Athlon Sports ranks the best SEC running backs of the BCS Era.
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.
Being a running back in the SEC isn't easy. Generally, the defenses are the fastest and most physical in the nation. And the legacy set forth by two greats in the 1980s by the name of Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson is nearly impossible to live up to. But that doesn't mean the SEC didn't have some of the nation's best carrying the rock during the BCS Era.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Darren McFadden, Arkansas (2005-07)
Stats: 785 att., 4,590 yds, 41 TDs, 46 rec., 365 yds, 2 TDs
When it comes to pure breakaway speed and big-play ability, few can match Run-DMC’s talent. The North Little Rock prospect finished second in Heisman balloting in back-to-back seasons, coming up just short to Troy Smith and Tim Tebow in 2006 and '07 respectively. McFadden won the Doak Walker and SEC Offensive Player of the Year awards in both consensus All-American seasons. His 4,590 yards is No. 2 all-time in SEC history to only the great Herschel Walker. He helped lead Arkansas to the SEC Championship Game in 2006 but came up short against the eventual national champion Florida Gators.
2. Trent Richardson, Alabama (2009-11)
Stats: 540 att., 3,130 yds, 35 TDs 68 rec., 730 yds, 7 TDs, 720 ret. yds, TD
T-Rich is one of the most physically imposing running backs to ever play the game. The Pensacola product only started for one season but became the only SEC running back to rush for 20 touchdowns in a season until Tre Mason scored 23 times in 2013. Richardson won two national titles and is one of the rarest combinations of size, speed and agility. His 1,679 yards in the 2011 national title season are second to only McFadden (1,830) among all SEC backs during the BCS Era and is an Alabama single-season record. He was the third overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, and finished his collegiate career by earning consensus All-American recognition, winning the Doak Walker Award and SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors and finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting in '11.
3. Mark Ingram, Alabama (2008-10)
Stats: 572 att., 3,261 yds, 42 TDs, 60 rec., 670 yds, 4 TDs
Ingram is the only Heisman Trophy winner in Alabama’s storied history and he might not have been the best back on his own team. From Flint, Michigan, originally, Ingram led Bama to the national championship in 2009 with 1,658 yards and 17 scores. It was his only 1,000-yard season while in Tuscaloosa. No Bama player has scored more rushing touchdowns than Ingram and his 2009 Heisman Trophy campaign was the third-best among all SEC backs during the BCS Era (McFadden, Richardson). The SEC Offensive Player of the Year and consensus All-American was a first-round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints when he left school early in 2010.
4. Shaun Alexander, Alabama (1996-99)
Stats: 727 att., 3,565 yds, 41 TDs, 62 rec., 798 yds, 8 TDs
Alexander was a steady performer for four years at Alabama. The Florence, Ky., talent is the all-time leading rusher in Alabama history and he capped his career with an SEC Offensive Player of the Year season when he scored 23 total touchdowns and a career-high 1,383 yards rushing in 1999. Alexander is 12th all-time in rushing in SEC history and his 41 career rushing touchdowns trails Ingram by only one for seventh all-time in SEC history and tops at Alabama.
5. Kevin Faulk, LSU (1995-98)
Stats: 856 att., 4,557 yds, 46 TDs, 53 rec., 600 yds, 4 TDs, 1,676 ret. yds, 3 TDs
From an all-purpose standpoint, few can match the production of Faulk. He posted the No. 4- and No. 5-best all-purpose seasons in SEC history when he totaled 2,109 yards in 1998 and 2,104 in '96. Those are still the best two seasons per game in SEC history (191.7 ypg and 191.3 ypg). His 46 rushing touchdowns are third all-time to Tebow and Walker and Faulk is third all-time in SEC history in rushing. He is fifth in rushing attempts and scored a total of 53 times while at LSU.
6. Cadillac Williams, Auburn (2001-04)
Stats: 741 att., 3,831 yds, 45 TDs, 45 rec., 342 yds, TDs, 911 ret. yds
He never got the ball all to himself and that likely keeps him from being in the top five. He topped out in 2003 with 1,307 yards and 17 touchdowns before his second 1,000-yard season during the unbeaten 2004 campaign. He has scored more rushing touchdowns than anyone in school history and is No. 2 to only Bo Jackson in rushing yards. Williams is 11th all-time in rushing in SEC history and is fourth all-time in rushing touchdowns before becoming the fifth overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. He’s 10th all-time in all-purpose yards in SEC history (5,084).
