Can Rutgers' Savon Huggins finally have a breakout season?
The Big East doesn’t have many household names returning at running back for 2013.
Houston’s Charles Sims is one of the best all-around backs in college football and leads the way for the Big East in 2013. Joining Sims atop the rankings is UCF’s Storm Johnson, Connecticut’s Lyle McCombs and Rutgers’ Savon Huggins. McCombs had a disappointing 2012 season but should top 1,000 yards in 2013.
After the top four, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding this group of rushers. However, Louisville has two talented options in Dominique Brown and Senorise Perry, and SMU has an intriguing junior college recruit in Traylon Shead.
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.
Big East Running Back Rankings for 2013
1. Charles Sims, Houston (SR)
Sims only had 142 carries in 2012, but he certainly made the most of his opportunities. Against UAB, he recorded 133 yards on 26 attempts and posted a season best of 210 yards against North Texas in early October. Sims is a key receiver for Houston out of the backfield, catching 37 passes for 373 yards and three scores last year. For his career, the Houston native is averaging 6.2 yards per carry and has scored 37 times. Don’t expect Sims to have 250 rushes in 2013, but he should easily exceed last year’s 142 attempts and is the Big East’s top all-purpose back.
2. Lyle McCombs, Connecticut (JR)
It hasn’t taken long for fans in Storrs to appreciate the tiny runner from Staten Island (N.Y.) St. Joseph. He rushed for 1,151 yards as a freshman in 2011 and posted 860 yards last fall as a sophomore. He has reached paydirt 14 times in his career and has proven to be an excellent receiver (43 career receptions). With a little help from the passing game, McCombs should return to the 1,000-yard club in 2013.
3. Storm Johnson, UCF (JR)
After a one-year stint at Miami, Johnson transferred to UCF and sat out the 2011 season due to transfer rules. Even with a crowded backfield last year, Johnson managed to work his way into the lineup, recording 507 yards and four touchdowns on 113 attempts. With Latavius Murray out of eligibility, the Knights will turn to Johnson as the team’s feature back. As one of the top running backs in the nation in the 2011 signing class, the talent is there for Johnson to be a 1,000-yard rusher this year. Expect Johnson to be one of the Big East’s leading rushers at the end of 2013.
4. Savon Huggins, Rutgers (JR)
Few players have ever started their career at Rutgers with more hype than the five-star recruit from Jackson (N.J.) St. Peter’s Prep. His career began as fans had hoped, with two touchdowns in his first game. However, his true freshman season was cut short with injury and his sophomore year saw Jawan Jamison take the reigns of the offense. Still, Huggins showed improvement last year and is poised to become the next in a line of quality Scarlet Knights running backs.
5. Senorise Perry, Louisville (JR)
Before a torn ACL ended his 2012 season in early November, Perry was on track to lead Louisville in rushing yards. The Georgia native recorded three 100-yard efforts, including 118 against Southern Miss and 108 against Kentucky. Perry posted 101 yards and four touchdowns on 12 attempts against Pittsburgh and rushed for 86 yards against North Carolina. Assuming Perry is at full strength, he should be Louisville’s No. 1 back in 2013. However, Dominique Brown is expected to see his share of carries, which makes Louisville’s backfield a likely 50-50 split in terms of overall yards and touches.
6. Dominique Brown, Louisville (JR)
Brown committed to Louisville as a quarterback but was shifted to running back after he arrived on campus. The Cincinnati native sat out 2012 as a redshirt, giving him two more years of eligibility. In 2011, he rushed for 533 yards and four scores, while catching 16 passes for 98 yards and one touchdown. With Jeremy Wright leaving the team after the Sugar Bowl victory over Florida, Brown and Senorise Perry will be charged with carrying the rushing attack. Brown is still looking for his first 100-yard game but that should come with more opportunities in 2013.
7. Ralph David Abernathy IV, Cincinnati (JR)
Isaiah Pead gave way to George Winn who will give way to RDA-4. The speedster from Atlanta (Ga.) Westminster has big-play potential every time he touches the ball. He rushed for over five yards per carry, caught 28 passes and four touchdowns through the air and averaged 25 yards per kickoff return (32 returns., 801 yards). He has the skill to be extremely effective but can his 5-foot-7, 160-pound frame withstand the pro-style beating Tommy Tuberville’s new offense might ask of its running backs?
8. Marcus Shaw, USF (SR)
The senior from Arcadia (Fla.) De Soto has played in a lot of games for the Bulls (28 career games) but hasn’t gotten the chance to showcase his skills (three career starts). The 5-foot-9, 180-pounder came on late last fall getting double-digit carries against quality competition (Cincinnati, Miami, UConn). Look for new coach Willie Tagart — who got the most out of smaller backs at Western Kentucky — to find a way to use Shaw effectively.
9. Traylon Shead, SMU (JR)
Zach Line expired his eligibility after the Hawaii Bowl, leaving SMU without a No. 1 back for 2013. Rishaad Wimbley and Jared Williams have experience, but the Mustangs hope Shead is the answer for the rushing attack. The former Texas Longhorn transferred to SMU after a year at Navarro (Texas) College and should be the new go-to back for SMU in 2013. In his one season on the junior college level, Shead rushed for 1,194 yards and 17 touchdowns.
10. Brandon Hayes, Memphis (SR)
The former junior college transfer didn’t get into a game until Week 4 last year, but Hayes was effective once he took over. He posted 576 yards and six touchdowns while topping 100 yards in the season’s final two games.
11. Kenneth Farrow, Houston (SO)
In his first season on a college field, the 215-pound tailback from Hurst (Texas) L.D. Bell showed fans a glimpse of the future as a freshman. Farrow should only build on his 631 yards from scrimmage in 2013.
12. Jai Steib, Memphis (SR)
Steib matched Hayes' six rushing touchdowns a year ago for the team lead. Yet, on one more carry in three more games, Steib finished 149 yards behind Hayes in production. Look for both to get plenty of looks in 2013.
13. Kenneth Harper, Temple (JR)
With Montel Harris and Matt Brown out of eligibility, Temple is essentially starting over in the backfield. Harper is a slight favorite over Jamie Gilmore to begin the year as the Owls’ No. 1 back. He rushed for 65 yards and two scores on 13 attempts last season and has only 193 yards and three rushing touchdowns in his career.
14. Jamie Gilmore, Temple (SO)
Gilmore is competing with Kenneth Harper and incoming freshman Zaire Williams for the starting running back spot. As a true freshman last year, Gilmore rushed for 94 yards on 20 attempts, with his best performance coming against Army (49 yards).
15. Tion Green, Cincinnati (SO)
The mid-level recruit from Sanford (Fla.) Lake Brantley saw limited action as a freshman last season but has the perfect build (6-foot, 211 pounds) to complement potential starter Ralph David Abernathy IV.
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