Oklahoma takes the top spot.
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.
Oklahoma’s one-two punch of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon is the best in the Big 12, but Baylor and Texas also have solid tandems in place for the 2016 season. Here are the Big 12 teams ranked by the running back tandems (projected No. 1 and No. 2 rushers) for the upcoming year.
Ranking the Big 12 RB Tandems for 2016
1. Oklahoma – Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon
The nation’s No. 1 backfield duo for 2016 resides in Norman, Okla. After rushing for 1,713 yards and 21 scores and setting the single-game FBS rushing record (427 yards) as a freshman, Perine posted another standout campaign in 2015. In 13 games, Perine recorded 1,349 yards and 16 scores and rushed for at least 131 yards in three out of Oklahoma’s final four games. After sitting out 2015 due to a suspension, Mixon showcased the big-play potential that made him a five-star recruit in the high school ranks. Mixon rushed for 753 yards and seven scores on 113 attempts and chipped in 28 receptions for 356 yards and four touchdowns. Mixon’s four rushes of 30 or more yards tied for sixth among Big 12 rushers last fall.
Related: Big 12 2016 Predictions
Podcast: Official 2016 Big 12 Preview
2. Baylor – Shock Linwood and Johnny Jefferson
The Linwood-Jefferson tandem is the nation’s only returning duo where both players reached the 1,000-yard mark in 2016. Linwood was slowed by injuries late in the year but still managed to finish fourth in the Big 12 by recording 1,329 yards. Additionally, Linwood’s 6.78 per-carry mark was the highest by any back in the conference with at least 150 carries. Jefferson recorded only one 100-yard effort through the first seven games and did not record a carry against Kansas State and Oklahoma. However, Jefferson came on strong over the final four games, posting at least 62 yards in each contest, including 299 against North Carolina in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
3. Texas – D’Onta Foreman and Chris Warren
New coordinator Sterlin Gilbert was brought in to provide some much-needed direction and spark an offense that has ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in scoring in back-to-back years. In addition to the new offense, the Longhorns are expected to turn to freshman quarterback Shane Buechele as the new starter. While Buechele’s long-term future is bright, the freshman won’t have to shoulder the offense in 2016. Instead, Gilbert and Buechele can lean heavily on the one-two punch of Foreman and Warren. Foreman led the Longhorns with 681 yards (7.2 ypc) last season, while Warren collected 470 yards and four rushing scores on just 71 carries. Warren was hardly involved in the offense through the first 10 games and exploded with 276 yards against Texas Tech on Thanksgiving, followed by 106 against Baylor in the season finale.
4. Iowa State – Mike Warren and Sheldon Croney
The Cyclones may not have a clear No. 2 option yet, but there’s no doubt Mike Warren is one of the Big 12’s top running backs. After redshirting his first year on campus, Warren earned Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors after rushing for 1,339 yards and five scores in 2015. With DeAndre Washington and Wendell Smallwood off to the NFL, Warren’s 1,339 yards are the most by any returning Big 12 player for 2016. Croney took a redshirt year last fall. He will compete with Mitchell Harger and David Montgomery for the No. 2 role.
5. West Virginia – Rushel Shell and Kennedy McKoy
Even though coach Dana Holgorsen is known for his roots in the Air Raid attack, West Virginia ranked second in the Big 12 in rushing offense last season. Leading rusher Wendell Smallwood (1,519 yards in 2015) departs, but the cupboard isn’t empty in Morgantown. Rushel Shell – a former five-star prospect – returns after ranking second on the team with 708 yards and eight rushing scores last fall. Shell has rushed for 1,571 yards in his career with the Mountaineers but is still looking for that breakout year. True freshman Kennedy McKoy impressed in spring practice and is slated to work in the No. 2 role, with junior college recruit Justin Crawford at No. 3.
6. TCU – Kyle Hicks and Sewo Olonilua
The Hicks-Olonilua backfield is largely unproven, but there’s also a lot of potential. Hicks ranked as the No. 204 recruit in the 2013 signing class and showed intriguing potential in limited snaps. The Arlington native recorded 262 yards and three scores on just 56 attempts last season, while adding 13 receptions for 104 yards. Olonilua is another promising prospect for co-coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham. The true freshman enrolled in time for spring practice and received extensive work in the final scrimmage. Olonilua ranked as the No. 125 overall recruit in the 2016 247Sports Composite, and at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, provides a power element to the backfield. Junior Trevorris Johnson and Michigan graduate transfer Derrick Green are also in the mix for carries.
7. Texas Tech - Justin Stockton and Demarcus Felton
DeAndre Washington was one of the nation’s most underrated running backs during his career with the Red Raiders. He leaves big shoes to fill this year, but Justin Stockton and Demarcus Felton should be a solid duo for coach Kliff Kingsbury. Stockton has been a dynamic change-of-pace option over the last two years, averaging a whopping seven yards per carry on 109 attempts. Demarcus Felton only received six carries last season but rushed for 73 yards and one score. He is competing with Quinton White for the No. 2 role in Texas Tech’s backfield.
8. Oklahoma State – Barry Sanders and Chris Carson
Oklahoma State usually has one of the Big 12’s top ground attacks, but the Cowboys have sputtered over the last two years. In 2014, Oklahoma State finished seventh in the Big 12 in rushing offense, averaging only 3.5 yards per carry. The numbers weren’t much better last fall, as the Cowboys ranked ninth in the league and generated only 3.58 per carry. However, there is hope for improvement in 2016. A struggling offensive line has been one of the primary culprits for the subpar ground attack, but this unit returns five starters and the overall depth has improved. Carson returns after leading the Cowboys with 517 yards last season, and Sanders transferred from Stanford in search of more playing time. Sanders recorded 672 yards and five scores in his career with the Cardinal.
9. Kansas State – Charles Jones and Justin Silmon
Kansas State recorded only three rushing plays of 30 yards or more last season, so it’s imperative for the ground attack to find a spark in 2016. Charles Jones is back after leading the team with 696 rushing yards last year, but he will face competition for carries from sophomores Justin Silmon and Dalvin Warmack. Silmon showed promise in limited action (355 yards) in 2015, while Warmack ranked as one of Kansas State’s top recruits in its 2014 signing class.
10. Kansas – Ke’aun Kinner and Taylor Martin
Kinner started his Kansas career on a high note, as the junior college recruit recorded back-to-back 100-yard efforts to open 2015. However, injuries prevented Kinner from building on his fast start. The Texas native finished the year with 566 yards and five rushing scores on 134 attempts. Martin is penciled in as the No. 2 back after recording 42 yards on 16 carries last fall. He will be pushed for time by Ryan Schadler and James Sullivan.