For a conference that specializes in throwing the football the Big 12 certainly boasts a wealth of running talent. Only two thousand-yard rushers return from last season, but virtually every team in the conference has at least one running back who is more than capable of cresting that pinnacle in 2013. Consequently, there are at least nine legitimate candidates for first team All Big 12 honors. Below is a rundown by ranking of this most interesting situation.
10: Iowa State: If the Cyclones are going to score points this season, they'll have to do so without much help from their skill position players. Quarterback and receiver are no great shakes, and the running backs are base material. James White returns after a ho hum 505-yard rushing season a year ago. Big Jeff Woody is purely a straight-ahead runner who can sometimes convert short-yardage situations.
9: Oklahoma State: If—and it's a huge if—defenses can take away the potent Cowboy passing attack, they shouldn't have too much to fear from the OSU ground game. Jeremy Smith is a decent back, but he's coming off an injury-plagued season and there's no telling how strong he will be. Backup Desmond Roland rushed for only 301 yards last season, but did average 6.5 yards a pop.
8. Texas Tech: Running back is considered a Texas Tech team strength, but such is the talent of this position in the Big 12 that the Red Raiders look only average by comparison. Power back Kenny Williams is a solid plugger who is steadily improving. Backup Deandre Washington, who sat out the 2012 season with a knee injury, is a home run threat and will press Williams for the starting role.
7. Kansas State: Few running backs in the Big 12 have a record of productivity that can equal John Hubert's. The senior from Waco is not big and he's not overly fast, but he has an uncanny knack for slithering and worming his way for solid yardage between the tackles. He did just that for 947 yards in 2012. But depth in the KSU backfield is completely untested. DeMarcus Robinson, a complete question mark, will back up Hubert.
6. Texas: If hype were all that mattered, the Longhorn backfield would be rated best in the collegiate ranks and second in the NFC East. Alas, when the cleats hit the turf, college productivity matters far more than high school plaudits. And for that reason, the blue chip duo of Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown are only mid-pack in the Big 12. Both have been a bit more than serviceable in their young careers, but nothing more. If they don't break out in 2013, people will begin whispering "bust."
5. Kansas: Much like his colleague up the road in Manhattan, James Sims is not a flashy, attention-grabbing back. But he is a returning thousand-yard rusher. And if you can get 1,000 yards surrounded by the plow-horses assembled in Lawrence, you deserve a medal or two. Taylor Cox, Sims' backup, averaged 5.1 yards per carry last year and provides quality depth.
4. Oklahoma: Damien Williams quietly racked up 905 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns last season while averaging a very good 5.7 yards per carry. With the Sooners likely to run the ball more in 2013, those numbers should increase. Brennan Clay is one of the top few backup runners in the conference and third-stringer Roy Finch was once thought to be a future star. He would start for many teams.
3. West Virginia: The top Mountaineer runner will be University of Houston transfer Charles Sims. He was the best back in Conference USA and is a prime NFL prospect. Backup Andrew Buie is a solid all-around back. He rushed for 851 yards last season while averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Buie also caught 28 passes and averaged a very impressive 11.4 yards per grab. Backup Dustin Garrison has several starts in his past and is a very competent backup.
2. TCU: Waymon James is coming off a season washed out by injury, but if healthy, is a truly elite back who can run inside and outside with equal aplomb. Expect James to emerge from the woodwork and be a huge star in the Big 12 this season. B. J. Catalon rushed for 582 yards and caught 23 passes in 2012. Nebraska transfer Aaron Green had the sort of high school credentials possessed by Baylor's Lache Seastrunk, and also Texas' Malcolm Brown.
1. Baylor: For much of the year most people thought Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk was an overrated tomato can. Then, in the second half of the season he got the chance to show what he could do and ran like an All American. Seastrunk possesses a rare combination of speed, strength and crazy determination. He looks like a guy who could run for 1,500 in 2013 and then have a tremendous career in the NFL. And lest we forget, a guy named Glasco Martin rushed for 906 yards and 15 touchdowns last season while wearing the gree…er…black and gold.