The 2012 college football season is still months away, but it's never too early to preview. Athlon continues its countdown to the upcoming season and spring previews by ranking the running backs in each of the BCS conferences. The rankings take into account last season's production, what each player is expected to do in 2012 and the surrounding personnel.
Here's how Athlon ranks the running backs in the Big 12 for 2012:
1. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State (JR)
Rushing Stats: 208 att., 1,216 yards, 24 TDs
Receiving Stats: 43 rec., 266 yards, 2 TDs
While quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon gathered most of the headlines, Randle was quietly one of the most productive running backs in college football. In his first season as the starter, he rushed for 1,216 yards and 24 touchdowns, while catching 43 passes for 266 yards and two scores. Randle posted three 100-yard efforts to begin the season and posted 138 yards in the win over Missouri and gashed rival Oklahoma for 151 yards and two touchdowns. With Weeden and Blackmon playing on Sundays in 2012, it’s up to Randle to become the offensive workhorse. Jeremy Smith will see some time in the backfield, but Randle figures to approach 250 carries and will contend for All-American honors in 2012.
2. Malcolm Brown, Texas (SO)
Rushing Stats: 172 att., 742 yards, 5 TD
Receiving Stats: 3 rec., 17 yards
The No. 1 recruit in the nation at running back posted a solid debut season in Austin in 2011. He led the team in rushing by a wide margin and did so despite missing three games due to injury — including two of the team’s five losses. The Big 12 Newcomer of the Year was the first true freshman to lead Texas in rushing since Cedric Benson did in 2001. He should return for his sophomore season stronger and more prepared to handle the workload. Brown posted back-to-back 100-yard games and had scored two touchdowns in each game prior to getting hurt and missing the Texas Tech and Missouri games. While he won’t be asked to carry the load due to tremendous depth in Austin, Brown has the talent to lead the league in rushing.
3. Ed Wesley, TCU (SR)
Rushing Stats: 120 att., 726 yards, 6 TD
Receiving Stats: 6 rec., 82 yards
Wesley was clearly the top rusher in 2010 on a team that possesses one of the deepest and most used running back corps in the nation. He led TCU in attempts (166), yards (1,078) and touchdowns (11) as a sophomore. The carries were more evenly spread in 2011 but Wesley got the majority of the starts last fall (9) and finished second on the TCU team in rushing. His 2011 got off to slow start after he missed three of the first four games with an injury, but he bounced back and registered three of the team’s six 100-yard games. He capped his junior season by scoring in the final three games of the season and powered the TCU rushing attack in the bowl win over Louisiana Tech (16 att., 77 yds). Gary Patterson is unlikely to change his overall “by committee” approach to his running game, but odds are Wesley gets the first touches each weekend.
4. Trey Millard, Oklahoma (JR)
Rushing Stats: 24 att., 169 yards, 2 TD
Receiving Stats: 13 rec., 127 yards, TD
The stats will never indicate that Millard might be one of the most valuable backs in the Big 12. He is successful and dependable in all phases of the game and is counted on by Bob Stoops as a lead blocker, runner, pass catcher, quarterback protector and special teams dynamo. He led the team in special teams tackles with 14 stops and scored three times on 37 total offensive touches. And his value was not lost on Big 12 coaches as he earned first-team All-Big 12 honors last fall. In fact, Millard has never played a season at Oklahoma in which he was not at least a second-team All-Big 12 selection. The fullback/H-back/tight end/running back/special teamer might actually be the best player on the Oklahoma roster. It’s a shame the numbers will never prove that out. In fact, Tim Kish and Mike Stoops have echoed that exact sentiment since arriving from Arizona. Maybe the Sooners should get No. 33 the ball more often.
5. Joe Bergeron, Texas (SO)
Rushing Stats: 72 att., 463 yards, 5 TD
Receiving Stats: None
The less-heralded of the 2011 Texas’ running back class, Bergeron proved in limited duty that he belongs in the Big 12. During Malcolm Brown’s two-game absence in the heart of the schedule, Bergeron posted the best game of his young career against Texas Tech. He carried 29 times for 191 yards and three touchdowns in the lopsided win. At 6.4 yards per carry for the season, the sophomore showed the ability to rip-off large chunks of yardage. Yet at 230 pounds, he also has the size to move the pile when needed. He only topped the 10-carry mark twice last fall, but Mack Brown knows he has a phenomenal second option to his starter. In fact, expect both players to get plenty of touches.
6. Eric Stephens, Texas Tech (SR)
Rushing Stats: 108 att., 565 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving Stats: 16 rec., 133 yards, 0 TD
Stephens was easily one of the Big 12’s best running backs through the first five weeks of the season in 2011. He rushed for 100 yards in four out of Texas Tech’s first five games, including 134 yards and two rushing scores against Nevada. However, Stephens suffered a major knee injury in the 45-40 loss to Texas A&M and was sidelined for the remainder of the season. All signs are positive on Stephens’ recovery, but Texas Tech could bring him along slowly to start the 2012 season. If healthy, Stephens should finish the year much higher on this list. However, with a redshirt year available, Stephens could choose to sit out 2012 and return at full strength in 2013.
