Now that we’re into the month of July it’s time to start our Big 12 position breakdowns. Each of the Heartland Sports writers give their take on a specific position, ranking them from first to worst. Each writer is asked to defend their top three and bottom two rankings.
The consensus rankings come from a points system. A first place selection is worth 10 points, second place is 9 points, and they continue in descending order with tenth place equaling 1 point.
The Big 12 has long been known as a conference for top-notch quarterbacks, but the tide may turn a bit this year in favor of the running backs. The conference features some of the best backfields in the country and they’ll no doubt play a role in who lands in the Big 12 championship game on December 1st.
|Heartland Sports Consensus Running Back Rankings|
|2 Oklahoma State||37|
|3. Iowa State||31|
|5. Kansas State||24|
|T6. West Virginia||16|
|9. Texas Tech||9|
1. Oklahoma State: Justice Hill returns for his third year with the Cowboys as the Big 12’s leading rusher in both yards and touchdowns, and he is one of the nation’s best on the ground. J.D. King and La’Darren Brown both looked good in limited time as freshman, so they will serve as solid backups to Hill, as well.
2. Oklahoma: Junior Rodney Anderson finished second in the Big 12 in rushing yards and touchdowns, and he is primed to receive even more touches this season after the departure of Abdul Adams. Trey Sermon had an impressive debut season, and he will see his share of play time behind Anderson.
3. TCU: After going down with an injury midway through the game against the Sooners, Darius Anderson missed the final four games of the season. Regardless, Anderson finished seventh in the Big 12 in rushing yards, fifth in touchdowns, and fourth in yards per carry. Now that Kyle Hicks has graduated, Anderson will be the feature back, and with the inexperienced Shawn Robinson at quarterback, Anderson should get plenty of touches early in the season.
4. Iowa State
5. Kansas State
7. Texas Tech
8. West Virginia
9. Baylor: The Bears ranked dead last in rushing touchdowns in the Big 12 a season ago, and they finished ninth in rushing yards. John Lovett led Baylor in rushing yards as a freshman, but he only racked up 445 yards and five touchdowns.
10. Texas: The Longhorns had a poor rushing attack a season ago. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger led them in rushing yards with 385, and it took their next four highest rushers just to break a thousand yards. Texas will rely heavily on the defense this year, and their offense is not going to threaten much on the ground outside of Ehlinger.
1. Oklahoma: Undeniably, Rodney Anderson headlines a group of talented running backs across the league. Eclipsing the 1,000 yard mark despite starting seven games last season bodes well for the Sooner backfield. However, OU also possesses Trey Sermon who provides a change of pace. Expect big strides from the now sophomore entering a second collegiate season. The tandem puts this group at the top of the rankings.
2. Oklahoma State: Possibly the most explosive player in the league, Justice Hill led the conference in rushing yards. Losing an elite passer and two top notch receivers, the back should carry more of the load this upcoming season. J.D. King is primed for the backup role but the rest of the equation remains an unknown. How does Hubbard factor in this year?
3. Iowa State: Consistency is the name of the game when it comes to David Montgomery. The weak point has been the offensive line though. Touting an improved front, Montgomery should prove capable of increasing the productivity. By the middle of the season, expect Montgomery to cement himself in the Big 12 Player of the Year conversation barring an injury.
7. West Virginia
8. Texas Tech
9. Baylor: Last season, the Bears leading rusher amassed a mere 445 yards on the ground. Now John Lovett must compete with two others for the starting role. At this point in time, the job is up for grabs. Yet, the three contrasting styles of the backs give Baylor options.
10. Texas: The odds on favorite to win the starting role is sophomore Daniel Young. With a bit of growing pains left in the system, the Longhorns look to avoid major mishaps. Without a clear cut starter, it’s difficult to label the situation anything but a project.
1. Oklahoma: The Sooners will have the deadliest running back duo in the conference with Rodney Anderson and Trey Sermon. Anderson was the best back in the country for the last half of the season a year ago. If he picks up where he left off, there’s no telling where he might lead the Sooners. As for Sermon, he’s got the body size to be the bull dozer in short yardage situations. Together these guys will be hard to stop in the backfield.
2. Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State will look to Justice Hill to lead the offense in 2018. Without a proven quarterback, Hill will be the work horse of this offense. That being said, he’s going to need some help from other areas on offense to open up the run game. If the Cowboys have a well balanced offense, I expect a big season from Hill.
3. Iowa State: The Cyclones will be led in the backfield by David Montgomery. Montgomery rushed for nearly 1,200 yards last season as a sophomore. Coming back a year older and a year stronger, this kid is going to be on some highlight reels. The question is whether or not he is ready to lead this Iowa State offense.
5. Kansas State
6. West Virginia
9. Kansas: Kansas is in my bottom two, but not for lack of talent. Khalil Herbert is extremely talented, but he needs an offensive line. That is exactly what he is missing in order to be successful. He rushed for 600 yards last season in one eight games. If he can stay healthy and play for an entire season, he may give the Jayhawks a chance to win a game or two.
10. Texas Tech: Once again the Red Raiders come in last in my rankings. Noticing a trend here? There’s not a lot going in the right direction in Lubbock right now. As for a running back, Desmond Nisby looks like the guy for Tech. It will be interesting to see what kind of production Texas Tech gets out of their backfield this season.
1. Oklahoma: It looks like the choices for the top spot here come down between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State (Don’t sleep on Iowa State though). The Sooners are going to get the nod here for two reasons. #1 Depth. #2 Rodney Anderson.
A deep stable of backs has become a staple of Oklahoma football and 2018 won’t be any different. Anderson was a late bloomer last season but once he got going he was as impressive as any back in the conference. When you consider that he didn’t get to double-digit carries until the Texas game (October 14th) that makes his 1,161 rushing yards, and 6.2 yards per carry average, even more impressive.
Trey Sermon is a multi-threat back who can run, catch, and even take snaps in the Wildcat Formation. He’s looking to take a step forward from an impressive freshman campaign. Redshirt freshman Kennedy Brooks was a 4-star recruit who really stood out in OU’s spring game. Abdul Adams’ loss will be his gain.
2. Oklahoma State: OK, no cheating here. OSU’s running backs are Justice Hill and…? If you answered J.D. King or Chuba Hubbard then pat yourself on the back. Hill is a phenomenal running back, and could pace the conference this season, but King will have to overcome ball security issues that plagued him last season.
Hubbard has breakaway speed but no experience just yet. He could move to #2 on the depth-chart quickly, especially if King’s fumble issues continue.
3. Iowa State: The Cyclones could make a legitimate claim for the #2 spot here. I truly believe that David Montgomery might be the best running back in the Big 12. The problem for ISU is what the Cyclones have to offer after Montgomery.
Mike Warren has great potential but he practically disappeared after posting a 1,300 yard freshman season in 2015.
4. Kansas State
7. West Virginia
9. Texas: There’s got to be some talent here, right? I mean, after all, this is Texas we’re talking about here. The problem is that the Longhorns just aren’t proven at the running back position. Daniel Young will enter the season as their best option in the backfield but it’s safe to expect Cal graduate transfer Tre Watson to push for RB1 status as well.
10. Texas Tech: If you’ve been following our preseason position rankings then you pretty much know that we’re predicting doom and gloom for the Red Raiders this season. The truth is, we just don’t know what’s there. It could end up being alright, but it could very easily end up being all bad out in Lubbock.
Da’Leon Ward and Trey King are going to try to make sure that it’s the former, rather than the latter, in 2018.