It’s that time again! The summer months are upon us and our favorite way to pass the time is by speculating on how specific positions will shape up in the Big 12. The Heartland Sports writers give their take on a specific position, ranking them from first to worst. Then they are 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.
|Heartland Sports Consensus Running Back Rankings|
|2. Oklahoma State||40|
|3. West Virginia||38|
|8. Texas Tech||13|
|9. Iowa State||9|
|9. Kansas State||9|
1. Oklahoma | The Sooners will be loaded in the backfield with Kennedy Brooks and Trey Sermon. Brooks averaged 8.9 yards per carry a season ago, and Sermon rushed for nearly 1,000 yards.
As if that duo isn’t scary enough, they will be backed up by T.J. Pledger who rushed for 6 yards per carry as a freshman. The Sooners will have a nice backfield to compliment Jalen Hurts.West Virginia
2. West Virginia | The Mountaineers have a very strong case to be ranked at the top of this poll. They are returning all three of their top rushers from last season. Martell Pettaway, Kennedy McKoy, and Leddie Brown rushed for a combined 1,800 yards a year ago. There are a ton of questions about West Virginia’s offense right now, so it’s safe to say the rushing game a major focus for the Mountaineers. <
3. Oklahoma State | I’ve probably got the Pokes ranked a little higher than most people. That’s because I’m really high on Chuba Hubbard. He rushed for 740 yards as a freshman, and that was playing behind an All-Big 12 running back. As the starter, Hubbard is primed to be one of college footballs 1,000 yard rushers in 2019. If the Pokes can find a guy to serve as a back up, they could have a solid rushing crew.
8. Texas Tech
9. Iowa State | The Cyclones have had one of the better rushing offenses in the Big 12 in recent years. They’ve got to reload at a ton of positions, and running backs is one of them. They do not have a single guy returning who rushed for more than 200 yards last season. They’ve got a ton of potential talent in guys like Kene Nwangwu, and Sheldon Croney. However, without any proven results it’s hard not to rank them at the bottom.
10. Kansas State | The Wildcats had a major hole in their offense at the running position so they went to the graduate transfer market. Kansas State landed James Gilbert who averaged 4.3 yards per carry at Ball State. They also landed Jordan Brown who rushed for 600 yards as a sophomore at North Carolina.
While those two guys certainly put them in a better position than before, the Wildcats still don’t have a ton of talent in the backfield.
1. Oklahoma – Continuously churning running backs into the NFL, the Oklahoma Sooners hold the top spot in the conference rankings at the position. With Kennedy Brooks in the backfield averaging 8.9 yards per carry, the program holds a feature back. However, depth is not a concern as Trey Sermon racked up 947 yards of his own on the ground last season and T.J Pledger waiting in the wings among others.
2. Kansas – Identified as a building block under the new regime, Pooka Williams may be the best individual running back in the league. As a freshman the back tallied 1,125 yards on the ground and will once again be relied upon. Without the depth of some other programs, the Jayhawks fail to claim the top spot in this set of rankings.
3. West Virginia – The Mountaineers return the three top rushers from a year ago which includes Martell Pettway and Kennedy McCoy. Averaging 161 rushing yard per game in 2018, the program will likely utilize the depth at the position while breaking in a new quarterback. The numbers on the ground could easily increase. But, without an absolute star in the backfield, I’ve slotted WVU at number three.
4. Oklahoma State
7. Texas Tech
8. TCU (pending a decision on Sewo Olonilua)
9. Iowa State – Taking a step backwards after losing David Montgomery, the future of the position remains uncertain. It looks like a five man race at running back but a declared starter has yet to be named. Who will emerge from the pack and will it be a ‘complete back’ like Coach Matt Campbell is hoping for?
10. Kansas State – Losing all experienced ball carriers, the Wildcats turned to the transfer market looking for an immediate impact player. Regardless of the names on the roster, the running back position is a project at best under Coach Chris Klieman at this point in time.
