Skip to main content

Top 10 Big 12 Running Backs of the BCS Era

Oklahoma Sooners

The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.

The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.

So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.

In a league with a tradition of high-flying passing attacks and decorated wide receivers, the list of running backs to star in the Big 12 is remarkable. The Big 12 boasts some of the greatest to ever play the position during the BCS Era, including the top two runners of the Era regardless of conference.

Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.

1. Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma (2004-06)
Stats: 747 att., 4,045 yds, 41 TDs, 24 rec., 198 yds, TD

The BCS version of Herschel Walker or Bo Jackson was the three-year star from Palestine (Texas) High. A three-time, first-team All-Big 12 runner finished No. 2 in the Heisman Trophy voting as a true freshman in 2004. His 1,925 yards was an NCAA record for a true freshman and it earned him unanimous All-American honors. Despite missing chunks of time with injuries in each of his next two seasons, “All Day” Peterson still topped 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. His natural blend of power, speed, size and balance has never been duplicated during the BCS era. He rushed for 970 yards for the Vikings in 2011 in a season shortened by a torn ACL, the only time since high school that A.D. hasn’t rushed for at least 1,000 yards. He is the Sooners' No. 3 all-time leading rusher.

2. Ricky Williams, Texas (1995-98)
Stats: 1,011 att., 6,279 yds, 72 TDs, 85 rec., 927 yds, 3 TDs

The power back from San Diego gave fans in Austin a preview of things to come when he rushed for 990 yards as a true freshman fullback. His two-year run as an upperclassman may never be matched, as he posted back-to-back seasons with at least 1,800 yards and 25 rushing touchdowns. Williams was a two-time consensus All-American, a two-time Doak Walker Award winner, a two-time Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and claimed the Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award and Heisman Trophy as a senior. He left school as the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher (since broken) and he is one of four players to ever score at least 70 rushing touchdowns.

3. Darren Sproles, Kansas State (2001-04)
Stats: 815 att., 4,979 yds, 45 TDs, 66 rec., 609 yds, 2 TDs, 1,224 ret yds, TD

Few players have ever been as valuable to their school as the diminutive Sproles was to Kansas State. The all-purpose dynamo rushed for at least 1,300 yards in three straight seasons and he helped lead the Wildcats to an improbable Big 12 championship in 2003. His 323 yards from scrimmage and four total touchdowns against Oklahoma in the title game will go down in history as arguably the greatest single-game performance by any Wildcat in history. The Sunflower State native finished fifth in the Heisman voting that year as his 2,735 all-purpose yards is the best single-season performance by any Big 12 running back during the BCS Era (fourth all-time). Sproles has proven himself by carving out an extremely productive niche in the NFL as an all-purpose talent.

4. Cedric Benson, Texas (2001-04)
Stats: 1,112 att., 5,540 yds, 64 TDs, 69 rec., 621 yds, 3 TDs

The Longhorns' running back is one of the most productive in history. He finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting two separate times and is one of only six players to score at least 60 rushing touchdowns. The Midland (Texas) Lee star posted four seasons of at least 1,050 yards and 12 touchdowns while in Austin — one of just eight players in NCAA history to post four 1,000-yard seasons. He won the ’04 Doak Walker and carried more times (1,112) than any Big 12 back in history.

5. Quentin Griffin, Oklahoma (1999-02)
Stats: 714 att., 3,842 yds, 43 TDs, 154 rec., 1,282 yds, 7 TDs

A steady performer in both the running and receiving game, Griffin blossomed as a superstar in his senior season. He rushed for 783 yards and 16 touchdowns while catching 45 passes for the unbeaten 2000 national champions before exploding in his final season in 2002. He finished 10th in the Heisman voting after 1,884 yards rushing and 18 total touchdowns in '02 — which was the seventh-best single-season rushing total in Big 12 history and his 2,184 all-purpose yards that year are eighth-best all-time. Griffin is seventh all-time in rushing in the Big 12.

6. DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma (2007-10)
Stats: 759 att., 3,685 yds, 50 TDs, 157 rec., 1,571 yds, 13 TDs, 1,462 ret. yds, 2 TDs

An underrated talent from Las Vegas, Murray was as productive across the board as any player in Sooners history. He is sixth in rushing, first in total touchdowns, fifth in receptions and No. 1 in all-purpose yards. In 2008, he helped lead the Sooners to a Big 12 title and a berth in the BCS title game, as he racked up 2,171 all-purpose yards, which is good for ninth-best all-time in Big 12 history. His 65 career touchdowns are fourth all-time behind Williams, Benson and Taurean Henderson.

7. Jamaal Charles, Texas (2005-07)
Stats: 533 att., 3,328 yds, 36 TDs, 49 rec., 539 yds, 3 TDs

Charles was a major contributor on the undefeated national title squad of 2005 by posting 1,035 yards from scrimmage and 13 total touchdowns. He capped his three-year stint in Austin with a 1,619-yard, 18-TD season in 13 games in 2007. Charles posted at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage in all three of his seasons and at least eight touchdowns each year. He was drafted in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft.

