Running Wild: College Football's Top 25 Running Backs of the Last Decade
There have been some great running backs over the last decade. Probably more than just 25.
We've seen some of our favorite running backs run wild and put up outstanding numbers throughout their college careers. But if we really break it down, who have been the top 25 running backs over the past 10 years?
There is a long list of guys that each of us could go through. But only a select few can make it onto this prestigious list.
So, without further ado, let's get to it.
No. 25—Joseph Addai (LSU)
Joseph Addai had 2,577 rushing yards during his college years under Nick Saban at LSU. It might have been higher had he not been used as a blocking fullback early on in his career.
His total rushing yards was good for fifth on LSU's all-time rushing list. The highlights of his career include a 156 yard performance in a 21-17 win over Florida during his senior season, including the touchdown that sealed the win for the Tigers that year.
He closed out his LSU career with a 135 yard, two-touchdown performance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Miami.
No. 24—LaDainian Tomlinson (TCU)
I'm sure some would wonder why LaDainian Tomlinson is on this list, but let's remember his senior season was in 2000, so he does qualify.
His senior season at TCU, Tomlinson racked up 2,158 yards and 22 touchdowns, leading the NCAA for the second straight season.
No. 23—Kevin Smith (Central Florida)
Kevin Smith left Central Florida as the all-time leading rusher, and saved his best season for last.
In 2005, Smith came out and rushed for 1,178 yards and nine touchdowns his first year at the school.
But in 2007, Smith led the nation in rushing with 2,567 yards and 29 touchdowns, coming just 62 yards short of setting the NCAA single-season rushing record held by Marcus Allen.
No. 22—Carnell Williams (Auburn)
Carnell Williams finished his career at Auburn with 45 touchdowns, breaking Bo Jackson's previous record (43).
He also finished with 3,831 yards on 741 carries, which broke Joe Cribbs' previous carries record of 657.
No. 21—Clinton Portis (Miami)
Clinton Portis set the freshman record at Miami with five 100-yard performances. He would finish with a team leading 838 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
While his sophomore season wasn't one to remember, he came back for his junior season and had his best year. Portis rushed for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns, including a 104 yard outing against Nebraska in the 2001 Rose Bowl.
No. 20—Quentin Griffin (Oklahoma)
Not a whole lot of people remember Quentin Griffin, unless you're a die hard Oklahoma Sooner fan.
The three-year starter totaled 4,732 total yards and 41 touchdowns, in his career and helped Oklahoma win a national championship in 2000. His best year by far was his junior year, when he finished with 1,884 yards with 15 touchdowns.
No. 19—Mike Hart (Michigan)
Hart set a Michigan record for most rushing yards as a freshman with 1,455.
After an injury during his sophomore season that kept Hart from really breaking out, he used his junior season to do just that. He finished the year with 1,562 yards and 14 touchdowns, and his rushing total that year was good for fifth-best in school history.
Though an ankle injury kept him out of two games his senior season, he would still finish with 1,361 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Hart finished his career with 5,040 total rushing yards on 1,015 carries, both of which are school records. His 41 total touchdowns rank third in Michigan history.
No. 18—Antonio Pittman (Ohio State)
Unfortunately for Antonio Pittman, he was overshadowed for most of his career by quarterback Troy Smith and wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr.
In 2006, Smith said of Pittman, "Everybody knows who he is in the state of Ohio, but I think nationally, he’s one of the top three backs."
In 2005, Pittman finished in the top 15 in the nation in rushing with 1,331 yards and seven touchdowns. What's more impressive than that, only Archie Griffin rushed for more yards (1,577) as a sophomore.
In his junior year, his final season at Ohio State, Pittman's rushing total declined from 1,331 to 1,275 but his touchdown numbers doubled from seven to 14.
No. 17—Ian Johnson (Boise State)
Whether it is fortunate or unfortunate, Ian Johnson might never be known for his play on the field, but more for his marriage proposal off the field.
Most people remember that after Boise State's shocking upset of Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, Johnson proposed to his girlfriend, a Boise State cheerleader, just moments after the game concluded.
But he finished his Boise State career with 4,184 rushing yards and 58 total touchdowns, becoming the all-time WAC career rushing touchdown record holder (a record previously held by San Diego State standout Marshall Faulk).
No. 16—James Davis (Clemson)
James Davis finished his Clemson career with 4,309 all-purpose yards, good for fourth on Clemson's all-time list.
