Skip to main content

College Football's Top 50 Running Back Units for 2018

Damien Harris, Alabama Crimson Tide Football

Damien Harris, Alabama Crimson Tide Football

With the 2018 season less than a month away, it's time to hand out preseason hardware and honor the best college football running back units for the upcoming year. While every college football team would prefer to have an established, superstar No. 1 running back, using a committee of options is the preferred approach to save wear and tear on the starter. Some teams prefer to split the carry workload close to a 50-50 split or use certain players in situational roles. Regardless of the usage, more teams are looking to a committee of players to establish a rushing attack. And with that in mind, it's not easy to rank the best backfields in college football for the 2018 season. Weighing a team with a clear superstar but little depth, as opposed to a team with three proven options and no standout No. 1 option is a tough assignment. Alabama once again ranks as the No. 1 backfield, with Wisconsin and Stanford rounding out the top three.

Wisconsin Badgers RB Jonathan Taylor

How did we come up with these rankings? Several factors were considered. Depth, overall talent, production, level of competition and projected output in 2018 all factored into the rankings for the backfield. These rankings reflect projection for 2018, not solely what teams have accomplished in 2017. Additionally, we tried to weigh having one standout player without much depth, as opposed to teams with multiple proven options. 

College Football's Top 50 RB Units for 2018

1. Alabama

A statement that will surprise no one: Alabama (again) has the deepest backfield in college football. Damien Harris passed on the NFL for one more year in Tuscaloosa, and the senior is set to lead the backfield after rushing for 1,000 yards and 11 scores last season. Najee Harris impressed in limited action (370 yards on 61 carries) and is set for a larger role on offense after Bo Scarbrough left for the NFL. Brian Robinson and Josh Jacobs are both capable of being the top ball carrier at almost every other program.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Alabama

Related: Ranking All 130 College Football Teams for 2018

2. Wisconsin 

Jonathan Taylor delivered one of the best statistical seasons by a freshman running back in FBS history last season. The New Jersey native set a new freshman record by rushing for 1,977 yards and reached the end zone 13 times. With Wisconsin’s run-first approach and the nation’s No. 1 offensive line clearing the way, Taylor’s sophomore campaign could be even better than his prolific debut. Bradrick Shaw (recovering from an ACL injury) returns after rushing for 365 yards last year, with Chris James and Taiwan Deal also in the mix as key reserves.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Wisconsin

3. Stanford 

After 2,118 rushing yards and a runner-up finish in Heisman Trophy voting, Bryce Love seemed destined to head to the NFL. Instead, Love decided to return to The Farm for his senior campaign. Big plays fueled Love’s run at the Heisman, as he averaged 8.1 yards per carry and set a new FBS record with 13 rushes of 50 or more yards. Love rushed for at least 100 yards in 12 out of the 13 games he played. Cameron Scarlett (389 yards in 2017) and Trevor Speights (142) have performed well in limited work.

Image placeholder title

Related: College Football Bowl Projections for 2018

4. Ohio State 

Ohio State’s rushing attack led the Big Ten with an average of 243.2 yards per game and could be an even bigger part of the offense after the departure of quarterback J.T. Barrett. J.K. Dobbins was one of college football’s top freshmen in 2017, rushing for 1,403 yards and finishing first in the Big Ten by averaging 7.2 yards per carry. Mike Weber led the team with 1,096 yards in 2016 but was slowed by a hamstring injury last year. Despite the injury, Weber still managed 626 yards and 10 touchdowns. True freshman Master Teague will be in the mix for carries as well.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Ohio State

5. Florida State

The ACC’s top running back is Boston College’s AJ Dillon, but the deepest corps in the conference resides in Tallahassee. Cam Akers led the team with 1,025 yards and tied Jacques Patrick for the most touchdowns (seven). Akers will be involved even more as a sophomore in new coach Willie Taggart’s Gulf Coast Offense. Patrick is back as the No. 2 option, with Amir Rasul and Khalan Laborn rounding out a talented group.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: FSU

