With Lache Seastrunk’s emergence late in the 2012 season, and another solid year from Kansas’ James Sims, the Big 12 has two top-tier options for 2013. Seastrunk was on a tear at the end of the year and should post even bigger numbers with a full season as Baylor’s No. 1 back. Sims missed three games last year, yet finished with more than 1,000 yards.
After Seastrunk and Sims, the Big 12 has a group of rushers waiting to emerge. Texas’ Johnathan Gray should be better as a sophomore, while Oklahoma State’s Jeremy Smith should step into the lineup to replace Joseph Randle.
There’s plenty of other proven options for the Big 12, as West Virginia’s Andrew Buie, Oklahoma’s Damien Williams, Kansas State’s John Hubert, Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams and TCU’s Waymon James could threaten 1,000 yards this year.
College football’s 2013 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the top players in the nation. With spring practice coming to a close around the nation, Athlon will rank the top running backs in each conference.
Ranking the Big 12 Running Backs for 2013
1. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor (JR)
After rushing for just 181 yards through the first seven games of 2012, Seastrunk went on a tear over the final six contests. The Texas native averaged 138.5 yards per game over the final six games, including four straight 100-yard performances to close out 2012. Seastrunk’s best game came against Kansas State, rushing for 185 yards and one touchdown on 19 attempts. After breaking into the starting lineup late last season, Seastrunk now has the full confidence of the coaching staff and is poised to record another 1,000-yard season. The junior should be one of the top running backs in the nation and a first-team All-Big 12 pick for 2013.
2. James Sims, Kansas (SR)
Despite a three-game suspension to open 2012, Sims finished as the Big 12’s leading rusher at 112.6 yards per game. And Sims’ production is even more impressive when you consider the lackluster passing attack Kansas had last season, which forced even more attention on the ground game. In nine games last year, the Texas native finished with 1,013 yards and nine scores, while catching 14 passes for 168 yards and one touchdown. For his career, Sims has 2,482 rushing yards and 27 scores. Although Kansas will have to rebuild its offensive line, expect Sims to close out his career on a high note.
3. Johnathan Gray, Texas (SO)
The No. 1 running back recruit in the nation last year from Aledo (Texas) High is ready for the spotlight. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder played in all 13 games but eventually became Mack Brown’s top option in the backfield, starting five of the last six games. He posted two 100-yard games and finished with 701 yards as a true freshman. He led the team in rushing and could explode in 2013 should the offense continue to develop around him. He is the complete package at running back — running for power, running with speed, catching passes and protecting his quarterback.
4. Jeremy Smith, Oklahoma State (SR)
After three very productive seasons in Stillwater, Joseph Randle decided to leave for the NFL. Although Randle is a big loss, Oklahoma State’s backfield is far from bare. Smith moves from the No. 2 role to the top spot in 2013 and is poised to make a run at 1,000 yards. Over the last three seasons at Oklahoma State, Smith has rushed for 1,439 yards and 25 touchdowns. He is averaging 6.2 yards per carry and recorded 119 yards and two scores in the 44-10 blowout win over Oklahoma in 2011. Although it’s a bit of a projection to place Smith this high in his first year, the talent is in place for a huge senior season.
5. Damien Williams, Oklahoma (SR)
The Sooners' leading rusher from a year ago originally signed with Arizona State from San Diego (Calif.) Mira Mesa. Yet, after two stellar junior college seasons at Arizona Western, Williams landed in Norman and quickly proved he was ready for big-time college football. He averaged nearly six yards per carry and was just 95 yards shy of 1,000. The 5-foot-11, 215-pounder is an excellent receiver and will be Blake Bell’s best friend in 2013.
6. John Hubert, Kansas State (SR)
An underrated recruit from Waco (Texas) Midway, the diminutive 5-foot-7 running back had been a perfect complement to now-departed quarterback Collin Klein. Hubert, at 190 pounds, plays more physical than his small stature would indicate and has proven to be effective in tough yardage situations — he scored 15 touchdowns a year ago. Without Klein, Hubert will have to shoulder more of the load, and, undoubtedly, is looking for his first 1,000-yard season after rushing for 947 yards a year ago and 970 in 2011.
7. Malcolm Brown, Texas (JR)
Before Johnathan Gray there was Malcolm Brown. He too was the No. 1-rated running back recruit in the nation when he signed with the Longhorns out of Cibolo (Texas) Steele in 2011. Despite missing three games as a freshman, Brown rushed for 742 yards and was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. His sophomore season was off to a quality start — two 100-yard games in the first two — before getting hurt and missing five games. The 6-foot, 225-pounder has all the talent in the world to succeed, but he needs to prove his proclivity for injury was just bad luck and not a concerning trend.
8. Glasco Martin, Baylor (SR)
Lost in Lache Seastrunk’s breakout performance at the end of 2012 was a solid performance by Martin. The Texas native recorded 889 yards and reached paydirt 15 times last season. Martin had two 100-yard performances, including 113 in the upset victory over Kansas State. Prior to 2012, Martin had only 289 rushing yards in his career but he is averaging 5.2 yards per rush attempt over the last three years. Although Seastrunk will garner the All-American attention, Martin could quietly approach 1,000 yards and should be a tough option for defenses to stop around the goal line.