8. Chris Brown, Colorado (2001-02)
Stats: 493 att., 2,787 yds, 35 TDs, 11 rec., 76 yds

He didn’t play for very long in the Big 12 but his final season was nearly as good as any of the Hall of Fame types atop these rankings. He carried 303 times for 1,841 yards and 19 touchdowns — after a 946-yard, 16-TD season in ’01 — en route to a Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year award. He finished eighth in the Heisman voting and was a third-round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft.

9. Taurean Henderson, Texas Tech (2002-05)
Stats: 587 att., 3,241 yds, 50 TDs, 303 rec., 2,058 yds, 19 TDs

Certainly, the Mike Leach Air Raid offense bolstered his numbers, but it’s hard to argue with what Henderson accomplished in Lubbock. He scored more touchdowns (69) than anyone in league history except Ricky Williams and is one of just 10 players in NCAA history to catch at least 300 passes. His 5,299 yards from scrimmage is among the best in conference history.

10. Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State (2007-10)
Stats: 708 att., 4,181 yds, 37 TDs, 63 rec., 519 yds, 2 TDs

Hunter was a consensus All-American and posted two different 1,500-yard, 16-TD seasons in 2008 and '10. Injuries shortened his junior campaign, otherwise Hunter might be even higher up the Big 12’s all-time rushing charts. Still, Hunter is fifth all-time in league history in rushing and eighth all-time in carries. The Pokes' top rusher helped elevate Oklahoma State from middle-of-the-pack Big 12 program to eventual conference champ in ’11.

Just missed the cut:

11. Daniel Thomas, Kansas State (2009-10)
Stats: 545 att., 2,850 yds, 30 TDs, 52 rec., 428 yds, 155 pass yds, 2 TDs

When it comes to a two-year run in the Big 12, few have been as productive as Thomas. He carried 247 times for 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first year and then backed it up with 298 carries, 1,585 yards and 19 touchdowns in his second. He was a quality receiver and Wildcat quarterback as well for Bill Snyder’s bunch.

12. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State (2010-12)
Stats: 564 att., 3,085 yds, 40 TDs, 108 rec., 917 yds, 3 TDs

For the 2011 Big 12 champions, Randle ran for 1,216 yards, caught 43 passes for 266 yards and scored a school-record 26 total touchdowns. He came back the next year and ran for 1,417 yards and scored 14 more rushing touchdowns. Randle carried on the Pokes' impressive streak of great backs before leaving early for the NFL.

13. Roy Helu, Nebraska (2007-10)
Stats: 578 att., 3,404 yds, 28 TDs, 54 rec., 501 yds

Helu posted three straight seasons of at least 800 yards and seven scores and back-to-back seasons with 1,100 yards and 10 scores. Helu helped lead Nebraska to back-to-back division titles and Big 12 title game appearances in his final two seasons before getting drafted in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL draft.

14. Ricky Williams, Texas Tech (1997-01)
Stats: 789 att., 3,661 yds, 36 TDs, 172 rec., 1,151 yds, 6 TDs

The other Ricky Williams actually overlapped the more famous version by two years. This Williams is fifth all-time in league history with 5,992 all-purpose yards and is 10th all-time in rushing in the Big 12. He also caught 172 passes as a receiver. And he did all of this before Mike Leach got to town.

15. Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M (2008-11)
Stats: 632 att., 3,298 yds, 30 TDs, 103 rec., 776 yds, 6 TDs, 2,349 ret. yds, 2 TDs

Gray was an all-around dynamo for the Aggies for four full seasons. Gray played 49 career games for Texas A&M and is third all-time in all-purpose yards in Big 12 history with 6,423 yards — behind only Sproles (6,812) and Murray (6,718). He scored 38 total times in his career.

Best of the rest:

16. Darren Davis, Iowa State (1996-99): 823 att., 3,763 yds, 26 TDs, 74 rec., 649 yds, 5 TDs
17. James Sims, Kansas (2010-13): 798 att., 3,592 yds, 34 TDs, 72 rec., 587 yds, 2 TDs
18. De’Mond Parker, Oklahoma (1996-98): 578 att., 3,404 yds, 21 TDs, 42 rec., 504 yds, TD
19. Jorvorskie Lane, Texas A&M (2005-08): 489 att., 2,193 yds, 49 TDs, 26 rec., 271 yds, TD
20. Henry Josey, Missouri (2010-13): 395 att., 2,771 yds, 30 TDs, 24 rec., 175 yds, TD
21. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska (2009-12): 635 att., 3,329 yds, 30 TDs, 60 rec., 507 yds, 5 TDs
22. Alexander Robinson, Iowa State (2007-10): 705 att., 3,309 yds, 27 TDs, 83 rec., 789 yds, 4 TDs
23. Tatum Bell, Oklahoma State (2000-03): 634 att., 3,409 yds, 34 TDs, 36 rec., 258 yds, 2 TDs
24. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor (2012-13): 289 att., 2,189 yds, 18 TDs, 9 rec., 107 yds, TD
25. Rodney Stewart, Colorado (2008-11): 809 att., 3,598 yds, 25 TDs, 93 rec., 969 yds

ORV: Bobby Purify, Vernand Morency, Zack Abron, Christine Michael, Baron Batch, Correll Buckhalter, Keith Toston, Brian Calhoun