The Jayhawks don't just return James Sims (6-0 202), who led the Big 12 last season in rushing yards per game, but also the only Big 12 team to bring back two of the league's top five returning rushers in yards per game. While Sims rushed for 1,013 yards and nine touchdowns in just nine games, the more explosive option was actually speedster Tony Pierson (5-11 171), who averaged 6.5 yards per carry in rushing for 760 yards in 11 games. Sims was suspended the first three games of 2012, while Pierson wasn't full speed for much of the middle part of the year after sustaining an arm injury. With both of them healthy, the Jayhawks could be deadlier this year. And don't forget about Taylor Cox (5-11 212), who rushed for 464 yards at 5.1 yards per pop as the team's No. 3 option. Kansas also welcomes back Darrian Miller (5-10 191), who was arguably the Jayhawks' top running back while rushing for 559 yards and four touchdowns in 2011. Keep an eye on true freshman Colin Spencer (5-10 180) at the hybrid RB/WR spot — Kansas calls it the F-back — that Pierson plays. Spencer was in for the spring and showed off his speed and athleticism.
The Bears just missed out on the above designation, with Baylor bringing back two of the top six returning rushers in the league in yards per game. The obvious headliner here is Seastrunk, who rushed for 1,012 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago, but an unbelievable 831 yards and six touchdowns in the final six games (138.5 yards per game). He's the Big 12's most explosive ball-carrier, averaging 7.7 yards per carry, and he produced eight plays of 30 yards or longer. He's far from a one-man show, however, with Glasco Martin serving as an outstanding No. 2. Martin rushed for 889 yards and 15 touchdowns last year, and provides more of a power element. Don't be surprised if one of three freshmen — Shock Linwood, Devin Chafin or Johnny Jefferson — supplies another option. Linwood and Jefferson are more explosive, while Chafin is more of a power back.
The Longhorns could go higher here if they could keep their top runners healthy. From a pure talent standpoint, it's tough to get better than Johnathan Gray (5-11 207) and Malcolm Brown (6-0 223), each of whom were ranked as the No. 2 running back nationally in their respective recruiting classes. Brown looked poised to break out as a sophomore, rushing for 235 yards and two touchdowns, averaging better than 6.5 yards per carry, in games against Wyoming and Ole Miss. But for the second consecutive year, an ankle injury slowed him down. That cleared the way for Gray, who rushed for 701 yards in Brown's absence. Gray figures to get first crack as the starter after a spring where he looked significantly more explosive and well-put-together. But Brown is a dynamite No. 2 who would start for most of the league. And don't forget about Joe Bergeron (6-1 240), a bruising power back who has been fantastic in short-yardage situations. He's really good, and his versatility allows the Longhorns to do a lot of different things with him. When the Longhorns go to a true fullback, expect converted linebacker Alex De La Torre (6-1 230) to get the call.
Oklahoma has one of the league's top running backs, the league's top fullback and is adding the Big 12's top running back recruit from the 2013 class. Those are three reasons to really like the Sooners' chances to put together a nice backfield stable. Damien Williams (6-1 214) rushed for 946 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. He's a nice-sized back with breakaway speed. Brennan Clay (5-11 197) is more of a scatback, though he averaged 6.0 yards per carry while rushing for 555 yards last year. He'll have to fight to keep his job because Alex Ross (6-1 218), another big back with speed, and Keith Ford (5-11 208), an all-everything recruit from Cypress Ranch, could be breathing down his neck. The Sooners also have the league's lone true "impact" fullback in Trey Millard, who averaged 6.0 yards per carry. 11.2 yards per catch and did his job of pounding away at opposing defenders as a blocker.
Joseph Randle is gone after rushing for 1,417 yards and 14 touchdowns. But not only that … his patience and fit were really outstanding for what the Cowboys try to do. Jeremy Smith (5-10 208) has been really good the last two years, hitting on more big plays than one would think for a player built like a bowling ball. He's thick, but has deceptive wheels. He's capable of carrying the load, but he'll share some carries with Desmond Roland (6-2 210), who averaged 6.5 yards per carry in rushing for 301 yards lsat season as the Cowboys' No. 3 option. Fullback Kye Staley (5-10 236) has regularly been recognized as one of the league's top fullbacks, though he's a step down from Millard.
BEST OF THE REST
6) TCU — Depending on how a few players develop or return from injury, this group could jump up higher. Waymon James (5-8 203) returns after missing almost all of last season with a knee injury. He led the team in rushing with 875 yards in 2011. B.J. Catalon (5-9 185) was the 2012 leader with 582 yards as a freshman. Add in former five-star recruit and Nebraska transfer Aaron Green (5-11 190) and talented blue-chipper Kyle Hicks (5-10 190), and the Frogs have the making of a deep and talented group.
7) Kansas State — John Hubert (5-7 191) has impressed with his toughness and solid play over the last few seasons, rushing for 947 yards and 15 touchdowns last year. How will he do without Collin Klein handling the bulk of the carries? And will he have a solid No. 2? Robert Rose (5-4 176) enters fall camp as that guy, though it might be best if former four-star recruit Demarcus Robinson (5-7 209) finally started playing up to his potential.
8) West Virginia — For a program that has become synonymous with slinging the ball all over the field, the Mountaineers have a pretty stout group of runners. Andrew Buie (5-9 190) is back after rushing for 851 yards and seven touchdowns, leading the 'Eers in both categories. So too, is Dustin Garrison (5-8 182), who led West Virginia in rushing in 2011 before suffering a knee injury and struggling to come back last year. But the starter may be stud JUCO transfer Dreamius Smith (5-11 217), who has the power and speed the Mountaineers are looking for.
9) Texas Tech — Kenny Williams (5-9 219) and Sadale Foster (5-7 187) rushed for a combined 1,275 yards and eight touchdowns as an inside-out combo a year ago. But Foster might not retain his job after a nice comeback from Deandre Washington (5-8 182) from a knee injury. Washington will get his touches. Transfer Tyler Middleton (6-0 180) was one of the top all-purpose backs in the junior college ranks.
10) Iowa State — It's really a testament to the strength of the league that the Cyclones are down here … they have a really nice-looking group led by James White (5-8 192) and Shontrelle Johnson (5-9 186), both of whom rushed for more than 500 yards a season ago. Up-and-comer DeVondrick Nealy (5-10 183) was a big-time catch out of high school … he had a Michigan offer. And Iowa Western C.C. transfer Aaron Wimberly (511 185) had a big spring. This is a deep and talented group.