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 each position group, 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|
|1. Oklahoma State||40|
|4. Iowa State||26|
|6. Texas Tech||20|
|8. Kansas State||11|
|9. West Virginia||9|
Unanimity – The only team that we found complete agreement on was Oklahoma State. The Cowboys, and Chuba Hubbard, are the first unanimous #1 in our position rankings.
Almost Agreed – We came close to consensus with Kansas at #2 and Oklahoma at #3. Just had one defector on each.
All Over The Place – We’re completely lost on Kansas State. We had the Wildcats ranked anywhere from the middle (#5) of the pack to the worst rushing attack in the conference (#10)
Individual Thoughts And Rankings
1. Oklahoma State | Chuba Hubbard was not just the best running back in the Big 12 last season: he was one of the best (if not THE best) rushers in the nation. It came as a surprise for many when he announced he would be returning for his junior year, and with his return comes expectations that he should be in New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation.
2. Oklahoma | By a lot of standards, Kennedy Brooks had a letdown of a sophomore season. Still, he finished the year with just over a thousand yards on the ground, which was good for 4th in the Big 12. I suspect he’ll have a breakout year, and he may even challenge Chuba Hubbard for top running back in the conference.
3. Kansas | Pooka Williams finished last season third in the Big 12 in rushing yards, and that’s in spite of missing the season opener due to a suspension. The Jayhawks continue to be a bad football team, but Williams is a bright enough spot that they may actually be able to win more than 3 games this year.
5. Iowa State
6. Kansas State
7. Texas Tech
9. TCU | The Horned Frogs have no real returning experience in the backfield, and that lands them near the bottom of the list.
10. West Virginia | 5 players in the Big 12 recorded more rushing yards as individuals last season than the Mountaineers did as a team. They will return their leading rusher, but Leddie Brown only recorded 367 yards on the ground, so it could be another rough year in Morgantown.
1. Oklahoma State Cowboys | On the field, Chuba Hubbard collected 2,094 yards of offense which outpaced any and all FBS contenders. The number alone pushed the running back into Heisman talks as well as into NFL conversations. Needless to say, Hubbard chose to return for a final season instead of entering the draft. Without a true backup, OSU will lean heavily on a single back with great speed and elite vision to carry a majority of the responsibilities. With that said, there’s none better than Hubbard in the conference.
2. Kansas Jayhawks | Two years ago, Pooka Williams burst onto the scene as one of the most underrated players in the Big 12. Could it be because of the team he suits up for each and every weekend? Possibly. However, the back cemented himself as one of the best ball carriers in the league on two consecutive 1,000 yard rushing seasons. Now Williams eyes a third consecutive season of 1,000+ which would be a first in Jayhawk history. Moving into 2020, the running back will once again be the focal point of the offense and he must continue to deliver.
3. Oklahoma Sooners | The Sooners were dealt a serious blow when Trey Sermon opted to enter the transfer portal. With the move, the only experienced back on the roster remains Kennedy Brooks (at least while Rhamondre Stevenson serves an expected upcoming suspension). Behind Brooks sits two players with ten carries each during the previous campaign. Expect an uptick in the numbers for the back as Lincoln Riley attempts to break in yet another first year quarterback and a stout offensive line leading the charge.
4. Iowa State Cyclones
5. Texas Tech Red Raiders
6. Texas Longhorns
7. Baylor Bears
8. Kansas State Wildcats
9. West Virginia Mountaineers | On the ground, Leddie Brown, a junior, collected a mere 3.43 yards per carry. Each and every time the back touched the ball, yards remained hard to come by which resulted in a general lack of respect for the ball carrier. A repeat performance could be in order if the Mountaineers fail to come together in the trenches.
10. TCU Horned Frogs | At the end of the year, Gary Patterson lost the top two running backs from the team. Now, the program will rely on a youngster in Darwin Barlow who redshirted in 2019. Gaining experience in three games, the RS Freshman gave fans a glimmer of the future. However, the talent is unproven at the position at best moving forward.
1. Oklahoma State | No one in the Big 12 will have more eyes on them this season than Chuba Hubbard. He was the best running back in the country a year ago, and that will very much be true for 2020 as well.
2. Kansas | Pooka Williams is only the second running back in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. Williams will be the feature back in the Jayhawks offense once again. Kansas could be looking at having a 1,000 yard rusher for three straight seasons.
3. Oklahoma | The Sooners were helped out in the rushing game by quarterback Jalen Hurts last year. This season, the load will be on the shoulders of Kennedy Brooks. Despite having to share the ball with Jalen Hurts, Rhamondre Stevenson, and Trey Sermon a year ago, he still managed to rush for 1,000 yards.
5. Iowa State
6. Texas Tech
8. West Virginia
9. Kansas State | The most experience Kansas State has at the running back position comes from Harry Trotter. He transferred to K-State in 2018, and then rushed for 263 yards last season. The Wildcats also have Tyler Burns and Jacardia Wright, but neither of those guys have much playing time. The Wildcats could have a decent season running the ball, but it’s hard to rank them any higher with the lack of experience at the position.
10. TCU | The Horned Frogs do not have a rusher returning with more than 100 yards in 2020. Which is why they land at the bottom of my list. Darwin Barlow was a highly rated recruit in the 2019 class, but he had to sit behind Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua last year. He only played in three games in 2019, which allowed him to keep his redshirt.
1. Oklahoma State | It’s only fair to start with the reigning FBS rushing champion. As much of a fan as I am of some of the other Big 12 backs I just can’t logically excuse Chuba Hubbard’s 2,094 yards and 6.4 yards per carry average last season. We also can’t overlook the impact of Spencer Sanders as well. In 2019 the redshirt freshman averaged 4.5 yards per carry on his way to 628 rushing yards.
2. Kansas | Pooka Williams truly is a diamond in the rough. In 2019 he averaged 5.2 yards per carry on 203 attempts. His 1,061 rushing yards on the season was good enough to place him third in the conference.
3. Oklahoma | The Big 12 produced four 1,000 yard rushers in 2019 and two of them played for the crimson and cream (Jalen Hurts/Kennedy Brooks). With all the talk about Lincoln Riley’s passing game, the rushing attack often gets overlooked. Brooks was seventh in the conference in rushing attempts (155) but fourth in yards (1,011) and second in average per carry (6.5). Teammate Rhamondre Stevenson paced the conference (8.0).
4. Iowa State
6. Texas Tech
8. West Virginia
9. TCU | Everything hinges on Zach Evans here for the Frogs. If he’s able to work through off-the-field issues and make his way into Gary Patterson’s starting lineup then it changes everything. He’s a legitimate 5-star talent and could easily place TCU in the top half of the conference in terms of the rushing attack.
10. Kansas State | Skylar Thompson ranked fourth in the Big 12 in rushing touchdowns last season but he’s more of a Robin than he is a Batman. The Wildcats need to find a steady replacement for James Gilbert and Jordon Brown’s combined 1,117 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Follow us on Twitter: @SportsHeartland