Power Ranking Top 5 Big 12 RBs Pre-2014 Spring Practice

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterFebruary 25, 2014

Power Ranking Top 5 Big 12 RBs Pre-2014 Spring Practice

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    Michael Thomas/Associated Press

    The Big 12 was home to some of the best running backs in college football last season. Lache Seastrunk (Baylor), Charles Sims (West Virginia) and Brennan Clay (Oklahoma) highlighted a special group. 

    However, all three, and many more, are gone now.

    Still, several key running backs like Desmond Roland (Oklahoma State) and Malcolm Brown (Texas) return. There will also be some new faces like West Virginia's Rushel Shell, a Pitt transfer. 

    Who are the top five Big 12 running backs heading into spring? Our picks are in this slide show. (For the Big 12's pre-spring quarterback power rankings, click here.) 

5. B.J. Catalon

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    Jim Cowsert/Associated Press

    School: TCU

    B.J. Catalon has yet to truly break through for TCU. Though he's led the team in rushing in each of the past two seasons, he's never broken 100 yards rushing in a game. He also has just eight career touchdowns. 

    Still, it feels like Catalon is on the verge of a huge season. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 2013—after recording 4.7 yards per carry in 2012—and returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the season opener against LSU. 

    Yeah, even "SEC speed" had nothing on him. 

    Who knows if Catalon will ever emerge as a feature back for the Frogs, but he's the definition of a home run threat. 

4. Johnathan Gray

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    School: Texas

    When healthy, Johnathan Gray is one of the most dynamic running backs in the Big 12. 

    Unfortunately for Gray, he wasn't able to finish the 2013 season healthy. He sustained an Achilles tendon injury in a November overtime win against West Virginia. 

    Before his injury, Gray led the team with 780 yards rushing. For reasons that still boggle the mind, he wasn't given the ball nearly enough. Against Iowa State, Gray carried 16 times for 89 yards, averaging an impressive 5.6 yards per carry.

    Yet, the Longhorn coaching staff insisted—almost impressively—on keeping the ball out of his hands while quarterback Case McCoy attempted 45 passes against the Cyclones—at a whopping 5.4 yards per attempt. 

    Gray's talent alone should put him higher on this list, but he was previously ruled out for spring practice by former head coach Mack Brown. His recovery will be watched closely. 

3. Desmond Roland

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    School: Oklahoma State

    Oklahoma State's running game was basically nonexistent until Desmond Roland cracked the starting lineup.

    The junior broke loose for 219 yards and four touchdowns in an October win against Iowa State. Though Roland only broke the 100-yard mark once the rest of the season, he was an important part of the Pokes ground attack. 

    Roland finished the season with 811 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Now that quarterback Clint Chelf is gone, Roland should be asked to shoulder the bulk of the carries next season. 

    Roland provides a different dimension for the Cowboys offense. At 6'2" and 210 pounds, he's more of a traditional, bruising running back. He's effective nonetheless, and enters 2014 as one of the better backs in the Big 12. 

2. Shock Linwood

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    School: Baylor

    Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were the focus of Baylor's ground game last season, but Shock Linwood wasn't to be ignored. 

    When Seastrunk and Martin were sidelined with injuries against Oklahoma, it was Linwood, a B/R first-team All Name selection, who picked up the slack. The redshirt freshman rushed 23 times against the Sooners for 182 yards. Linwood then rushed for another 187 yards and a score the following week against Texas Tech. 

    Bears head coach Art Briles wasn't afraid to give Linwood more responsibility while others were hurt. Not surprisingly, Linwood finished as the team's second-leading rusher with 881 yards. 

    Expect Linwood to be a staple of Baylor's offense in 2014, but this time as a feature back. 

1. Malcolm Brown

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    School: Texas

    Malcolm Brown didn't really emerge for Texas until midway through the 2013 season. That's because he mostly served as a complement to Johnathan Gray. 

    All that began to change against Oklahoma when Brown carried the ball 23 times for 120 yards. The 36-20 win over the Sooners was one of five 100-yard games Brown had last year. By the time the season ended, Brown was Texas' leading rusher with 904 yards. 

    Of course, Gray's season-ending injury had something to do with that, but Brown proved he could be a reliable, every-down back for the Horns. With Brown coming back for his senior year, head coach Charlie Strong will expect more of the same. 

    Ben Kercheval is the Lead Writer for Big 12 football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com