The Big 12 is expecting the return of many talented running backs that were injured in 2011 as well as the emergence of young, talented backs in 2012.
1. Oklahoma State- The Cowboys have the Big 12's only returning running back that rushed for over 1000 yards in 2011, Joseph Randle. Randle rushed for 1216 yards and 24 touchdowns in a breakout year last season. Along with Randle, the Cowboys have Jeremy Smith who rushed for 646 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011. Freshman running back Herschel Sims was kicked off the team for a violation of team rules and will not return, but the Cowboys have other solid backs such as Desmond Roland who will be able to back Randle and Smith up throughout the season. Overall, Oklahoma State has the best tandem of proven running backs that will be able to give their offense an established running game.
2. Texas- The Longhorns have hands down the most talented group of running backs in their arsenal, but many are young and unproven. Sophomore running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron rushed for 742 and 463 yards respectively last year. With highly touted incoming freshman Johnathan Gray cutting into the mix next year, Texas could have a lethal combination of speed and power between these three running backs. The key to success for these backs will be if Texas can establish a more balanced offensive attack so the running game won't get stuffed later in the season.
3. Kansas State- Collin Klein made up a large portion of the Wildcats running game last year with over 1000 yards, but running back John Hubert also had a breakout year in 2011. Hubert ran for 970 yards and three touchdowns last year and the speedster looks like he will only improve in 2012 as he should be one of the top backs in the Big 12. Senior running back Angelo Pease will back up Hubert and give the Wildcats a nice third running attack option next year.
4. Oklahoma- Senior running back Dominique Whaley was having a great year with 627 yards and nine touchdowns before fracturing his ankle and ending his season just six games in. Along with Whaley, junior running back Roy Finch will look to improve his numbers in 2012 after he took over for Whaley last year and rushed for 605 yards and three touchdowns last year. Sophomore running back Brandon Williams left the program this offseason so the Sooners will need to find a third option, most likely junior running back Brennan Clay who ran for 274 yards and one touchdown in 2011.
5. West Virginia- The Mountaineers will need to establish a running game in their inaugural year in the Big 12 to round out their offense. Sophomore running back Dustin Garrison ran for 742 yards and six touchdowns last year and should be the feature back for West Virginia in 2012. Along with Garrison, senior running back Shawne Alston ran for 416 yards and 12 touchdowns and will be used more in the red zone. Multi talented wide receiver Tavon Austin will most likely get carries next year in different formations as he rushed for 182 yards and one touchdown in 2011.
6. TCU- Senior running back Ed Wesley has transferred from TCU this offseason, but the Horned Frogs will still have a strong stable of rushers for 2012. Junior running back Waymon James rushed for 875 yards and six touchdowns in 2011 and could become one of the best backs in the Big 12 next year. Senior running back Matthew Tucker had 702 yards and 12 touchdowns last year and will be a solid number two to James. The Horned Frogs will see much more talented defenses week in and week out next year and the running backs will undoubtedly have to work harder for their yards, it will be interesting to see how they stack up against their new Big 12 foes.
7. Texas Tech- Similarly to Oklahoma, Texas Tech had season ending injuries to key running backs. For the Red Raiders, it was both senior Eric Stephens and sophomore DeAndre Washington. Stephens rushed for 565 yards and eight touchdowns in just five games after a controversial hit against Texas A&M cost him the rest of the season. Washington rushed for 366 yards and three touchdowns after a similar injury against Missouri ended his season. Along with Stephens and Washington, Kenny Williams will get playing time next year. The sophomore running back rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns in eight games last year. If Stephens and Washington can recover fully, look for them to be the featured backs and Williams to be the third option for the Red Raiders in 2012.
8. Iowa State- The Cyclones had an up and down season in 2011, but junior running back James White had a nice year. White had 743 yards and eight touchdowns and will be aiming at 1000 yards in 2012. Along with White, junior running back Jeff Woody will be the number two option for the Cyclones. Woody rushed for 381 yards and six touchdowns last year. Head coach Paul Rhodes will need these two backs to support the offense and leaders in 2012 if the Cyclones want to make it back to a bowl game.
9. Kansas- New head coach Charlie Weis will need the Jayhawks leading rusher James Sims to anchor the offense in 2012. Sims rushed for 727 yards and nine touchdowns in an impressive 2011 campaign. Sophomore running back Darrian Miller also had an impressive year in 2011 as he rushed for 559 yards and four touchdowns. Sophomore backs Tony Pierson and Brandon Bourbon rushed for 396 and 190 yards respectively last year and will battle to be the third option for the Jayhawks in 2012.
10. Baylor- Part of the Bears success last year was their running game. Last year, senior running back Terrance Ganaway rushed for 1547 yards and 21 touchdowns and will be sorely missed in 2012. Senior Jarred Salubi rushed for 331 yards and three touchdowns and will most likely be the feature back in 2012. Along with Salubi, junior running back Glasco Martin rushed for 268 yards and two touchdowns and will be looking to improve in 2012. The Bears rushing game will likely take a hit, but these unproven running backs will have a shot at proving doubters wrong and could help keep the Bears in a bowl for the third straight year.