Year of the Running Back

If 2008 was the year of the quarterback in college football, then 2016 will be the unquestioned year of the running back. There may not be a year in recent memory in which the width and breadth of the talent at the position has ever been at this level.

As with most everything in life, the utilization and success of running backs is cyclical and there’s little question the arrow is pointing up. Take for instance the Heisman Trophy results in 2015. Alabama’s Derrick Henry took home the stiff-armed prize and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey finished less than 300 points behind him in second place. Henry was the first Heisman winning running back since Mark Ingram in 2009. That year was also the last time that running backs went 1-2 in the voting as Stanford’s Toby Gerhart finished second to Ingram. Post Y2k, only one running back had won the Heisman and it took 15 years for Henry to make it two. Lastly, running backs occupied five of the top ten spots in the Heisman voting for the first time since 2006.

So, what does that all mean going forward into 2016? Well, of those five running backs that finished in the top ten, three of them return – McCaffrey, LSU’s Leonard Fournette and FSU’s Dalvin Cook. That’s just the start. Georgia RB Nick Chubb will return from injury that cut short an All-SEC type season. Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd is the Vols go-to offensive threat. Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine holds the NCAA single-game rushing record. Oregon’s Royce Freeman runs in the shadow of McCaffrey in the Pac-12. North Carolina’s Elijah Hood is a power back who is often overlooked as the bell cow back for the Tar Heels.

On top of it all, those backs are all true juniors. But, they’re not alone.

Pitt’s James Conner was the ACC Player of the Year as a sophomore in 2014 but missed all of 2015 with an injury. He’ll return. He might not even be the best back in the ACC at this point as Clemson’s Wayne Gallman solidified his place in the running back hierarchy with a sensational end to his 2015 season. Notre Dame’s Tarean Folston missed the 2015 season as well with an injury, which allowed soon-to-be sophomore Josh Adams to prove his mettle. So, the Irish will have both of them ready to roll in 2016. Wisconsin’s Corey Clement will return from injury as well.

And, I know I left out Washington’s Myles Gaskin, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, Baylor’s Shock Linwood, Toledo’s Kareem Hunt, USF’s Marlon Mack and San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey but hopefully you get the point.

It’s time to run like the wind in 2016 and with good reason.

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