NCAA Football 2013: Ranking the 10 Most Potent Rushing Attacks in FBS
Throughout the 2013 NCAA football season, plenty of FBS teams will display potent rushing attacks.
However, there are a number of schools that will set themselves apart from the pack. A season ago, Oregon continued its dominance on the ground, Montee Ball emerged as college football's all-time leader in end-zone visits and the SEC saw a number of freshmen explode onto the college football scene.
While the numbers do play a big part in projecting the top rushing attacks heading into the 2013 season, they do not tell the whole story.
For example, though teams that run triple option offensive systems such as Army, Navy and Georgia Tech may have finished atop the nation's rankings in rushing yards last year, each tallied at least 100 more attempts than schools such as Oregon or Alabama.
This list considers not only the returning talent of each school at running back, but also on the offensive line and any rushing threat provided by the quarterback.
So, without further ado, here are the projections for college football's 10 most potent rushing attacks heading into the 2013 season.
At this point, Braxton Miller has proven himself to be one of the most elite mobile quarterbacks in recent history. The Buckeyes finished tenth nationally in rushing yards per game last season, and Miller was a big part of that, racking up 1,271 yards and 13 scores.
Along with the returning senior running back Carlos Hyde, Miller should continue his production on the ground as Ohio State makes a push to be a national championship contender.
Alright, so the Badgers lose one of the most productive runners in college football history in Montee Ball, who is now a Denver Bronco. However, let's not forget that James White led the team in rushing back in 2010 with 1,052 yards before Ball really exploded.
Wisconsin lost some key linemen to the NFL, but the reigning Big Ten champs have had no problems putting big bodies on the field in the recent past. Expect White and rising sophomore-to-be Melvin Gordon to continue the Badgers' success on the ground.
Jordan Lynch led all quarterbacks in rushing in 2012 with 1,815 yards, adding 19 scores on the way. That's over 400 yards more than Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
The Huskies also return their entire offensive line and two top running backs in Akeem Daniels in Leighton Settle.
It would be unfair to exclude Nebraska from this list.
Dual-threat quarterback Taylor Martinez may be an inconsistent passer, but there is something to be said for the fact that he has eclipsed 800 yards on the ground during each of the past three seasons.
Martinez's consistent rushing production will join forces with junior running back Ameer Abdullah, who overshadowed reliable veteran Rex Burkhead in all major stat categories in 2012.
The loss of Burkhead and the transfer of Braylon Heard may hurt, but Abdullah's role should significantly increase, and he will likely far exceed his 1,019 yards and 10 touchdowns from a season ago.
While he is extremely shifty, he only weighs 185 pounds. Therefore, 225-pound Imani Cross should continue his short-yardage duties that he assumed in 2012.
With the Huskers returning most of their front wall and tons of potential in the offensive backfield, Nebraska appears to be primed for another big season on the ground in 2013.
9. Louisiana Tech
Before he was lost for the season to injury during Week 3, freshman running back Tevin King had posted a ridiculous 369 yards and five touchdowns on only 46 carries.
However, the Bulldogs ultimately were not disappointed by King's replacement, fellow freshman Kenneth Dixon, 27 rushing touchdowns later.
Dixon's 27 end zone visits were enough to lead the nation, and he should only improve on his 1,194 yards in 2013.
King will continue to provide an excellent option out of the backfield, and his return should significantly boost an already dominant ground attack.
The two complement each other nicely. King is a smaller back at 170 pounds while Dixon adds more bulk at 215 pounds.
It is fair to suggest that the offense as a whole might take a bit of a step back in 2013 with the loss of key pieces such as wide out Quinton Patton, who is off to the NFL.
Nonetheless, Dixon and King will easily provide the best rushing attack in Conference USA, and likely finish atop the national leaderboards again in 2013.
8. Florida State
If this list were based solely on potential, Florida State's corps of running backs would likely be even higher.
James Wilder Jr. is one of the most physically impressive and dominant backs in the FBS. At 6'2" and 225 pounds, the junior-to-be is an absolute force out of the backfield.
He is at times literally unstoppable and nearly impossible to take down, a pattern evident in his highlight tape. However, he has had several run-ins with the law, and will need to quell his off-the-field issues if he wants to truly emerge as an elite back.
