Having two running backs is almost essential for every college football team. While some teams have workhorse options that can handle 275 or 300 carries, most programs want to have at least two (and sometimes three) running backs to split up the workload. The thought process is pretty simple: Take the workload off one player and spread it around to keep everyone fresh.
Arkansas has mastered that philosophy under coach Bret Bielema, as the Razorbacks boast the nation’s best tandem in Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. Both players eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in 2014 and should reach that level in 2015.
But Arkansas isn’t the only program with two solid running backs, as Georgia, Oklahoma, Oregon and Alabama are the next teams in the mix.
Which teams have the best No. 1 and No. 2 running backs? Here’s the top 20 in college football, with an emphasis on talent, production so far in their career and projection for 2015.
College Football's Top 20 Running Back Tandems for 2015
The Razorbacks have the best one-two punch at running back for 2015. Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins return after each eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark last season and combined for 24 rushing scores. This duo will also have one of the nation’s top offensive lines at their disposal, which includes three All-America candidates in guard Sebastian Tretola and tackles Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland.
Georgia’s rushing attack didn’t skip a beat despite losing Todd Gurley to a suspension, then a torn ACL in the win over Auburn. Nick Chubb emerged as one of the SEC’s top running backs in the second half of 2014, averaging 165.4 rushing yards per game over the final eight contests. Sony Michel – a five-star recruit in 2014 – is the No. 2 back after averaging 6.4 yards per carry last year.
Related: SEC Football 2015 Predictions
Even though Oklahoma has a new play-caller (Lincoln Riley) and a few tweaks to its offensive scheme, the rushing attack is still going to be a huge part of the gameplan. Samaje Perine headlines the backfield after rushing for 1,713 yards and 21 scores as a true freshman, while the No. 2 spot is up for grabs between Joe Mixon and Alex Ross.
Having a deep stable of running backs and receivers should help to ease the transition of Eastern Washington transfer quarterback Vernon Adams into the starting lineup. Royce Freeman had a huge freshman campaign in 2014, rushing for 1,365 yards and 18 scores. Thomas Tyner missed four games due to injury, but the junior has rushed for 1,284 yards over the last two years.
Related: Pac-12 Football Predictions for 2015
In every season since 2008, Alabama has posted two running backs to reach the 600-yard mark. That streak should extend to eight consecutive years in 2015, as the Crimson Tide can lean on Derrick Henry as the No. 1 option, with Kenyan Drake the No. 2 rusher after returning from a leg injury. Henry shared carries with T.J. Yeldon last season and rushed for 990 yards and 11 scores.
6. Ohio State
Ezekiel Elliott opens 2015 as one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy, and the junior closed 2014 playing as well as any running back in the nation. In Ohio State’s run to the national championship, Elliott rushed for 220 yards against Wisconsin, 230 versus Alabama and 246 in the 42-20 win over Oregon. Curtis Samuel (6.6 ypc in 2014) should see a bigger role in 2015.
With the departure of quarterback Jameis Winston to the NFL, the focus in the Florida State offense shifts to Dalvin Cook and the rushing attack. The Miami native rushed for 1,008 yards and eight scores as a true freshman in 2014 and should push for All-America honors in 2015. Cook won’t have to carry the entire workload, as Florida State also has Mario Pender and four-star recruit Jacques Patrick.
Pittsburgh has the ACC’s No. 1 running back in James Conner, and sophomore Chris James is a solid No. 2 option for new coach Pat Narduzzi. Conner rushed for 1,765 yards and 26 scores last year, while James averaged five yards a carry on 87 attempts.
Since we are projecting ahead to 2015, this backfield is one on the rise for 2015. Jalen Hurd led the team with 899 yards as a true freshman in 2014, and he will have help from junior college recruit (and former Alabama back) Alvin Kamara. The stats don’t back up this ranking in June. But the Volunteers are primed to take a step forward on the ground in 2015.
10. West Virginia
Although coach Dana Holgorsen likes to throw the ball around, don’t overlook the Mountaineers’ rushing attack. Rushel Shell recorded 788 yards and seven scores in his first season of playing time at West Virginia, while Wendell Smallwood is one of the Big 12’s top all-around backs after recording 1,057 total yards last year. Redshirt freshman Donte Thomas-Williams is a name to remember.
Art Briles’ high-powered offense isn’t limited to only the aerial assault. The Bears averaged 215.5 rushing yards per game last year, headlined by Shock Linwood (1,252 yards) and Devin Chafin (4.8 ypc on 80 attempts).
The Rockets must replace all five starters on the offensive line, but coach Matt Campbell can still rely on his ground attack with the return of Kareem Hunt (1,631 yards and 16 touchdowns). Hunt’s 1,631 yards and 16 scores is even more impressive when you consider he only played in 10 games last year. The Rockets are overflowing with depth at running back, starting with Terry Swanson (6.5 ypc in 2014), Damion Jones-Moore and Marc Remy.
13. San Diego State
Behind running back Donnel Pumphrey, the Aztecs are the favorite to win the Mountain West’s West Division in 2015. Pumphrey finished fourth nationally with 1,873 yards in 2014. Chase Price should be the top backup after recording 674 yards and five touchdowns last year.
Related: Mountain West 2015 Predictions
With quarterback Rakeem Cato expiring his eligibility, the Thundering Herd may lean more on its rushing attack in 2015. That’s no problem for Marshall, as Devon Johnson (1,767 yards) and Remi Watson (546 yards) return.
15. Arizona State
D.J. Foster is moving to receiver, which means Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage will handle the bulk of the carries for coach Todd Graham. Both players are due for a breakout season after combining for 604 yards and seven touchdowns in 2014.
16. Western Kentucky
The Hilltoppers have one of the nation’s top offenses for the 2015 season. Quarterback Brandon Doughty returns, and the ground attack is bolstered by Leon Allen (1,542 yards in 2014). Allen is among the top running backs in Conference USA. Anthony Wales (518 yards last year) is Allen’s primary backup.
Related: Conference USA 2015 Predictions
Potential. That’s the word to remember when examining Miami’s backfield for 2015. Sophomore Joseph Yearby is a breakout candidate after rushing for 509 yards and one score in a backup role to Duke Johnson last year. Gus Edwards is the No. 2 back but could earn a split of the carries (349 yards, six touchdowns in 2014).
18. Georgia Southern
Georgia Southern had a successful debut on the FBS level by finishing 9-3 overall and a perfect 8-0 mark in conference play. The offense led the way for coach Willie Fritz, as two players – running back Matt Breida and quarterback Kevin Ellison – each eclipsed 1,000 yards. Breida averaged 8.7 yards per carry and recorded 14 rushing plays of 30 yards or more. Alfred Ramsby (4.5 yards per carry and 12 scores in 2014) is Georgia Southern’s No. 2 back.
Related: Sun Belt 2015 Predictions
19. Texas Tech
Texas Tech had the fewest rushing attempts of any Big 12 team in 2014, but the Red Raiders maximized their opportunities by averaging 5.2 yards per carry. DeAndre Washington is one of the Big 12’s most underrated players after leading the team with 1,103 yards last year. Justin Stockton is a big-play threat, averaging 8.3 yards per carry in 2014.
Similar to its conference comrade Georgia Southern, Appalachian State made a splash in its first year of FBS play. The Mountaineers finished 2014 on a six-game winning streak and enter 2015 as one of the favorites. Marcus Cox is the headliner at running back (1,415 yards), and coach Scott Satterfield plans on utilizing Terrence Upshaw (573 yards) more in 2015.
Other Backfield Tandems to Watch in 2015
Auburn: Jovon Robinson and Roc Thomas/Peyton Barber
Boston College: Jon Hilliman and Myles Willis
California: Daniel Lasco and Vic Enwere/Khalfani Muhammad
LSU: Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams
Michigan: Derrick Green and Ty Isaac
NCState: Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes
Nebraska: Terrell Newby and Imani Cross
NotreDame: Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant
Rutgers: Paul James and Josh Hicks/Robert Martin
TCU: Aaron Green and Shaun Nixon
UCLA: Paul Perkins and Nate Starks
Group of 5
Buffalo: Anthone Taylor and Devin Campbell
Cincinnati: Hosey Williams and Mike Boone
Houston: Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson
LouisianaTech: Kenneth Dixon and Jarred Craft
NewMexico: Teriyon Gipson and Jhurell Pressley
Nevada: Don Jackson and James Butler
Wyoming: Brian Hill and Shaun Wick