As we continue through the preseason offensive rankings for the Big 12 we come to the running backs position and once again we’ve got a unanimous selection. Our consensus is that the West Virginia Mountaineer will enter the 2017 season with the top corps of running backs, and while they may be the unanimous choice there isn’t a lot that separates them from the next three on the list.
The points system was based on value of the vote. For example, a first-place vote was worth 10 points, second-place 9, third 8, and so on. Below the rankings is how our staff voted and some of their logic in doing so.
|Consensus Preseason RB Rankings|
West Virginia has the best group of backs in the Big 12. Justin Crawford is the Big 12’s leading returning rusher. He rushed for 1,184 yards last season. Backed up by several young guys, the Mountaineers will be hard to stop on the ground.
Kyle Hicks is the most versatile back in the conference. His ability to not only run the ball, but to also be a receiving threat makes him very dangerous. Also returning for the Horned Frogs is Shaun Nixon. These two guys will be giving defenses trouble all season.
Baylor is returning two young guys who rushed for nearly 2,000 yards last season. Surrounded by a high power offense, Terence Williams and JaMycal Hasty are primed for success.
The Red Raiders are returning Da’Leon Ward, who had a decent freshman season. The problem is, Texas Tech simply doesn’t implement the run game enough. Last season, they averaged only 78 rushing yards per game between the three backs, which puts them near the bottom of the list.
The Jayhawks landed some pretty impressive JUCO transfers this summer, but they will struggle to find room to run without an offensive line. Kansas doesn’t have the surrounding cast in order to let their backs flourish.
The Big 12 lost the top three leading rushers from last season (D’Onta Foreman, Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine) to the NFL which makes West Virginia’s Justin Crawford the league’s returning leading rusher. Crawford averaged conference best 7.3 yards per carry in 2016 on his way to nearly 1,200 yards on the ground. He’ll be relied on heavily to start 2017 as Dana Holgorsen retools the passing game.
Maybe a bit of a homer pick here (gotta show state pride right) but Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill was phenomenal as a freshman last season (5.5 YPC/1,142 yards) and will have a future NFL first round quarterback handing the ball to him. With the attention that O-State’s passing game is going to draw I expecting Hill to have a monster season.
Unlike Justice Hill, Baylor’s Terence Williams is going to be the focal point of opposing defenses. That’s why I have him at third instead of second. He’ll get the touches for sure but there will also be eleven sets of eyes on him every snap that he’s on the field. If he leads the conference in rushing then he deserves a trip to New York City in December.
At the bottom of the list, I’ve got Kansas and Texas Tech. They Jayhawks landed JUCO running back Octavius Matthews and 4-star freshman Dom Williams from Frisco, TX. Still though, this is Kansas and we’re not talking basketball.
I’ve got Texas Tech at the bottom, not because of talent but because of philosophy. The two things that Kliff Kingsbury has yet to figure out in Lubbock are how to use running backs and how to play defense. If that trend continues then 2017 will most likely be his final year on the plains.
Heading into the season, the Mountaineers appear to have the best crop of running backs. However things may continue to reshuffle themselves once the season begins. The success of the running attack always relies on the ability to spread the field with the pass attack. Even more so, a dominant front line leads to consistent yardage on the ground.
Behind them, I think Baylor has the best one two punch with Terrence Williams and Jamycal Hasty. Yet, I think it’s impossible to overlook Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill based on skill set alone.
Shaking things up, Hill lit up the Big 12 consistently with top notch speed. While some may disagree with them being in the top three, it’s an easy placement for myself. If the Cowboys find a bit of help in the backfield, this group could jump up the ladder.
As far as the bottom two are concerned, Kansas has quite a bit to look forward to since netting the No 1 JUCO RB. But, the product on the field has yet to be seen.
Following suit, Tech relies heavy on the ability of the quarterback which takes much of the need of the RB out of the equation. I don’t expect a better number than last year from this squad.
West Virginia is stacked at running back as they return Justin Crawford, who averaged 7.3 yards per carry a year ago, and youngsters Kennedy McCoy and Martell Pettaway. While splitting carries is rarely an ideal situation, the Mountaineers have talent all around, so they should have little trouble finding success on the ground.
Baylor’s backfield is one of the few bright spots for the Bears. Terence Williams racked up over a thousand yards rushing and eleven touchdowns a year ago and is the returning starter, but sophomore JaMycal Hasty will see his share of playtime. Last year as a freshman, Hasty put up just over 600 yards to go along with three touchdowns. Baylor is thin at the receiver position, and with questions surrounding quarterback Anu Solomon, the Bears will rely heavily on their running game.
TCU’s best kept secret (up until now) has been running back Kyle Hicks. Hicks was sixth in the Big 12 in all-purpose yardage last season as he rushed for over a thousand yards while also tacking on over 400 receiving yards. The Horned Frogs will also look to sophomores Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua, along with Shaun Nixon, to pick up carries after Hicks.
Kansas lives at the bottom of the Big 12 in most categories, so it make sense for them to lock in at number 9 as far as their running game goes. Simply put, they have finished at or near the bottom for the last several years when it comes to rushing statistics, and they will likely repeat this season.
Texas Tech falls to the very bottom of the pack in terms of rushing because they really do not even try to run the ball anyway. The Red Raiders are known for their pass happy offense, and that is not likely to change any time soon.
|Heartland’s 2017 BIG 12 Preseason RB Rankings|
|West Virginia||West Virginia||West Virginia||West Virginia|
|Oklahoma State||TCU||TCU||Oklahoma State|
|Kansas State||Oklahoma||Kansas State||Kansas State|
|Iowa State||Iowa State||Iowa State||Iowa State|
|Kansas||Texas Tech||Texas Tech||Texas Tech|