The best backs in the Big XII

As the season approaches, the questions far outweigh the answers. Basically, speculation runs rampant. That's what we have, so that's what we do. Who's the best team? Who has the best line? Who has the best group of receivers? Well, as we go down the Big XII, we'll give you our take on the elite in one of the best conferences in the country. And today we look at the running backs.

Replacing Sproles will be a tough
task for anyone

10 – Thomas Clayton (Kansas State) 6-0, 210 lbs., Jr.– Going into his freshman year at his first stopover in division 1-A (Florida State), Clayton went in with a lot of stars and a whole lot of potential. The Seminoles saw that potential in a different way, however, opting to move Clayton to fullback.

Well, Clayton wanted no part of that and after a long search to find the right school, he landed atKansas State.


 

Clayton brings a great combination of skills, able to move inside and out fairly effectively and he's got the size to be more than ample to play all day between the tackles if needed. What Clayton needs more than anything are opportunities, something that all the K. State backs should get with Darren Sproles off to greener pastures.

 

K. State could be by committee this season, other backs like Carlos Alsup being potentially their go-to guys. If Clayton gets his chances, though, he's got everything the Wildcats need to have an effective, albeit unproven back that can be used anywhere on the field. Clayton played in nine games last year, getting 15 carries for a total of 71 yards.


9 – Ramonce Taylor (Texas) 5-11, 195 lbs., So. - If you want a word to describe Taylor , that's easy: Speed. He's got it and to spare. Last season, helping to spell the defenses when Cedric Benson wasn't carrying the load, Ramonce averaged over 10 yards per carry.
 

His size would tell you that he's capable of being physical when he has to, but I see Taylor as more a finesse back, somebody that you could run between the tackles, but I wouldn't be making a habit out of it.

With Benson gone and teammate Selvin Young having some lingering issues with grades, Taylor could be the man for the Horns this year. If Young comes back, though, Taylor will still get his shots and actually, the duo would make a potent combination.

It's going to be a different type of running attack for the Horns this year, this being the first year in a few that they haven't had that one sure-thing ball carrier that they knew could get the ball 25-plus times a game, take the pounding and keep asking for more.

If you want a great outside of the tackle threat, though, Taylor could be one of the conference's best.

 

8 - Kejuan Jones (Oklahoma) – 5-9, 200 lbs., Sr. – It's tough being the other woman, isn't it? Welcome to the world of Kejuan Jones as he spells defenses and mops up after teammate Adrian Peterson has usually wiped the floor with the competition.


Total time on the field doesn't take our opinion away, however, that Jones is a solid all-purpose back.

No, he doesn't have the ideal height you like, but Oklahoma has had a nice history of getting the most out of supposedly undersized backs. Players that they developed well enough that each was very physical at the point of attack, but able to utilize that nice low center of gravity to use their quickness to make plays.

The problem is, Jones doesn't have the luxury of being able to run through tackles like his cohort in Crimson and while I know I will get hacked on for this, he'll be doing it behind an offensive line that when it comes to run blocking, is pretty unspectacular.

 

I don't take as a knock on Jones, though, because he did pretty well last year, averaging almost four yards per carry, rushing for over 500 yards, jaunting into the end zone five times.

He'll be the bridesmaid once again this year, but, hey, when your teammate is Adrian Peterson, that's not an insult at all.

7 – Paul Mosley (Baylor) – 6-3, 230 lbs., Jr. – Tackle this guy. I dare ya. What a load this guy is to bring down for any opponent that has the unfortunate task of doing so. And for someone his size, this young man has shown himself to have remarkably good feet.

On an offense that ranked as one of the most pathetic in the country, Mosley still managed to average over four and a half yards per carry and that was usually with one or two guys on his back.

Well, it's going to be Baylor itself riding his pads this time around, running back Anthony Krieg now gone, leaving Paul as the Bears' best threat at a running game.

The only thing Mosley has going for him this time around is that quarterback Shawn Bell returns and if he can stay healthy, that might actually give the Bears an even better passing attack this year, Baylor not totally horrible last season, averaging over 210 yards per game.

The better Bell is, the better Mosley's opportunities will be and he'll get plenty of reps. Don't worry, though, Mosley can handle it, even if there are five guys hanging all over him every single snap of the ball.

6 – Taurean Henderson (Texas Tech) – 5-10, 205 lbs., Sr. – There was always a rap on Nebraska running backs when they were pounding the ball down everyone's throat. The critics said of the backs that you didn't know how good they were, because they were seven yards down the field before they were even touched.

Well, try being a running back in an offense that as Texas Tech coaches will admit, comes off the bus throwing it fifty times a game.

For a running back, you have become that secret weapon and in the Big XII, for a running back to be a secret, that's saying a heck of a lot.

Henderson is, though, but he's managed to take advantage of his opportunities, averaging over 5 yards a carry and returns as one of the top returning rushers in the Big XII.

What Henderson gives you is a little bit of everything, similar to that of Stevie Hicks, but not in overall physicality. I think Henderson does have very good vision, though, something he ironically doesn't need, because nobody ever thinks Tech will run the ball.

Henderson 's 162 carries won't rank him amongst the most prolific in the conference, but when you see holes like he does and a lot of one-on-one situations, he doesn't need a lot.

