Last year was a big year for Big 12 running backs. But this year, Kendall Hunter, Demarco Murray and Daniel Thomas are gone to the NFL leaving just one of the leagues top 11 rushers returning. For the most part, everyone is starting from scratch. Only a handful of schools come in to this season with the luxury of an established back.
Let's take a look at the Big 12's 2011 Running Back situation.
Texas coach Mack Brown with look to true freshman Malcolm Brown to improve on the awfulness that has become the Texas running game. The Longhorn's last decent running back was Jamaal Charles, who in 2007 rushed for 1600 yards. Since then, the Horns have been led by Colt McCoy!!!!, Tre Newton and Cody Johnson. Not exactly Earl Campbell or Ricky Williams quality. Brown is rated the #2 running back by ESPN Scouts Inc and will likely be the kind of back the Longhorns need to carry the rock 20-25 times a game, and save them from another piss poor year at RB.
Cyrus Gray returns as the only Big 12 player who rushed for more than 750 yards last season. If that doesn't underscore the newness of this bunch, nothing does. Most of Gray's yards however, came when he was called to fill in for the injured Christine Michael who is back from a broken leg this year. There is a reason Christie Michael was the lead dog before he got injured last season. He had 630 yards through 8 games and that my friends, makes the Aggie backfield scarier than their cultish marroon car driving class ring wearing fans.
Eric Stephens returns to lead the Red Raiders at tailback with the departure of long time running back Baron Batch. I remember when we played Tech last year, I was hoping that Batch would get most of the carries. Stephens is a better back, and it looks like the time is now for him. There are also some freshman and sophomores that could play quite a bit. Bottom line here is that Stephens will likely be the lead dog in a crowded backfield. Something to watch if you're a Tech fan.
If you read any of my Running Back Rankings from last year, you know I can't stand the Missouri running game. At the end of the year, not a single Missouri running back had more than 100 carries. Disgusting. Looking at it objectively though, it might have worked. The group as a whole finished with 1500 yards and 19 touchdowns. De'Vion Moore and Henry Josey are the closest things that resembles a leader. It will change each week though and in my opinion is still dumb.
The OU running game is unsettled right now. Pre Season All Big 12 Roy Finch looks to lead the way but he's not even listed on the depth chart right now. He dealt with injuries most of last season so he'll have to stay healthy to live up to any of the hype. Behind Finch (or ahead I suppose) are Brennan Clay and Jonathan Miller. Can you say co mit eee? Either way, there's a lot of young talen here and the Sooners will be solid. They always are.
Replacing a guy like Kendall Hunter is never easy, but the Cowboys should be fine. Leading the way is Joseph Randle, who was as good of a pass catching back as anyone last year. I think he'll be a lot like Demarco Murray was last year, catching passes and controlling the tempo of the game. Jeremy Smith joins him in the backfield to add power between the tackles in what could easily be the best Running Back duo in the Big 12 when it's all said and done. The Cowboys will also look to freshman Herschel Sims who by all accounts is a stud. Yes, I am a homer.
Just when things started rolling for the Baylor running game, Jay "The Man" Finely had to leave. Such is life...The Bears will look at Terrance Gannaway, Jarred Salubi and Glasco Martin to pick up where Finley left off. I'm rooting for Glasco Martin. Solid name.
James Sims was just about the only positive thing related to Kansas Football last season, and that's saying something. He was a streaky back, looking great one day and horrible the next. 4 of his 9 touchdowns on the season came against Colorado. Missouri High School phenom Darrian Miller comes in with big expectations. It shoudln't take much to unseat Sims.
Another new face that could be big news in Kansas State's Bryce Brown. Brown was an elite recruit that originally committed to Tennessee. He came in with big expectations, and showed signs of brilliance as a freshman (500 yards on 100 carries) With Kiffin bolting for USC, Brown made the decision to transfer to the little apple. They've had a lot of really good running backs, and this looks to be another.
Shontrelle Johnson looks to fill the shoes of ARob, the 4th leading rusher in Iowa State History. See, we still report more on ISU Football than anyone else.