Devonta Freeman accompanied Wilder to Florida State back in 2011, and has since been a solid option out of the backfield in the wake of Chris Thompson's injuries.
Freeman is a smaller back, but makes up for it with truly amazing quickness and lateral agility.
In 2012, Wilder and Freeman combined for 1,347 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. However, those numbers do not quite do their talent justice.
The Seminoles also have an extremely promising freshman in Mario Pender, who redshirted last season. Pender was a 4-star running back prospect in 2012, and should make a big impact in 2013.
Though they lose dual-threat veteran E.J. Manuel at quarterback, the 'Noles also welcome back four of their five starters from the 2012 offensive line. Plus, freshman speedster Jameis Winston has a good shot at winning the quarterback job after an impressive spring game.
7. Kent State
Kent State's running back corps is perhaps the definition of thunder and lightning.
The Golden Flashes return two all-conference backs in Dri Archer and Trayion Durham.
Archer may be only 5'8" and 175 pounds, but he has exceptional straight-line speed and lateral quickness. He racked up 1,429 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground a year ago, and has since drawn comparisons to Tavon Austin and De'Anthony Thomas.
Archer achieved that yardage total on only 159 attempts, giving him an astounding average of nine yards per carry.
Durham, on the other hand, is an absolute battering ram at 250 pounds. He is a nightmare to tackle out of the backfield, as he is extremely tough to bring down.
He tacked on 14 scores of his own to give the two backs 30 combined end zone visits.
While the offensive line needs to be revamped a bit, these two provide a backfield tandem as good as any in college football.
Archer and Durham should help Kent State push for the MAC championship again in 2013.
This list just wouldn't be complete without the team that returns college football's leading rusher from a season ago.
After gaining only 425 yards on 91 carries in 2011, Ka'Deem Carey exploded into the national spotlight in 2012, tallying 1,929 yards and 23 touchdowns on the ground on the way to All-American honors.
That stat line included a record-setting 366 yards and five touchdowns against Colorado, not to mention 132 yards and three touchdowns on Stanford's elite front seven.
At 5'10" and 195 pounds, Carey isn't exactly the biggest back in the world, but he is a very strong, determined runner.
In fact, his relatively small frame often adds to his power, as his low center of gravity allows him to gain leverage under taller tacklers.
The departure of Matt Scott may cause some growing pains in the Arizona running game, but Carey has enough talent to continue to gash through the Pac-12 in 2013.
T.J. Yeldon appears to be the next Adrian Peterson.
Both are 6'1" and 218 pounds, both run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds and both have a tendency to dominate their opposition.
Eddie Lacy will be taking his talents to the NFL, but that doesn't mean the Tide's rushing attack will suffer. Though he will surely be missed, especially around the goal line, Yeldon is one of the most talented young backs in the nation, and is more than capable of carrying the load.
As a true freshman, Yeldon tallied 1,108 yards—one of only nine SEC players to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark—and 12 touchdowns on the ground.
Record-shattering incoming freshman Derrick Henry should also ease the pain in the wake of Lacy's departure, weighing in at 242 pounds himself.
According to the numbers, Henry is the best high school running back of all-time, racking up over 11,000 yards throughout his career at Yulee High School in Florida.
The loss of reliable guard Chance Warmack and run-blocking extraordinaire D.J. Fluker will also be a hit. However, the line still returns plenty of young talent.
A.J. McCarron is also one of the best at his position, and his skills under center will likely give his running game some room to breathe. Look for Bama to not miss a beat moving forward in 2013.
Oregon's rushing attack has been elite for the a number of seasons now, and while 2013 may be the first year in a long time without a surefire No. 1 option such as LaMichael James or Kenjon Barner, the Ducks should return a lethal rushing attack once more.
With Tavon Austin heading to the NFL, there is perhaps no more question as to who is college football's most electrifying player. De'Anthony Thomas has proven he can score any time he touches the pigskin.
However, Thomas weighs only 175 pounds, and he does too much for the offense in the slot or at wide receiver to become a one-trick pony. New head coach Mark Helfrich cannot afford to limit Thomas to between-the-tackles running.
