College Football's 10 Most Punishing Running Backs During My Lifetime
I have been watching college football as long as I can remember and have been fortunate to see many of the all-time greats both live and on television.
While I have seen the flash and speed of Tony Dorsett, the true grace that is Billy Sims, and the the pure athleticism of Barry Sanders, I have always had a soft spot for those guys who are just a handful to bring down to the turf.
I was never fortunate enough to see Jim Brown play during his college days, and I'm sure I missed many others who I don't hear as many stories about, but the ones I have seen and remember are pretty remarkable in their own right.
Earl Campbell, Texas
Known as "The Tyler Rose," Earl Campbell won the Heisman in 1977, running for 1,744 yards and earning every one of them. Campbell wasn't known for running out of bounds and avoiding the hit—he was known for delivering the punishment.
If you ever see films of Campbell, especially if you never had the privilege to see him play, he's usually dragging multiple tacklers while having his shirt literally ripped from his back.
Aside from winning the Heisman, Campbell was also named Southwest Conference running back of the year four times and rushed for over 4,400 yards in his four years at Texas.
Herschel Walker, Georgia
Back in my freshman year of college, one of the guys who lived on my floor was from Georgia. Well, he was a heck of a good guy and liked to have a few beers on a Friday night.
Back then the drinking age was 18, and we sure couldn't let him drink alone. In any event, after a few hours he would always talk the rest of us into a game he called "Herschel."
The way the game was played is one guy stands at one end of a hallway holding a football; his goal is to cross the goal line about 20 yards away. Standing between the ball carrier and the goal line are the other 10 guys, all playing defense.
For the real Herschel, this was about an even match against a real college football team, and let's not forget he was a world-class sprinter as well.
Mike Alstott, Purdue
While Mike Alstott may not have the speed of many on this list, he sure knew how to lower the shoulder and deliver a hit. It is actually his not so staggering speed that makes his 5.6 yard per carry career average for the Boilermakers all that much more impressive.
It took a lot to separate Alstott from the end zone, and he scored double-digit touchdowns in each of his final three seasons in West Lafayette. We also can't forget he was team MVP three consecutive seasons and rushed for 1,436 yards in 1995.
Pete Johnson, Ohio State
In 1975, when Archie Griffin was basking in the well-deserved accolades during a Heisman Trophy-winning season, his backfield mate Pete Johnson was tearing it up.
While we don't hear about it as much, Johnson ran for over 1,000 yards as well in 1975, rushing for 1,059.
Johnson's yards were never graceful, and every one of them was hard-earned, many of them coming in short yardage situations. Johnson was especially tough to bring down around the goal line, rushing for 25 touchdowns in a season, including five in one game.
Johnson scored 58 total touchdowns in his Buckeye career and is a member of the OSU All-Century Team.
LenDale White, USC
While Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart got the Heisman Trophies during White's playing days for the Trojans, it was LenDale White who got most of the touchdowns. His career was plagued by talks of him being out of shape and a poor GPA, but on the field he was one tough guy to bring to the ground.
White averaged 5.9 yards per carry for his career and scored 58 touchdowns, leaving an all-time record for USC, no small feat for a program known as "Tailback U."
Bo Jackson, Auburn
Bo Jackson was one of those rare backs who had the ability to go around, run past, fly over, or run over a defender. Jackson's career at Auburn was nothing short of remarkable, and his numbers are simply amazing.
In his career Jackson ran for over 4,300 yards, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. Jackson won the Heisman in 1985 when he ran for 1,786 yards, all of which came though the entire defense knew he was getting the ball the bulk of the time.
Eric Dickerson, SMU
Eric Dickerson was a standout in college at SMU but still shared time in the backfield with Craig James.
Together the two were known as the Pony Express.
Dickerson was named a First Team All-American in 1982 and tied Doak Walker's career TD mark at SMU with 48.
Dickerson had that rare combination of power and speed that made him an absolute handful for opposing defenses.
Ron Dayne, Wisconsin
Ron Dayne never shied away from carrying the football during his college career and probably sacrificed NFL success in the process. The Great Dayne carried the ball 1,220 times during his days in Madison.
Dayne finished his career with 6,397 yards and 71 touchdowns and was one of the few players in college football history to rush for over 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons.
Dayne also had 12 games in which he rushed for over 200 yards.
John Riggins, Kansas
John Riggins was simply one of the most punishing runners to ever play the game of football at any level. It was a rare occasion when it took less than several tacklers to bring Riggins down, and I never saw him tackled with an arm tackle.
Riggins led Kansas to a Big Eight Title, was an All-American, and was named a two-time All-Big Eight Team member.
Riggins broke former Jayhawk Gale Sayers' single-season touchdown mark by scoring 14 TDs in 1970, and his 2,659 career rushing yards were the most ever for a Jayhawk at the time.
Chuck Muncie, Cal
There were a lot of places I could have gone with the final selection for this list, and I knew no matter who I chose I was going to have plenty of people who disagree with me, so I figured why not go for Chuck Muncie.
I was thinking maybe Ricky Williams, O.J. Anderson, or Jerome Bettis among others, but in the end it was the ex-Cal Bear who I gave the final spot to.
Muncie was a big man who was also fast and elusive and was a touchdown machine. Muncie came in second place to Archie Griffin in the 1975 Heisman balloting and won many awards and accolades during his playing days.
While Muncie was known for wearing goggles while playing, no on will ever consider it a wimpy move on his part.