College football is drawing ever closer. As the first kickoff of the season approaches, numerous lists of players and coaches to watch pop up. With that in mind, here are the top 15 running backs to watch in college football this year. All players are listed in alphabetical order.
Just Missed the Cut
Leon Allen – Western Kentucky
Saquon Barkley – Penn State
Royce Freeman – Oregon
Jeremy McNichols – Boise State
Sony Michel – Georgia
Now on to the actual countdown.
Josh Adams – Notre Dame
Adams was the second back on the depth chart last year but when CJ Prosise got a concussion, Adams became the feature back and did not disappoint. He had 835 yards and 6 TDs on 117 carries (including the longest run in Notre Dame Stadium history, a 98 yarder against Wake Forest). Could be the best back in a loaded backfield (more on that later).
Nick Chubb – Georgia
Chubb is just the latest in a long line of outstanding Georgia backs. He first came to prominence when Todd Gurley was suspended for a few games during the 2014 season, before winning the MVP award in that year’s Belk Bowl (where he rushed for 266 yards against Louisville). Injuries curtailed his season last year, but he still had a solid 747 yards and 7 TD’s.
Corey Clement – Wisconsin
The latest in the recent trend of awesome Badger backs (think Montee Ball and Melvin Gordon). He was primed to be in the thick of the Heisman race, but only played four games due to having sports hernia surgery. He has a career total of 1,717 yards.
James Conner – Pitt
One of the feel good stories in college football. Conner was the ACC Player of the Year in 2014 but missed all of last season after tearing a ligament during Pitt’s season opener. The news got worse when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in December. But extraordinarily, he announced he was cancer free in May and expects to be ready to play this season. In 2014 he had 1,765 yards and 26 TD’s.
Dalvin Cook – Florida State
Florida State is usually loaded with talent and this year is no different. No one exemplifies the FSU talent more than Dalvin Cook. Listed at 5’11”, 213 lbs, Cook is nonetheless a massive presence and powerful runner. Last year he had 229 carries for 1,691 yards and 19 TD’s.
Taraen Folston – Notre Dame
Folston is another back on this list who missed all of last year with injury (he was hurt in the first quarter of Notre Dame’s season opening win over Texas). But in 2014 he was the best back on the team and he saved his best performances for the biggest games, running over Florida State and LSU. Could have better stats if Brian Kelly ever actually ran the football. With Folston and Adams, Notre Dame could have a fantastic rushing attack this year
Leonard Fournette – LSU
One of the favorites for the Heisman Trophy last year, Fournette exploded out of the gate to start the season, but faltered down the stretch. His season was perhaps defined by a play against Auburn in which he flipped a defender over him, but he only managed 31 yards in the biggest game of the year, against Alabama. Probably going to the NFL after this season.
Wayne Gallman – Clemson
DeShaun Watson may get all the headlines, but Gallman is the best back in the ACC and one of the big reasons Clemson is one of the favorites to make the College Football Playoff this year. An incredibly powerful runner, he’s another back that plays his best in the biggest games (see Notre Dame, Florida State, Oklahoma games). He had 1,527 yards and 13 TDs last year.
Elijah Hood – North Carolina
One of the best kept secrets in college football is Elijah Hood. North Carolina has long been written off in football, but last year was perhaps their best season ever, winning 11 games and playing for an ACC title. With QB Marquise Williams now gone, the offense belongs to Hood. Described by coach Larry Fedora as a violent runner who loves contact, Hood had 1,463 yards (6.7 per carry) and 17 TD’s.
Jalen Hurd – Tennessee
Last year, Hurd had the best season by a Tennessee running back since Arian Foster in 2007, rushing for 1,158 yards. He has over 2,000 career yards at Tennessee. Another well-kept secret in college football. A big reason why many experts are picking Tennessee to win the SEC East.
Christian McCaffrey – Stanford
One of last year’s Heisman finalists and one of the favorites to win it this year. He broke Barry Sanders’ record for most all-purpose yards in a season. He had Stanford in the discussion for the College Football Playoff despite an early season loss to Northwestern, and won a Pac-12 title. His crowning moment was when he ran riot over Iowa in the Rose Bowl.
Joe Mixon – Oklahoma
Though he is a very good back in his own right, he isn’t even the best one on his own team (more on that later). He had 753 yards and 7 TDs last year, but he really shouldn’t even be playing football after he was caught on video punching a woman and breaking four bones in her face in July of 2015.
Samaje Perine – Oklahoma
In 2014 he broke the record for the most rushing TDs scored in a single game with six against Kansas. Last year he was again very good, rushing for 1,349 yards and 16 TDs for an Oklahoma team that won the Big XII and made it to the College Football Playoff.
Bo Scarborough – Alabama
Scarborough only had 18 carries for 104 yards and 1 TD as a freshman last year, but is going to be the primary back this season with the departures of Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake. Since Nick Saban took over, Alabama has not had any problem churning out awesome running backs (Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, TJ Yeldon, Derrick Henry) and it would take a brave man to bet against them doing it with Scarborough.
LJ Scott – Michigan State
With QB Connor Cook off to the NFL, Scott will be the heart and soul of the Spartans offense. Last year he only rushed for 699 yards, but still had 11TD’s as Michigan State won the Big Ten and made it to the College Football Playoff. The highlight of his college career was in the Big Ten Championship game against Iowa when he scored the game winning touchdown with less than a minute on the clock, capping off a 22-play 9 minute drive. He’s not the only RB in the country named LJ Scott, as there is another LJ Scott at Louisville.