9. Waymon James, TCU (SR)
The Sherman (Texas) High star posted over 1,300 yards rushing in his first two seasons on campus. He was slated to power the TCU rushing attack last year and was ripping off 9.9 yards per carry through two games last season before season-ending knee surgery. The 5-foot-8, 205-pounder is compact and explosive and, should he prove to be fully recovered, could easily push for All-Big 12 honors as the starter in Fort Worth.
10. Kenny Williams, Texas Tech (JR)
The 5-foot-9, 220-pound bowling ball posted a sneaky-good sophomore season in 2012. The honorable mention All-Big 12 back rushed for 824 yards and scored six total touchdowns for the pass-happy Red Raiders. Williams is poised to become the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher since another Williams, Ricky, did so for Texas Tech in 1998 (1,582 — yes, there were two Ricky Williams in the Big 12 in 1998).
11. James White, Iowa State (SR)
The fifth-year senior from famed Dallas (Texas) Skyline split time with Shontrelle Johnson a year ago. White was more effective, as he rushed for more yards and posted a better per-carry rate than Johnson — who is recovering from offseason ACL surgery. White, a 5-foot-8, 192-pounder, now heads what could be one of the deeper running back corps in the conference. He has rushed for 1,249 yards over the last two years.
12. Andrew Buie, West Virginia (JR)
With Geno Smith moving on to the NFL, the Mountaineers may lean a little more on the run in 2013. Luckily for coach Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia has a stable of proven backs, headlined by Buie. In 13 contests last year, he rushed for 851 yards and seven scores, while adding 28 catches for 318 yards. Buie’s best game came against Texas, gashing the Longhorns for 207 yards and two touchdowns. If he has more carries in 2013, Buie could approach 1,000 yards.
13. Joe Bergeron, Texas (JR)
The 6-foot-1, 240-pounder plays in the same backfield with the nation’s last two No. 1 RB prospects. Yet, it was the Mesquite (Texas) North product who scored a team-best 16 times last year. He is a great — maybe, one of the best in the nation — complementary piece for the Longhorns.
14. Tony Pierson, Kansas (JR)
James Sims was forced to miss the first three games of last season, but the Jayhawks’ rushing attack was in good hands with Pierson. The Illinois native rushed for 100 yards in back-to-back games to open the season and finished 2012 with 760 yards and four scores. On a team that’s thin in proven receivers, Pierson is one of the team’s most dangerous weapons in the passing game, as he caught 21 passes for 291 yards and two scores last year. Although Sims remains Kansas’ workhorse back, Pierson should see plenty of opportunities this season.
15. Brennan Clay, Oklahoma (SR)
A big-time recruit from San Diego, Clay has yet to live up to his elite hype but has been more than productive for Bob Stoops. He has increased his carries, yards, touchdowns and yards per carry each year of his three-year career.
16. Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State (JR)
With Joseph Randle leaving early for the NFL, the Cowboys need a big season from new starter Jeremy Smith, along with Roland in a secondary role. The Texas native has 63 rushing attempts in his career, recording 396 yards and four scores during his limited work. Roland is averaging an impressive 6.5 yards per carry and recorded 104 yards against Savannah State last season. Look for Roland to approach 500 rushing yards as Smith’s top backup in 2013.
17. Aaron Green, TCU (SO)
After finishing eighth in the Big 12 in rushing offense last season, it’s clear TCU needs to get more from its ground attack in 2013. The return of Waymon James from a knee injury should help, along with the arrival of Aaron Green via transfer (Nebraska). Green was a top-15 national recruit by ESPN in the 2011 signing class but managed only 105 yards in his only season at Nebraska. The talent is certainly there for Green to have a breakout performance for TCU. But can he surpass James and B.J. Catalon on the depth chart?
18. B.J. Catalon, TCU (SO)
Forced into action due to injury, Catalon played well as just a 5-foot-9, 190-pound freshman. He led all TCU backs with 123 carries and led the team with 582 yards rushing. He is an excellent No. 2 option for Gary Patterson.
19. Dustin Garrison, West Virginia (JR)
Garrison had a solid freshman campaign in 2011, rushing for 742 yards and six scores. However, his season ended prematurely when he tore his ACL in Orange Bowl practices, and his recovery extended into 2012. Although Garrison played in 11 contests, he clearly wasn’t the same player and rushed for only 207 yards and two scores. Now that he is a full year removed from his injury, expect Garrison to see more carries in 2013.
20. Dreamius Smith, West Virginia (JR)
There’s no question Dreamius Smith is a first-teamer on the college football all-name team for 2013. However, West Virginia needs to know: Can this junior college performer help the rushing attack? So far, it seems he can. Smith totaled 38 yards on seven attempts in the spring game and is expected to feature prominently in the offense in 2013.
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