1. Oklahoma | Kennedy Brooks exploded onto the scene as a freshman last season, and he should be an early favorite for the title of best running back in the Big 12. He finished last season 4th in total rushing while racking up 12 rushing touchdowns and a ridiculous 8.9 yards per attempt. Alongside him is junior Trey Sermon, who finished 6th in total rushing to go with his 13 rushing touchdowns. The duo is undoubtedly the top rushing unit in the league, if not the nation.
2. Oklahoma State | Losing Justice Hill is a big hit for the Cowboys, but sophomore Chuba Hubbard could challenge Kennedy Brooks for the title of Big 12 Rushing Champion. Hubbard finished last season as a freshman 10th in the conference in rushing yards to go with 7 touchdowns and 6.0 yards per attempt. Junior LD Brown will serve as a solid backup to Hubbard despite not seeing much action in his first two years in Stillwater.
3. Kansas | The Jayhawks crack the top 3 based on Pooka Williams alone. As a freshman, Williams had 1125 yards and 7 touchdowns in 11 games. His troubles off the field earned him a one-game suspension, but if he can stay out of trouble moving forward, he should help the Jayhawks in Les Miles’s first season coaching in Lawrence.
4. West Virginia
8. Kansas State
9. Texas Tech | The Red Raiders have been a passing team for as long as I can remember watching college football (two decades), and there is no sign showing that they will change things up now.
10 Iowa State | The conference’s worst rushing team from a season ago holds firm at the bottom as they lose their top rusher David Montgomery and return very little experience.
1. Oklahoma | Kennedy Brooks is the best running back in the Big 12 and is cleared to play with Trey Sermon, the best backup running back in the Big 12. This makes OU an easy choice for the top spot. It will be interesting to see how Kennedy Brooks numbers look after losing 4 of his linemen to the NFL.
2. Oklahoma State | Even with key departures of Justice Hill to the NFL and JD King transferring, OSU has an impressive running back room returning with preseason All Big 12 running back Chuba Hubbard with 6.0 yard per carry and averaging over 10 yards a catch. LD Brown also showed some real promise even with a season shorted by injury.
3. Kansas | Assuming Pookie Williams Jr plays this season, after his one game suspension for domestic violence against the Larry Bird Sycamores. He is the leading returning rusher in the Big 12 from last season averaging 7.0 yards per carry. It’ll be fun to see how Les Miles utilizes him.
6. West Virginia
8. Kansas State
9. Iowa State | The Cyclones at RB are very unknown which the exact opposite from last season with David Montgomery, who is now in the NFL. I believe they have guys on campus that are unknown but what they are trying to do as an offense is still a question.
10. Texas Tech | We all know that change is coming to Lubbock with the hire of Matt Wells, whose offense at Utah State ran the ball downhill considerably more than Tech has recently. I’m not sure if the RB personnel at Texas Tech is ready to duplicate what Wells did at Utah State. With the team’s leading rusher from last season playing QB, it will be interesting to see who emerges at the RB position.
1. Oklahoma | How can you not start here? Kennedy Brooks was a 1,000 yard back in 2018 and Trey Sermon was pretty dang close (947 yards). They both return this fall to give the Sooners a one/two punch out of the backfield, but there are also a lot of people sleeping on T.J. Pledger’s six yards per carry average last season as a true freshman.
2. West Virginia | OK – Here me out here. The Mountaineers return their entire backfield from 2018. Martell Pettaway and Kennedy McKoy averaged better than five yards per carry last season, and Leddie Brown posted 4.9 yards per carry. This backfield averaged 161 yards per game in 2018. With WVU breaking in a new QB this fall they could easily see that average increase.
3. Kansas | Pooka Williams in the Big 12’s best player on the worst team. His 1,125 yards on the ground in 2018 was more than any returning running back in the conference this season and we all know how much Les Miles loves to run the football.
4. Oklahoma State
8. Texas Tech
9. Iowa State | Junior Kene Nwangwu is the Cyclones leading returning rusher with just 168 yards posted in 2018. That’s pretty much all you need to know about ISU’s running back situation. They’ve got a stellar offensive line returning though.
10. Kansas State | Chris Klieman is hoping that grad-transfer James Gilbert can get him through 2019 as he tries to build depth and develop the running back position.
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