The Top 10 I-Backs in Nebraska Football History
There are a handful of legendary programs in college football. Within those programs are some impressive traditions, including — depending on the school — a history of churning out collegiate legends at certain positions.
Nebraska is one of those legendary programs and the I-back position at Nebraska has produced some of college football's all-time greats over the years.
As I set out to rank the top 10 I-backs in Nebraska history, I quickly realized that, despite it being done many times before, it is no easy task. The nature of the sport calls for the list to be updated periodically, and doing so means leaving some great player off the new list.
Truth be told, it was not something I felt comfortable attacking alone. For that reason, I enlisted the help of a diverse group of experts that I trust.
Damon Benning — The former Nebraska I-back-turned-local-Nebraska talk-radio host has a definitive list of his own based on what he values in a running back. I leaned on him for guidance through the process.
Peter Bataillon — The Douglas County (Omaha, Neb.) District Court Judge played center for Division II powerhouse Northwest Missouri State in the 1970s. He has been a Nebraska season ticketholder for more than 30 years. He offered his thoughts on the final 10 players I selected.
Mike'l Severe — The award-winning broadcaster and journalist has been covering Nebraska sports since 2002. He too offered his thoughts on the final list.
As Benning alluded to during this process, you can't just focus on stats. Talent and and natural running ability come into play. My list is a reflection of all three.
— Compiled by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
10. Rex Burkhead
2009-12: 3,329 yards (5.2 ypc), 30 TDs
Burkhead was the total package. Though slightly undersized, he almost seemed to thrive running between the tackles and picking up tough yards with his vision. He excelled as a pass blocker and receiver as well. Injuries prevented him from putting up bigger numbers than he did.
Severe: Quicker than fast, Rex made himself small in the hole and had a very good first step.
Bataillon: Excellent teammate who by his example could carry a team to victory. He loved to hit.
9. Roger Craig
1979-82: 2,446 yards (6.01 ypc), 26 TDs
Craig had that natural running ability Damon Benning talks about. Because of his athleticism, he made the game look easy. That was apparent throughout his NFL career.
Severe: A physical back who took a back seat to Mike Rozier to play fullback after having a successful early career at I-back.
Bataillon: Great strength, balance and versatility. He was a wrestler in high school, which helped with that balance and his toughness.
8. Roy Helu Jr.
2007-10: 3,404 yards (5.89 ypc), 28 TDs
Helu was one of the most under-appreciated Nebraska backs in recent memory, but he was one of the few who was a threat to go the distance every time he touched the ball.
Severe: One of the best big-play runners. Elite speed and explosion.
Bataillon: Strong and versatile, great receiver. Smooth runner who ran north and south.
7. Doug Dubose
1982, '84-85: 2,205 yards (6.09 ypc), 16 TDs
Dubose did not pile up the career stats that others on the list did, but his talent and running ability were undeniable. If not for injuries, he may have finished as the best in the school's history in several categories. In the words of Damon Benning, "Talent-wise, Dubose is top 3-4."
Severe: A natural runner who had great instincts and was very explosive.
Bataillon: He just glided. Typical Nebraska back of the Osborne years. Loved to hit the defenders.
6. Kenny Clark
1987-89: 3,037 yards (6.15 ypc), 29 TDs
From a pure running standpoint, the late Kenny Clark might have been the best there ever was at Nebraska. He had incredible agility for a guy who piled up yards between the tackles.
Severe: He had elite balance and explosion and might be the best inside runner among the group.
Bataillon: A punishing runner with great strength, quickness and toughness.
5. Calvin Jones
1991-93: 3,153 yards (6.84 ypc), 40 TDs
Unfortunately for Jones, he was succeeded by a couple of the greatest backs in college football history — forget just Nebraska. The Omaha product was the total package, using his strong frame to get extra yards and his elite speed to break away in the open field. That speed helped pile up a lot of long runs, helping that ridiculous yards per carry average.
Severe: Great balance, combined with size and speed.
Bataillon: Strong and fast. Won the 200-meter state championship during his junior year of high school and the 100-meter title in his senior year.
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
4. Ameer Abdullah
2011-14: 4,588 yards (5.64 ypc), 39 TDs
Abdullah was one of the more complete collegiate backs I've ever seen play. He carried his Nebraska teams through some tough times where there was limited offensive talent. He didn't have the benefit of running behind some of those legendary Husker offensive lines like his predecessors, making his accomplishments that much more impressive.
Severe: One of the best "make-you-miss" backs in NU history. Lacked elite top-end speed and had some fumble issues, but got better each year in the program.
Bataillon: Extremely strong for his size and a great competitor. Very versatile.
3. Ahman Green
1995-97: 3,880 yards (6.76 ypc), 42 TDs
You could argue that no player in Nebraska history had more success with less national attention and respect than Ahman Green. He was a complete running back who was the perfect compliment to quarterback Scott Frost during the 1997 national championship season. He had easily the best NFL career of any skill player in Nebraska football history.
Severe: Not the most natural or smooth of runners, but he combined size and speed to be one of the most explosive ones in NU history.
Bataillon: Great speed, strength and versatility. Rarely injured and a great competitor. In 1997, he had 12-straight 100-yard games, including three where he went over 200 yards.
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
2. Lawrence Phillips
1993-95: 2,777 yards (6.18 ypc), 30 TDs
Phillips is a classic case where you should not look at stats when judging how great he was. The first time I ever heard a journalist or commentator say "He's a threat to score every time he touches the ball", they were talking about Phillips — and they weren't wrong. He had the speed to win a race to the edge and turn the corner, or he could just as easily run through the linebacker and secondary to get where he needed to go. Looking back, it's almost unfair to think opposing defenses had to account for both Phillips and Tommie Frazier in the same backfield.
Severe: The complete package. A solid, one-cut runner with speed, wiggle and power to run you over.
Bataillon: Great runner with passion. Was a workhorse for Nebraska when they needed him, especially against Kansas State in 1994 when Nebraska's top two quarterbacks were out.
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
1. Mike Rozier
1981-83: 4,780 yards (7.16 ypc), 49 TDs
Statistically, Rozier stands alone atop the Mount Rushmore of Nebraska backs. He had one of the better careers in college football history — capped off with a Heisman Trophy. He had great vision, which helped him turn many routine option-pitch plays into huge gains. On average, Rozier scored once every 14 carries. Despite only playing in 35 games during his collegiate career, he owns Nebraska's career records in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns by a running back. Because of the nature of today's game and how the sport is changing, those records may never be broken.
Severe: Great ad-lib runner. Mike found holes where there were none and got everything out of his ability.
Bataillon: Rozier was the ideal running back. He had all of the qualities you want, and the most remarkable were his toughness and yard-after-contact.