The conference returns arguably the best back in the country in Samaje Perine, two other thousand-yard rushers in Shock Linwood and DeAndre Washington, another who barely missed that mark in Aaron Green, and a tandem in West Virginia that combined for over 1,400 rushing yards and a slew of pass receptions. If there’s a better running conference in America in 2015, this writer will be surprised.
1. Oklahoma: Despite the depth of quality running back stables in the conference, ranking OU No. 1 in this category is a no-brainer. Sophomore Samaje Perine plowed for over 1,700 yards as a freshman, and Alex Ross, an incredibly quick back for a 220-pounder, has similar talent. The only caveat is that Perine and Ross will run behind an offensive line that will be a shadow of the one that escorted them last season. Oklahoma’s ground production will be interesting to follow in 2015.
2. Texas Tech: DeAndre Washington became the first Red Raider back since Ricky Williams in 1998 to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark as he dashed for 1,103 yards averaging an extremely impressive 5.9 yards per tote. He also caught 30 passes and averaged 11 yards per grab. Lightning bolt Justin Stockton averaged 8.2 yards a carry as a freshman and has packed on a reported 10-pounds of muscle in the offseason.
3. Baylor: Shock Linwood, a very good straight-ahead runner, continued Baylor’s recent tradition of producing good running backs as he stepped off 1,252 yards while averaging five yards per attempt. Backing him up will be Devin Chaffin, a freak of nature and a very physical back. And with the relatively untested Seth Russell under center, Linwood and Chaffin may get a steady diet of pigskin.
4. West Virginia: Outside of the Big 12, few people know about the duo of Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood, but folks in the know recognize that they comprise one heck of a backfield. Both are tough runners who each carried for over 700 yards in 2014. They also combined for 52 receptions for 466 yards. Dana Holgorsen will lean on ShellWood heavily in the upcoming season.
5. TCU: Rounding out a very stout top half of the rankings is the Horned Frog pairing of Aaron Green and Kyle Hicks. Green, once considered perhaps the best high school running back in America, and not so long ago a Nebraska Cornhusker, finally began living up to his billing last season as he jetted for over 900 rushing yards. Hicks, a prep luminary of significant note, rushed for 154 yards on 42 carries last season and figures to pull heavier duty as a sophomore in 2015.
6. Texas: Johnathan Gray is the latest extremely high-profile Longhorn back to underwhelm. In three seasons in Austin he has yet to run for as much as 800 yards and his career average yards per carry is a pedestrian 4.7. Still, he’s a decent workhorse of a back. Freshman Duke Catalon looks like Gray’s probable backup.
7. Kansas: The Jayhawks actually have a good fair measure of talent and experience in the one-two punch of Corey Avery and DeAndre Mann. The senior and former JUCO transfer Mann started a game in 2014 and rushed for almost 400 yards. Avery, one of the more storied to recruits to sign with the KU gridders in recent memory, rushed for 631 yards and averaged 4.2 yards per carry. If Avery improves and gets some help from his offensive teammates, he could threaten the 1,000-yard barrier.
8. Kansas State: Following the strong careers of Daniel Thomas and John Hubert—not to mention Colin Klein—KSU fans likely began taking a potent ground game for granted. Unfortunately, any such expectation was largely dashed last season as Charles Jones dozed his way to a modest 540 rushing yards and an even more uninspiring 4.1 yards per carry. He’ll be backed up—if not unseated--by freshman Justin Silmon.
9. Oklahoma State: The Cowboy faithful like to call their program Tailback U, and with luminaries such as Earnest Anderson, Thurman Thomas, Barry Sanders and Tatum Bell as ambassadors, it’s hard to argue with ‘em. But in 2014 Rennie Childs was singularly ineffective. Mike Gundy recruited highly touted JUCO prospect Chris Carson to put some heat on Childs.
10. Iowa State: Tyler Brown and Mike Warren. Who, you ask? Exactly. And enough said.