In 2005, a young freshman by the name of Darren McFadden burst onto the national scene with 1,113 yards rushing, a freshman record for the Arkansas Razorbacks. He would finish his career with 4,590 yards (second all-time in the SEC) in just three years, becoming only the second player in NCAA history to win the Doak Walker Award twice and the first to ever finish second in the Heisman voting twice.
McFadden's college career is filled with accolades, and he is considered one of the best running backs in SEC history. He is by far the best back to ever wear the Razorback uniform, and rightfully so. But, Arkansas currently has a freshman by the name of Alex Collins that could have something to say about that before his career is over.
Collins, a 4-star recruit by Rivals.com, leads all freshman backs in the country with 946 yards on the ground, which is good for 22nd in the FBS. With two games left, he needs 168 yards to break McFadden's school record for rushing yards by a freshman.
So, this brings up the question: Could Collins be better than McFadden when his time on the Hill is all said and done?
Conventional wisdom would tell you no, that McFadden is and always will be in a class of his own in the state of Arkansas. However, Collins has all the ability in the world to be one of the best backs to ever come through Fayetteville and already is showing off skills that could make him an elite back in the years to come.
What made McFadden so good in college was his unique blend of size, speed and power. Though Collins isn't as big as McFadden, he also possesses speed and power.
However, he uses his in a different way. McFadden was a straight-forward, power runner. Because he is 6'2", he didn't have that shiftiness and ability to make guys miss. Collins does.
Countless times this season, he has made defenders miss with his ability to quickly stop, change direction and then start back up again. His shiftiness is something McFadden didn't have while at Arkansas. Collins has very good juke moves that can make defenders look silly.
As Adam Alter of Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly in Arkansas put it, some things Collins does look near impossible:
McFadden does have him beat in yards per carry, averaging 6.3 his freshman year compared to Collins' 5.6. But, McFadden had a veteran line with three seniors, a junior and a sophomore. The Hogs are starting two freshman this year alongside two seniors and a junior.
If you were to put Collins behind the line McFadden had his freshman year, he would be averaging over six YPC without a doubt. McFadden also had 11 touchdowns, while Collins has just four. The main reason for the gap in that stat is that sophomore Jonathan Williams has gotten the majority of the carries near the goal line, leading the team with seven rushing touchdowns. McFadden was the guy as a freshman and got the ball most of the time when the Hogs ran it near the end zone.
So, despite a few disparities in the stats, there is logical explanations behind why it's that way.
Perhaps the most important skill Collins has that could make him better than the Arkansas legend is his ball-carrying vision. It is rare that you find a freshman back that is not only elusive and fast, but also great at waiting on his blockers to open up holes and identify them.
As simple as it may seem, being patient and waiting for blocks to be set up is one of the hardest things for backs to learn how to do. Heck, even NFL running backs have problems with it. Not Collins, though.
He's shown an instinctive ability to follow his blocks and hit the hole as soon as he finds it. Even the great McFadden had trouble following his blocks, and he still does.
There's not much tape on Collins' college career openly available because he hasn't even ended his freshman year. Here's some highlights from what you can find of Arkansas' game against Louisiana-Lafayette. You can immediately notice Collins' vision and burst on his carries in the following highlights from that game:
Look, let's make this clear, no one is saying that Collins is going to end up breaking all of McFadden's records or garner as many accolades as he did. To put that kind of pressure and expectations on a kid just isn't realistic.
But, with everything that he is doing in his first season, you can't help but wonder if Collins might end up being even better than McFadden. Collins has already done something that he didn't do—nor any SEC back in history for that matter—by running for over 100 yards in each of his first three games to start his career.
All he needs is 84 yards in both of the Razorbacks final two games to unseat McFadden as the program's most prolific freshman rusher. It's still way too early to give a definitive answer on whether Collins' career will surpass the All-American's, but he's on pace to have the best year a freshman back has ever had at Arkansas and is a shoe-in for Freshman All-American honors.
He absolutely has the skills to be better than McFadden was in college. McFadden rarely ever had to look back over his shoulder when he was in full stride, but he might be looking back at Collins creeping up on him sooner rather than later.
All stats are from NCAA.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise stated.
For more info on the Arkansas Razorbacks football team, follow Bryan Heater @BHeaterRivals.