7. Dominique Whaley, Oklahoma (SR)
Rushing Stats: 113 att., 627 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving Stats: 15 rec., 153 yards, 0 TD
Whaley was one of college football’s best stories through the first six games of 2011. A former walk-on and transfer from Langston, Whaley got off to a hot start by rushing for 627 yards and nine touchdowns in the first six contests. He rushed for 83 yards and one score in the win over Texas and 165 yards and one touchdown in a 47-17 rout over Kansas. However, Whaley’s season was cut short by an ankle injury and he has yet to return to full strength. The senior is expected to return by fall practice, but it is uncertain if Oklahoma can depend on him as a 20-25 carry option early in 2012. If we knew Whaley would be able to start in the opener, he would rank higher on this list. However, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding his availability, which knocks him down a few spots going into 2012.
8. Waymon James, TCU (JR)
Rushing Stats: 121 att., 875 yards, 6 TD
Receiving Stats: 10 rec., 113 yards
Trying to decipher the TCU running backs is nearly impossible and James, the youngest of the bunch as a junior, is just as talented as starter Ed Wesley. James was the least used player in 2010 (87 att., 513 yards), but took his turn atop the yardage standings by leading the Frogs in rushing last fall. He had three of the team’s 100-yard rushing efforts, including huge performances against Wyoming (12 att., 181 yards), Colorado State (15 att., 108 yards) and UNLV (nine att., two touchdowns) in the final five games of the season. The 5-foot-8, 203 pounder may be the smallest of the group, but has all-conference potential as well.
9. Matthew Tucker, TCU (SR)
Rushing Stats: 123 att., 702 yards, 12 TD
Receiving Stats: 8 rec., 77 yards
Tucker, the biggest of the trio of TCU backs at 227 pounds, was a touchdown machine for Gary Patterson last fall. He led the team with 12 rushing scores and actually led the team in rushing attempts at 123. He reached paydirt as many times as his running mates Wesley and James did combined, scoring in nine of 13 possible games. He started three games last fall and was honorable mention All-Mountain West just like his other two backfield mates. He was the No. 2 option in 2010 after finishing just short of Wesley in attempts (148), yards (709) and touchdowns (7). His 27 career rushing scores paces one of the deepest backfields in the nation.
10. Jeremy Smith, Oklahoma State (JR)
Rushing Stats: 91 att., 646 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving Stats: 11 rec., 81 yards, 0 TD
Smith didn’t see a ton of playing time in 2011, but he certainly made the most of his opportunities. Joseph Randle was clearly the No. 1 rusher, but Smith was a perfect complement, adding 646 yards and nine touchdowns on 91 attempts. He posted two 100-yard efforts, rushing for 140 yards against Texas and 119 yards in the win over Oklahoma. With the Cowboys losing quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon, the rushing attack could be a bigger focus for the offense in 2012. Smith won’t outgain Randle, but his 7.1 yards per carry average suggests more big plays could be in store this year.
11. James Sims, Kansas (JR)
Rushing Stats: 182 att., 727 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving Stats: 14 rec., 119 yards, 0 TD
Sims was one of the few bright spots for Kansas last season, rushing for 727 yards and nine touchdowns. He ranked ninth among running backs in the Big 12 with an average of 60.6 yards per game, but failed to record a 100-yard effort in conference play. Although Sims’ numbers aren’t particularly overwhelming, the lack of a consistent passing attack didn’t allow the Jayhawks to find much running room. Kansas is expected to be more competitive in 2012, but Sims is suspended for the first three games of 2012 due to an off-the-field incident. Tony Pierson and Brandon Bourbon are expected to carry the backfield in Sims’ absence, but anytime a new coaching staff takes over, it’s uncertain what long-term effect the incident could have on the junior’s playing time after he returns to the lineup.
12. Jarred Salubi, Baylor (SR)
Rushing Stats: 58 att., 331 yards, 3 TD
Receiving Stats: 4 rec., 46 yards
Art Briles didn’t go to his backup running back much in 2011, but when he did, Salubi was productive. He posted a 100-yard game in his first career game with a rushing attempt (131 yards in 2009) and hadn’t topped the century mark since. That is, until the 67-56 win over Washington last fall. In his best career game, the senior to posted 114 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns on only six total touches. Salubi looks like the front-runner to be the starter and has shown the big play ability (in practice at least) but will have to work hard all summer long to hold off Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin.
13. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor (SO)
Rushing Stats: Transfer Year
Receiving Stats: Transfer Year
Seastrunk orginially signed with the Oregon Ducks as one of the most heralded running back recruits in the nation back in 2010. The speed demon redshirted during his season at Oregon, and then amidst a recruiting scandal that involved himself and Texas handler Willie Lyles, decided to transfer closer to home. After sitting out last fall at Baylor, Seastrunk enters 2011 with a chance to make a huge impact. Seastrunk was the star of the Baylor spring game with 138 yards on only seven carries, including a 75-yard touchdown run. However, spring stats mean very little and Seastrunk has a long way to go to prove he deserved his lofty 2010 recruiting ranking. He may still be behind a few names on Art Briles’ depth chart, but his home-run ability is something his counterparts simply do not possess
14. John Hubert, Kansas State (JR)
Rushing Stats: 200 att., 970 yards, 3 TDs
Receiving Stats: 24 rec., 188 yards, 1 TD
With quarterback Collin Klein shouldering much of the rushing attack, Hubert was relegated to only 200 carries in 2011. The highlight of last year was a 166-yard effort against Miami, but he also rushed for 126 yards against Missouri. Hubert wasn’t much of a big-play threat and scored only three touchdowns last season. In order for Kansas State to repeat last season’s win total, it needs to find more help for Klein, while leaning on Hubert to grind out a few more yards. Hubert isn’t flashy, but could have a chance to top 1,000 yards in 2012.
15. Jonathan Gray, Texas (FR)
For the second straight season Mack Brown will add the nation’s No. 1 running back prospect in the nation to his roster. Malcolm Brown was solid in his rookie year last fall and many think Gray could be even better. The durable, workhorse has every tool a running back needs to succeed at the next level. He comes to the 40 Acres with a remarkable prep resume that includes over 10,000 yards rushing and the national high school record with 205 touchdowns. Gray might be the best running back in the conference the second he steps onto a field, but don’t expect him to get more than 100 touches as a freshman.
16. James White, Iowa State (JR)
Rushing Stats: 159 att., 743 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving Stats: 21 rec., 165 yards, 1 TD
Despite losing starter Shontrelle Jackson to a neck injury early in the year, the Iowa State rushing attack never missed a beat. White finished with 743 yards and eight touchdowns, while catching 21 passes for 165 yards and one score. He recorded two 100-yard games, posting 148 yards against Baylor and 138 against Texas Tech. White was a key factor in the win over Oklahoma State, recording 97 total yards and two scores. The Cyclones should be in good shape at running back with White, Johnson and Jeff Woody returning in 2012. White should lead the team in yards, but with good depth at this position, seems unlikely to top 1,000 yards.
17. Dustin Garrison, West Virginia (SO)
Rushing Stats: 136 att., 742 yards, 6 TDs
Receiving Stats: 24 rec., 201 yards, 0 TD
Garrison had a solid debut season, leading the Mountaineers with 742 rushing yards, while chipping in 24 receptions for 201 yards. He recorded only one effort over 100 yards (291, Bowling Green), but notched 87 in a key win over South Florida and 80 in a 43-16 blowout victory over Connecticut. Although Garrison had a successful freshman campaign, he suffered a significant knee injury in a practice before the Orange Bowl and likely won’t return to full strength until early 2012. If healthy, Garrison should rank higher on this list. However, with his status uncertain, the sophomore may struggle to match last season’s rushing totals.
18. Roy Finch, Oklahoma (JR)
Rushing Stats: 111 att., 605 yards, 3 TDs
Receiving Stats: 34 rec., 296 yards, 0 TD
With Dominique Whaley’s status for the season opener uncertain, Finch could be Oklahoma’s No. 1 back. The junior has been a solid performer through his first two seasons, recording 1,003 career yards and five rushing scores. Finch also has 44 receptions for 345 yards over the last two years. Finch does not have a 100-yard effort in his career and really isn’t built to handle 200-250 carries. However, he could carry Oklahoma’s backfield early, while forming a nice one-two combination with Whaley whenever the senior returns to full strength.
19. Shawne Alston, West Virginia (SR)
Rushing Stats: 97 att., 416 yards, 12 TDs
Receiving Stats: 2 rec., 6 yards, 0 TD
Alston hasn’t been a major contributor in his West Virginia career, but he could be poised to shoulder a majority of the carries early in 2012. With Dustin Garrison nursing a knee injury, Alston will likely be the Mountaineers’ starting running back. The senior has 682 career yards and 12 rushing scores and closed out the 2011 season on a high note, rushing for 77 yards and two touchdowns against Clemson.
20. Kenny Williams, Texas Tech (SO)
Rushing Stats: 43 att., 135 yards, 2 TDs
Receiving Stats: 6 rec., 52 yards, 0 TD
With Eric Stephens and DeAndre Washington battling significant knee injuries, Williams could see a significant role in the backfield this season. He rushed for 135 yards in limited time last year and caught 6 passes for 52 yards. Williams posted only one game of double-digit carries (Texas, 10), but scored two touchdowns in the regular season finale against Baylor. Until Stephens proves he is 100 percent, the Texas Tech coaches will have to lean on Williams and SaDale Foster at running back.
Others to Watch
Andrew Buie, West Virginia
Shontrelle Johnson, Iowa State
Glasco Martin, Baylor
Tony Pierson, Kansas
Alex Ross, Oklahoma
Herschel Sims, Oklahoma State
DeAndre Williams, Texas Tech
by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on twitter) and Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Related Big 12 Content
Big 12 Quarterback Rankings for 2012
Can Kansas State Repeat Last Season's Success?
Ranking the Big 12 Head Coaches for 2012
College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012
College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012
College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat