Before the Spread offense began to take hold, the Big 12 was a running conference, a descendant of the ground philosophy that had dominated its predecessors, the Big 8 and the Southwest Conference. What follows is a nostalgic listing of the 12 best running backs in the conference's history.
Note: This list is confined to backs who played from the Big 12's founding in 1996 until now. All backs that finished their careers prior to 1996 were ineligible.
Griffin, the diminutive back who was a part of Oklahoma's 2000 National Championship, had two solid seasons before turning in a superb senior season in 2002. That year, Griffin ran for 1,884 yards and 15 touchdowns. Griffin's performance earned him a first Team All-Big 12 spot. He was drafted 108th overall by the Denver Broncos in 2003.
Though technically he only played one season in the Big 12, it was a spectacular one. In 1996, Hanspard rushed for 2,084 yards and won the Doak Walker award as the nation's best running back. Of his time at Texas Tech, Hanspard can boast seven games in which he rushed for over 200 yards, as well as his records for career rushing (4,219) and rushing yards in a single game (287 in a 1996 game against Baylor). Considering that the contemporary Texas Tech team is obsessed with the pass, Hanspard's records will probably stand for a long time.
1996 was the "Year of the Running Back" in the Big 12. While Byron Hanspard was setting records in Lubbock, Troy Davis was dominating equally in Ames, Iowa. In a year that saw him finish second behind Danny Wuerffel in Heisman Trophy voting, Davis rushed for 2,185 yards, which still stands as a school record. This achievement is all the more remarkable considering that the year before, Davis had rushed for 2,010 yards while finishing fifth in Heisman Trophy voting. As the only running back to have ever rushed for more than 2,000 yards in a season twice, Davis is an NCAA legend.
Ranked the number two running back in the country coming out of high school, Marlon Lucky was able to fight through injuries to have a stellar, if somewhat disappointing, career at Nebraska. He was excellent at catching out of the backfield and finished his career with 1,319 receiving yards to go along with 2,393 yards on the ground.
The primary weapon on Nebraska's 1997 National Champion squad, Ahman Green was yet another great running back from Big Red country. A local boy from Omaha, Green amassed 1,877 yards and 22 touchdowns en route to becoming an All Big-12 selection and a second team All-American. Green was the best player on a team that went 13-0 and was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in 1998 before being traded to the Green Bay Packers where he developed into a five-time Pro Bowler.
If it hadn't been for the revelation that was Ricky Williams, Priest Holmes may well have headed this list. Though not nearly as good as he was as an NFL player, Priest was still a great college player. He can claim much of the credit for igniting Texas' ascent to its present golden age. In the inaugural Big 12 Championship Game, Priest helped the three-touchdown underdog Longhorns defeat defending National Champion Nebraska by rushing for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
It is a shame that DeMond Parker missed out on the Bob Stoops era at Oklahoma, instead soldiering on for some atrocious Sooner teams. But Parker was a fabulous bright spot, becoming the only Sooner to ever rush for 1,000 yards in three straight seasons from 1996 to 1998. It's fun to speculate what Parker may have done if surrounded by the talent enjoyed by the current Sooners team.
Before he fell flat in the NFL, Benson was Vince Young's partner in crime in the UT backfield. He was a scary-good Texas native that finished his career as a senior in 2004 with 5,540 rushing yards, a total that ranks sixth all-time in Division 1-A. That year, he was the recipient of the Doak Walker award and named a first team All-American.
In the 2003 Conference Championship game, two-touchdown favorite Oklahoma was vanquished by a 5'6" running back from Waterloo, Iowa. A junior that year, Sprole finished the season just shy of 2,000 yards with 1,916 and led the Wildcats to a Fiesta Bowl berth. Now the quickest player for the San Diego Chargers, Sproles was the symbol of Bill Snyder's final years when KSU was the best of the Big 12 North.
The heir to Rashaan Salaam as the fulcrum in the Buffalo backfield, "Touchdown" Chris Brown was the best thing that Gary Barnett ever brought to Boulder. Colorado fans will never forget the 2001 Nebraska game when Brown rushed for six touchdowns. The Buffaloes won 62-36. However, that year was to end in disappointment because CU was denied a spot in the National Championship game in favor of Nebraska, despite the fact that the Buffs went on to defeat Texas in the Big 12 Championship game.
There was never any doubt about Adrian Peterson being a great player. Coming out of Palestine, Texas, he was named Rivals.com player of the year, and in 2004 he set the NCAA true freshman rushing record by running for 1,925 yards before the Sooners succumbed to USC in the Orange Bowl. If it hadn't been for injury, Peterson would've set all kinds of records while at Oklahoma.
Before becoming Dr. Greenthumb, Ricky Williams was one of the best running backs in the history of the University of Texas. Though he might be considered second only to Earl Campbell. In 1998 he became Division 1-A's all-time leading rusher with 6,279 yards, before he was passed by Ron Dayne one year later. As a senior, he broke two records, with his 73 career touchdowns and 452 points scored before becoming the 64th Heisman Trophy winner at the end of the season.
This is a list for ground aficionados, and may it be read while Sam Bradford passes for 4,000 yards this season.