The running back position is getting a lot of ink in the sports page, a lot of talk time on radio, and a lot of video attention on local television sportscasts. Of course, when you are known as "Tailback U" and you have three running backs in the College Football Hall of Fame in Bob Fenimore, Barry Sanders, and Thurman Thomas (those last two are also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame) then last season your offense averages 126.8 rushing yards a game to rank ninth in the Big 12 and 113th in Division I FBS, it is going to get some attention.
The Cowboys averaged 3.6 yards per carry running the football in 2015 and that was helped tremendously by a running quarterback that averaged 4.7 yards per carry and a third-team walk-on in Raymond Taylor that averaged 6.3 yards per carry. You have to go back to 2001, a season when Oklahoma State was in the throes of NCAA probation to find a worse yards-per-carry average rushing than the previous two seasons.
Head coach Mike Gundy wants some improvement and with quarterback J.W. Walsh gone and Taylor having transferred to Tulsa for more playing time, it is up to last year's hoped running savior Chris Carson, another senior that has been up and down in Rennie Childs, the hopeful rushing savior for this season in Stanford transfer and former Oklahoma City Heritage Hall Army All-American prepster Barry J. Sanders, and true freshman talent Justice Hill of Tulsa Booker T. Washington.
Gundy will tell you it is an ongoing project in fall camp, and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich and running backs coach Marcus Arroyo would tell you the same. Nobody has won a job yet and nobody has lost it, but there is a daily barometer taking readings. Gundy understands the public readings right now are going to point to Barry J. Sanders.
"Obviously with his dad, coming back here and his family in Oklahoma City that's what drives the market," Gundy said Saturday at Media Day. "People don't necessarily want to hear about the norm, they want to hear about things that could potentially be bigger. He draws a lot of attention and he's been tremendous in the way he's handled it. He has to live day in and day out, especially here.
"I watched the players that are on our team, and they've taken him in and they appreciate him. He's humble and he understands his background and embraces it and does a good job with it. His temperament has allowed him to be a member of our team really quick. I always suspect each week that people are going to ask, whether it's from the local media or the team that we play, about Junior. It's just what drives the market."
In the end, whether it is Sanders getting the bulk of the carries, either Carson or Childs, Jeff Carr, Hill or a combination, the presence of Barry J. Sanders will have had an impact. Rennie Childs and Chris Carson have both said it and Gundy has said it too.
"They have a good working relationship, but I would agree that there is some truth to that (Sanders presence pushes the others) just by human nature," Gundy theorized. "There's some freshmen in this class that I think has helped push the entire group, but one thing that I have enjoyed watching in just the last few days is that Chris Carson's work ethic and approach, and Rennie's work ethic has been really good. Whether it has been (because of) Junior or just them wanting to improve an area on our team that we need to help improve the overall picture has been good."
In practice, Carson, Childs and Sanders have done well and made some plays. There has been a fourth and it's been the freshman Hill.
So, I asked Childs whether all four sharing the role and having success could make everybody happy? Childs did not give the "Kumbaya" answer.
"I think that would be very hard," Childs said. "As many times as we run the ball I think that just, you know, trying to get everybody, you know the amount of playing time that they need to showcase and do what they can to elevate, you know, the team. I think that would be pretty hard, yes."
The alternative is for one or two to jump above the rest. I agree that would be a more normal situation at running back for Oklahoma State. That's the problem the running game has not been normal for Oklahoma State in a couple of seasons.