The start of the college football season is just over a month away, making now a good time to dive more into what teams in the Big 12 will look like in 2018.
We’ll do that here by looking at position groups and ranking them from best to worst. Next up, we move on to looking at how running back groups across the Big 12 compare.
The Sooners rank at the top of this list because of the amount of returning talent on the roster. Rodney Anderson, a Preseason All-Big 12 player, is a fast power back who could go in the second or third round of next year’s NFL Draft. With the exit of Baker Mayfield, the Sooners will turn to him to carry more of the offensive load and improve on last year’s 1,100 yards rushing.
Sophomore running back Trey Sermon might be faster than Anderson, making him equally dangerous. After having 744 yards rushing as a freshman, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Sermon making progress in 2018. Set to make his debut this season is Kennedy Brooks, a redshirt freshman who was a four star recruit coming out of high school and who has received some offseason buzz.
2. Iowa State
The Cyclones rank second on this list because of they have two All-Americans on their roster. David Montgomery, who might be the best running back in the Big 12, is a Pro Football Focus All-American and enters 2018 as a Preseason All-Big 12 selection. Montgomery has very impressive lower body strength and probably broke more tackles than any running back in the country last season.
Mike Warren, a 2015 Freshman All-American, has break away speed and ability to turn the corner, but hasn’t been impressive since his 1,300 yard freshman campaign. If he manages to find his groove again this year, he and Montgomery could make for a formidable duo.
3. Oklahoma State
The Pokes get a top spot here partly because of their depth, but mostly because of junior Justice Hill. Hill is a third year starter who Athlon ranked as the eleventh best running back in the country and who has run for over 2500 yards the last two seasons. He has an ability to make cuts that makes him one of the best in the conference.
There are other guys in the running back room as well – J.D. King came up just shy of 500 yards last season and sophomore Chuba Hubbard is a small but shifty back with breakaway speed. If one of those players were to have a particularly strong season, the Pokes could move into the top spot on this list.
The Horned Frogs are higher on this list because they might have the best one-two running back punch in the entire conference. Darius Anderson is a fast, fluid runner with good vision who could very well have gained 1,000 yards last season if he hadn’t been injured late in the year.
Sewo Olonilua is the 225-pound counterpunch who compliments the smaller Anderson. He’s agile for a big man and could be in for a good junior season. The third player in the lineup, Kenedy Snell, is somewhat small, but he has speed to burn.
5. Kansas State
The Wildcats had the best rushing offense in 2017 and they return 1,300 yards in their running back room this season. Alex Barnes is most likely the top talent there, but backups Justin Silmon and Dalvin Warmack are tough runners. The loss of fullback Winston Dimel certainly hurts this group – had he returned this year, Kansas State would be much higher up this list.
With a ton of experience returning along the offensive line, though, the running backs in Manhattan could certainly put up some big numbers collectively. Their lack of a proven NFL-type talent, however, is one reason why Kansas State is in the middle of this list.
6. West Virginia
Given what the Mountaineers lost last season, it’s hard to put this group of running backs in the top half of the conference. That doesn’t mean that the cupboard’s bare – juniors Martell Pettaway and Kennedy McCoy both have been productive in the West Virginia offense. McCoy, who averaged 4.8 yards per carry last season, is probably the projected starter.
Behind those two is redshirt freshman Alec Sinkfield, who’s received some buzz this offseason as a potential breakout candidate in the backfield. If he fulfills some of that potential, this could be a group that helps West Virginia get to the Big 12 championship.
Of all the teams on this list, the Bears could be the most underrated headed into the season. As a group, the returning trio of John Lovett, JaMycal Hasty, and Trestan Ebner rushed for just over 1,000 yards last season, a number that is difficult to square with great tailback play.
Nonetheless, there’s potential in this running back room. Ebner and Lovett were freshman last season, but respectively they averaged 5.3 and 4.5 yards per carry in 2017. Both have breakaway speed and Lovett, with a height of six feet flat and weighing in at 203 pounds, is not exactly small. Hasty is smaller, but probably the most elusive of the three.
The Longhorns struggled to find a consistent running game last season, averaging less than three yards per rush in six games in 2017. No running back amassed 400 yards, but true sophomore Daniel Young came the closest. Young is a between-the-tackles runner who could improve to get closer to 1,000 yards in 2018.
Without a standout, Texas still has players with breakout potential. Cal graduate transfer Tre Watson could grab a starting spot if he can stay healthy, and incoming freshman Keontay Ingram has received some hype as a four star prospect out of high school.
The Jayhawks return their top three rushers from last season, including Khalil Herbert. Herbert showed off high quality running ability while amassing almost 300 yards rushing against West Virginia last year, but never came close to that performance. He could be up for a 1,000-yard season if he improves.
Aside from Herbert, Kansas has Dom Williams and Taylor Martin returning, who should be experienced, reliable options at their position.
10. Texas Tech
Texas Tech would probably rank higher on this list were it not for their losses from a year ago. Because of graduation and transfers, only a third of last season’s rushing production returns. Da’Leon Ward is a redshirt sophomore who’s tough to tackle and could become a multi-year starter for the Red Raiders.
Outside of him and Trey King, however, this group is mostly unknown. They could well move up these rankings, but this group is somewhat unproven headed into the season.