College football experts rank the best ball carriers.
Personalities and college football experts on SiriusXM College Sports Nation ranked the nation’s top 16 quarterbacks, running backs, coaching staffs, defenses, head coaches, mascots, stadiums, uniforms and fan bases and you can hear in-depth analysis on College Sports Nation, Ch. 84.
Among those taking part are former Alabama national championship quarterback Greg McElroy, former Miami and North Carolina head coach Butch Davis, College Football Hall of Famer Lou Holtz, hosts Chris Childers, Chris Carlin, Mark Packer, myself as well as producers Mike Garvin, Dan Bezilla and Regina Ham, in a collection of expert polls titled #SXMTop16.
Today, we take a look at the running backs. Chime in with your rankings!
1. Leonard Fournette, LSU
He’s simply the best. Size, speed, power, vision, balance, production. Fournette can do it all and has done it all. Should he lead LSU to a division title there is no doubt he’ll be in New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. There is no excuse for him not to get over 300 touches on offense this fall.
2. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
The record-setting all-purpose dynamo does everything for Stanford. Not reflected in the stats below is 1,200 return yards and two more touchdowns. In all, he finished with an NCAA record 3,864 all-purpose yards on 434 total touches. With Kevin Hogan gone and a rebuilt offensive line, McCaffrey will have to carry his team to another Pac-12 title.
3. Dalvin Cook, Florida State
There may not be a more explosive player in the country than Cook. He averaged a ridiculous 7.4 yards per carry, willing Florida State to victory numerous times while overcoming nagging injuries all season long. Fans can bet that if Cook can handle the workload, a 300-touch season is in the works in 2016.
4. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
It took first-year coordinator Lincoln Riley a few games to figure it out, but once he started feeding his running game, Perine delivered in a big way. The Sooners bowling ball rolled up 201 yards against Texas Tech, 166 against Baylor, 188 against TCU and 131 against Oklahoma State — all in the second half of the season. In two seasons, Perine has 3,062 yards, 37 touchdowns and the NCAA’s single-game rushing record (427).
5. Royce Freeman, Oregon
Freeman has quietly put together two monster seasons in Eugene. The bruising back brings power and speed to an offense designed around an explosive running game. Freeman has posted back-to-back 19 total TD seasons and has over 3,200 yards rushing entering his junior season.
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6. Nick Chubb, Georgia
College football was robbed of one its stars last fall when Chubb was lost for the season with a torn ACL after six games. He was averaging over 8.0 yards per carry and had scored eight times. Should he return to form, fans in Athens should be treated to what would amount to his first full year as the true No. 1. His 1,547-yard freshman season came as a pseudo-backup to Todd Gurley.
7. Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
Chubb, Fournette and Derrick Henry got all of the headlines as far as SEC backs go, but Hurd is just as good. The hulking tailback is less than 900 yards away from becoming Tennessee’s all-time leading rusher. The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder leads what should one of the best running games in the entire nation.
8. Saquon Barkley, Penn State
In just his third game as a college player, Barkley carried 21 times for 195 yards and two scores in a Big Ten win over Rutgers. Despite missing two games and playing behind a porous offensive line, Barkley still finished over 1,000 yards and five 100-yard games. He was one of the best freshmen in the nation last fall and will be one of the best sophomores in ‘16.
9. Wayne Gallman, Clemson
After two years on the field, Gallman is 12th in school history in rushing and has an outside shot at putting his name at the top of the list with a big season (1,683 yards). He would pass the likes of C.J. Spiller, Andre Ellington, James Davis, Travis Zachery and Raymond Priester. Gallman is the perfect compliment to superstar quarterback Deshaun Watson.
10. Elijah Hood, North Carolina
The best player the nation hasn’t heard of plays tailback at North Carolina. Hood is the complete package at running back, rushing for 1,463 yards on 6.7 yards per carry in Larry Fedora’s division-winning offense. Look for the Heels to lean on Hood while breaking in a new quarterback this fall.
11. James Conner, Pitt
Conner’s story is appropriately well told. The young man is returning from his battle with cancer after an earth-shattering 2014 campaign. Conner’s numbers earned him ACC Player of the Year. Pat Narduzzi (and the rest of the country) is looking forward to seeing the burly runner back on the field. (stats from 2014).
12. Shock Linwood, Baylor
The Bears offense spreads the ball around so much and takes so many big early leads that Linwood’s number are probably well below his talent and production. He only carried 196 times but was 20th nationally at 110.8 yards per game and averaged 6.8 yards per carry. Jim Grobe will feed him the rock.
13. Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State
The smallish running back (5-9, 180) has shown that he could handle the work load by finishing 10th in the nation with 22.1 carries per game. His 1,653 yards were seventh nationally and actually worse than his impressive 1,873-yard sophomore campaign. With virtually everyone back in San Diego, look for Pumphrey to have a monster final season.
14. Myles Gaskin, Washington
The other half of the Huskies dynamic freshman backfield (Jake Browning) was Gaskin. The freshman got off to a slow start but finished with at least 100 yards in his last four games and seven of his last nine. He also scored eight times in the final five games.
15. LJ Scott, Michigan State
Scott’s numbers weren’t huge relative to others on this list but he had the most dramatic and important one-yard run of anyone in the nation. His Big Ten championship-winning, Playoff berth-clinching touchdown run capped a 22-play epic Spartans march against Iowa. Look for the 240-pounder to get the bulk of the carries this fall.
16. Corey Clement, Wisconsin
A sports hernia limited Clement to just four games and 48 carries last year. But his offensive line wasn’t opening up traditional Wisconsin-like running avenues anyway. With an improved O-Line and healthy Clement, the Badgers could find themselves back in the Big Ten West hunt.
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