7. Tre Mason, Auburn (2011-13)
Stats: 516 att., 2,979 yds, 32 TDs, 19 rec., 249 yds, TD, 1,107 ret. yds, 2 TDs
Mason’s numbers speak for themselves. His 1,816 yards rushing in 2013 are third-best all-time in the SEC behind only McFadden and Walker. His 23 rushing touchdowns tied Tebow for the most in a single season in SEC history. He carried his team to an SEC championship and berth in the BCS title game while finishing sixth in the Heisman voting. He was named SEC Offensive Player of the Year and posted the second-best all-purpose season in SEC history with 2,374 yards (Randall Cobb, 2,396). His record 46 carries for 304 yards and four touchdowns in the SEC title game win over Missouri will go down as one of the greatest single-game performances in league history.
8. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina (2010-12)
Stats: 555 att., 2,677 yds, 38 TDs, 74 rec., 767 yds, 3 TDs
What could have been for the star from South Carolina? Lattimore, in just 29 career games over just three seasons, finished 12th in rushing touchdowns (38) and averaged 118.8 yards from scrimmage per game throughout his time in Columbia. He rushed for 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns as just a freshman in his only full season in college. Both his sophomore (seven games) and junior (nine) campaigns were cut short with major injuries. His numbers would be among the league’s greatest had he even just played three full seasons.
9. Knowshon Moreno, Georgia (2007-08)
Stats: 498 att., 2,734 yds, 30 TDs, 53 rec., 645 yds, 2 TDs
As far as a two-year run goes, few have been as productive as Moreno. He carried 248 times for 1,334 yards and 14 touchdowns in 13 games in 2007 as a redshirt freshman. He came back the following season and rushed 250 times for 1,400 yards and 16 touchdowns. Moreno averaged 131.1 all-purpose yards per game during his two-year career, good for eighth in SEC history — with only 30 career return yards. He was a first-round pick of the Broncos in 2009 and could have posted four straight 1,000-yard seasons had he stayed in school.
10. Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State (2006-09)
Stats: 910 att., 3,994 yds, 42 TDs, 56 rec., 449 yds, 4 TDs
Dixon finished second all-time only to Walker in SEC history with 910 carries during his career in Starkville. He is eighth all-time in SEC history in rushing (third to only McFadden and Faulk during the BCS Era) and is tied with Mark Ingram for seventh all-time with 42 rushing touchdowns. Dixon had two 1,000-yard seasons and never scored less than seven times in a season. The burly ball-carrier was one of the most consistent in the history of the league after playing 48 career games for the Bulldogs.
Just missed the cut:
11. Jamal Lewis, Tennessee (1997-99)
Stats: 487 att., 2,677 yds, 17 TDs, 39 rec., 475 yds, 4 TDs
Lewis never scored 10 times in a season and isn’t near the top 10 in most career rushing lists. But few backs in SEC history have ever been as talented right from the get go. Lewis rushed for 1,364 yards as a true freshman in 1997 and then helped lead the Vols to a BCS National Championship and perfect record in 1998. After a modest junior year (and injuries over his last two seasons), Lewis left school early and was the fifth overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. His NFL career speaks for itself.
12. Ronnie Brown, Auburn (2000-04)
Stats: 513 att., 2,707 yds, 28 TDs, 58 rec., 668 yds, 2 TDs
He was supremely talented but his best year was 1,008 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2002. He took a slight back seat to Williams on the unblemished ’04 squad, but still managed to produce 1,226 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns en route to an SEC and Sugar Bowl championship. He was the second overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
13. Deuce McAllister, Ole Miss (1997-00)
Stats: 633 att., 3,181 yds, 37 TDs, 66 rec., 671 yds, 3 TDs, 1,276 ret. yds, 2 TDs
A touchdown scoring machine, McAllister is 13th all-time in SEC history with 37 rushing touchdowns. He is Ole Miss’ leading rusher in every major category: carries, yards, touchdowns and 100-yard games (13). He only had one 1,000-yard season (1998) but averaged 5.0 yards per carry for his career and was unstoppable around the goal line. The Saints took him in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft.
14. Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt (2009-12)
Stats: 581 att., 3,143 yds, 30 TDs, 46 rec., 415 yds
Simply put, he is the best, most productive running back in school history. And he helped get the Commodores to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history. He owns every major school rushing record after back-to-back seasons with at least 200 carries, 1,140 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2011-12.
15. Travis Henry, Tennessee (1997-00)
Stats: 556 att., 3,078 yds, 26 TDs, 20 rec., 99 yds
An excellent producer for three full seasons, Henry helped lead Tennessee to a national title in 1998 before capping his career with a 1,314-yard, 11-TD season in 2000. The Volunteers went 41-9 during Henry’s time on campus. He was a second-round pick of the Bills in 2001.