He rushed for 879 rushing yards his freshman year, including four 100-yard games—the most ever by a Clemson true freshman. Davis was named ACC Rookie of the Year.
His sophomore season saw Davis rush for 1,187 yards and 17 touchdowns, which tied the Clemson single-season record set by Lester Brown in 1978.
No. 15—Luke Staley (BYU)
Luke Staley wasn't widely known at BYU, or nationally for that matter, but all that changed in 2001 when he rushed for 1,596 yards and 24 touchdowns, breaking school records in both categories.
He led the nation in yards per carry (8.1), total touchdowns (28), and scoring (15.5 points per game), and finished third in the nation in rushing yards per game (143.8).
He also tied the BYU school record for single-game touchdown records twice with five against both Utah State and Colorado State.
No. 14—Toby Gerhart (Stanford)
Toby Gerhart should have won the Heisman Trophy this past year. He won the Doak Walker Award (College Football's Best Running Back Award) over Alabama's Mark Ingram, yet Ingram still won the Heisman.
But I digress.
After quiet freshman and sophomore seasons for Gerhart, he exploded onto the scene his junior year, rushing for 3,007 yards over his final two years at Stanford. That included 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns his senior year.
His 1,136 rushing yards his junior year broke a Stanford single-season rushing record previous held by Tommy Vardell (1,084).
No. 13—Avon Cobourne (West Virginia)
West Virginia running back Avon Cobourne eclipsed the 1,000 yard rushing barrier three straight seasons from 2000-2002.
In 2000, as a sophomore, Cobourne rushed for 1,028 yards and six touchdowns, including 132 yards against Boston College and 166 against Syracuse.
In 2001, as a junior, his numbers increased, as he rushed for 1,028 yards and six touchdowns and was the only player to have a 100-yard game (132) against eventual national champion Miami that year.
Cobourne saved his best season for his senior year, setting a single-season school rushing mark with 1,710 total yards—a record that would eventually be broken by another great Mountaineer running back you'll see later on this list.
No. 12—Marshawn Lynch (Cal)
Though Marshawn Lynch rushed for just 628 yards his freshman year, he spent most of that season behind starter J.J. Arrington.
Over the next two seasons, Lynch proved to be an incredible running back, rushing for 2,602 yards (which might have been higher had Lynch not missed two games his sophomore year due to injury).
No. 11—Willis McGahee (Miami)
Willis McGahee had arguably one of the worst endings to a college career of any running back I've seen in a long time.
During the national championship game in 2003, McGahee suffered a severe injury to his knee after being hit by Ohio State safety Will Allen. It was an injury that required several surgeries and extensive rehab to be able to get back on the football field to begin his pro football career.
But in his career at Miami, McGahee rushed for 2,080 yards and 31 touchdowns. Twenty eight of those touchdowns came during his 2002 season, putting him fourth on the single-season touchdown list behind Kevin Smith (29), Mike Rozier (29), and Barry Sanders (37).
No. 10—Garrett Wolfe (Northern Illinois)
After spending most of his freshman year on the bench, Northern Illinois running back Garrett Wolfe made the most of his role as a starter his sophomore year.
In 2004, Wolfe rushed for 1,656 yards and 18 touchdowns, adding three more touchdowns on 117 yards receiving.
He would miss a few games during his 2005 season thanks to a knee injury, but he still managed to rush for 1,580 yards and 16 touchdowns, adding 222 receiving yards and one touchdown.
But it was his senior season that saw Wolfe put up his biggest numbers. He would rush for 1,976 yards and 18 touchdowns.
All total, Garrett Wolfe had 5,136 rushing yards and 52 touchdowns, adding another five touchdowns on 586 total receiving yards.
No. 9—Steve Slaton (West Virginia)
Alongside quarterback Pat White, Steve Slaton was part of one of the deadliest duos in college football while at West Virginia.
Slaton was not only a threat out of the backfield, but he was also a threat when he lined up at receiver.
He finished his three years with the Mountaineers with 3,923 rushing yards and 52 touchdowns while racking up 805 total receiving yards and five touchdowns.
No. 8—Ray Rice (Rutgers)
Rutgers football became relevant with the emergence of running back Ray Rice.
While he eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark (1,120) as a true freshman, his sophomore year in 2006 was even more telling.
In 2006, Rice rushed for single-season Rutgers record 1,794 total yards, passing the mark previously held by J.J. Jennings (1,353). But Rice was just getting started.