Therefore, it will likely be on the shoulders of Byron Marshall, who racked up 447 yards and four touchdowns as a true freshman in 2012, to carry the load out of the backfield. Marshall has a ton of potential, and he has good size for the position so he should be able to handle the increased responsibility.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota is perhaps one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the FBS, and his wheels will certainly contribute to Oregon's hurry-up attack.
Perhaps the most intriguing piece of the Ducks ground game is incoming 5-star running back Thomas Tyner. Tyner is a physical specimen at 6'1" and 215 pounds with elite 4.3 speed.
Given the versatility of Thomas, the potential of Marshall and Tyner and the deceptive speed of Mariota, Oregon should push to lead the nation in yards per carry again in 2013.
I think it is safe to say that few plays were more impressive than Lache Seastrunk's 76-yard touchdown dash on a pulled hamstring during the 2012 season.
In Seastrunk and senior Glasco Martin, Baylor may possess the most potent one-two punch out of the backfield in college football.
Seastrunk, a former 5-star recruit and Oregon Duck, eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in 2012 on only 131 carries, averaging over seven yards per attempt. If confidence counts for anything, he has also chosen himself to win the Heisman in 2013.
Martin, a bigger back at 220 pounds, posted 889 yards and 15 touchdowns a season ago.
As is the case with several other teams on this list, the loss of a senior quarterback could hurt Baylor's rushing production. Nick Florence led the nation in passing in 2012, and Big 12 defenses may be able to stack the box a bit more without his throwing ability and the threat of Terrance Williams on the outside.
Nonetheless, aside from Florence and Williams, the Baylor offense returns most of its key offensive pieces from last season. This includes most of its sturdy front wall, led by all-conference guard Cyril Richardson.
Expect to see Seastrunk and Martin emerge as superstars in 2013, if they aren't already.
2. Texas A&M
There are so many elements to Texas A&M's rushing attack.
We all know about quarterback Johnny Manziel, who led the SEC in rushing with 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns on his way to a Heisman Trophy.
However, the Aggies have plenty of weapons that will give Kevin Sumlin's squad an elite offensive backfield in 2013.
Ben Malena is one of the most underrated backs in the nation, and he quietly tallied 808 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012. At 5'8" and 195 pounds, the Aggies' most experienced back plays bigger than his size, often blowing through defenders and picking up extra yardage after contact.
The former highly-touted recruit Trey Williams showed flashes of brilliance in limited time as a true freshman, especially during the Auburn game where he carried the ball 19 times for 109 yards and a score.
Oklahoma transfer Brandon Williams should also contribute this year.
The biggest loss is Christine Michael, an excellent short-yardage option who tallied 12 touchdowns in 2012. However, his goal-line duties will likely be filled by Tra Carson, a transfer from Oregon who weighs 230 pounds.
Losing left tackle Luke Joeckel will also be a hit, but right tackle Jake Matthews has first-round NFL talent, and the Aggies return enough experience on their front wall to continue their success on the ground in 2013.
Georgia completes the list as college football's best rushing attack heading into 2013.
Before the 2012 season, the Bulldogs running game was in complete turmoil. Having booted his former 5-star recruit and freshman All-American Isaiah Crowell for a recent arrest, Mark Richt was heading into fall camp without a go-to guy in the backfield.
That changed very quickly when two true freshmen, together nicknamed "Gurshall" (an allusion to Herschel Walker) for their combined names, numbers and skill sets, emerged as arguably the most effective two-headed rushing attack in college football.
Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall exploded onto the scene in 2012, rushing for a combined 2,144 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Gurley used his lethal combination of size and speed to blow through some of the toughest defenses in the nation this past season. Marshall, though not quite as dominant, demonstrated his outstanding vision, acceleration and lateral quickness on the way to 759 yards of his own.
Aside from having two of the top young backs in the nation, the Bulldogs have other tools to make this the best rushing attack in college football in 2013.
Aaron Murray will return for his senior season, which will regularly force defenses to respect the passing game and give Gurley and Marshall extra room to run.
The Bulldogs will also return all five offensive linemen from 2012, setting the stage for an even more potent rushing attack in 2013.
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