5 – Courtney Lewis (Texas A&M) – 6-0, 195 lbs., Jr. - If it wasn't for Texas Tech and the fact that nobody even think they have a running back, Courtney Lewis could be the more unsung backs in the conference. But, that could have something to do with the potential superstar he has in Reggie McNeal.

McNeal's prowess as both a runner and thrower have given the Aggies a potent attack, but Lewis is a vital key.

Last year Lewis averaged over four yards per carry, toting the ball a fairly minor 175 times, averaging just under 70 yards a game. That's not much, but it becomes more when you consider that while Lewis ranked 11th in the conference in rushing last year, his quarterback ranked right behind him at number 12.

With McNeal returning, that gives Lewis more opportunities to feed of what his teammate does, but also so that his teammate can feed off of him. They are going to have to as this duo comprises the gist of the Aggie running game.

Lewis can handle it as he's got the size to be effective inside and out, the speed to work well as a compliment to McNeal when they choose an option style attack and Lewis is an every down kind of back.

The Aggies usually have good fullbacks, which will help, so Lewis could once again have a very fruitful year for TAMU.

4 – Stevie Hicks Jr. ( Iowa State ) – 6-2, 215 lbs., Jr. – As a product of the Husker state, I was sorry to see Hicks head to play for ISU. It's nice to see, though, that Hicks has found a home not just in Ames , but in former Husker asst. Barney Cotton's offensive plan.

Hicks is one of those players that you can say doesn't do any one thing spectacular, but he's a solid back all around and for what Iowa State does, Hicks fits them to a tee.

There were some growing pains last year, Hicks not managing to average even four yards a carry, averaging just under 90 yards a game. But, you know how it is with new offenses, though, and Barney Cotton was just getting his put into place.

In year two, if Cotton proves good to his background, there's one question you won't have to ask about his O-line that will be paving the way for Stevie and that's how they can run block in a real game.

They can and they will and Hicks should have a very good season and if the passing game of the Clones continues to progress, it could be an extremely good year.

3 – Selvin Young – ( Texas ) 6-0, 210 lbs., Jr. - I love this guy. Ever since I saw him in return duty, because some guy named Benson wouldn't get off the field, I have liked what I have seen in his versatility, both inside and out.

The only thing that seems to have held this guy back is either a superstar starter or himself, Young actually battling the books this spring more than he was battling for time on the field.

That's neither here nor there, though, when analyzing what this young man can do and frankly, there's not much he can't.

 

No, he's not the 225 pound back that Texas has grown accustomed to, but I'd put money on Young being a guy that could easily carry the ball 20, possibly even 30 times a game. He won't have to, however, because in Ramonce Taylor, he's got a deadly partner in the backfield.

I am not going to say that this is Texas' next great back, because over recent years, that's a pretty high standard to reach in Austin . But, Young is good and if he gets the reps this year, stays healthy and out of academic trouble, he could be one of the best all around backs in the Big XII.

2 – Cory Ross ( Nebraska ) – 5-6, 195 lbs., Sr. – If you aren't a Nebraska fan, you are going to say this is pure biased, ranking Ross at the second spot.

To be honest, if it wasn't for the complete freak sitting on top of the charts, Ross could be there instead.

I saw this guy play almost an entire season, barely practicing, wearing a specially designed boot, because he had turf toe almost from the start of conference play. And he still manages to be the Big XII's second leading returning rusher.

1,100 yards last year, new offense, decent but unspectacular line and a passing game that was respected about as much as it was when Nebraska didn't pass at all.

With elusiveness even the speedy Sooners had troubles with last season and strength belying his size, Ross proved to be one of the most potent backs in the conference.

He's healthy now, but the offensive line still has questions, so early on, there could be some of those typical growing pains once again. With new quarterback Zac Taylor at the helm, though, coming from a background of actually passing in a system like this, Ross could see less than nine guys on the line.

If he does and consistently so, you can forget about the skeptics that think this ranking is too high. It isn't and won't be and again, if it wasn't for a certain freak of nature, Ross could be easily number one.

1 - Adrian Peterson ( Oklahoma ) – 6-2, 220 lbs., So. – If you are a fan in this conference, you might get it. You might actually understand. You might see something that the rest of the world doesn't see.

Adrian Peterson is good.

You think I just stated one of the most obvious facts outside of Alabama fans not exactly liking Phil Fulmer?

I don't mean Peterson is good. I mean he is GOOD and I don't think anyone realizes just how damn good he is.

I've watched a few Oklahoma games over the last couple of years. I have seen one in person. I have seen enough of this team to believe from the bottom of my heart that if you want a great run blocking team, don't look in Norman, Oklahoma.

They pass block extremely well, but their run blocking leaves a lot to be desired.

And Peterson STILL ran for almost 2,000 yards last year.

Yeah, he's THAT good.

Michael Hart at Michigan is good, but he's got a much better run blocking line. Reggie Bush at USC is good, but he's a completely different type of back.

If you want the hands down best pure running back out there that gives you the versatility to go inside and outside, both with lethal effectiveness, this is the guy for you.

I'm not going to go into his strengths and what he does well, because honestly, there's nothing he doesn't.

He's just that damn good!

He's at number one and honestly and no offense to anyone else in the conference, you have to go down a clip before you get to number two.

Yeah, he's good.

Next up: The Quarterbacks


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