Related: College Football's Top 30 Breakout Running Backs for 2018

6. Oklahoma

Despite losing two 1,000-yard rushers from 2016, Oklahoma’s ground attack never missed a beat last season. Rodney Anderson delivered a breakout season by rushing for 1,161 yards and 13 touchdowns. He capped the year by gashing Georgia for 201 yards in the Rose Bowl. Trey Sermon also impressed with 744 yards in his true freshman season and is back to work as the No. 2 option. Depth is plentiful with redshirt freshman Kenny Brooks, senior Marcelias Sutton and four-star recruit T.J. Pledger in the mix.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Oklahoma

7. Georgia 

The Bulldogs must replace 1,000-yard rushers Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, but as usual the ground game isn’t going to miss a beat in Athens. D’Andre Swift flashed potential in a limited role last year, rushing for 618 yards and three touchdowns on just 81 carries. He’s set to take over the No. 1 role but will have support from juniors Elijah Holyfield (293 yards in 2017) and Brian Herrien (265). Additionally, Georgia’s No. 1 recruiting class will deliver two more impact backs. Zamir White was regarded as the top running back prospect in the 2018 class, while James Cook — the brother of former Florida State star Dalvin Cook — was a four-star recruit.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Georgia

Related: College Football's Top 30 Coordinator Hires for 2018

8. Washington

Myles Gaskin has eclipsed 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons in Seattle and enters 2018 as the FBS active leader in yardage (4,055). The Washington native has scored 45 times on the ground and boasts a career average of 5.9 yards a carry. He also has 44 catches for 388 yards and four touchdowns over the last three years. Lavon Coleman expired his eligibility, but Salvon Ahmed is primed for a breakout year. He rushed for 388 yards and three scores as a freshman last fall and can be used as an all-purpose threat for play-caller Bush Hamdan. Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant round out the key contributors at this position for coach Chris Petersen.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Washington

9. Boston College

AJ Dillon quickly earned a place among college football’s top running backs last season. In his true freshman campaign, Dillon set a new school record for most rushing yards by a true freshman and earned ACC Rookie of the Year honors. The Connecticut native recorded 1,589 yards and 14 touchdowns and averaged 5.3 yards a carry over 13 contests. With Jon Hilliman transferring to Rutgers, Travis Levy is likely to assume the No. 2 role in the backfield.

Image placeholder title

10. Clemson

Wayne Gallman’s early departure to the NFL pushed Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster into the go-to role at running back last season. This duo didn’t disappoint, combining for 1,435 yards and 20 touchdowns on just 214 carries. Etienne had a penchant for producing big plays, averaging 7.2 yards a carry and recording four rushes of 50 yards or more. Senior Adam Choice and freshman Lyn-J Dixon are next in line for carries.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Clemson

11. FAU

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

12. Oklahoma State

13. Miami

14. Iowa State

15. Michigan

16. Mississippi State

17. Utah

18. USC

19. Florida

20. Georgia Tech

21. Penn State

22. Missouri

23. Memphis

24. Oregon

25. Kentucky

26. Auburn

27. Appalachian State

28. Notre Dame

29. Michigan State

30. Maryland

31. Arkansas

32. Army

33. TCU

34. Ball State

35. Nebraska

36. South Carolina

37. North Carolina

38. UNLV

39. San Diego State

40. UCF

41. Toledo

42. Western Michigan

43. Texas A&M

44. Tennessee

45. UAB

46. Kansas State

47. SMU

48. Tulane

49. Ohio

50. West Virginia

Just Missed: Pitt, Tulsa, Texas, Purdue, Minnesota, Northwestern, Colorado State, Boise State, Louisiana, Old Dominion, Marshall, Miami (Ohio), UMass, Nevada, Fresno State, Arizona, Arkansas State, Troy