stands second to Hershel Walker (Georgia) in SEC career rushing. McFadden was one of this generation’s most explosive running backs.
6) Kevin Faulk (LSU) 1995-1998
Faulk finished his four-year career as the second-leading career rusher [at the time] from the SEC, only behind Georgia’s Hershel Walker with 4,557 yards. He did finish with a then-career all-purpose yard record for the SEC at 6,833 yards and scored 53 times. Faulk was an immediate starter in Baton Rouge for the Tigers and impacted the program in the run game, passing game and was terrific return man. He was Reggie Bush before there was Reggie Bush.
5) Marshall Faulk (San Diego State) 1991-1993
Faulk had an incredible run for San Diego State, finishing with 5,562 all-purpose yards and 62 career touchdowns. He was an impact player from day one. In only his second game, Faulk rushed for 386-yards and seven touchdowns against Pacific. He finished his freshman season with 1,429 yards. Then he rushed for over 1,600 yards as a sophomore and 1,530 as a junior. Of course this Faulk showed off his extreme versatility over his college career, especially in the passing game.
4) Reggie Bush (USC) 2003-2005
Bush was spectacular as a Trojan and truly one of the game’s most electrifying and explosive players of all time. He was the star on the star studded USC teams of Pete Carroll. Bush was the ultimate all-purpose back who could run the ball, be a dynamic receiver out of the backfield and a very dangerous return man. Bush finished with 3,169 rushing yards and averaged 7.3 yards per carry. He also caught 95 passes for 1,301 yards. Bush returned four kicks for scores and finished with 42 total touchdowns. Bush won the Heisman Trophy in 2005 (but had it stripped in 2010). He didn’t put up quite the numbers as some of the others from this time period, but Bush was widely feared and one of the most dangerous players ever in the college game.
3) Adrian Peterson (Oklahoma) 2004-2006
Peterson was a former five-star recruit that lived up to the hype and then some. He was spectacular in Norman right out of the gate and had one of the greatest true freshman seasons of all-time, rushing for 1,925 yards (NCAA record). He was so good and impressive that Peterson finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting to USC quarterback Matt Leinart. Injuries plagued his next two seasons and really took a year away from his rushing totals. As a sophomore, Peterson broke a foot and missed four games. As a junior, he broke a collar bone and missed seven. Still, he rushed for another 2,300 yards over those two years. Peterson finished with 4,245 yards and was 73 yards shy of breaking Billy Sims' career number at Oklahoma.
2) Ron Dayne (Wisconsin) 1996-1999
Dayne was a massive (5-10/250) running back for the Badgers that starred from year one. In fact, he put up an incredible 2,109 yards as a freshman, which is unheard of. He followed that up with a 1,457 yard sophomore season and then a 1,525 junior campaign. Dayne went out with a bang at Wisconsin as a senior, rushing for 2,034 yards and winning the Heisman Trophy. He also finished as the all-time leading rusher in NCAA history, surpassing Ricky Williams who broke the record the year before. Dayne led the Big Ten in rushing three years and was a two-time Rose Bowl MVP. Dayne averaged an incredible 148.8 yards per game over his Badger career. He finished with 7,125 yards rushing counting bowl games and 6,397 without.
1) Ricky Williams (Texas) 1995-1998
In 1998, Williams finished his career in Austin as the all-time leading rusher in NCAA history with 6,279 yards, surpassing the great Tony Dorsett. That season he also scored 29 touchdowns. The prior season, Williams finished with 1,893 yards and 25 scores. He totaled 79 touchdowns over four seasons while averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Even as a freshman, Williams posted 1,052 yards. He had size, speed, power and vision. Williams won the Heisman Trophy and was the fifth pick in the 1999 NFL Draft by the Saints. He was so highly thought by New Orleans and coach Mike Ditka that they traded away all their remaining ’99 picks and their first and third the following year to select this Longhorn.