When it comes to the running back position in college football, expect the unexpected. It’s remarkable to see that the top eight leading rushers from the 2013 season all left for greener pastures into the NFL. However, 2014’s crop of running backs, might be even better than last seasons. Simply put, most of the best running backs from 2013 had to return for another year.
We have some familiar names that should be on everybody’s watch list. There are also some freshman that will take the nation by storm from day one. The leading returning rusher is Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, and he finished the season with 1690 yards.
With the advent of the spread offense, running backs have become an afterthought during the winning process. However, when it comes to winning time, you’ll see the best teams have a dominant running game. Some teams do it by committee, while others use one or two big time studs.
In similar fashion to last year, the SEC has a plethora of quality running backs. The season turned out a bit disappointing for the sophomores, but after sustaining injuries, look for the same names to be vying for Heisman consideration.
Entering last season, T.J. Yeldon was battling Toddy Gurley for conference supremacy. While Yeldon was held out of games for various reasons, Gurley dealt with injuries, while carrying the Georgia Bulldogs, during limited playing time.
By the time we start the season, Yeldon may no longer be the starter for Alabama. Yet, he still will probably go for over 1000 yards. The emergence of Derrick Henry and breaking in a new quarterback at Alabama will put even more emphasis on the running game.
Hands down, the preseason freshman of the year has to be Leonard Fournette. His arrival can change the fortunes of LSU football immediately. He’s expected to be that good from the opening kick.
The explosive running back in college football may reside in Wisconsin. Melvin Gordon is a homerun threat from multiple positions. He will finally get his chance to start as the No.1 guy for the Badgers.
Leonard Fournette is touted to be the next great running back in college football. Did he run Jeremy Hill into the NFL? I wouldn’t be surprised to find Fournette playing some linebacker as the season went on too. He’s that good of a football player. Fournette has size and speed, now we’re just waiting to see him do it on the SEC level.
Here’s a list of some of the game’s greatest running backs in 2014
Jay Ajayi- Boise State
If you haven’t heard of Jay Ajayi, we think you should get acquainted with him ASAP. As a sophomore, Ajayi rushed for 1425 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also averaged 10 yards per catch. With a new coach, if Boise State gets back to prominence, it will be because of Jay Ajayi.
Ameer Abdullah- Nebraska
Ameer Abdullah is a special player and person. There’s no doubt he was close to entering the NFL Draft, but decided to finish out his career and graduate at Nebraska. He’s the Keynote speaker for the Big 10 meetings, and 1800 yards may be a possibility. Can he break double digit touchdown runs in 2014?
Melvin Gordon- Wisconsin
Melvin Gordon averaged 7.8 yards per carry, while scoring 12 touchdowns. He’s the type of player that can put up 20+ touchdowns in a season. I wouldn’t bet against him either. Gordon’s speed and elusiveness is on par with any player in college football.
Todd Gurley- Georgia
If you say Gurley isn’t the best running back in the country, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone that’s better. Even when Gurley is hobbled by an assortment of injuries, he is a beast on the field. His combination of size and speed provides relentless pressure on opposing defenses. Gurley has 33 touchdowns in two seasons as the Bulldogs starter.
Derrick Henry- Alabama
Derrick Henry played in nine games but only had 35 carries on the season. On the surface, it doesn’t look extremely impressive. He only had four total touchdowns and one catch. However, that catch went for a 61 yard TD, and Henry averaged 10.9 yards per carry. There’s an abundance of evidence that Derrick Henry is scary good.
Alex Collins- Arkansas
Alex Collins had four total touchdowns as a freshman for Arkansas. They largely went unnoticed due to the Razorbacks’ sub par record. He has to be one of the best players on the field if Arkansas is ready to challenge in the SEC West. How about this for some pressure. Collins is capable of going for 1800 yards this season. Will he reach that bench mark?
Duke Johnson- Miami
Duke Johnson was flying through the season until he tore an ACL against Florida State. In eight games, Johnson rushed for 920 yards and six touchdowns. His talent flashes on the field. Hopefully Duke Johnson will be at full strength when the season commences.
Shock Linwood- Baylor
Shock Linwood was one of Baylor’s underappreciated skill position players. In spot duty, Linwood amassed 881 yards on 128 yards. Linwood had back to back 180+ yard games when he became the main back due to injury. Let’s see where he can take it with more playing time.
Johnathan Gray- Texas
Johnathan Gray ran for 780 yards with 4.9 yards per carry. He only scored four touchdowns before he missed the final month of the season. Gray will be heavily relied on by Charlie Strong and the new Texas coaching staff.
Keith Marshall- Georgia
Keith Marshall was ready to duplicate a solid season in 2013, before he was lost to an ACL injury. Early in the season, the Bulldogs used Marshall as a receiving threat. He be back as part of Georgia’s 1-2 punch. There are also plenty of running backs that have talent willing to be the back up. Can Marshall maintain his role?
Thomas Tyner- Oregon
Thomas Tyner is a threat in the running game as well as the passing game. Tyner ran for 711 yards and nine touchdowns during his freshman season. He also averaged 6.2 yards per carry. Still, Tyner may be the back up running back in 2014.
Karlos Williams- Florida State
Karlos Williams is one of the least experienced running backs in college football. Yet, that won’t stop him from becoming a Heisman sleeper in 2014. The Florida State running back scored 11 touchdowns on 91 carries. Williams is going from the back up to a super star in a hurry.
Venric Mark- Northwestern
Venric Mark’s senior year was marred by injury. However, the NCAA granted him a fifth season of eligibility. In his last full season, Mark ran for 1366 yards and 12 touchdowns. Northwestern missed his presence in 2013. Can he bring that spark back to the Wildcats?
Keith Ford- Oklahoma
Keith Ford will be a sleeper for the Oklahoma Sooners this season. During his short stint as a freshman, Ford averaged 5.8 yards per carry. He’ll be ready to take on a large workload as the season moves along.
Byron Marshall- Oregon
Byron Marshall became the go to back in 2013. He ran for 1038 yards and 14 touchdowns on 168 carries. Yet, Marshall on amassed 50 yards total in Oregon’s two losses. In fact, his final four games were all below 70 yards rushing.
T.J. Yeldon- Alabama
T.J. Yeldon’s numbers were slightly down as a starter for Alabama in his sophomore season. However, he still managed to have an impressive campaign. One thing he must be better at is ball security. With the running backs on his roster, there’s no way he’ll approach 2000 yards, but he may climb into the 1500 plus if all goes well.