With Nebraska football practices being locked down tighter than Fort Knox, it’s tough to truly discern who’ll be starting outside of some obvious picks like Stanley Morgan, Jr. However, using some historical numbers during Scott Frost’s tenures at Oregon and UCF, we may be able to figure out who will be doing the most damage at Nebraska’s running back position — one that has lacked a truly dynamic player since Ameer Abdullah left following the 2014 season.
After breaking down data with Reddit member IDontBelieveInIsms, I think we may be able to make an extremely educated guess at who will be the most efficient backs in Frost’s inaugural batch of Huskers.
First, let’s examine the most successful backs from Frost’s days at UCF.
Note: RPG is runs per game
Jawon Hamilton (5-9, 190) – 495 yards, 4 TDs, 10-11 RPG
Dontravious Wilson (5-10, 210) – 463 yards, 8 TDs, 10 RPG
Adrian Killins (5-8, 155) – 325 yards, 4 TDs, 3-4 RPG
Adrian Killins (5-8, 158) – 790 yards, 10 TDs, 9-10 RPG
Taj McGowan (6-1, 210) – 235 yards, 8 TDs, 5-6 RPG
Cordarrian Richardson (6-0, 248) – 161 yards, 2 TDs, 5-6 RPG average (eight games played)
There are a few important things to point out here. As Frost’s system uses players at several positions to move the ball on the ground, we must take into account that not only was quarterback McKenzie Milton responsible for 100 carries, 158 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games during the 2016 season and followed that up with 106 carries for 613 yards and eight scores.
Adding to that, wide receiver Otis Anderson gave the Knights a unique rushing threat and was actually the third-leading rusher on the team with 69 attempts in 12 games, which produced 494 yards and four touchdowns.
Let’s also remember that Frost now has better talent to work with at Nebraska than he did at UCF. To give a look from the Power 5 perspective, let’s examine at his days at Oregon as Chip Kelly's offensive coordinator.
Byron Marshall (5-10, 207) – 1,038 yards, 14 TDs, 14 RPG (12 GP)
Thomas Tyner (5-11, 201) – 711 yards, 9 TDs, 6-7 RPG (12 GP)
De'Anthony Thomas (5-9, 169) – 594 yards, 8 TDs, 9-10 RPG (10 GP)
Royce Freeman (6-0, 229) – 1,365 yards, 18 TDs, 16-17 RPG
Thomas Tyner (5-11, 215) – 573 yards, 5 TDs, 10-11 RPG (11 GP)
Byron Marshall* (5-10, 205) – 392 yards, TD, 3-4 RPG
*Marshall was used as a primary receiving threat (74 rec. for 1,003 yards and 6 TDs)
Royce Freeman (6-0, 230) – 1,836 yards, 17 TDs, 21-22 RPG
Taj Griffin (5-10, 175) – 570 yards, 3 TDs, 6-7 RPG (12 GP)
Kani Benoit (6-0, 210) – 364 yards, 3 TDs, 4-5 RPG (11 GP)
Looking at this data, even if Frost has a truly elite, developed talent (like Freeman) this fall, multiple backs are still going to get plenty of opportunities to pick up rushing yardage. Even as Freeman was coming into his own in 2014, Tyner and Thomas saw plenty of action. Why? Because they were both talented, efficient backs, a situation not unlike current-day Nebraska.
Bottom line here: As IDontBelieveInIsms concluded, Frost averages three main backs (one with 15 carries per game, one with nine and one with seven.) The quarterback also averages another seven. Contrast this to the Frost-Kelly system at Oregon when RB1 averaged 20 carries, No. 2 averaged eight and No. 3 averaged five.
This makes sense considering Frost’s use of the passing game and keep in mind Nebraska has one of the best receiving corps in the Big Ten this season, so it’s likely he sticks close to those UCF numbers.
Of course, IDontBelieveInIsms also notes that it’s important to remember these numbers do include burning clock late in the game.
That said, let’s now look at Nebraska’s roster and see if we can’t crack the code on who’ll be the Huskers’ fan favorites at the position this season.
The main names in the conversation for playing time in the backfield are Greg Bell, Maurice Washington, Tre Bryant, Devine Ozigbo, Jaylin Bradley and Wyatt Mazour. However, the talent gap between the first four and latter two seems rather significant, especially if Bryant has truly returned to 100 percent health.
If we take those four names and compare their abilities, size and experience to the 12 backs we referenced at UCF and Oregon, a 2018 Nebraska running back distribution chart looks like this (projections updated as of Aug. 25):
Greg Bell (6-0, 205) – 15 RPG
Maurice Washington (6-1, 190) – 9 RPG
Tre Bryant (5-11, 200) – 7 RPG
Where does that leave Ozigbo? The big man will have a role. In fact, he’ll likely be a Swiss Army knife of sorts as both a running and receiving threat (See Oregon’s Marshall circa 2014, though probably not quite as many receiving yards) In fact, Marshall’s 2014 usage (3-4 RPG) seems just about right for No. 22.
Due to Bryant's retirement from football, the distribution will now likely resemble this:
Greg Bell (6-0, 205) – 17 RPG
Maurice Washington (6-1, 190) – 11 RPG
Devine Ozigbo (6-0, 235) – 4-5 RPG
-- Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces).