Georgia takes the top spot.
The SEC is home to some of college football’s top talent at running back in 2017. Georgia, Alabama, Auburn and LSU each make an appearance in the top 30 running back tandems for the upcoming season. The Crimson Tide own the deepest depth chart at this position, but the Bulldogs take the top spot in tandems with the return of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
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. This concept seems to gain more steam each year, as a running game is no longer about just one go-to back. Instead, most teams need at least two solid ball-carriers to lead the way on the ground.
Ranking the running back tandems nationally is no easy task. How do you weigh two solid options versus one standout and a question mark at backup? Here are the top 30 teams ranked by the running back tandems (projected No. 1 and No. 2 rushers and not the entire backfield depth chart) for the upcoming year. Note: We did take into account some projection for the 2017 season and how the running backs will perform - not strictly based on what they have done in their career so far. This is not a list based upon statistical performance. Additionally, we weighed the group and individual player talent, along with level of competition, projection for 2017 and scheme or coaching change.
College Football's Top 30 Running Back Tandems for 2017
Just Missed: Oregon State, SMU, Southern Miss, Tulsa, Notre Dame, Miami, Colorado State, Arizona, Missouri, Kentucky, Michigan State and TCU
30. FAU: Devin Singletary and Buddy Howell
New coach Lane Kiffin inherits one of the deepest backfields in Conference USA. Devin Singletary came on strong at the end of 2016, posting at least 145 yards in three out of his last four games, including 252 against Rice and 235 against MTSU. He finished last year with 1,016 yards and 12 touchdowns. Look for Singletary to have a monster season in his first full year as the starter. Senior Buddy Howell is expected to win the backup spot after rushing for 833 yards and 13 scores in 2016.
29. Washington State: Jamal Morrow and James Williams
The Cougars quietly have one of the Pac-12’s deepest backfields. Williams, Morrow and Gerard Wicks each eclipsed over 400 yards on the ground last season and all three caught at least 29 passes. The aerial attack is always going to lead the way for coach Mike Leach’s offense, but the ground game will prevent defenses from loading up to stop quarterback Luke Falk. Morrow finished second on the team in yardage (575) but led this trio of backs by averaging 6.4 yards per rush. Williams paced the Cougar backfield with 584 yards and also contributed 48 receptions.
28. Stanford: Bryce Love and Cameron Scarlett
Christian McCaffrey’s all-around ability and overall impact on the Stanford offense will be missed in 2017. However, coach David Shaw isn’t starting from scratch at this position. Love recorded 783 yards and two touchdowns (7.1 ypc) on 111 attempts last season. Love was slated to work as the No. 2 option but spent time as the starter after McCaffrey missed a game against Notre Dame and did not play against North Carolina in the Sun Bowl. In both of those matchups, Love exceeded 100 yards and averaged just over five yards per carry. Scarlett rushed for 117 yards and one score as the team’s third option in 2016. Trevor Speights and Dorian Maddox are also in the mix for carries as a backup.
27. Old Dominion: Ray Lawry and Jeremy Cox
With quarterback David Washington expiring his eligibility, the Monarchs should lean on their ground game a little more in 2017. Coach Bobby Wilder has two dependable options returning at running back, as Ray Lawry has led the offense in rushing yardage for three consecutive years and posted two 1,000-yard campaigns. Cox rushed for 732 yards and 13 touchdowns as the No. 2 option last season.
26. Arizona State: Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage
Injuries and inconsistent offensive line play have limited Arizona State’s ground game over the last two years. But if the pieces fall into place in 2017, the Sun Devils should rank near the top of the Pac-12 in rush offense. Richard recorded 478 yards in 2014 and emerged as a 1,000-yard rusher (1,104 yards and seven scores) in his first full years as a starter in 2015. He still led the team with 593 yards last fall but was limited to 3.8 yards per rush. Ballage is an intriguing physical talent at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, possessing an intriguing blend of speed and power that could propel him to his best all-around season in 2017. Ballage led the team with 14 rushing scores last fall and has posted 1,315 yards on the ground over the last three years.
25. Colorado: Phillip Lindsay and Beau Bisharat
Lindsay is one of the nation’s best all-around running backs heading into the 2017 season. He averaged 129.9 all-purpose yards per game last fall and eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark (1,252) for the first time in his Colorado career. Lindsay also scored 16 times on the ground and caught 53 passes for 493 yards and one touchdown. He’s entrenched as one of the Pac-12’s top running backs, but the backup spot is up for grabs. Kyle Evans suffered a hip injury in the spring and may miss the 2017 season. Michael Adkins II and Beau Bisharat will battle for the No. 2 role.
24. Georgia Tech: Dedrick Mills and Clinton Lynch
The Yellow Jackets lost two out of last year’s top four rushers, but coach Paul Johnson’s option attack isn’t going to miss a beat on the ground. Mills is a breakout candidate after rushing for 771 yards and 12 touchdowns in nine contests last fall. Mills finished last season on a high note by gashing Kentucky for 169 yards and a score in the TaxSlayer Bowl victory. Lynch has been a big-play threat for Johnson over the last two years, averaging a healthy 11.2 yards per rush on 37 attempts last fall. The Yellow Jackets have additional support coming from senior J.J. Green and junior Qua Searcy. (Update: Mills was dismissed from the team after this article was published).
Related: ACC Football Predictions for 2017
23. Maryland: Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison
The Terrapins boast the Big Ten’s most underrated backfield for 2017. Johnson returns after leading the team with 1,004 yards and six rushing scores last year. The 1,000-yard season was the first by a Maryland rusher since 2008. Additionally, Johnson averaged a ridiculous 9.1 per-carry average and posted nine rushes of 40 yards or more. Harrison wasn’t far off Johnson’s torrid pace, as the Maryland native posted an average of 7.2 yards per carry and 633 yards in nine games.
22. New Mexico: Tyrone Owens and Richard McQuarley
The Lobos led the nation in rushing offense last year, steamrolling opponents for 350 yards per game. Leading rusher Teriyon Gipson has expired his eligibility after rushing for 1,269 yards, but the cupboard isn’t bare for coach Bob Davie. Tyrone Owens posted 1,097 yards and seven scores last fall and moves into the No. 1 role. He will be spelled by 221-power back Richard McQuarley (656 yards and 18 touchdowns).
21. Wisconsin: Bradrick Shaw and Chris James
Corey Clement expired his eligibility, but as usual, the Badgers won’t miss a beat on the ground. Coach Paul Chryst has a couple of talented backs to lean on, along with one of the nation’s top offensive lines. Shaw rushed for 457 yards and five scores as the team’s No. 3 back last season. He’s slated to assume the No. 1 role, with Taiwan Deal (164 yards) working in as the No. 3 option. Pitt transfer Chris James is slated to win the backup job and figures to be a valuable receiver out of the backfield for quarterback Alex Hornibrook.
20. Texas A&M: Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford
With the Aggies handing the keys to the offense to an inexperienced quarterback – or potentially a true freshman – expect the ground game to be the focal point of the offense in 2017. The good news for coordinator Noel Mazzone? This group should be the strength of the offense. Trayveon Williams impressed in his true freshman campaign, leading Texas A&M with 1,057 yards and eight scores. He was also a valuable outlet of the backfield, grabbing 19 receptions for 91 yards. Ford – an Oklahoma transfer – chipped in 669 yards and six touchdowns in his first action with the Aggies last fall.
19. Appalachian State: Jalin Moore and Terrence Upshaw
Scott Satterfield’s offense featured two 1,000-yard rushers last season, as Jalin Moore earned Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year honors after posting 1,402 yards and 10 scores, and Marcus Cox accumulated 1,015 yards in nine games. Cox expired his eligibility, but Moore is back for 2017 and should be in the mix once again for Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year honors. Upshaw missed last season but rushed for 442 yards and three touchdowns in 2015. He should be a capable No. 2 to Moore in 2017.
18. Baylor: Terence Williams and JaMycal Hasty
The unquestioned strength on offense for new coach Matt Rhule is at running back. Williams led the team with 1,048 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns last season, while Hasty ranked third with 623 yards and three rushing scores. Williams was the No. 1 option last fall, but Hasty is essentially a co-starter and is going to see an increased workload under co-offensive coordinators Jeff Nixon and Glenn Thomas. Williams is expected to miss the first couple of games in 2017 due to a shoulder injury.
17. Vanderbilt: Ralph Webb and Khari Blasingame
Webb has been a reliable and productive go-to back for coach Derek Mason in each of the last three years. The Florida native has recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns and enters 2017 as the school’s all-time leading rusher (3,342 yards). Webb’s 1,283 yards in 2016 set a new Vanderbilt single-season record, while he reached the end zone 13 times on the ground. Blasingame was a solid addition to the backfield after converting from linebacker prior to the 2016 campaign. He rushed for 449 yards and 10 touchdowns on 97 attempts. Redshirt freshman Jamauri Wakefield is a promising No. 3 option for coordinator Andy Ludwig.