16. Felix Jones, Arkansas (2005-07)
Stats: 386 att., 2,956 yds, 20 TDs, 39 rec., 383 yds, 3 TDs, 1,760 ret. yds, 4 TDs
Few players have the resume that Jones has in just three seasons… as a back up. He posted back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons and scored 27 total times in his career. His 1,990 all-purpose yards in ’07 is good for 11th all-time in SEC history. He was a consensus All-American and a first-round pick while helping Arkansas to an SEC title game.
17. Rudi Johnson, Auburn (2000)
Stats: 324 att., 1,567 yds, 13 TDs, 9 rec., 70 yds
Johnson played just one season in the SEC after winning two straight junior college national championships. But it was a good one. No back carried the ball more (324) in any one BCS season in the SEC than Johnson did in 2000. His 1,567 yards that season are second only to Jackson’s 1,786 in school history. He was named SEC Player of the Year and finished 10th in the Heisman voting.
18. Travis Stephens, Tennessee (1997-01)
Stats: 488 att., 2,336 yds, 21 TDs, 27 rec., 200 yds, TD
After biding his time behind both Lewis and Henry, Stephens posted one of the great single seasons in Vols history in 2001. He ran for 1,464 yards and 10 touchdowns on 291 carries and single-handedly beat No. 2-ranked Florida to win the SEC East title.
19. Ben Tate, Auburn (2006-09)
Stats: 678 att., 3,321 yds, 24 TDs, 53 rec., 336 yds
A few years after the Williams-Brown tandem, Tate posted three quality seasons in Auburn with at least 159 carries. But his final year was his best as he posted career highs in carries (263), yards (1,362) and touchdowns (10) to go with 20 receptions.
20. Dexter McCluster, Ole Miss (2006-09)
Stats: 304 att., 1,955 yds, 15 TDs, 130 rec., 1,703 yds, 7 TDs, 431 ret. yds
He wasn’t really a running back or a wide receiver and that may hurt his perception, but few players were as difficult to stop as McCluster was in his final season. He posted 1,689 yards from scrimmage and 11 offensive touchdowns while leading Ole Miss to their second straight nine-win season. The across-the-board production makes him one of the SEC’s best.
Best of the rest:
21. Eddie Lacy, Alabama (2010-12): 355 att., 2,402 yds, 30 TDs, 35 rec., 338 yds, 2 TDs
22. Todd Gurley, Georgia (2012-pres.): 387 att., 2,374 yds, 27 TDs, 53 rec., 558 yds, 6 TDs, 243 ret. yds, TD
23. Joseph Addai, LSU (2001-05): 490 att., 2,576 yds, 18 TDs, 66 rec., 641 yds, 6 TDs
24. Henry Josey, Missouri (2010-13): 395 att., 2,771 yds, 30 TDs, 24 rec., 175 yds, TD
25. Arian Foster, Tennessee (2005-08): 650 att., 2,964 yds, 23 TDs, 83 rec., 742 yds, 2 TDs
26. Earnest Graham, Florida (1998-02): 609 att., 3,085 yds, 33 TDs, 59 rec., 402 yds
27. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama (2012-pres.): 382 att., 2,343 yds, 26 TDs, 31 rec., 314 yds, TD
28. Kenneth Darby, Alabama (2003-06): 702 att., 3,324 yds, 11 TDs, 70 rec., 340 yds, 2 TDs
29. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Ole Miss (2003-07): 920 att., 3,869 yds, 25 TDs, 39 rec., 316 yds, TD
30. Jeremy Hill, LSU (2012-13): 345 att., 2,156 yds, 28 TDs, 26 rec., 254 yds
31. Rafael Little, Kentucky (2004-07): 580 att., 2,996 yds, 16 TDs, 131 rec., 1,324 yds, 4 TDs, 1,023 ret. yds, 2 TDs
32. Jerious Norwood, Mississippi State (2002-05): 573 att., 3,222 yds, 15 TDs, 43 rec., 186 yds, 2 TDs, 313 ret. yds
33. Artose Pinner, Kentucky (1999-02): 438 att., 2,105 yds, 17 TDs, 58 rec., 407 yds, 2 TDs
34. Stevan Ridley, LSU (2008-10): 306 att., 1,419 yds, 19 TDs, 17 rec., 94 yds
35. Montario Hardesty, Tennessee (2005-09): 560 att., 2,391 yds, 26 TDs, 38 rec., 405 yds, TD
ORV: Cedric Cobbs, Knile Davis, Kenny Irons, Glen Coffee, Mike Davis, Thomas Brown, Cedric Houston