In 2007, his junior season, Rice rushed for an incredible 2,012 yards and 24 touchdowns. That same year, he would set two new school records.
The first was the all-time school record for most career touchdowns (35) against Cincinnati, and then he set a mark for single-game rushing record with 243 yards against Army.
A few months after setting the single-game school record, he would break his own record with a 280-yard performance against Ball State in the International Bowl.
No. 7—Larry Johnson (Penn State)
During his senior season in 2002, Larry Johnson rushed for over 2,000 yards, and did so with the fewest amount of carries than any other running back in the 2,000-yard club. Yet, he did not win the Heisman trophy.
During his time at Penn State, Johnson would break the single-game rushing record three different times.
The first came against Northewestern when he rushed for 257 yards, breaking Curt Warner's previous record of 256 yards.
The second time came against Illinois, as Johnson rushed for 279 yards in an 18-7 win. But he saved the best for last as he shattered his previous record, rushing for 327 yards in a 58-25 win over Indiana.
No. 6—Cedric Benson (Texas)
What most people don't know about former Texas running back Cedric Benson is the fact that he was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2001 MLB Amateur Draft.
Benson never made it to the big leagues, but he spent his summers playing in the Dodgers' summer league in Vero Beach, Florida.
During his football career, however, he made an even bigger impact. He had four straight 1,000 yard seasons and finished his career with Texas rushing for 5,500 including 2,000 all-purpose yards and 20 touchdowns during his senior season.
No. 5—Adrian Peterson (Oklahoma)
Adrian Peterson came to the University of Oklahoma as one of the most hyped running backs ever, and he wasted no time in delivering on that hype.
Peterson had one of the best seasons for a freshman in college football history, finishing the year with 1,925 rushing yards and leading the nation in carries with 339.
Unfortunately for Peterson, the injury bug would bite him the next two seasons and he would miss most of the 11 games he did appear in.
Regardless, Peterson still finished with over 4,000 yards rushing and 41 touchdowns over his three seasons at Oklahoma.
No. 4—Darren McFadden (Arkansas)
One of the most prolific backs in the last decade, former Arkansas running back Darren McFadden wasted no time in making a name for himself.
He finished his freshman season at Arkansas rushing for 1,113 yards and 11 touchdowns. His rushing yard total became the highest ever by a freshman at Arkansas, and it was only the seventh time in SEC history that a freshman had rushed for more than 1,000 yards.
Despite a nagging toe injury suffered prior to the start of his sophomore season, McFadden still set a single-season school rushing record 1,647 yards which, at the time, was the fifth-best ever in the SEC.
McFadden just kept getting better and ended his junior season at Arkansas, which would he his last, with 1,829 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.
He ended his career at Arkansas as one of the most decorated running backs in school history, holding almost every rushing record there was. His career rushing total of 4,590 yards ranks second all-time in the SEC behind only Herschel Walker (5,259).
No. 3—DeAngelo Williams (Memphis)
DeAngelo Williams left Memphis as one of the best running backs in school history.
Williams currently holds the all-time NCAA record for most all-purpose yards with 7,573, as well as the most 100-yard rushing games (34). Not only that, but he's currently fourth all-time on the NCAA rushing list with 6,026 yards, trailing only Ron Dayne, Ricky Williams, and Tony Dorsett.
Put all that aside and you have these kind of numbers. Williams rushed for at least 200 yards in a single game nine times in his career and scored 55 touchdowns over his final three years at Memphis.
No. 2—Darren Sproles (Kansas State)
Darren Sproles, currently making a name for himself with the San Diego Chargers, etched his name into the record books at Kansas State before starting his pro career.
He led the nation in rushing in 2003, his junior year, with 1,986 rushing yards, including a 235-yard performance in a route against then No. 1 Oklahoma en route to the Big 12 Championship that year.
After his career was all said and done, Sproles had racked up more than 6,800 all-purpose yards and 47 touchdowns—with 4,979 of those on the ground.
No. 1—Reggie Bush (USC)
There's no question, regardless of the NCAA violations levied against USC that he might be blamed for, that Reggie Bush is one of the best running backs that college football has seen in the last 10 years and might be in top 10 of all-time.
Bush totaled 5,220 all-purpose yards over his two seasons as not only a running back, but also as a punt and kick returner for the Trojans.
In 2004, Bush only had two 100-yard rushing games, including a 204-yard performance against UCLA.
In 2005, that number went up to eight games, including a pair of 200-yard games against Fresno State and UCLA.