16. San Diego State: Rashaad Penny and Juwan Washington
Despite the loss of Donnel Pumphrey, don’t expect the Aztecs to miss a beat on the ground in 2017. Rashaad Penny worked as Pumphrey’s backup last year and accumulated 1,018 yards and 11 scores on 136 attempts. Penny should be one of the Mountain West's top performers on this offense this season. Washington rushed for 441 yards and six touchdowns in the No. 3 role last fall and moves up to handle the backup role to Penny in 2017.
15. Minnesota: Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks
New coach P.J. Fleck inherits an offense with uncertainty at quarterback, but there’s little concern about the ground attack. The Golden Gophers return the top two performers from last year’s backfield, with Rodney Smith earning second-team All-Big Ten honors by Athlon Sports. Smith led the team with 1,158 yards and 16 scores last fall and also chipped in 23 catches for 188 yards. He also recorded five 100-yard performances in Big Ten play. Brooks led the team in rushing yardage in 2015 (709) and remained a key cog as the No. 2 back in 2016. In 10 appearances (and while dealing with a foot injury), Brooks rushed for 650 yards and five scores.
14. Iowa: Akrum Wadley and James Butler
The Hawkeyes were already set to have one of the Big Ten’s top backfields with Wadley anchoring the ground game after rushing for 1,081 yards and 10 touchdowns last fall. However, this group got an additional boost with the arrival of Nevada graduate transfer James Butler in early July. Butler posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with the Wolf Pack and scored 22 times on the ground in that span. Wadley is also a valuable weapon in the passing game, as he grabbed 36 receptions in 2016.
13. Ohio State: Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins
Kevin Wilson’s arrival as Ohio State’s new play-caller should provide a needed spark for the offense. Quarterback J.T. Barrett is likely to benefit the most from Wilson’s arrival, but Weber should be more involved in the offense after rushing for 1,096 yards and nine scores last season. Although Weber eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark, he only had one game (Penn State) of more than 20 carries and accumulated just 16 touches combined against Michigan and Clemson. Demario McCall rushed for 270 yards and three touchdowns last season and will contribute to the ground game once again. However, he could spend some time at h-back, opening the door for Dobbins – the No. 43 overall player in the 2017 247Sports Composite – to push for carries.
12. USC: Ronald Jones and Aca’Cedric Ware
With quarterback Sam Darnold set for a full season under center, the Trojans hope to pick up where they left off from 2016. Adding to the dynamic offense is the continued emergence of running back Ronald Jones. He’s led USC in rushing yardage over the last two years and posted 1,082 yards and 12 scores in 13 appearances last fall. Look for Jones to challenge for All-America honors in 2017. Ware rushed for 397 yards and two touchdowns on 78 carries last year and is expected to hold the No. 2 role after Justin Davis expired his eligibility.
11. Northwestern: Justin Jackson and John Moten IV
Jackson has been one of the Big Ten’s most consistent performers in the conference over the last three years. He’s eclipsed 1,000 yards every season in that span and ranks second in career rushing yards among active FBS players. Additionally, Jackson’s 1,524 rushing yards 15 scores last year were both career-high marks. Moten flashed potential as Jackson’s backup in 2016, rushing for 340 yards and two touchdowns on 57 attempts.
10. West Virginia: Justin Crawford and Kennedy McKoy
The Mountaineers have one of the nation’s deepest backfields for 2017. Justin Crawford posted an impressive debut in his first year from the junior college ranks last season, rushing for 1,184 yards and four touchdowns. His 7.3 yards per carry was the highest total of any Big 12 player with at least 100 carries in 2016. With Rushel Shell out of eligibility, the No. 2 job is expected to fall to Kennedy McKoy. Like Crawford, McKoy was impressive in his first action with the Mountaineers. He rushed for 472 yards and four touchdowns on 73 carries. Sophomore Martell Pettaway is a talented No. 3 option for coach Dana Holgorsen.
9. Western Michigan: Jarvion Franklin and Jamauri Bogan
The ground game is the strength of the offense for new coach Tim Lester. Jarvion Franklin led the team with 1,353 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and he’s joined by Jamauri Bogan (923 yards and eight scores in 2016). Franklin has two 1,000-yard seasons in his career, while Bogan led the team with 1,051 yards and 16 scores in 2015. Sophomore LeVante Bellamy is also expected to push for carries.
8. Florida State: Jacques Patrick and Cam Akers
Dalvin Cook is gone, but Florida State’s backfield is still loaded with talent. Five-star recruit Cam Akers recorded 5,103 yards and 71 scores in his high school career at Clinton High School in Mississippi. He also enrolled early to compete in spring practice and is expected to have a significant role in the offense from the opening snap. But Akers is going to have plenty of competition for the starting job, as Patrick – a 6-foot-2, 231-pound junior – has accumulated 664 yards and nine scores as a reserve over the last two years. He’s plenty capable of handling the No. 1 workload and performing at an All-ACC level this fall.
