With Big 12 Media Days wrapped up, the beginning of the 2019 season is just around the corner. To get a better understanding of what those ten conference teams will look like in the coming months, we’ve been looking at position groups across the conference and ranking them from best to worst.
These rankings take into account as yet unseen potential, but tend to rely heavily on the proven production of seasons past. Continuing to move forward with the offensive units, we turn next to the running backs and fullbacks.
The running back rankings seriously weigh depth, probably more so than with other position groups. Running backs are exposed to the risk of injury with more regularity than probably any other offensive position, and it’s not uncommon for most backs to miss a little game time with even the most minor dings.
As of now, there’s not a lot of difference between the teams in the middle of this list, and there could very well be a breakout star among them that surprises in the Big 12 this coming fall.
It always feels like the Sooners have a future NFL running back on the roster, and 2019 certainly falls into that category. Oklahoma brings back one of the top rushers in the Big 12 from a year ago in Kennedy Brooks, who averaged 8.9 yards per carry last season.
Junior Trey Sermon is more of a between-the-tackles runner than the shifty Brooks, but he almost became another of Oklahoma’s 1,000 yard rushers in 2018 with 947 total yards. Sermon and Brooks constitute one of the best running back combos in the nation, but they’re backed up by the highly touted T.J. Pledger, who averaged six yards a carry as a freshman.
2. West Virginia
After a year in which the Mountaineers averaged 161 yards per game rushing, new head coach Neal Brown brings back depth with his ball carriers. All three of last season’s top rushers, who racked up over 1,800 yards combined, are back. Both Martell Pettaway and Kennedy McKoy averaged 5.5 yards per carry or more last season, and first year player Leddie Brown wasn’t far behind at 4.9 yards.
For a West Virginia team dealing with significant attrition at multiple spots, having such strong depth at this position will be something they can lean on in Neal Brown’s inaugural season.
For all of the potential holes that Les Miles might have to fill in his initial roster with the Jayhawks, Kansas is set at running back. Sophomore Pooka Williams will make a controversial return to the field in 2019, but he’ll do so as arguably the best running back in the Big 12.
Williams ran for 1,125 yards as a freshman, more than any other returning back in the Big 12. Khalil Herbert, a senior, only managed 499 yards, but has shown himself capable of big plays as well. If Miles runs the ball at Kansas like he did at LSU, expect even junior Dom Williams to get into the mix and improve upon his 55 carries from 2018.
As a collective, Baylor’s running backs were key to helping the team progress in Matt Rhule’s second year. They’ve got experience galore at the position, with the three-headed monster of JaMycal Hasty, John Lovett, and Trestan Ebner having all toted the rock for at least 5.3 yards per carry.
Granted, there may not be a 1,000 yard back among that trio, but the Bears get a higher spot on this list because of the depth they retain. It might be difficult, in fact, for Baylor to get all three players as many touches as their skills merit, a reason why Rhule briefly experimented with Lovett at defensive back.
5. Oklahoma State
Despite losing an All-Big 12 running back from 2018, the Pokes should get ample production out of sophomore Chuba Hubbard, who had 740 yards last season. Hubbard is definitely talented, something he showcased in limited snaps last year, and an all-conference type of year wouldn’t be unexpected for him.
Backup LD Brown ought to provide solid relief, but there’s not a lot of proven depth after some attrition from last season. They’ve of course recruited well in Stillwater, and it will be interesting to see who steps up in 2019.
On paper, the Longhorns should have one of the top running back groups in the country. They’ve recruited well there, but none of the backs have yet had a banner year. Keaontay Ingram definitely had a good year in 2018 as a true freshman, and he’s capable of adding onto his inaugural 708 yards now as the starter.
Bakcup Daniel Young is more of a power runner who can improve his ball security, and there’s plenty of buzz around true freshman Jordan Whittington, who is one of the best all-around athletes in the locker room for Texas.
Making an assessment of the Horned Frogs running back room is currently made difficult by the pending drug charges against senior Sewo Olonilua, who nearly doubled his 2017 production by racking up 635 yards on the ground.
Of course, the smaller – but more fleet of foot – Darius Anderson is the home run threat for TCU. Despite having averaged 5.7 yards per carry over the course of his career, however, Anderson has yet to hit 1,000 yards. Injuries have played a part in that, and if Anderson misses game time, TCU will likely turn to junior Emari Demercardo, who posted 224 yards total last season.
8. Texas Tech
On the ground, the Red Raiders weren’t particularly productive with their running backs in 2018, something that Matt Wells certainly will hope to improve come fall. The team’s leading returner, sophomore Ta’Zhawn Henry, could certainly bring up his 4.0 yards per carry from last season.
Outside of Henry, though, it’s hard to find much depth. Texas Tech did bring in grad transfer Armand Shyne, who ran for 512 yards and five touchdowns last year at Utah, but the Red Raiders nonetheless project to be a little thin on proven depth to start the 2019 campaign.
9. Iowa State
Of the few positions at which Iowa State has to reload, running back present the biggest challenge. This group enters the 2019 season with no ball carriers who gained over 200 yards rushing last year. The closest was junior Kene Nwangwu, who put up 168 a year ago.
Nwangwu is competing for the starting job with veteran ball carriers Sheldon Croney and Johnnie Lang, but there could be breakout stars among a couple of true freshmen as well. It’s conceivable that there’s a 1,000 yard rusher on the roster right now, but it’s difficult to put the Cyclones too high on the list during the preseason.
10. Kansas State
Even though he’s taking over a program that traditionally loves the power running game, Chris Klieman took over a Kansas State program with a major hole at running back. Practically any back with experience carrying the ball is gone.
Not surprisingly, Klieman hit the graduate transfer market. He brought in graduate transfer James Gilbert, an all-conference player from Ball State who averaged 4.3 yards a carry in 2018. Jordan Brown, another transfer, put up over 600 yards on the ground as a sophomore at North Carolina.
Fullback Adam Harter should be solid as a part of a physical Klieman offense, but given the lack of obvious headliners, overall this projects as one of the weaker position groups for the Wildcats come fall.
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