7. LSU: Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams
Replacing a first-round NFL draft pick is never easy, but the Tigers already have the next superstar in place at running back after Leonard Fournette departed for the next level. Guice emerged as one of the nation’s top running backs after Fournette was limited due to injuries in 2016. The Baton Rouge native posted 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns in 12 games and averaged a healthy 7.6 yards per rush. Guice is one of the preseason favorites to contend for the Heisman Trophy in 2017. Williams has rushed for 831 yards over the last three seasons and will compete with Nick Brossette and true freshman Clyde Edwards-Helaire for the No. 2 role.
Related: SEC's Top Coordinator Hires for 2017
6. Oregon: Royce Freeman and Tony Brooks-James
With 4,146 yards over the last three seasons, Freeman enters 2017 as the active leader in rushing yards among FBS players. Freeman started his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns but was limited due to injury last fall and finished with 945 yards and nine scores. Over the last three years, Freeman has reached the end zone 44 times on the ground and posted a 5.9 average on 703 career attempts. The backup spot is in great shape with speedy Tony Brooks-James entrenched as the No. 2 option. He posted 771 yards (7.6 ypc) on 101 attempts last year. Taj Griffin is recovering from a knee injury and could work as the No. 3 back, while spending time at receiver.
5. Washington: Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman
After leading the team with 1,302 yards and 14 rushing scores as a freshman in 2015, Gaskin was just as effective in his encore with the Huskies. He paced the Huskies with 1,373 yards (ranked third among Pac-12 running backs) and posted 10 rushing scores. Gaskin also caught 19 passes for 137 yards and one touchdown. Coleman has been a solid backup over the last three years but posted a career high of 852 yards and seven rushing scores last fall. At 223 pounds, Coleman brings a different dimension to the ground game than provided by the speed of Gaskin.
4. Auburn: Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson
A punishing ground attack was the strength of Auburn’s offense last season. The Tigers led all SEC teams by averaging 271.3 rushing yards per game and posted 11 carries of 40 or more yards. The addition of quarterback Jarrett Stidham should provide a spark for the passing game in 2017, which could open up more holes on the ground for Pettway and Johnson. Pettway was one of the SEC’s breakout stars from 2016, rushing for 1,224 yards and seven touchdowns in 10 appearances. Johnson wasn’t far behind on the stat sheet. He rushed for 895 yards and led the team with 11 rushing touchdowns.
3. Penn State: Saquan Barkley and Miles Sanders
The nation’s No. 1 running back for 2017 resides in Happy Valley, as Barkley returns to lead the Penn State offense after rushing for 1,496 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Barkley has rushed for over 1,000 yards in both of his years on campus and should easily earn another 1,000-yard campaign with an improved offensive line in 2017. Miles Sanders is expected to work as the No. 2 option after rushing for 184 yards and one score as a freshman in 2016. The Pittsburgh native was a five-star recruit and the No. 20 overall player in the 2016 247Sports Composite.
2. Alabama: Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris
Despite losing a Heisman Trophy winner (Derrick Henry), Alabama’s ground attack never missed a beat in 2016. The Crimson Tide averaged 245 rushing yards per game and posted a 6.03 per-carry average in league play. While the overall production was there, the offense utilized a different approach than in previous years. Quarterback Jalen Hurts led the team in carries (191) and finished second in yardage (954). Harris paced the Alabama backfield with 1,037 yards and added two rushing scores. Scarbrough came on strong at the end of the year, rushing for at least 90 yards in each of the final four games. The Crimson Tide are loaded with depth here, as Joshua Jacobs is a valuable change-of-pace option, and true freshman Najee Harris will be tough to keep off the field.
1. Georgia: Nick Chubb and Sony Michel
Chubb and Michel decided to turn down the NFL for one more season in Athens, ensuring Georgia of the No. 1 tandem spot in the SEC for 2017. Chubb’s 2015 season was derailed due to a serious knee injury midway through the year, and while some rust was evident at times in 2016, he eclipsed 1,000 yards and scored eight times on the ground. Now a full year removed from the knee injury, look for Chubb in 2017 to resemble the player that rushed for 1,547 yards and 14 scores in 2014. Michel led the team with 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns in Chubb’s absence in 2015 and posted 840 yards and four scores last fall. Chubb is the No. 1 back, but Michel is going to see plenty of carries and is a valuable outlet for quarterback Jacob Eason out of the backfield (22 catches in 2016).